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Clean water is often taken for granted despite growing evidence that it is threatened in many parts of the world by either environmental contamination and/or socioeconomic problems, such as poverty, which often tend to go hand in hand. Arsenic contaminated ground water used for drinking and cooking is commonplace in many parts of Bangladesh. Like other chemical elements known to be poisonous to humans, arsenic is tolerated to some degree, but beyond certain thresholds ingesting arsenic is toxic leading to risk of disease and death.
Arsenic contaminated groundwater currently threatens the health of 70 million people in 61 of 64 districts in Bangladesh. Many people living in districts plagued with arsenic contaminated ground water regularly drink water with concentrations of arsenic far above national and WHO standards. An important study from Prof Peter Atkins and Dr Manzurul Hassan explores how groundwater arsenic concentration varies throughout areas of southwest Bangladesh. Understanding the scale of arsenic contamination, the complex processes that lead to arsenic in groundwater and how arsenic spreads over time is currently needed to reduce arsenic-related health risks. The study reveals a highly uneven spatial pattern of arsenic concentrations that can inform government policy for addressing where high levels of arsenic contamination occur in order to mitigate arsenic poisoning, a health and social hazard. 358 of the 375 tubewells sampled in the study had concentrations of arsenic of at least .05 mg/L and only 17 of the tubewells (4.50 percent) sampled are considered arsenic-safe. This is a large health concern for people living in areas of Bangladesh where the only source of water they have is contaminated with arsenic that is either above or well above the WHO standard (<0.01 mg/L), but also the limit set by the government of Bangladesh (0.05 mg/L). Read more
Using LIDAR remote sensing (light detection and ranging) geoscientists made a detailed scan of an earthquake zone in northern Mexico and compared it with a survey taken before the 2010 Sierra El Mayor Earthquake. They found that the quake did not occur on a major fault, but through a series of small faults that came together.
Here is a 3D visualisation of the earthquake zone mapped by researchers.
Despite aid efforts in the past, many victims of the 2010 floods are still homeless over a year after the catastrophe occurred. According to a report released by the People’s Accountability Commission on Floods, 1.5 million people are still without shelter in districts of the Sindh province that were extremely damaged by the floods. There are also problems with providing enough resources, such as milk, exposing infants to malnutrition and starvation. The government of Pakistan ended relief activities on 31 December and are no longer providing food, tents or temporary shelter.
Here are two images of southern Pakistan taken by NASA’s MODIS. The first image was taken 24 January 2010 and the second on 23 January of this year.
The Ushahidi platform has been used by people all over the world to report information on large-scale hazard events in real-time. Ushahidi enabled people in Pakistan during the intense flooding in 2010 to report information via SMS about where help was needed. It has also been used to track national elections creating visualisations of data on the web or sent via mobile devices. Ushahidi also created SwiftRiver, which can be used to analyse information about emerging disasters online that are communicated via text messaging.
This is a valuable tool for aid workers as well as journalists who are pressed for time when reporting on an ongoing disaster or crisis. The software platform also has the ability to ‘crowd source’ information to assess trustworthiness of messages or other sources of information coming in. It was used during the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian Earthquake and began in 2008 with tracking the spread of post-election violence in Kenya. While it can be used virtually anywhere, the software is clearly very useful for people in developing countries who have access to the internet and/or use mobile devices.
Ushahidi is also behind CrowdMap which aggregates information about a particular disaster or other event allowing it to be visualised on a map and timeline. CrowdMap does not require any software installation and seems both straightforward and easy to use. What makes CrowdMap and other Ushahidi software platforms particularly powerful for the user is that they can create their own ‘Deployment’ that allows them to report information about a disaster both locally and internationally. Here are a few examples of how CrowdMap has been used to report on disasters. Read more
A news agency specialised in investigative reporting in the US, ProPublica, released an informative series of reports (here, here and here) on the use of body scanning technology by the Transport Security Agency, who is responsible for implementing and regulating travel security measures under the Homeland Security Act of 2002. After its 10th anniversary, many people are wondering what the TSA has actually accomplished in making airports in the US safe from terrorism. The articles focus on the use of body scanners, which are at the focal point of controversies surrounding the TSA. Early on, before the body scanners were first introduced, there was concern as to whether they could pose a significant health risk as the x-ray scanners use ionising radiation that could cause cancer in a minority of airline passengers that pass through them. This is due to the fact that since millions of people enter the scanners the probability of an unfortunate few getting cancer from the machines goes up.
“Even though it’s a very small risk, when you expose that number of people, there’s a potential for some of them to get cancer,” said Kathleen Kaufman, the former radiation management director in Los Angeles County… ProPublica
This health risk is considered low based on the amount of ionising radiation people receive from scanners, which is much less than what they receive while airborne. People receive much larger doses of ionising radiation from being bombarded with cosmic rays when travelling by air at high altitudes. In fact, pilots and flight attendants are actually classified as ‘radiation workers’. According to a study from NASA, flight routes at high latitudes potentially increase radiation exposure to passengers during solar storms. In the case of x-ray body scanners, it is one of a number of risks that air passengers must endure. Read more