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Ethiopia

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Malaria and Chickens

I had malaria once, and it was extremely unpleasant. I had been working in Yemen, but I actually contracted it when I was flying home on a Dutch airline that must remain nameless. The flight made a stop in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and the plane was parked out on the runway while waiting to pick up passengers – right on the edge of a mangrove swamp on the Red Sea coast .

The pilot turned the engines off to save fuel, and then opened the door to give us fresh air. It was night-time, and so a million mosquitoes swarmed into the plane. In five minutes everybody had been bitten multiple times. The passengers then revolted and the pilot shut the door and turned the air con back on, but it was too late.

I fell ill and collapsed a couple of weeks later, when I was at my wife’s family’s house in a small village in southern France, but I was lucky. My wife, who grew up in Africa, thought it was malaria, and the village doctor (who had served with the French army in Africa) confirmed it, so there and then he gave me a massive dose of antimalarial drugs.

By the time they got me to the hospital in Bayonne, they couldn’t even find any of the Plasmodium parasites in my bloodstream. They kept me in hospital for a couple of days anyway, but it wasn’t that bad, because in French hospitals they give you wine with your meals.

Small crisis, not many hurt. But the point of the story is that none of this would have happened to me (and presumably to some of the other passengers too) if only there had been chickens on the plane.

Statistics can sometimes lead to significant medical breakthroughs. In this case a team of Ethopian and Swedish scientists did a statistical study in three villages in western Ethiopia about the feeding habits of nocturnal, malaria-carrying Anopheles arabiensis mosquitoes. The results were instructive.

Outdoors, the mosquitoes preferred to feed on cattle (63 percent of bites), with human beings coming next (20 percent), and goats and sheep bringing up the rear (5 percent and 2.6 percent). Indoors, people provided 69 percent of the mosquitoes’ meals, compared to cattle at 18 percent and sheep and goats coming last again. (In this part of Ethiopia, people sometimes bring their animals indoors at night.)

There were also plenty of chickens around, both indoors and out. But in one outdoor sample, only one female mosquito out of 1,200 had chicken blood in her. In the indoor sample, none did. MOSQUITOES DON’T BITE CHICKENS.

Why not? Maybe evolution has taught mosquitoes to avoid chickens because chickens eat mosquitoes. But how do mosquitoes actually spot a chicken? Certainly not by sight: tiny compound eyes are good for spotting movement, but they do not give you much detail or any distance vision at all. So maybe by smell? That would be handy.

We can’t disguise ourselves as chickens, but we could try smelling like them. Or at least have something that smells chickeny nearby. In one experiment, the scientists even hung cages with live chickens in them over people’s beds at night, and lo! They had very few mosquito bites – fewer even than people sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets.

Admittedly, this approach is a bit impractical for general use. Something more compact and less noisy would be preferable. So the scientists tried putting chicken feathers near people’s beds, and it still worked. Then they tried distilled essence of chicken odour (isobutyl butyrate, naphthalene, hexadecane and trans-limonene, if you must know), and that worked too.

Almost half the world’s population (3.2 billion people) lives in areas where malaria-bearing mosquitoes are present. About one in fifteen of those people actually comes down with malaria each year, and almost half a million of them die of it. Many tens of millions more spend a long, agonising time being very sick indeed.

Anything that cuts into those numbers would be most welcome, and prevention is much better than cure. CHEAP prevention is even better, and compared to insecticide-treated bed nets and various experimental vaccines, just sprinkling some “essence de poulet” (chicken fragrance) around before going to bed has got to be cheaper.

Essence de poulet probably won’t be on the market for a while yet, but hats off to Professor Habte Tekie of the University of Addis Ababa and Professor Rickard Ignell of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, who led the Ethiopian-Swedish team that did the study. (Their full report is available online in the 21 July issue of Malaria Journal)

Meanwhile, if you want to bring a chicken along on our next camping trip, it’s fine with me. But don’t get the supermarket kind. They don’t work as well.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraph 9. (“Why…handy”)

Update: Drums Along the Nile

3 June 2013

Drums Along the Nile

By Gwynne Dyer

Beware the open mike. On Tuesday Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi summoned senior politicians of all parties to discuss Ethiopia’s plan to dam the main tributary of the Nile river. One proposed sending special forces to destroy the dam. Another thought buzzing the dam site with jet fighters might scare the Ethiopians off.

