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Watching the World

Watching the World

 Watching the World

Polar Bears on ‘Thin Ice’

“The polar bear’s existence is seriously endangered by climatic warming,” says Germany’s Nassauische Neue Presse, reporting on a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) study. According to the WWF, the amount of Arctic sea ice, or pack ice​—the main habitat and hunting ground of polar bears—​is shrinking as a result of warmer weather. Experts say that the average air temperature over the Arctic has “increased by 5 degrees [Celsius] [9 degrees Fahrenheit] over the past 100 years.” What is more, “pack ice has decreased by 6 percent over the past 20 years,” and “a 60-percent reduction in summer sea ice could be expected by the year 2050.” Less sea ice and longer ice-free periods restrict the polar bear’s opportunities to hunt and thus accumulate needed fat reserves. Hardest hit are pregnant females and cubs. In some areas “not even half of the cubs survive the ever-extending ice-free period,” reports the newspaper. Other problems the bears face are “hunting, toxic chemicals, and oil pollution.”

 Eucalypts Interfere With Mobile Phones

“In many parts of [the state of New South Wales], the performance of mobile phone towers is frequently far worse than the equivalents in Europe and the United States,” says Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. The problem is most noticeable along the Murray River in the south of the state. Even though the region is relatively flat, “it is notorious for conversations dropping out, or never even beginning.” The culprits, according to the report, seem to be “the thick stands of river red gums [eucalypts] lining the Murray.” Roger Bamber, a telecommunications company director, “believes there is something about the shape, size and moisture content of eucalypt leaves that enables them to absorb mobile phone radio frequency emissions far more efficiently than those of other trees,” says the Herald.

Blood Transfusions Can Harm Lungs

“People who receive blood products, particularly plasma-containing products, may be at risk for developing transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI),” states FDA Consumer, a journal of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This condition may lead to death if not recognized and treated correctly. “TRALI can occur when white blood cell antibodies in the donor’s blood react with the recipient’s white blood cells, causing a change in the lung tissue that allows fluid to enter. Most donors implicated in TRALI reactions are women with more than two children or donors who have had multiple transfusions.” Symptoms “include fever, shortness of breath, and a drop in blood pressure. X-rays often show the [transfusion] recipient’s lungs as completely white.”

Poisoned Bees

“Will we be able to eat any French honey ten years from now?” asks the French newsmagazine Marianne. Millions of bees are being killed by poison every spring, causing the national production of honey to drop from 45,000 tons in 1989 to 16,000 tons in 2000. In a single week, one beekeeper lost his 450 hives​—22 million bees! Many honey producers blame agricultural chemicals such as pesticides, especially the cheaper and more potent products that are imported illegally. Some farmers have even added used engine oil or bleach to their chemicals for greater effect! If nothing is done, “there is a risk that French honey will become merely an object of folklore,” says Marianne.

Children Unsure About Death

“Once a person dies, do you think that person can be restored to life?” Professor Hiroshi Nakamura of Japan Women’s University put that question to 372 students in the upper grades of elementary school. One third answered yes, and another third were unsure, reports the newspaper Sankei Shimbun of Tokyo. “This perception may have been derived from computer games in which, even if the hero dies, all one has to do is press the reset button to start it all over again from scratch,” says the paper. According to the professor, the survey “shows that many students even in upper grades of elementary school do not have a correct understanding of what death really means.” He suggests that parents teach children about death by exposing them to the death of pets and letting them visit dying relatives.

Europe Declared Polio-Free

For the 870 million people of the European Region, the June 2002 certification of the region as polio-free is “the most important public health milestone of the new millennium,” says the World Health Organization. The European Region, which comprises 51 member states, “has been free of indigenous poliomyelitis for over three years.” This result is the culmination of a 14-year project to eradicate polio through coordinated national immunization campaigns. The disease has already been eradicated in the Americas and the Western Pacific. Caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system, polio is highly infectious and can cause total paralysis and even death. At present it can be prevented but not cured.

Critical Water Shortage

“More than half of the world’s population will be affected by water shortages by 2032, causing severe health consequences, unless urgent action is taken,” says BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal). A United Nations report has found that although the number of people enjoying better water “increased from 4.1 billion in 1990 to 4.9 billion in 2000, 1.1 billion people in the developing world still have no access to safe drinking water. A total of 2.4 billion people currently lack adequate sanitation facilities.” This has resulted in “four billion cases of diarrhoea and 2.2 million deaths every year,” not to mention the suffering caused by intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, and trachoma.

Substitute Skin

The skin is the body’s largest organ and is its first line of defense against disease-carrying organisms, dehydration, and hypothermia. Therefore, burn victims and diabetics with open ulcers face a high level of risk. Human cadaver skin is commonly used as a substitute covering, but it is in short supply. Other drawbacks are that skin transplants can transmit disease and are subject to rejection. The News of Mexico City reports that biomaterial from the small intestines of pigs is being successfully used as grafts on patients with hard-to-cure wounds. Interestingly, the portion of pig intestine that is used, called small-intestine submucosa, is very similar to human skin and is plentiful. Reconstructive surgeon Jorge Olivares, who is conducting experiments with this substitute skin, states: “The patients I have treated have almost no scarring, and the wounds tend to heal in a few weeks. The best part is that the patients enjoy almost instant relief from their pain and inflammation.”

Adrift for Four Months

Tauaea Raioaoa, a 56-year-old fisherman, survived being adrift for four months in the South Pacific Ocean, says a report in the Tahiti newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti. He left Tahiti on March 15, 2002, “on board his small green 25-foot [8 m] boat, christened the ‘Tehapiti,’ however, he sustained motor damage off the coast of Tahiti.” After drifting some 750 miles [1,200 km], he was picked up near Aitutaki, one of the Cook Islands, on July 10, more than 45 pounds [20 kg] lighter than when he left. A seasoned and resourceful fisherman, Raioaoa survived by “feeding himself on raw or dried fish and collecting rainwater in a bucket and an icebox.”