Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thousands flee fighting as Congo rebels seize gorilla park

  • Story Highlights
  • Congolese rebels seize military camp and Virunga Park's gorilla sanctuary
  • Fighting breaks week-old cease-fire between rebels and government forces
  • 50 park rangers fled for their lives; very rare mountain gorillas in danger
  • Congo's war has taken 5.4 million lives since 1998; 45,000 people die every month

(CNN) -- Congolese rebels seized a major military camp and a spacious gorilla park in a renewed bout of heavy fighting that sent thousands fleeing, according to the United Nations and park officials.

Young gorillas play in Congo's Virunga Park, which was taken over Sunday by rebels fighting army forces.

Young gorillas play in Congo's Virunga Park, which was taken over Sunday by rebels fighting army forces.

The fighting comes after a tenuous week-old U.N. brokered cease-fire between rebels and government forces fell apart Sunday.

Fighting between the rebels under renegade Gen. Laurent Nkunda and Congolese army regulars in the eastern province of North Kivu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo displaced thousands of civilians, according to U.N. spokesman Michele Bonnardeaux.

The rebels also seized the headquarters of Virunga National Park in eastern Congo after intense fighting with the Congolese army, according to a statement by park officials.

The rebels have used Virunga Park as a base but have never seized its headquarters before.

The 3,000 square mile (7,800 square kilometer) park has a gorilla facility and is home to 200 of the 700 endangered mountain gorillas in existence.

"Over 50 rangers were forced to flee into the forests and abandon the park station, in fear of their lives," the park statement said.

"They have seized the entire gigantic infrastructure [of the park headquarters] which is stategically very close to the main road heading north into Goma," said park spokeswoman Samantha Newport by phone from Goma, about 40 kilometers from the fighting.

"The situation is eastern Congo is very dangerous," she said. "It's the first time they've [rebels] ever had the audacity" to take over the park.

Newport said the rebels have set up roadblocks so the rangers are making their way through woods south to safety.

She said the gorillas and other wildlife in the park are in danger of getting caught in the crossfire.

A park ranger described the takeover.

"When the rebels started approaching the park station we thought we were all going to be killed," said Park Ranger Bareke Sekibibi, 29, who spoke by cell phone from the forest earlier as he fled, according to the park statement.

" We are not military combatants, we are park rangers protecting Virunga's wildlife."

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Although the civil war in the Congo officially ended in 2003, recent fighting in eastern Congo between government forces and rebels has caused tens of thousands to flee their homes

The conflict and humanitarian crisis in Congo have taken the lives of some 5.4 million people since 1998, and that 45,000 people continue to die there every month, according to an International Rescue Committee report in January.

Climate change may drown cities

From: http://www.irinnews.org

/climate/article/38493

JOHANNESBURG, 24 October 2008 (IRIN) - People in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, prefer to commute in three-wheeled autorickshaws, taxis and buses that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), in their bid to slow down global warming

CNG produces a lower level of greenhouse gases and is an environmentally cleaner alternative to petrol. Dhaka's residents are among the most vulnerable to global warming and don't want to become "climate terrorists".

The city is among more than 3,000 identified by the UN-Habitat's State of the World's Cities 2008/09 as facing the prospect of sea level rise and surge-induced flooding. The report warns policymakers, planners and the world at large that few coastal cities will be spared the effects of global warming.

Asia accounts for more than half the most vulnerable cities, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (27 percent) and Africa (15 percent); two-thirds of the cities are in Europe, and almost one-fifth of all cities in North America are in Low Elevation Coastal Zones (LECZ).

During the 1900s, sea levels rose by an estimated 17cm; global mean projections for sea level rise between 1990 and 2080 range from 22cm to 34cm, according to the UN-Habitat researchers.

The report points out that by 2070, urban populations in river cities, such as Dhaka, Kolkata (India), Yangon (Myanmar), and Hai Phong (on the coast near Hanoi in Vietnam), which already experience a high risk of flooding, will join the group of populations most exposed to this danger. Port cities in Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, and India will have joined the ranks of cities whose assets are most at risk.