Ayman Nour, a former presidential candidate and a more sophisticated player, suggested that Egypt support rebel groups fighting the Ethiopian regime. “This could yield results in the diplomatic arena,” he said. And none of them realised that their discussion was being broadcast live by Egyptian state television.

All students of geopolitics are familiar with the legend that Egypt has privately warned the governments upstream on the Nile that it will start bombing if they build dams on the river without its permission. The truth of that story is about to be tested.

Last month Ethiopia started diverting the waters of the Blue Nile in order to build the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a $4.7 billion, 6,000-megawatt hydroelectric project that is the centrepiece of the country’s plan to become Africa’s largest exporter of power. Egypt instantly objected, for it depends utterly on irrigation water from the Nile to grow its food.

Even now Egypt must import almost 40 percent of its food, and the population is still growing fast. If the amount of water coming down the Nile diminishes appreciably, Egyptians will go hungry.

A treaty signed in 1929 gave 90 percent of the Nile’s water to the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, even though all the water in the river starts as rain in the upstream countries: Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. That caused no problems at the time, but now Egypt is using all of its share of the water – and the upstream countries are starting to use the water for irrigation too.

The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is the first real test of Egypt’s tolerance for upstream dam-building. The reservoir will take 63 million cubic metres of water to fill; Egypt’s annual share of the Nile’s water is 55.5 million cubic metres. So even if Ethiopia takes five years to fill the reservoir, that will mean 20 percent cuts in the water Egypt receives from the Nile for five years. And even after that there will be a large annual loss to evaporation.

The dam that was getting the Egyptian politicians worked up is just the start. Ethiopia plans to spend a total of $12 billion on dams on the Blue Nile for electricity and irrigation, and Uganda is negotiating with China for financing for a 600-megawatt dam on the White Nile. More dams and irrigation projects will follow – and the upstream states are in no mood to let Egypt exercise its veto under the 1929 treaty.

That treaty was imposed when all the countries involved except Ethiopia were under British rule, and it reflected Britain’s big investment in Egypt. In 2010 the upstream countries signed a Cooperative Framework Agreement to seek more water from the River Nile, effectively rejecting the colonial-era treaty and demanding that Egypt relinquish its veto and accept a lower water quota.

That’s not going to happen. Mohammed Allam, Egypt’s minister of water resources under President Hosni Mubarak when the upstream states signed their agreement three years ago, warned that “Egypt reserves the right to take whatever course it sees suitable to safeguard its share.” The post-revolutionary Egyptian government cannot afford to be less firm in defending Egypt’s interests.

The issue will probably be kicked down the road for a couple of years, because the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will not be completed until 2015 at the earliest. But there is big trouble for Egypt (and Sudan) further down the road.

By 2025, a dozen years from now, Egypt will be trying to feed 96 million people, which would be very hard even with its existing giant’s share of the Nile’s water and all its current food imports. The countries that signed the Cooperative Framework Agreement will have 300 million people, so by then they will also be extracting very large amounts of water from the Nile Basin for irrigation.

Without that water, Egypt’s only options are beggaring itself with massive food imports (until the foreign exchange runs out), or famine. Unless, of course, it decides on war – but its options are not very good on that front either.

Not only are the upstream countries a very long way from Egypt (the Nile is the world’s longest river), but they will have strong support from China, which is financing most of the dams they are now building or planning.

Egypt, by contrast, has repudiated its former American ally, and may find that the US is reluctant to re-engage even if the government in Cairo can overcome its own distaste for Washington. Why would the United States want a confrontation with China over Egypt?

So there probably won’t be a war. And Egypt will probably face an apocalyptic food shortage in ten or fifteen years.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 10. (“The Great…evaporation”; and “That’s not…interests”)

 

 

Drums Along the Nile

3 June 2013

Drums Along the Nile

By Gwynne Dyer

All students of geopolitics are familiar with the legend that Egypt has privately warned all the governments upstream on the Nile that it will start bombing if they build dams on the river without its permission. The truth of that story is about to be tested.

