Watching the World

More Mummies Discovered

“Archaeologists in Egypt have announced the discovery of at least 200 mummies, some of them with golden masks, in a huge cemetery in the Western Desert,” says a BBC News dispatch. The burial area is near a desert oasis and within the city of Bawiti, some 185 miles [300 km] southwest of Cairo. According to Egypt’s Middle East News Agency, the cemetery may contain over 10,000 mummies. It has been renamed Valley of the Mummies. The six-mile [10 km]-long cemetery dates back 2,000 years, to the early Graeco-Roman era. Some of the mummies excavated so far were covered in linen or coated with plaster, and a number wore golden masks “with magnificent designs of ancient Egyptian divinities on their chests,” says antiquities director Zahi Hawass.

Pestilences Plague Africa

Attempts by the World Health Organization to have polio completely eradicated in Africa by the end of the year have been thwarted, reports the Cape Times. The war in Angola has resulted in polio reaching epidemic proportions in that country. According to Neil Cameron, director of communicable disease control at South Africa’s Department of Health, it could be another ten years before polio is eradicated in Angola. In addition, Angola’s neighbors, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are trying to cope with outbreaks of Ebolalike hemorrhagic fever and bubonic plague respectively. Leprosy is still a problem in Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Niger, and Nigeria. All of this, added to the fact that malaria is rampant throughout much of the continent, is causing serious concern because, as Cameron remarked, “borders are no barrier against disease.”

“Most Vital Substance to Life”

“Water is the most vital substance to life, because the body is mostly fluid,” reports the Toronto Star newspaper. “Even a 20-per cent drop in body water can be fatal.” Water not only regulates our body temperature but also “carries nutrients and waste products to and from the organs through the bloodstream and body systems. It also lubricates the joints and colon, helping prevent constipation.” An average adult requires two to three quarts of water daily. Drinking coffee, pop, or alcohol may actually increase the need for pure water because they can contribute to dehydration. According to one dietitian, thirst should not serve as a reminder to take in water because by the time you feel parched, you are likely already dehydrated. The paper states that “drinking a glass every hour during the day will satisfy most people’s water needs.”

Napping on the Job

“Some Canadian businesses are waking up to the benefits of napping on the job,” says the Toronto Star newspaper. Employers have introduced “alertness recovery rooms” for night-shift workers. “The rooms are dimly lit, cool, quiet and equipped with alarm clocks, couches or reclining chairs,” says the Star. But “old perceptions die hard. Companies that provide napping areas don’t tend to broadcast it.” Mary Perugini, a sleep clinician at Royal Ottawa Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Centre, states: “We’re working more hours, our stress levels are higher and we keep taking on more. Being able to devote 20 minutes a day to sleep would be beneficial. It would definitely increase productivity (and) keep stress levels down.”

Threat From Shrinking Glaciers

The world’s largest body of ice outside the polar regions will disappear within 40 years if the current rate of melting continues, reports The Sunday Telegraph of London. A combination of rising global temperatures and the relatively low latitude of the Himalayas threatens the region’s 15,000 glaciers. The Gangotri glacier, which is one of the sources of the Ganges River, has shrunk by almost one third of its length in the past 50 years. Syed Hasnain, a scientist who monitors the glaciers, warns that if the current rate continues, “rivers such as the Ganges, the Indus  and the Brahmaputra, which receive about 70 to 80 per cent of their water from snow and glacial melt, will dry up.” The result would be “an ecological disaster,” he warns. Meantime, the risk of serious flooding grows. When glaciers shrink, lakes are formed that are surrounded by fragile walls of ice, boulders, and sand. As melting continues, the walls burst, sending devastating floods to the valleys below.

Tobacco Dangers for Children

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the health of 50 percent of the world’s children is at risk because of exposure to tobacco smoke, reports London’s Guardian newspaper. Ailments associated with passive smoking include asthma and other respiratory difficulties, sudden infant death syndrome, middle-ear disease, and cancer. Research also shows that children of smokers suffer academically and have more behavioral problems. If both parents smoke, their children are 70 percent more likely to experience health problems, and even one smoker in the family will increase the likelihood by 30 percent. WHO is urging both health education for parents to help them realize the danger their tobacco habit poses to the family and a ban on smoking in schools and other places frequented by children.

Triumph of Tourism

According to forecasts by the World Tourism Organization (WTO), “international tourist arrivals will climb from the present 625 million a year to 1.6 billion in 2020,” reports The UNESCO Courier. These tourists are expected to spend over two trillion U.S. dollars, “making tourism the world’s leading industry.” So far, Europe has been the most popular destination. France is the most visited country, with 70 million visitors in 1998. However, by the year 2020, China is expected to take first place. International travel, though, remains the prerogative of a privileged few. In 1996, only 3.5 percent of the world’s population traveled abroad. The WTO forecasts that this figure will reach 7 percent by 2020.

Minibreak Hazards?

The minibreak, a holiday weekend currently being promoted by the European travel industry as a quick and easy way to relax away from life’s stresses, may actually “do more harm than good,” reports the Guardian newspaper of London. According to cardiologist Dr. Walter Pasini, of the World Health Organization, packing, rushing to an airport, and flying, along with changes in temperature, food, and time zones, contribute to exhaustion and are potentially dangerous. The body takes a few days to relax and adjust to a different climate and life-style, and when this does not happen, the circulation and sleep patterns are adversely affected. Dr. Pasini’s study “found that those who snatched a few days away were 17% more likely to have a heart attack and 12% more likely to have a car crash than those who took a week or more off,” the paper said. “My message is not that short breaks are inherently dangerous, but that people should take care and prepare properly,” said Dr. Pasini, quoted in the London Daily Telegraph. “People now take shorter and shorter vacations and race around trying to pack everything into a few days, but that is not a good way to relax. In fact, it is very stressful.”

Rattlesnake Revenge

“Rattlesnakes can strike you from beyond the grave—and this bizarre form of posthumous revenge is surprisingly common,” reports New Scientist. Of 34 patients treated for rattlesnake bites in Arizona, U.S.A., over an 11-month period, 5 said that the snake attacked them after it had been killed, say two doctors studying the phenomenon. One victim shot a snake, cut off its body below the head, waited for it to stop moving, and then picked up the head. It lunged and bit him on both hands. Previous studies have shown that a severed rattlesnake head “will try to attack objects waved in front of it for up to an hour after death,” the magazine states. Herpetologists believe that this is “a reflex action, triggered by infrared sensors in the ‘pit organ’, a structure between the nostril and eye that detects body heat.” Dr. Jeffrey Suchard warns that a decapitated rattler should be treated as a “very short snake.” “If you really have to touch it,” he said, “I suggest you use a very long stick.”