Warming seas may increase frequency of extreme storms

An ‘anvil’ storm cloud in the Midwestern U.S. Credit: UCAR › Larger view

A new NASA study shows that warming of the tropical oceans due to climate change could lead to a substantial increase in the frequency of extreme rain storms by the end of the century.

The study team, led by Hartmut Aumann of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, combed through 15 years of data acquired by NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument over the tropical oceans to determine the relationship between the average sea surface temperature and the onset of severe storms.

They found that extreme storms – those producing at least 0.12 inches (3 millimeters) of rain per hour over a 16-mile (25-kilometer) area – formed when the sea surface temperature was higher than about 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius). They also found that, based on the data, 21 percent more storms form for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) that ocean surface temperatures rise.

“It is somewhat common sense that severe storms will increase in a warmer environment. Thunderstorms typically occur in the warmest season of the year,” Aumann explained. “But our data provide the first quantitative estimate of how much they are likely to increase, at least for the tropical oceans.”

Currently accepted climate models project that with a steady increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (1 percent per year), tropical ocean surface temperatures may rise by as much as 4.8 degrees Fahrenheit (2.7 degrees Celsius) by the end of the century. The study team concludes that if this were to happen, we could expect the frequency of extreme storms to increase by as much as 60 percent by that time.

Although climate models aren’t perfect, results like these can serve as a guideline for those looking to prepare for the potential effects a changing climate may have.

“Our results quantify and give a more visual meaning to the consequences of the predicted warming of the oceans,” Aumann said. “More storms mean more flooding, more structure damage, more crop damage and so on, unless mitigating measures are implemented.”

The peer-reviewed study was published in the December 2018 issue of the Geophysical Research Letters journal.

Article culled from NASA: Global Climate Change


African Development Bank and ICRC join forces to accelerate economic resilience in fragile contexts

The African Development Bank Group and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) signed a letter of intent on Wednesday 16th January 2019 at the Bank’s headquarters in Abidjan.

The letter commits the institutions to increase their collaboration to accelerate gender equality, build resilience, and provide improved economic opportunities in Africa’s transition countries.

“We recognise that security issues cannot be divorced from development. And that sustainable, healthy and inclusive economic development is not possible without security. We have agreed to bring together our respective strengths and expertise to build resilience, gender equality, economic opportunity and ultimately to improve the lives of millions of Africans in fragile environments,” said the Bank’s Vice-President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, Jennifer Blanke.

During the signing ceremony Peter Mauer, President of the ICRC, emphasised the importance of leveraging both institutions’ complementary mandates. “The Bank’s main stakeholders are [African] states, and we work in places and regions where the state is absent for various reasons. This complementarity can bridge the security-development gap, producing more sustainable results and enhancing development impact”.

The letter, signed by Blanke and Mauer, followed several strategic and technical engagements between the two institutions. The African Development Bank’s Director of Gender, Women and Civil Society, Vanessa Moungar, recently joined a joint mission in Niger at the invitation of Peter Mauer and the ICRC.

The objective of the mission, which saw the delegation travel across the country from Diffa to Agadez, was to meet displaced people affected by shocks such as economic crises, conflicts or natural disasters and explore the potential for income-generating activities for women, girls and youth.

The collaboration with the ICRC helped the Bank to contact remote communities and review its projects and initiatives in the region. During the joint mission stops in Diffa and Agadez, Moungar engaged with the ICRC and the National Society of the Red Cross teams who are giving direct support to women by providing income-generating activity skills.

The new Bank-ICRC agreement opens the way for collaborative opportunities under the Bank’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) programme. AFAWA is a pan-African initiative with the overarching objective of bridging the finance gap for women in Africa and unlocking their entrepreneurial capacity.

Groundbreaking Study highlights responses to Sexual Violence Against Children

‘Out of the Shadows Index’ evaluates how countries are addressing child sexual abuse and exploitation

Boys are overlooked. Just over half (21) of the 40 countries do not have legal protections for boys within their child rape laws. Photo credit: Law Gupshup

Child sexual abuse and exploitation happen everywhere and are pressing concerns for both wealthy and developing countries alike, according to a first-of-its-kind research programme, Out of the Shadows: Shining light on the response to child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit (www.EIU.com) with support from the World Childhood Foundation and Oak Foundation and with additional support from the Carlson Family Foundation, the Out of the Shadows Index and report are unique tools that reveal how 40 countries at the national level are confronting child sexual abuse and exploitation. The policies, practices and standards presented in the index highlight how governments, the private sector and civil society can move toward achieving Target 16.2 in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which calls for ending all forms of violence against children by 2030.