Last month Ethiopia started diverting the waters of the Blue Nile in order to build the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a $4.7 billion, 6,000-megawatt hydroelectric project that is the centrepiece of the country’s plan to become Africa’s largest exporter of power. Egypt instantly objected. “We have a strong legal case to insist that our share of the Nile water is preserved,” said an anonymous government source – but he didn’t mention bombers.

Egypt depends utterly on irrigation water from the Nile to grow its food. Even now there is not enough (it already imports almost 40 percent of its food), and Egypt’s population is still growing fast. If the amount of water coming down the Nile diminishes appreciably, Egyptians will go hungry.

A treaty signed in 1929 gave 90 percent of the Nile’s water to the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, even though all the water in the river starts as rain in the upstream countries: Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. It seemed fair at the time: the 20 million people in the downstream countries depended heavily on irrigation, while the 27 million in the upstream countries had plenty of rain-fed land and hardly irrigated at all.

Things have changed since then. According to the International Data Base of the US Census Bureau, there are now six times as many people in the Arabic-speaking countries downstream, and eight times as many people in the African countries upstream. Egypt is using all of its share of the water – and the upstream countries are starting to use the water for irrigation too.

The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is the first real test of Egypt’s tolerance for upstream dam-building. The reservoir will take 63 million cubic metres of water to fill; Egypt’s annual share of the Nile’s water is 55.5 million cubic metres. So even if Ethiopia takes five years to fill the reservoir, that will mean 20 percent cuts in the water Egypt receives from the Nile for five years. And even after that there will be a large annual loss to evaporation.

This dam is just the start. Ethiopia plans to spend a total of $12 billion on dams on the Blue Nile for electricity and irrigation, and Uganda is negotiating with China for financing for a 600-megawatt dam on the White Nile. More dams and irrigation projects will follow – and the upstream states are in no mood to let Egypt exercise its veto under the 1929 treaty.

That treaty was imposed when all the countries involved except Ethiopia were under British rule, and it reflected Britain’s big investment in Egypt. In 2010 six upstream countries (including Burundi and Rwanda) signed a Cooperative Framework Agreement to seek more water from the Nile, effectively rejecting the colonial-era treaty and demanding that Egypt relinquish its veto and accept a lower water quota.

That’s not going to happen. Mohammed Allam, Egypt’s minister of water resources under President Hosni Mubarak when the upstream states signed their agreement three years ago, warned that “Egypt reserves the right to take whatever course it sees suitable to safeguard its share.”

His country sees the matter as a national security issue, Mohammed Allam said: “Egypt’s share of the Nile’s water is a historic right that Egypt has defended throughout its history.” The post-revolutionary Egyptian government under President Mohammed Morsi cannot afford to be less firm in defending Egypt’s interests.

The issue will probably be kicked down the road for a couple of years, because the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will not be completed until 2015 at the earliest. But there is big trouble for Egypt (and Sudan) further down the road.

By 2025, a dozen years from now, Egypt will be trying to feed 96 million people, which would be very hard even with its existing giant’s share of the Nile’s water and all its current food imports. The countries that signed the Cooperative Framework Agreement will have 300 million people, so by then they will also be extracting very large amounts of water from the Nile Basin for irrigation.

Without that water, Egypt’s only options are beggaring itself with massive food imports (until the foreign exchange runs out altogether), or famine. Unless, of course, it decides on war – but its options are not very good on that front either.

Not only are the upstream countries a very long way from Egypt (the Nile is the world’s longest river), but they will have strong support from China, which is financing most of the dams they are now building or planning.

Egypt, by contrast, has repudiated its former American ally, and may find that the US is reluctant to re-engage even if the government in Cairo can overcome its own distaste for Washington. Why would the United States want a confrontation with China over Egypt?

So there probably won’t be a war. And Egypt will probably face an apocalyptic food shortage in ten or fifteen years.

________________________________

To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 10. (“The Great…evaporation”; and “His country…interests”)

 

 

Somalia Again

24 August 2010

Somalia Again

By Gwynne Dyer

The US decision in 2006 to send Ethiopian troops into Somalia in 2006 was one of the stupidest moves in a very stupid decade. This week, some of the chickens spawned by that decision came home to roost.

