Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Rocket Greed

Promotional Picture of MBDA Sea Ceptor. image from wikipedia

Missiles excite, for unlike other weapons, demand for them is growing strongly. Global defence spending grew by just 1% in 2015—after five years of severe budget cuts in many countries—but the global market for missiles and missile-defence systems is racing ahead at around 5% a year. The capabilities of such weapons are increasing, and with that their price and profitability. Missiles are no longer just flying bombs; they now often contain more computer than explosive to help find their target autonomously…

Executives [of weapon companies] are putting missiles at the forefront of their efforts to expand abroad and to reduce their reliance on home governments.… The most go-ahead so far has been MBDA, a European joint venture, which last year won more missile orders outside Europe than within its home continent. Others are now catching up on foreign sales. Raytheon hopes soon to sign a $5.6 billion deal with Poland to upgrade its Patriot missile-defence shield, while Lockheed and MBDA plan to ink a deal with Germany for their air-defence systems.

[M]issile divisions at Western firms are facing more competition from Chinese, Israeli and Russian firms in some export markets….

Excerpts from Defence Firms: Rocketing Around the World, Economist, July 16, 2016, at 56

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Water Scarcity in West Bank and Gaza

image from wikipedia
[M]ost of Israel’s water is artificially produced. About a third comes from desalination plants that are among the world’s most advanced. Farmers rely on reclaimed water for irrigation. Israel recycles 86% of its wastewater, the highest level anywhere; Spain, the next best, reuses around 20%.

West Bank: None of these high-tech solutions helps the Palestinians [in the West Bank,] though, because they are not connected to Israel’s water grid. They rely on the so-called “mountain aquifer”, which lies beneath land Israel occupied in 1967. The 1995 Oslo Accords stipulated that 80% of the water from the aquifer would go to Israel, with the rest allocated to the Palestinians. The agreement, meant to be a five-year interim measure, will soon celebrate its 21st birthday. During that time the Palestinian population in the West Bank has nearly doubled, to almost 3m. The allocation has not kept pace.

The settler population has doubled too, and they face their own shortages. In Ariel, a city of 19,000 adjacent to Salfit, residents experienced several brief outages this month. Smaller settlements in the area, which are not hooked up to the national grid, have dealt with longer droughts. Palestinians have suffered far more, however. On average they get 73 litres per day, less than the 100-litre minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation.

The situation is even worse in Gaza, which relies almost entirely on a fast-shrinking coastal aquifer; what remains is polluted from years of untreated sewage and agricultural run-off. The stuff that comes out of Gazan taps is already brackish and salty. UN experts think that aquifer will be irreversibly damaged by 2020.

Israel’s water authority sells the Palestinians 64m cubic metres of water each year. It says they cause their own shortages, because up to a third of the West Bank’s water supply leaks out of rusting Palestinian pipes. A joint water committee is supposed to resolve these issues, but it has not met for five years…

Water in the West Bank: Nor yet a drop to drink, Economist, July 30, 2016, at 38

Beating the Dirty Bomb

dirty bomb

A DARPA program aimed at preventing attacks involving radiological “dirty bombs” and other nuclear threats has successfully developed and demonstrated a network of smartphone-sized mobile devices that can detect the tiniest traces of radioactive materials. Combined with larger detectors along major roadways, bridges, other fixed infrastructure, and in vehicles, the new networked devices promise significantly enhanced awareness of radiation sources and greater advance warning of possible threats.

The demonstration of efficacy earlier this year was part of DARPA’s SIGMA program, launched in 2014 with the goal of creating a cost-effective, continuous radiation-monitoring network able to cover a large city or region. The demonstration was conducted at one of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s major transportation hubs where DARPA tested more than 100 networked SIGMA sensors…

The pocket-sized radiation “pager” sensors developed by DARPA and used in the exercise can be easily worn on a person’s belt, are one-tenth the cost of conventional sensors, and are up to 10 times faster in detecting gamma and neutron radiation. Moreover, the program achieved its price goal of 10,000 pocket-sized detectors for $400 per unit….A large-scale test deployment of more than 1,000 detectors is being planned for Washington, D.C., later this year.

Excerpt from Ushering in a New Generation of Low-Cost, Networked, Nuclear-Radiation Detectors, OUTREACH@DARPA.MIL, Aug. 23, 2016

All for the Oil: forest fires

Indonesia forest fire. image from wikipedia

…In 2015 a dry spell caused by the El Niño weather pattern made Indonesia’s forest fires  especially severe. Smoke settled over Singapore for months and even reached Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines. At least 2m hectares of forest were burned. Dozens of people were killed and hundreds of thousands sickened. For much of October 2015 greenhouse gases released by those fires exceeded the emissions of the entire American economy. The losses over five months of fires amounted to around 2% of the country’s GDP…[The event has labeled  the 2015 Southeast Asian haze]

Between 2001 and 2014, Indonesia lost 18.5m hectares of tree cover—an area more than twice the size of Ireland. In 2014 Indonesia overtook Brazil to become the world’s biggest deforester.

