A large solar flare yesterday triggered a coronal mass ejection travelling at 1400 km/s that will reach Earth today. An energetic eruption of this level can disrupt satellites, so operation teams at ESA and other organisations are closely monitoring the storm.
A coronal mass ejection (CME) is a huge cloud of magnetised plasma from the Sun's atmosphere – the corona – thrown into interplanetary space. They often occur in association with a solar flare. This ejection was detected by the ESA/NASA SOHO and NASA Stereo spaceborne solar observatories.
CMEs can produce geomagnetic storms when they reach Earth, between two and six days after leaving the Sun.
FAO today called for increased efforts to stem the food crisis in the Horn of Africa as famine spread to a sixth area of Somalia, threatening 750 000 people with starving to death in the next four months.
Latest data released today by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia (FSNAU), which is managed by FAO in close collaboration with USAID's Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), indicated that famine has spread to Bay region, one of Somalia's most productive areas. Five other regions had previously been declared in a state of famine.
Together with ongoing crises in the rest of the country, the number of Somalis in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 2.4 million to 4 million in the last eight months, with 3 million of them in the country's south.
"Though these figures paint a bleak picture for Somalia, there is a window of opportunity for the humanitarian community to stop and reverse this undesirable trend by supporting farmers and herders in addition to other emergency interventions," Luca Alinovi, FAO's Officer in Charge for Somalia, told a press conference in Nairobi.
Bay region is a breadbasket for Somalia, producing over 80 percent of the country's sorghum. Record levels of acute malnutrition have been registered there, with 58 percent of children under five acutely malnourished, and a crude death of more than two deaths per 10 000 per day.
Bay region joins five other areas hit by famine including Bakool agropastoral communities in Lower Shabelle region, the agropastoral areas of Balcad and Cadale districts of Middle Shabelle, the Afgoye corridor IDP settlement, and the Mogadishu IDP community.
Despite current interventions, projections indicate that famine will become widespread throughout southern Somalia by the end of 2011.
"In the current food security situation, famine conditions are expected to spread to agropastoral populations in Gedo Hiran Middle Shabelle and Juba regions and the riverine populations of Juba and Gedo in the coming four months," said Grainne Moloney, FSNAU's Chief Technical Adviser.
Post-harvest finding showed this year's cereal crop to be the lowest in 17 years. Dwindling stocks of local cereals have sent cereal prices soaring 300 percent over the last year and nearly half a million acutely malnourished children across Somalia require urgent nutritional treatment.
FAO has appealed for $70 million for Somalia to provide agricultural emergency assistance for one million farmers and herders. With increasing access to many parts of southern Somalia, FAO is currently carrying out emergency interventions and is opening two new offices in Mogadishu and Dolo and several suboffices in each region.
"We have already embarked on mass production of improved seeds and procured 5 000 tonnes of fertilizer, among other farm inputs, in preparation for the next planting season from October to December," said Alinovi. FAO's current interventions are benefiting of over one million people in Somalia's most affected regions.
FAO has received confirmed donations of $20 million from the United Nations' Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF), Australia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and another $21 million in pledges from the European Commission - Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), the United States of America, Belgium and the World Bank. Talks with other countries are ongoing.
Famine is classified using a tool called the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). FSNAU and FEWS NET adhere to the IPC standards when declaring a famine on the basis of at least three criteria being present: severe lack of food access for 20 percent of the population, acute malnutrition exceeding 30 percent and a Crude Death Rate exceeding two deaths per 10 000 population per day.
The current crisis affects the whole Horn of Africa region including the northern part of Kenya and southern parts of Ethiopia and Djibouti where large areas are classified as being in a state of humanitarian emergency.
Following the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on 11 March, satellite imagery has been vital in providing a clear picture of the extent of devastation to aid the relief effort now underway.
In response to this event, which turned out to be the biggest earthquake Japan has suffered in living memory, the International Charter 'Space and Major Disasters' was triggered by the Cabinet Office of Japan the same day the earthquake struck.
As a result, satellite images from several space agencies and operators from around the world are being used to map and assess the stricken areas.
Founded 10 years ago, the International Charter is a unique mechanism to ensure that timely satellite images are made freely available to authorities and aid workers coping with the aftermath of a disaster.
