Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Obasanjo enjoins African leaders to build on the legacies of those before them

Climate change threatens Nile, Limpopo rivers: study

Rising global temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns could affect water flows on Africa's mighty Nile and Limpopo rivers, an agricultural research group said Monday

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, a global think-tank, warned the changes could have major effects for countries that share the rivers -- raising the risk of conflicts erupting over water use, already a subject of often touchy regional relations.

Their study raised the greatest concerns for the Limpopo River Basin, including parts of Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and running through a region already chronically dry. The findings were presented at the International Forum on Water and Food in Pretoria.

The group's projections found that between now and 2050 hotter weather and fewer rains could hurt food production and deepen poverty. "We need to ask whether current agriculture development strategies in the Limpopo, which are predicated on current levels of water availability, are in fact realistic for a climate future that may present new challenges and different opportunities," said Simon Cook, a scientist who worked on the project.

"In some parts of the Limpopo, even widespread adoption of innovations like drip irrigation may not be enough to overcome the negative effects of climate change on water availability," Cook added.

For the Nile, the researchers projected that increased water evaporation could "reduce the water balance of the upper Blue Nile Basin." That could affect regional talks on management of the river, after years of tensions over Ethiopia's plans for new dams, the researchers said.

"The new insights regarding the effect of climate change on river basins may indicate a need to revisit assumptions about water availability," said Alain Vidal, director of the group's water and food programme.

In rivers around the world, the study found that higher global temperatures would make more water evaporate from rivers, which in most cases should be set off by increased rainfall. But within river basins, changes could prove dramatic, and flip weather trends from wet to dry for regions that previously have known consistent patterns, it found.

"Such changes will create a management nightmare and require a much greater focus on adaptive approaches and long-term climate projections than historically have been necessary," said Vidal

Courtesy AFP

Saturday, November 12, 2011

South African team wins Africa's Science Nobel for new HIV gel

Two South African scientists, Salim S. Abdool Karim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim were yesterday awarded the maiden edition of the Olusegun Obasanjo Prize for Scientific Discovery and Technological Innovation for their highly acclaimed work on the use of a microbicide, called Tenofovir gel, to prevent HIV infection and genital herpes in women.
The award instituted by the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), the leading umbrella think-tank for scientists from across the continent is endowed in the name of former Nigerian president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a patron of the academy.
Described by many of the renowned scientists that attended the prestigious event in Nairobi as Africa's Science Nobel Prize on the continent, the winning couple were selected after weeks of intense debates and examination of works by hundreds of exceptional scientists who were nominated for the prize.
Salim Abdool Karim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim were honoured for their breakthrough in a vaginal gel that has significantly helped to reduced HIV infection rates in women in SouthAfrica, a product of about 17 years of research.
In 2010, the couple’s research team demonstrated that 1% Tenofovir gel reduced HIV acquisition by 39% overall, and by 54% in women, who used the gel consistently. Further, they showed that Tenofovir gel prevents genital herpes (Herpes Simplex Virus - 2), an incurable lifelong sexually transmitted infection which enhances the spread of HIV, by 51% in women.
The study known as CAPRISA 004 is particularly significant as it is a global first in empowering women against HIV. Tenofovir gel, apioneering HIV prevention strategy that women can control, is particularlyimportant for young women, who can rarely negotiate condom use or faithfulness with their male partner.
AIDS and global health leaders have called the results “a game changer”, “a true breakthrough for AIDS prevention,” and “a significant milestone for women in the thirty yearhistory of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” The finding was ranked among the Top Ten Scientific Breakthroughs of 2010 by Science.
Tenofovir gel is set to alter the future trajectory of the HIV epidemic. In South Africa alone, it is estimated that Tenofovir gel would avert 1.3 million new HIV infections and 800,000 AIDS deaths over the next 20 years. Once implemented on a broad scale, Tenofovir gelis set to save millions of lives and mark the turning point in global HIV epidemic.
The winners of the prize, Salim and Quarrisha AbdoolKarim have made significant scientific contributions to HIV prevention and treatment. Salim is Director of the Centre for the AIDS Program ofResearch in South Africa (CAPRISA) and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa while Quarraisha is Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA and Professorof Public Health at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine at University of KwaZulu-Natal. Both scientists are also professors in epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University in New York.
The Abdool Karims have published extensively in world renowned journals including Science, Nature, Lancet and The New EnglandJournal of Medicine. They have, individually or jointly, received numerous prestigious awards and medals, including TWAS Prize in Medical Sciences and the Gold Medal award from the South African Academy of Science.

Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?

Handcraft Meets Mobile Technology in Limpopo South Africa

Take politicians along in your works, Obasanjo tells scientists

The former president of Nigeria has charged African scientists to take politicians along in their works, if the aspiration of transforming Africa economically would be achieved.

Speaking at the 25th anniversary of the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) in Nairobi, Obasanjo stated that scientists have a critical role to play in the transformation of Africa from a continent of many poor people to one which the poverty level is very low.

“I have always said it and will repeat it on this occasion that there is no way Africa can make the kind of progress that we want without science, technology and innovation. I challenge you scientists to work with politicians. Try, it would not be easy, many of them would not come along at the beginning but you must not shy away from them,” he said.

As he further stated, “no matter what you do and the researches you carry out, if you do not take the politicians along, those efforts will amount to nothing.”

Africa's mobile phone industry 'booming'

Africa is the fastest-growing mobile market in the world, and is the biggest after Asia, an association of worldwide mobile phone operators has said.

The number of subscribers on the continent has grown almost 20% each year for the past five years, the GSM Association report on Africa says.

It expects there will be more than 735 million subscribers by the end of 2012.

Analysts say bad and expensive landline connections in Africa are responsible for the high mobile phone usage.

Peter Lyons, GSMA's director of spectrum policy for Africa and Middle East, told the BBC that mobile penetration in Africa had reached 649 million subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Tax cuts

"That is equivalent to a 65% penetration rate. Out of every 100 people, 65 have some form of mobile connectivity," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

In a report, GSMA says that 96% of subscriptions are pre-paid with voice services currently dominating, although uptake of data services is increasing steadily.

The Kenyan government's abolition of the 16% general sales tax on mobile handsets in 2009 has resulted in handset purchases increasing by more than 200%, it says.

Kenya is at the forefront of mobile money transfers, with 8.5 million users, the report says.

Nigeria has the highest number of mobile phone subscriptions in Africa - more than 93 million, representing 16% of the continent's total mobile subscriptions, GSMA says.South Africa, with its more developed infrastructure, has the highest broadband penetration - 6%, followed by Morocco with 2.8%, the report says.

"The mobile industry in Africa is booming and a catalyst for immense growth, but there is scope for far greater development," Mr Lyons said.


Is there enough food for a world of 7 billion?

The world’s population recently crossed the 7 billion people threshold. We have entered a new era of endless possibilities with our growing interconnectedness and exponentially fast growth of innovative technology.

But 7 billion people raises a lot of fear and concern about whether the world is capable of sustaining such a large number of people. Is there enough food for all 7 billion of us?

Last week the world’s population was less than 7 billion and 925 million people did not have enough food to eat, according to the World Food Program. Of those 925 million people, 98 percent lived in developing countries. The numbers look bleak - but it is not because we are incapable of feeding everyone. We are.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the world produces enough food to provide every person with more than 2,700 calories per day, more than the recommended amount for an average adult. People go hungry not because there is not enough food but because our agricultural system is inefficient and the effects of climate change on our farming system are becoming increasingly devastating.

Everyone might not agree on climate change, but one thing is for sure - the world has endured an unprecedented amount of severe weather in the last few years.


West African rhino declared extinct

No wild black rhinos remain in West Africa, according to the latest global assessment of threatened species.

The Red List, drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has declared the subspecies extinct.

A subspecies of white rhino in central Africa is also listed as possibly extinct, the organisation says.

The annual update of the Red List now records more threatened species than ever before. The IUCN reports that despite conservation efforts, 25% of the world's mammals are at risk of extinction. As part of its latest work it has reassessed several rhinoceros groups.

Poaching vulnerability
As well as declaring the western black rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) extinct, it records the northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni), a subspecies in central Africa, as being on the brink of extinction. The last Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) outside Java is also believed to have disappeared.

Overall numbers of black and white rhinos have been rising, but some subspecies have been particularly vulnerable to poaching by criminal gangs who want to trade the animals' valuable horns.

Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, told BBC

News: "They had the misfortune of occurring in places where we simply weren't able to get the necessary security in place.

"You've got to imagine an animal walking around with a gold horn; that's what you're looking at, that's the value and that's why you need incredibly high security."

Another focus for this year's list is Madagascar and its reptiles. The report found that 40% of terrestrial reptiles are threatened. But it also says that new areas have been designated for conservation.


