Watching the World

According to one study, “people who talk on cellphones while driving, even using ‘hands-free’ devices, are as impaired as drunk drivers.”​—REUTERS NEWS SERVICE, U.S.A.

The first five months of 2006 saw 30,200 armed robberies occur on Guatemala City’s public buses. Fourteen bus drivers or their assistants and ten passengers were killed.​—PRENSA LIBRE, GUATEMALA.

Of the 124 nations that responded to a WHO survey on blood collection and testing practices, 56 “did not screen all of their donated blood for HIV, hepatitis B and C and syphilis.”​—WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION, SWITZERLAND.

The number of Australians who lived together before marriage grew from about 5 percent in the 1960’s to just over 70 percent in 2003.​—UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA.

Diabetes​—A Worldwide Epidemic

The New York Times says that data from the International Diabetes Federation indicates that in the last 20 years, the number of people worldwide diagnosed with diabetes has increased from 30 million to 230 million. Of the ten countries with the highest number of people with the disease, seven are in the developing world. “Diabetes is one of the biggest health catastrophes the world has ever seen,” said Dr. Martin Silink, the federation’s president. “In some of the world’s poorest nations, the disease is a quick death sentence,” notes the report.

World’s Highest Railway

The world’s highest railway, inaugurated in July 2006, links Beijing with Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, a distance of about 2,500 miles [4,000 km]. “The railway,” says The New York Times, “is an engineering marvel that traverses unstable permafrost and reaches more than 16,000 feet [4,800 m] above sea level.” Among the challenges overcome by engineers was that of keeping the track bed frozen all year round to reduce instability. The altitudes reached make it necessary to pump air into the compartments, which are also equipped with oxygen for individual passenger use.

“Phantom Students”

From 10 to 20 percent of first-year students enrolled to study literature at one French university “never show up for lectures,” reports the newspaper Le Figaro. Some take advantage of student status to obtain social security benefits and discounts on flights, hotels, public transportation, and movies. To receive benefits “phantom students” sign up for undersubscribed courses, such as Belarusian, Finnish, or Swahili. Phony registrations are common because attendance is not checked. “Students” enroll online and receive student cards within days, explains the report.

‘Sealed Off From the World’

Israeli scientists believe that they have discovered eight new species of invertebrates in a cave that “had been sealed off from the outside world” for countless centuries, says The Jerusalem Post. Excavators working in a quarry found a small opening that led down to a cave that had a total length of about one and a half miles [2.5 km] and contained a chamber with a lake. The new species, some of which resemble scorpions, include two seawater and two freshwater crustaceans and four terrestrial species.