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News and Feature Articles from Around the World

Africa's famine:
The world's worst food crisis
in a half century

somalia famine east africa drought
Cate Turton/Department for International Development

Millions of people face starvation as drought and warfare ravage East Africa

By Marc Lallanilla

July 27, 2011 — The worst food crisis the world has seen since the Great Chinese Famine of the late 1950s has East Africa in its grip, and international aid groups are struggling to get help to more than 11 million people who might otherwise die of hunger and malnutrition-related diseases.

As the hard-to-fathom famine spreads throughout the region, killing crops and wiping out herds of livestock, hundreds of thousands of desperate people are swarming into squalid refugee camps. Here's an overview of the crisis:
 
What areas are affected?
The whole of East Africa is suffering under severe drought conditions, but the hardest-hit areas are Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and parts of Uganda, Eritrea, and Djibouti. This triangular-shaped region, sometimes known as the Horn of Africa, is now being called the "Triangle of Death" by aid workers who are stunned by the scale of devastation they're witnessing.

How bad is this famine?
It's among the most severe humanitarian crises in decades, and it's far from over. The numbers of dead and dying people are "shocking," says Mark Bowden of the United Nations, as quoted by Britain's Financial Times. "We witnessed the sight of families stumbling into the [refugee] camps through the bitter Ogaden desert and receiving their first nutritious meals in months. In most cases, that exodus took a week to 10 days of walking through the desert. It was heart-wrenching," says a U.S. State Department spokesman.

What's causing this food crisis?
The entire region has been experiencing a prolonged drought for many years, and some experts are blaming climate change. "We have had three severe droughts in the last decade in Kenya, southern Somalia and Ethiopia," says Gareth Owen of Save the Children, as quoted by the Financial Times. "It used to be one [drought] every 10 to 12 years. The cycle has got shorter."

Organized crime's ruthless
slaughter of wild animals

black rhino
USFWS

By Marc Lallanilla
 
August 3, 2011 — Forget drugs and gun-running. Organized crime has found a lucrative new way to make billions of dollars in the illegal trafficking of animal parts. As the journal Oryx reports, a powerful network of international crime syndicates is whacking thousands of endangered animals, some of which are facing extinction as a result.
 
Though conservationists are sounding alarms, law-enforcement officials are hamstrung in their efforts to prevent ruthless, Mafia-style poachers from slaughtering animals on a scale never before seen. Four key questions:
 
What kinds of animals are being killed?
Creatures great and small. Elephants, tigers, and antelopes are being killed by the thousands every year. More than 330 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone during 2010, nearly one a day. "At this rate, they will soon be wiped out," says anti-poaching activist Kevin Bewick, as quoted by Discovery News. A menagerie of smaller, lesser-known animals are also threatened. Illegal smuggling is increasing the rarity of both the pangolin, an endearing anteater about the size of a house cat, and the loris, a little monkey weighing just three pounds.
 
Why are these wild animals so valuable?
Members of the burgeoning affluent class in China and other Asian countries are willing to spend billions each year on these animals, sometimes as exotic pets, but mostly for their body parts. Rhino horns and tiger skulls, for example, are believed to have aphrodisiac qualities or other "magical" properties. Bear paws, shark fins, loris feet, turtle shells, and other appendages all fetch a high price on the international black market.
 
How are criminals getting away with it?
Like drug smugglers and other organized criminals, those in the $10 billion-a-year business of wild animal smuggling use an array of tools to thwart law enforcement agencies. Cells phones, forged shipping documents, and e-commerce sites (the locations of which are difficult to track) are common among animal traders. Smugglers also use hidden compartments in shipping containers and rapidly changing routes to keep police at bay.

For more, visit TheWeek.com

Infant Mortality Rates in Other Countries Improve, but U.S. Rate Rises

By MARC LALLANILLA                        

Nov. 1, 2005 What's causing the increased death rate among babies in the United States?

While the health of infants in many countries is improving, babies born in the United States now face an increased risk of dying in the first year of life.

The U.S. infant mortality rate is on the rise for the first time since 1958, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2001, the infant mortality rate was 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births — in 2002, the rate rose to 7.0. (2003 data is not yet complete.)