Created with guidance from an international panel of experts, the index covers a comprehensive range of critical issues, including policies on child marriage, reproductive and sexual health, gender differences, law enforcement, and child sexual abuse online, where the expansion of broadband internet has placed more children at risk. Index indicators also focus on the engagement of businesses in fighting child sexual abuse and exploitation, especially the technology and travel/tourism industries. The 40 countries included in the index cover 70% of the global population under 19 years of age.

Key findings from the Out of the Shadows study:

  The UK, Sweden and Canada hold the top three positions in the index. UK government policy to protect children is particularly well developed, and the country has a high level of engagement from industry, civil society and the media. Sweden’s overall environment for children and its legal framework are especially strong, as are Canada’s. Complete rankings are available online at OutoftheShadows.eiu.com. 

  Data to measure and understand the scale of the problem are lacking. Despite investments and efforts globally to combat and catalogue online child sexual abuse and to track reported  incidents of sexual violence against children, just half of the 40 countries reviewed in this index collect nationally representative prevalence data on child sexual abuse and only five collect such data on child sexual exploitation.

  Boys are overlooked. Just over half (21) of the 40 countries do not have legal protections for boys within their child rape laws, while only 18 countries collect prevalence data about sexual abuse of boys.

  Country action has been most pronounced on legal frameworks that protect children. International coalitions can be a path to better legislation, and countries that have strong legal structures  also have good fundamentals, including designated national plans, policies and institutions to address sexual violence against children.

  Combatting child sexual abuse and exploitation is becoming a greater priority on the global stage and in many individual countries, and research shows that progress is possible even when resources are limited.

Sexual violence against children takes place mostly in the shadows, but is a universal threat— no boy or girl is immune. Yet this especially pernicious form of abuse is rarely discussed, even though its emotional and health consequences linger, and the socioeconomic impacts can be devastating. The risks to children have been greatly increased by improved communications connectivity and mobility, which make it easier for offenders to find and lure children online.

What can countries and companies do? Barriers and pathways to progress in fighting sexual violence against children are discussed in detail in the index report and data model, which are

available online at OutoftheShadows.eiu.com.

The  Economist  Intelligence  Unit (The EIU) (www.EIU.com) is  the  research  arm  of  The  Economist  Group, publisher  of  The Economist.  As  the  world’s  leading  provider  of  country  intelligence,  it  helps governments, institutions and businesses by providing timely, reliable and impartial analysis of economic  and  development  strategies.  Through  its  public  policy  practice,  The EIU provides evidence-based research for policymakers and stakeholders seeking measureable outcomes, in fields  ranging  from  gender  and  finance  to  energy  and  security.  It  conducts  research  through interviews, regulatory analysis, quantitative modelling and forecasting, and displays the results via interactive data visualisation tools. Through a global network of more than 750 analysts and contributors,  The  EIU  continuously  assesses  and  forecasts  political,  economic  and  business conditions in more than 200 countries. 

The article is published courtesy of APO

‘We cannot lose momentum’ on the road to peace in Yemen, UN envoy warns

UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Martin Griffiths (on screen), Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, briefs the Security Council on the situation in Yemen. 9 January 2019.

“The difficult part” of reaching a lasting political settlement in Yemen “is still ahead of us” said the UN Special Envoy on Wednesday, urging the Security Council to support the “speedy implementation” of the fragile ceasefire agreed in and around the crucial port city of Hudaydah, at breakthrough talks in Sweden last month.

Martin Griffiths told Council members he was “under no illusion that these are very sensitive and challenging days” for both the Government coalition, and opposition Houthi leaders, “and for Yemen as a whole.”

Mr. Griffiths updated the Council that since the consultations in Stockholm, President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Abdelmalik Al-Houthi, leader of Houthi opposition movement Ansar Allah, have recognized the meetings “as an important step towards a comprehensive resolution to the conflict” and were determined to build on that progress through more dialogue.

Noting that the 18 December ceasefire in and around Hudaydah had been largely adhered to, Mr. Griffiths said the fighting was now “very limited” compared to the clashes beforehand, which threatened the lives of hundreds-of-thousands of civilians living inside the Houthi-held port and city.

“This relative calm, I believe, indicates the tangible benefit of the Stockholm Agreement for the Yemeni people and the continued commitment of the parties to making the agreement work,” he asserted.

The special envoy credited the Council’s “swift authorization” of December’s  resolution 2451, and rapid deployment of ceasefire monitors as “a clear signal to the parties and the Yemeni people of the international community’s desire to turn the agreement into facts on the ground” and hoped that security arrangements and the humanitarian access routes agreed in Stockholm will be implemented swiftly.

Turning to the major city Taiz where the two sides have battled for control for more than three years, the UN envoy recalled its “enormous historic significance” and called its people a driving economic and cultural force.