African coastal cities that could be severely be affected by rising sea levels include Abidjan (Cote d'Ivoire), Accra (Ghana), Alexandria (Egypt), Algiers (Algeria), Cape Town (South Africa), Casablanca (Morocco), Dakar (Senegal), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Djibouti (Djibouti), Durban (South Africa), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Lagos (Nigeria), Libreville (Gabon), Lome (Togo), Luanda (Angola), Maputo (Mozambique), Mombasa (Kenya), Port Louis (Mauritius), and Tunis (Tunisia).

Dhaka is wedged between huge rivers like the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, with hundreds of tributaries swollen with increasing glacial melt from the Himalayan ranges as a result of soaring global temperatures.

"The elevation in Dhaka ranges between two and 13 metres above sea level, which means that even a slight rise in sea level is likely to engulf large parts of the city. Moreover, high urban growth rates and high urban densities have already made Dhaka more susceptible to human-induced environmental disasters," said the UN-Habitat report.

"With an urban growth rate of more than four percent annually, Dhaka, which already hosts more than 13 million people, is one of the fastest growing cities in Southern Asia, and is projected to accommodate more than 20 million by 2025.

"The sheer number of people living in the city means that the negative consequences of climate change are likely to be felt by a large number of people, especially the urban poor who live in flood-prone and water-logged areas."

A total 634 million people in the world live in LECZ that lie at or below 10 metres above sea level, according to a recent report,Planet Prepare, by World Vision, a Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation. Although LECZ constitute only two percent of the earth's landmass, they contain 10 percent of its population and have a higher rate of urbanisation than the rest of the world.

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, notes his concern about the prospect of large-scale devastation in his foreword to the UN-Habitat report, saying: "Cities embody some of society's most pressing challenges, from pollution and disease to unemployment and lack of adequate shelter. But cities are also venues where rapid, dramatic change is not just possible but expected."

Dhaka is preparing for flood protection. The government, prompted by frequent flooding in the 1980s, has already completed embankments, reinforced concrete walls and pumping stations in the most densely populated part of the city.

The UN report cautioned that Dhaka's solutions should also take into consideration unresolved development problems, such as the growing slum population, which has doubled in the last decade and shows no signs of abating.

The World Vision report pointed out that other urban centres not physically challenged by global warming would also face tremendous challenges, with the possible influx of "environmental refugees" from affected cities.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has urged global greenhouse gas emission reductions of 50 percent to 85 percent by 2050, based on 2000 emissions, to avoid a 2°Celsius increase in global mean temperature.

Such an increase is expected to destroy 30 percent to 40 percent of all known species, generate bigger, fiercer and more frequent heat waves and droughts, and more intense weather events like floods and cyclones.

The IPCC and activists have called on the global community to focus on preventing global warming from crossing the perilous 2°C threshold, which requires keeping atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations below 350ppm (parts per million).

"The problem is, they [concentrations] already stand at 385ppm (2008), rising by 2ppm annually," said the World Vision report. "Since there are no rewind buttons for running down emitted greenhouse gas stocks, implicational reasoning suggests immediate and stringent emissions cuts."

Eminent scientists, such as James E. Hansen, who heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, are warning that even the 2-degree threshold may likely not be safe enough to avoid "global disaster".

European Scientists: 'Let's Set Up A Global Solar Energy Grid'

From: , Triple Pundit, More from this Affiliate

/energy/article/38496

The Europeans are serious about nanotechnology to wean countries off using fossil fuels in the next century. There´s considerable interest in setting up a solar grid that is global because the sun consistently shines on some part of the planet.

The technologies European scientists say are going to dominate the sustainable energy sector include Dye Sensitized solar Cells (DSCs) and biomimetics. These two technologies are popular because they show great promise for capturing or storing solar energy. At the same time, nanocatalysis already has begun to churn out efficient methods for energy-saving industrial processes convincingly.