At the same time, other countries are improving their infant mortality rates to the point that they have surpassed the United States. Cuba, for example, reported a lower 2002 rate than the United States at 6.3.

For the full story, go to ABC News

China's first aircraft carrier:
A military threat?
 
Is China's new aircraft carrier simply a training facility — or a challenge to the U.S?
 
By Marc Lallanilla
 
August 11, 2011 — China's first aircraft carrier began sea trials this week, a watershed moment in the country's rapid military growth. The still-unnamed ship is a repurposed Soviet-era aircraft carrier that China purchased from the Ukraine in 1998.
 
Though some experts are concerned that China's long-term strategy is to challenge U.S. military supremacy in Asia and elsewhere, China has repeatedly demurred, saying the ship will serve primarily for training purposes. International defense experts, however, aren't convinced. Here's what you should know:

china aircraft carrier
Xinhuanet.com

Do many other nations have aircraft carriers?
Yes, including some that aren't recognized as military powers. "India, Thailand, Brazil, and Italy all have aircraft carriers, too," says David Millar at The Huffington Post. "Yet no one fears Rome or Bangkok taking over the world anytime soon." Indeed, "there should be no excessive worries or paranoid feelings on China's pursuit of an aircraft carrier, as it will not pose a threat to other countries," says China's state-run Xinhua news agency.
 
Does China need an aircraft carrier?
Not everyone thinks so. "We would welcome any kind of explanation that China would like to give for needing this kind of equipment," says U.S. State Department official Victoria Nuland, as quoted by ABC News. "We are prepared to be extremely transparent with regard to U.S. military positions and equipment, and we'd like to have a reciprocal relationship with China. Transparency in itself is a confidence-builder between nations."
 
Is China being secretive?
It seems that way. When a Hong Kong-based travel company (a rather mysterious outfit that commentators believe was acting on behalf of the government) bought the aging and gutted aircraft carrier for a mere $20 million in 1998, it promised to turn it into a floating casino in Macao. Eyebrows were raised, however, after the ship was towed not to Macao but to Dalian — home of the Dalian Naval Academy and a center of Chinese naval manufacturing. The cloak of secrecy, and the frequent denials from Chinese officials, suggest they have an agenda at odds with Beijing's professed diplomatic intentions.

For more, visit TheWeek.com

'Health's Angels' Deliver Care by Motorcycle
 
Bikers Bring Health Care to Remote African Villages

rider.jpg
(Riders for Health UK)

By MARC LALLANILLA                        

Nov. 2, 2005  Rural Africa is difficult terrain for health care workers. Villages are separated by many miles. Roads are often washed out or potholed — if there are any roads at all.

In these isolated villages, the sick and injured cannot be seen by health care workers. In some cases, parents must walk hours to the nearest clinic, carrying sick children on their backs.

And when vehicles are made available, maintenance is often overlooked. Replacement parts and skilled mechanics are in short supply, and many vehicles end up as rusted hulks after only a few months of service.

When British reporter Barry Coleman visited Somalia in 1988, he saw motorcycles intended for use by the Ministry of Health standing useless, idled by a lack of simple maintenance.

"It's simply not reasonable," said Coleman. "People were dying because nobody knew how to manage vehicles with internal combustion engines."

For the full story, go to ABC News

As Bird Flu Spreads, Man's Best Friends Get a Second Look

cat.jpg
(AP)

By MARC LALLANILLA                        

March 12, 2006 Pet lovers around the world reacted with dread when a cat in Germany was discovered dead last month, a victim of bird flu. Alarmingly, tests confirmed that the cat had died of the H5N1 strain of the virus, a form known to be deadly to humans.

As panic set in, various news reports stated that animal shelters in some European countries were overwhelmed with healthy animals dropped off or abandoned by their owners. Several countries have enacted quarantine zones where avian flu has been discovered, and German officials are enforcing a "cat curfew," requiring owners to keep cats indoors in affected areas.

Is it merely panic, or are there serious risks to pets and to families with cats and other pets? Is there anything pet owners can do to protect their pets and themselves from disease?

For the full story, go to ABC News

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