One of the reasons for those forest fires is economic. The country produces well over half the world’s palm oil, a commodity used in cooking and cosmetics, as a food additive and as a biofuel. It accounts for around 4.5% of Indonesia’s GDP, and demand is still rising. To meet it, Indonesian farmers set fires to clear forest and make way for new plantations. Often these forests grow on peatlands, which store carbon from decayed organic matter; in tropical regions these hold up to ten times as much carbon as surface soil. Draining peatlands releases all of that carbon. The peat also becomes a fuel, so it is not just felled trees that are burning but the ground itself.

But politics also plays a part. … The president declared a moratorium on peatland-development licences and called for peat forests to be restored, even as his agriculture minister pointed out that burned peatland can be used for corn and soyabean planting….

Civil-society groups have had some success. At least 188 Indonesian palm-oil companies have made some sort of sustainability pledge, including five large multinational firms that in 2014 signed the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP), which commits them to avoiding deforestation and planting oil palms on peatland. Together those five firms account for 80% of Indonesia’s palm-oil exports.All the same, deforestation continues. Perversely, it may even have increased temporarily, as companies cleared as much land as they could before the agreement took effect. Besides, opaque supply chains allow companies to buy palm oil from suppliers not bound by IPOP.

Forests: A world on fire, Economist Special Report on Indonesia, Feb. 27, 2016

Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle: Nuclear Weapons

 More details Preparation for an underground nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site in the 1990s. Image from wikipedia

Australia*** has attempted to derail a ban on nuclear weapons at a UN meeting on disarmament, by single-handedly forcing a vote on a report that had been expected to pass unanimously.The report, which recommended negotiations begin in 2017 to ban nuclear weapons, was eventually passed by 68 votes to 22.

Moves towards a ban have been pursued because many saw little progress under the existing non-proliferation treaty, which obliges the five declared nuclear states to “pursue negotiations in good faith” towards “cessation of the nuclear arms race … and nuclear disarmament”.

The proposal recommended a conference be held next year to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.,…Anti-nuclear campaigners involved in the process expected the report would pass without objection. But Australia surprised observers by objecting and forcing a vote…

in 2015, documents obtained under Freedom of Information revealed Australia opposed the ban on nuclear weapons, since it believed it relied on US nuclear weapons as a deterrent.  “As long as the threat of nuclear attack or coercion exists, and countries like the DPRK [North Korea] seek these weapons and threaten others, Australia and many other countries will continue to rely on US extended nuclear deterrence,” said one of the briefing notes for government ministers.

The documents revealed however that Australia and the US were worried about the momentum gathering behind the Austrian-led push for a ban nuclear weapons, which diplomats said was “fast becoming a galvanising focus for those pushing the ban treaty option”.

Excerpts from Australia attempts to derail UN plan to ban nuclear weapons, Guardian, Aug. 20, 2017

***The following countries agreed with Australia: Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey

These countries want a legal instrument to ban nuclear weapons ASAP: Afghanistan, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Cyprus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Islamic Republic of Iran, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein,Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Nauru, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Niue, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe

See also Model Nuclear Weapons Convention

See the Legal Gap

For Sale: 46 million like-slaves

Not for Sale Girl. image for wikipedia

The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates that 45.8 million people are subject to some form of modern slavery in the world today. The Index presents a ranking of 167 countries based on the proportion of the population that is estimated to be in modern slavery.

58%
Of those living in slavery
are in 5 countries
India*
China
Pakistan*
Bangladesh*
Uzbekistan
* Based on nationally representative Gallup survey data
The countries with the highest estimated prevalence of modern slavery by the proportion of their population are North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India, and Qatar. In North Korea, there is pervasive evidence that government-sanctioned forced labour occurs in an extensive system of prison labour camps while North Korean women are subjected to forced marriage and commercial sexual exploitation in China and other neighbouring states. In Uzbekistan, the government continues to subject its citizens to forced labour in the annual cotton harvest.

Those countries with the highest absolute numbers of people in modern slavery are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. Several of these countries provide the low-cost labour that produces consumer goods for markets in Western Europe, Japan, North America and Australia.

Data from the Global Slavery Index

Land Scarcity: Nigeria

Pro-Biafra Protests (2015-2016)

Muslim herdsmen fleeing Boko Haram jihadists and fast-spreading desertification in the north of Nigeria are clashing with Christian farmers in the south, adding a dangerous new dimension to the sectarian tensions and militancy plaguing the country.

Thousands of people from Muslim Fulani tribes have moved southwards this year, leading to a series of clashes over land that have killed more than 350 people, most of them Christian crop farmers, according to residents and rights activists.

The fighting threatens to fracture the country further by bolstering support for a Christian secessionist movement in the south-east, which has been lingering for decades but gained fresh momentum late last year when resentment over poverty and the arrest of one of its leaders spilled over into street protests… [The Christian South] is campaigning  for an independent Biafra. They say they want to stop the Muslim north from dominating the Christian south…..The population of poverty-stricken Nigeria is expected to more than double to almost 400 million by 2050, according to the United Nations.y.

In one of the deadliest clashes, about 50 people were killed in April when Fulanis attacked the village of Nimbo in the south-eastern state of Biafra, according to residents, rights groups and lawmakers who visited Nimbo after the violence.

Excerpts from, Nigeria riven by new battles over scarce fertile land, Reuters, August 12, 2016