“Civilians in Taiz have suffered far too much for too long, and the destruction in the city has been terrible”, he underscored. “The flow of humanitarian aid needs to increase, and people need the chance to rebuild”, he added, pointing out that the Stockholm consultations provided a platform for this.

On the prisoner exchange agreement, Mr. Griffiths said that although implementation has been “gradual and tentative”, the UN was working with both parties to finalize the lists each submitted in Stockholm and would follow up with talks on 14 January in Amman, Jordan.

“I hope these talks will allow many thousands of prisoners to go home and be reunited with their families”, he said, asking for the Council’s support in encouraging the parties to “overcome any challenges that may be encountered along the way.”

Mr. Griffiths lamented that no consensus was reached on the Central Bank of Yemen or opening the Sana’a airport, which would significantly contribute to the economy and help relieve humanitarian suffering.

“I continue to work with the parties to resolve them,” he maintained, urging both sides to “exert restraint in their media rhetoric”.

With the goal of reaching a lasting political settlement, Mr. Griffiths said “Sweden was just a start” and that it was important to keep up the momentum in moving the process forward.

Calling speedy implementation “crucial”, he stressed that a lot of work needs to be done “before the parties can reach a comprehensive peace agreement”.

The UN envoy spelled out: “We need to convene the next round, but we need substantive progress on what was agreed in Stockholm”.

“Progress in Sweden is a basis for confidence. It would be conducive to further progress at the next round of consultations”, he concluded.

Entrepreneurs in fragile, conflict and violence-affected countries face unique mental health challenges

(C) World Bank

Fragility, conflict and violence (FCV) have become some of the most pressing threats to economic development. Over 2 billion people live in FCV countries, and it is expected that by 2030 nearly 50 to 60 percent of the world’s poorest people will live in areas affected by conflict. This can pose major socioeconomic challenges, including a reduction of gross domestic product growth by 2 percentage points per year and driving youth to join rebellions due to conflict-driven unemployment.

One way FCV countries work to reduce the risk of violence and help build resilience is by creating economic opportunities through jobs, which can decrease poverty, increase productivity and build social cohesion. In FCV countries, the responsibility for creating these critical jobs in the private sector falls on the shoulders of entrepreneurs of formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as well as SMEs in the informal sector.

However, working in a FCV context can have far-reaching consequences on the well-being and productivity of entrepreneurs. The unusually high demands and stress of operating in FCV-affected areas can result in mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety among SME entrepreneurs, according to a recently published World Bank Group (WBG) report. To address this, the report explores potentially scalable interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) trainings that can be implemented in low-capacity contexts and measured for impact. CBT is based on the concept that our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and the way individuals perceive a situation is more closely connected to their reaction than the situation itself. CBT helps an individual identify unhelpful thought patterns to improve how they feel, and hence, behave.
Even in non-FCV environments stress can be problematic for entrepreneurs. Whereas low to moderate levels of stress can be a positive trigger for the performance of entrepreneurs, chronic stress is harmful for their mental well‐being and performance in the long run. Compared to large firms, SME owners and managers lack diversified capital, stable sources of income and/or delegation opportunities. This can leave them more prone to stress-driven depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
These entrepreneurial stressors are exacerbated in FCV environments. SME entrepreneurs routinely work with significantly higher levels of uncertainty and risk, so decisions can start to represent tough choices. Every difficult decision imposes a cognitive cost, sapping energy and attention, and depleting working memory. Over time, this can affect an entrepreneur’s productivity through reduced attention to detail, lower motivational capabilities, which then discourages employees through a mood contagion effect, and an increased tendency to display  counterproductive work behavior(s) resulting in more angry outbursts.

One place where this can be seen is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Conflict over three decades has resulted in a significant decline in SME performance here, which now ranks among the poorest regions in the country. A recent rapid needs assessment of SME entrepreneurs in KP and FATA by the WBG, with the Human Development Research Foundation, found various adverse symptoms, such as “agitated mood, disturbances in diet and sleep, low self-esteem, nervousness, loss of interest and inability to concentrate on work.” These symptoms were directly attributable to conflict‐related stressors, such as “fears about the safety of their loved ones, as well as flashbacks and thoughts of traumatic experiences.”

While there is a dearth of systematic studies looking at the link between fragility and mental health outcomes for entrepreneurs, and even less on its impact on business outcomes, literature from cognitive psychology and public health shows that with the proper set of CBT interventions, significant positive changes can be observed in FCV environments.

