Sierra Leone faces starvation

Five months after a military coup and subsequent looting of food reserves, up to 200,000 people face starvation in the African nation of Sierra Leone according to the United Nations World Food Program.

In a November 7 report by Agence France-Presse, Paul Ares, West Africa director for the program, said, “The situation gets worse each month. Our stocks are diminishing, and we have to decide who eats this month and who will go hungry.”

The report noted that security concerns have prevented distribution of food since the coup, as a raging civil war and regional economic embargoes have taken their toll.

New estimates of Blake Ridge methane deposits

When technology finally makes it cheap enough to do so, methane present under sediment in the Western Atlantic will provide an enormous source of energy. A new estimate of methane under the Blake Ridge shows just how much.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and other institutions published the most accurate estimates to date in the January 30, 1997 issue of Nature. Using new pressure core sampler technology the researchers estimated 35 billion tons of carbon lies under the ridge, with 15 billion tons inside solid hydrates and 20 billion tons in gaseous form just under the solid hydrate layer.

The confirmation of such large deposits will likely spur additional research into solving the various technical problems associated with extracting and transporting methane from underneath the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

USAID to take on malaria

The U.S. Agency for International Development announced in late October that it was stepping up efforts to combat malaria using insecticide-treated mosquito netting and treatment clinics.

An October 30, 1997 Reuters report said USAID administrator Brian Atwood would announce the anti-malaria initiative at a conference on the malaria problem in Washington, DC. The report cited Dennis Carroll, the conference director, as claiming that field trials of insecticide-treated netting found it reduce the mortality rate of infants and children by up to 30 percent.

According to Reuters, malaria currently kills more than 2 million people worldwide, most of them children under the age of five.

How to really screw up the environment — let Communists run the world

In its Spring 1997 research update, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis detailed its work in the Katowice region of southwest Poland which, thanks to communist economic planning, is believed to be the place in Europe most heavily contaminated with heavy metal pollution. With enormous airborne concentrations of cadmium lead and sulfur dioxide, the area is so polluted that some experts believe it is unsafe to even eat food grown in the soil.

As the IIASA sums up the problems of the “Black Triangle” which includes parts of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic in a zone of high pollution, “The Black Triangle and its 32 million inhabitants missed the shift to a post-industrial society experienced during the 1970s by comparable areas in the West. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the area lacked both an enlightened environmental policy and public awareness of postindustrial Western development. With the resultant increase in openness came revelation of the dramatic environmental degradation in the Black Triangle and its impact on health.”

Thanks to communist mismanagement, the IIASA believes it will take several decades for the Black Triangle to catch up to environmental quality levels which the rest of Europe enjoys.

Michael Fumento Catches Population Action in a Fish Story

In last week’s Population News I reported that the FAO’s State of Food and Agriculture 1997 report outlined how, contrary to some environmentalist claims, world fish catches continue to improve. Science writer Michael Fumento wrote a column a few weeks ago showing how groups such as Population Action make the fisheries situation appear dire by only reporting on part of the story.

Fumento quotes Population Action’s Robert Engelman as saying, “We’re up against the wall. Since the end of the 80s, we’ve been catching the same amount of wild fish around the world, [but] there are about 90 million more people every year.”

As Fumento notes, the problem is in Engelman’s qualifying his statement with the world “wild.” Yes wild fish catches have stabilized, largely because aquaculture has taken off dramatically from a mere 6,933 thousand tons in 1984 to 15,800 tons by 1993. If you combine both wild and farmed fish, total fish catches grew 24% from 1984-1993 while world population grew only 16%.

Fumento cites a United Nations report that continuing to feed the world the same per capita level of fish would require “an overall average increase of less than one million tons a year,” a level at which growth in aquaculture is currently far exceeding, growing by almost two million tons annually in recent years.

What Population Action is doing is akin to counting available food only by measuring wheat and rice that occur naturally in the wild while ignoring the human innovation we call agriculture. When it comes to reporting on fish, Population Action is all wet.

Record Crop Goes Nowhere

In the United States some areas are enjoying record grain harvests (sorry Lester Brown and WorldWatch Institute) and that’s an enormous problem. You see there is so much grain being pumped into the system, it is overloading the ability of railroads to transport all the grain.

An Oct. 26 report in USA Today reported Bill Sebree of NIK Marketing as saying, “It is a terrible mess, the worst we’ve ever seen. We are running 30 days behind schedule for guaranteed grain trains to arrive and we have loaded trains sitting still for up to two weeks. Elevators are losing up to $30,000 on each train that’s late.”

Ironically the upshot could be extremely low prices for grain in the United States. The grain is intended for sale in markets abroad. If it doesn’t get to international markets soon, other nations will turn to alternative suppliers. Farmers then will be forced to either hold on to the grain or sell it domestically. That could mean extremely low grain prices for U.S. consumers.

This whole mess is an excellent example of how sometimes there can be plentiful food but distribution snafus end up making it unavailable to those who otherwise would purchase it.