Toxic electronic waste contaminates areas in Ghana

By Stephen Leahy

Mountains of hazardous waste grow by about 40 million tons every year. This waste, mostly from Europe and North America, is burned in developing countries like Ghana in a hazardous effort to recover valuable metals.

A children's school in Accra, Ghana's capital, was recently found to be contaminated by lead, cadmium and other health-threatening pollutants at levels over 50 times higher than risk-free levels. The school is located directly beside an informal electronic waste salvage site.

"Those wastes are poisoning our children," Sampson told IPS from Accra."Poor people in Africa cannot afford to process Europe's or America's electronic wastes," said Ghanaian researcher Atiemo Sampson.Ghana does not regulate the import

ation and management of electronic waste, or e-waste. The government hopes to have rules in place next year, he said. Sampson, a Ph.D. student at the University of Ghana, was involved in testing the school and other areas in Accra near the Agbogbloshie scrap metal site, where more than 100 people break apart and burn electronic trash by hand to obtain valuable metals like copper.

Schoolchildren as young as six years old work around bonfires of circuitry, plastic and other leftover high-tech trash, he said.A nearby produce market, a church headquarters and a soccer field were similarly polluted, to varying degrees. The soil around the school site had measurements for lead 12 times higher than the levels at which intervention is required.

Lead is acutely toxic to children and can permanently damage their growing brains and nervous systems, even at very low levels of exposure.


Failure to adopt technology in libraries results in fewer users

Simret Mebrahtu has been an infrequent visitor to the National Library of Uganda in the centre of Kampala for nearly two years. A student, she stops by every couple of weeks to use the cheap internet connection if one of the few computers is available.

When they are full, though, she said there is not much to do except dip into an Encyclopedia and wait for someone to finish. There are few other books at the library she finds interesting enough to read, she said.

Like a majority of Uganda’s library users who participated in a new EIFL perception study, Mebrahtu is supportive of her local library and encourages her friends to visit. But she also echoes a larger concern that the country’s lib

raries do not have the necessary infrastructure, technology and basic resources to attract new visitors and keep them coming back regularly.

EIFL – an international non-profit organisation that works with libraries around the world to encourage access to digital information – conducted the surveys in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Monika Elbert, a senior policy advisor for the group, said they had realised the countries’ libraries "were seriously under-resourced and there was very little political support for them. Rather than develop ideas and untargeted actions," though, EIFL decided to survey key stakeholders to learn how the library systems could be improved, she said in an interview with IPS.

Elbert and other members of the organisation presented their findings in a workshop in Kampala on Thursday.

The most interesting finding, said Ugne Lipeikaite, the impact manager for EIFL’s Public Library Innovation Programme, was the "gap between the opinion of (library) users about what the library is for and the expectation among non-users."

Specifically, 20 percent of people who do not use libraries would expect to access computer software if they visited. But only nine percent of people who regularly visit libraries actually access the software that they need. Sixty-three percent of users rated the computers and other equipment in their libraries as bad or very bad.

Additionally, the study found that a significant minority of non-users expected to find information on health and agriculture issues, which is not always available in Uganda’s libraries.

Lipeikaite said this could be a big challenge in trying to grow the country’s library visitors. In the workshop, the participants "were all saying that one of the areas where they should work more is to attract non-users. But then, you must know their expectations. If they want to get health information, if they want to get agriculture information, then libraries should think if they are providing this service."

Courtesy: IPS News Service

Is there too little science to communicate?

"Africa’s sustainability problems can only be solved by science-based solutions, and effective communication must play a key role in this.” These were the words of Mohamed H.A. Hassan, then executive director of the Academy of Science for the developing world (TWAS) speaking at the 2009 African Science Communication conference. However, Hassan went on to add that, “science communication can only be effective if there is enough science to communicate.” The number of science publications from Africa pales in comparison to other continents. How then should we approach science communication in a relatively science-sparse nation?

Understanding of scientific methodology must form the basis of this communication. This should include an understanding of the uncertainties and potential pitfalls of science, a lack of which has contributed to many of the recent scientific controversies in, for example, the UK. Building on this, the relevance and contributions of science to society will form another key component of science communication in Africa. Understanding of the societal impact of science is relatively low in Africa and could partly explain Africa’s low scientific output. Developing an appreciation of the application of science in solving current problems in Africa, such as improving food security and health, could build in young Africans an interest to pursue scientific research.