The ground tone at the recent European Science Foundation conference about Nanotechnology for Sustainable Energy was overly clear about it; Europe is ready to accelerate development of nano technologies. The conference focused on solar rather than other sustainable energy sources such as wind, because that is where nanotechnology is most applicable and also because solar energy conversion holds the greatest promise as a long-term replacement of fossil fuels.

Solar energy can be harvested directly to generate electricity or to yield fuels such as hydrogen for use in engines. Such fuels can also in turn be used indirectly to generate electricity in conventional power stations. "The potential of solar power is much, much larger in absolute numbers than that of wind," according to Professor Bengt Kasemo, who chaired the conference and who is attached to the Chalmers University of Technology.

A drawback of solar energy is that it -like wind energy- varies greatly across time and geography. That's because it is confined to the daytime and less suitable for regions in higher latitudes, such as Scandinavia and Siberia. For this reason there is growing interest in the idea of a global electricity grid according to Kasemo.

"If solar energy is harvested where it is most abundant, and distributed on a global net (easy to say - and a hard but not impossible task to do) it will be enough to replace a large fraction of today's fossil-based electricity generation," said Kasemo. "It also would solve the day/night problem and therefore reduce storage needs because the sun always shines somewhere."

Sources at the conference and independent organizations say that in the immediate future, solid state technologies based on silicon are likely to predominate the production (manufacture) of solar cells, but DSC and other "runners ups" are likely to lower costs in the long term, using cheaper semiconductor materials to produce robust flexible sheets strong enough to resist buffeting from hail for example.

Although less efficient than the very best silicon or thin film cells using current technology, their better price/performance has led the European Union to predict that DSCs will be a significant contributor to renewable energy production in Europe by 2020. The DSC was invented by a Swiss professor,Michael Gr├Ątzel, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Lausanne, who was one of the speakers and vice chair at the ESF conference.

One key point to emerge from the ESF conference is that there will be growing choice and competition between emerging nanotechnology-based solar conversion technologies. "I think the important fact is that there is strong competition and that installed solar power is growing very rapidly, albeit from a small base," said Kasemo."This will push prices down and make solar electricity more and more competitive."

Some of the most exciting of these alternatives are biomimetics, which involves mimicking processes that have been perfected in biological organisms through eons of evolution. Plants and a class of bacteria, cyanobacteria, have evolved photosynthesis, involving the harvesting of light and the splitting of water into electrons and protons to provide a stream of energy that in turn produces the key molecules of life.

Photosynthesis can potentially be harnessed either in genetically-engineered organisms, or completely artificial human-made systems that mimic the processes, to produce carbon-free fuels such as hydrogen. Alternatively, photosynthesis could be tweaked to produce fuels such as alcohol or even hydrocarbons that do contain carbon molecules but recycle them from the atmosphere and therefore make no net contribution to carbon dioxide levels above ground.

Biomimetics could also solve the longstanding problem of how to store large amounts of electricity efficiently. This could finally open the floodgates for electrically-powered vehicles by enabling them at last to match the performance and range of their petrol or diesel-based counterparts.

Because in spite of all the excitement, the commercial realisation of biomimetic and other emerging technologies is still quite far off. But meantime nanotechnology has an important contribution to make, improving the efficiency of existing energy-generating systems during the transition from fossil fuels.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) presented a virus based type of solar electricity. The presentation by Angela Belcher showed the details of a type of virus that infects E.coli bacteria (a bacteriophage) capable of coating itself in electrically-conducting materials like gold. This can be used to build compact high capacity batteries, with the added advantage that it can potentially assemble itself, exploiting the natural replicating ability of the virus. The key to the high capacity in small space lies in the microscopic size of the nanowires constructed by the viruses - this means that a greater surface area of charge carrying capacity can be packed into a given volume.

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