In addition to our recent report, to add to this body of evidence and explore potential impacts on entrepreneurs, the WBG is conducting a small pilot study to measure whether CBT trainings can improve mental health and business outcomes among SME entrepreneurs in KP/FATA. Baseline data from the study shows that more than 35 percent of the randomized sample of 234 entrepreneurs qualify for clinical case levels of depression, confirming what we find in the literature. However, according to the baseline data, few people recognized these challenges as mental health problems that need specific management, even though a significant share report a derailment of their business results due to health outcomes.

The study results looking at the impact of CBT on mental health outcomes will be released next year, but early data points to both male and female entrepreneurs being unique at-risk groups. Entrepreneurs score high on “self-efficacy,” which indicates confidence in their ability to get things done, but this trait might also make them less likely to seek help. Cultural norms play a role too, making it less likely that both men and women will seek help. Whereas men are expected to be “strong and macho,” a lack of freedom and traditional social structures prevent women from accessing support. Since these interventions tend to be inexpensive, financial constraints do not appear to be a concern.  

Even with these early results, there are two potential policy considerations that could help address these issues. First, the economic rehabilitation of a population exposed to a humanitarian crisis must include interventions to reduce mental health challenges and build resilience. This implies including mental health interventions as part of the basket of technical support provided to SMEs, which includes access to finance, infrastructure and technology extension services, and technical training. Second, we should consider expanding “occupational health” policies in FVC contexts to include at-risk job creators. This would encourage leaders and managers of job-creating firms who function in high levels of uncertainty to seek support, helping to decrease the negative impacts of the high stress experienced in FCV environments.  

The articled is published courtesy of the World Bank Group

Wishing you all the best this holiday season

Dear friend
Millions of people are suffering due to situations beyond their control. Millions of children are starving, and deprived of the basic needs in life. You could be their hope; a single act of love could change everything.
Merry Christmas

NASA finds Asian glaciers slowed by ice loss

By Carol Rasmussen,
NASA’s Earth Science News Team

A NASA-led, international study finds Asia’s high mountain glaciers are flowing more slowly in response to widespread ice loss, affecting freshwater availability downstream in India, Pakistan and China. Researchers analyzed almost 2 million satellite images of the glaciers and found that 94 percent of the differences in flow rates could be explained by changes in ice thickness.

Animation of satellite images revealing the flow of the Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram Range, Pakistan. Credit: NASA/Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens

For more than a decade, satellite data have documented that the glaciers were thinning as the melt rates on their top surfaces increased. However, “It has not been entirely clear how these glaciers are responding to this ice loss,” said the lead author of the new study, Amaury Dehecq of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The rate at which they will disappear in the future depends on how they adjust to a warming climate.”

Asia’s mountain glaciers flow from the cold heights of the world’s tallest mountains down to warmer climate zones, where they melt much faster, feeding major rivers such as the Indus and Yangtze. Scientists need to understand what is regulating the glaciers’ flow speeds to project how glacial meltwater will contribute to the region’s water resources and to sea level rise. Observing the glaciers from ground level is difficult because of their huge geographic expanse and inaccessibility, so the researchers turned to satellite images.

Dehecq and his colleagues developed algorithms to analyze almost 2 million pairs of U.S. Geological Survey/NASA Landsat satellite images from 1985 to 2017. The algorithms enabled automatic feature tracking to measure the distance that distinctive spots on the glaciers, such as crevasses or patches of dirt, traveled between an earlier and a later image. “We do this millions of times and average through the noise (errors and random disturbances) to see changes in velocity on the order of 1 meter (3 feet) a year,” said study coauthor Alex Gardner of JPL.

“What’s surprising about this study is that the relationship between thinning and flow speed is so consistent,” said coauthor Noel Gourmelen of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. In the few locations where glaciers have been stable or thickening rather than thinning, the study found that flow speeds also have been increasing slightly.

The reason a glacier flows down a slope at all is because gravity pulls on its mass. The pull makes a glacier both slide on its base and deform, or “creep” – a slow movement caused by ice crystals slipping past one another under the pressure of the glacier’s weight. As the glacier thins and loses mass, both sliding and creeping become more difficult, and the glacier’s flow slows as a result.

However, other factors also affect a glacier’s rate of flow, such as whether water is lubricating the glacier’s base so that it can slide more easily. Scientists were unsure of the relative importance of these different factors. The new study shows that ice thickness far outweighs any other factor in regulating flow speed over the long term.

The study published this week in Nature Geoscience is titled “Twenty-first Century Glacier Slowdown Driven by Mass Loss in High Mountain Asia.” Coauthors are from JPL; the Université Savoie Mont-Blanc in Annecy, France; the University of Edinburgh in Scotland; the Université de Strasbourg in France; the Université Grenoble Alpes in Grenoble, France; and the Université de Toulouse in France. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.

The article is published courtesy of NASA: Global Climate Change