On Monday the al-Shabaab militia launched a “massive war” against the 6,000 African Union peacekeepers, most of them Ugandan, who are protecting the so-called government of Somalia. In reality, however, all it actually governs is a few dozen blocks in Mogadishu, and its members are just a group of Somali warlords and clan leaders who proclaimed themselves to be the “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) in 2004.

Six “members of parliament” were among the forty people killed when an al-Shabaab suicide squad stormed the al-Muna hotel in Mogadishu on Tuesday, but there will be no by-elections to replace them. They were never elected in the first place. The TFG made no progress in reuniting the country, and now its surviving members sit surrounded by al-Shabaab fighters who control most of the sprawling capital.

Southern Somalia has been trapped in an unending civil war since the last real government collapsed in 1991, but the current round of killing was triggered when the United States invited Ethiopia to invade the country in 2006. This was a bit high-handed, especially since Ethiopia was Somalia’s traditional enemy, but Washington’s aim was to destroy the “Islamic Courts ” in Somalia.

The TFG failed utterly to impose its authority and restore order in Somalia, but the Islamic Courts Union took a different approach. Its roots were in the merchant class in Mogadishu, who simply wanted a safer environment to do business in, and they understood that Islam was the only common ground on which all of the country’s fissiparous clans and militias might be brought together again.

The Islamic courts, applying shariah law, were the instrument by which the society would gradually be brought back under the rule of law – and for about six months, it worked amazingly well. The zones of peace and order spread throughout southern Somalia, the epicentre of the fighting, and trade and employment revived. A made-in-Somalia solution had spontaneously emerged from the chaos.

Inevitably, some of the younger supporters of the Islamic Courts movement enjoyed ranting in public about the virtues of al-Qaida, the wickedness of Americans, and other matters of which they knew little. Almost every popular movement has a radical youth wing that specialises in saying stupid and provocative things. It is the job of the adults, inside and outside the organisation, to contain their excesses and NOT TO PANIC.

Alas, the United States panicked, or at least its intelligence agencies did. The mere word “Islamic” set off alarm bells in the Bush administration, which had the lamentable habit of shooting first and thinking later.

Washington therefore concluded that the Islamic Courts Union, Somalia’s best hope of escaping from perpetual civil war, was an enemy that must be removed. Since the TFG was clearly not up to that task, Washington asked Ethiopia, Somalia’s old enemy, to provide the necessary troops.

Ethiopia agreed because it does NOT want stability in its old enemy, Somalia. The Ethiopians understood perfectly well (even if Washington did not) that the presence of their troops in Somalia would drive out the moderate leaders of the Islamic Courts Union and leave the country at the mercy of the crazies in the youth wing.

A prostrate and divided Somalia was clearly in Ethiopia’s long-term strategic interest, so why not? Especially since the United States financed the whole operation.

The Ethiopian troops invaded in late 2006 and the Islamic Courts Union was destroyed, leaving the field clear for the movement’s radical youth wing, al-Shabaab (The Youth). Attacks on both the TFG and the Ethiopians multiplied, and civil war and chaos returned to Mogadishu. After two years the Ethiopians, having thoroughly wrecked any prospect of peace in Somalia, pulled their troops out and went home.

Since late 2008, only the 8,000 African Union troops in the country have kept alive the fiction of a Somali government friendly to the United States, but al-Shabaab has now gone on the offensive. The two suicide bombs that killed 74 people in Kampala last month were a warning to Ugandans to bring their troops home from Somalia, and al-Shabaab is now trying to overrun the last small patch of Somali territory still held by the TFG.

Al-Shabaab is far more radical and anti-American than the Islamic Courts movement ever was, but the price of Washington’s stupidity will be paid mostly by Somalis. The Islamist fighters will probably not be able to control the whole of southern Somalia even if the African Union troops pull out. In any case, al-Qaida and its friends don’t need “bases”: conventional military operations do, but bases are virtually irrelevant in terrorist ops.

The northern half of former Somalia, ruled by the breakaway states of Puntland and Somaliland, is already at peace and will remain so. Southern Somalia will probably have to endure more years of violence and despair because Washington never understood that the Islamic Courts Union could be its tacit ally in stabilising Somalia. But nothing particularly bad will happen to anybody except Somalis, so that’s all right.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 10 and 14. (“Ethiopia…wing”; and “Al-Shabaab…ops”)