By combining Earth observation data from different space agencies, the Charter allows resources and expertise from around the world to be coordinated for rapid response to major disasters.
The value of the initiative lies in the way it has been set up to gather and coordinate a range of different satellite data, turn them into usable products and provide a single access point to the products 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and at no cost to the user.
Demonstrating the incredible power that Earth can unleash, the devastation caused by the 8.9-magnitude quake has left the world stunned.
Japan's northwestern coastline is thought to have shifted by as much as 4 m to the east and whole towns have been washed away by the tsunami, completely changing the landscape.
Satellite maps are providing essential information for search and rescue teams on the ground and for damage assessment. Before-and-after images show how the land has changed and where buildings and roads once stood.
Sulphur dioxide plume over Mediterranean
This new image from ESA's Envisat satellite shows the plume of smoke billowing into the atmosphere from Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy, on 11 January.
Volcanic activity gradually increased the following day, peaking in the evening of 12 January – sending flames and ash hundreds of metres into the air.
The image on the right was acquired by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder on NASA's EOS-AQUA satellite. It shows the plume of sulphur dioxide being carried over the Mediterranean Sea.
The data were processed by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research within the framework of ESA's Data User Element and can be used to warn aviation companies on the hazardous plume.
New policy to address indigenous communities in agency's work
FAO is defining a new basis for cooperation and dialogue with the world's indigenous populations following the adoption of a new policy designed to ensure that they are considered in all relevant aspects of the agency's work.
Indigenous and tribal peoples comprise around five per cent of the world's population but make up about 15 per cent of the extremely poor.
The "FAO Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples" (http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/newsroom/docs/FAO_policy.pdf) aims to provide guidance to the agency's various technical units and encourage staff in headquarters and in the regions to engage more systematically and responsibly with indigenous peoples and their organizations.
This will help facilitate the exchange of knowledge and ideas ranging from land tenure issues, sustainable management of natural resources to conservation of traditional knowledge and diversity of traditional food systems for the benefit of rural communities and indigenous peoples.
"With the preparation of this policy paper, FAO aspires to play an important role in the international community's efforts to ensure a better life for indigenous peoples and rural populations" said FAO Director General Jacques Diouf in the preface to the report. "The fight against hunger cannot be won without them."
Many indigenous peoples live in symbiosis with the environment and are highly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods. They also often have specialized knowledge about nature's resources and diversity, both on land and water.
"However, efforts to achieve food security and sustainable development are being compromised by continuing environmental degradation and the erosion of traditional skills" the FAO policy notes.
In addition, many of the lands inhabited by indigenous peoples are highly vulnerable to climate change. As a result, the inhabitants of these areas have advanced knowledge and coping strategies that may prove useful in broader adaptation to future climate scenarios.
The policy was prepared in close consultation with indigenous representatives, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and other UN agencies, as well as numerous individual experts. The content of the policy is based on international legal instruments such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007.
‘Is there a doctor on the plane?’ Piping this request over aircraft speakers is the traditional response to a potential onboard medical emergency. But now the availability of expert medical advice can be guaranteed every time.
Etihad Airways, national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, is the latest airline to install the ESA-derived Tempus IC telemedicine system on its long-haul flights.
ESA supported the development of the technology in collaboration with the UK manufacturer RDT. Already in service with numerous airlines, the briefcase-sized Tempus IC puts non-medical cabin crew in contact with ground-based experts during in-flight medical emergencies.
Key information about the passenger’s health can be quickly transmitted via satellite to a dedicated response centre.
The same vital signs which are measured routinely in a hospital emergency room, including blood pressure and sugar levels, temperature and heart rate, are captured to a clinical level of quality.
At the same time, the crew can also talk with the medical specialists and send them still and moving pictures of the situation.
Imagine a long-haul flight passenger complaining of acute shoulder pain. He may just have strained his muscles lifting too much luggage – or he could be experiencing a heart attack.
The Tempus IC system can transmit the passenger’s electrocardiographic readings to the medical team, allowing them to rule out heart problems and preventing an emergency diversion costing many thousands of euros.
UNESCO has supported a one-week workshop on Media Law & Ethics in Teaching, Research and Practice, jointely hosted by the Chinese Association of Global Communication (CAGC), the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy at Oxford University (PCMLP), the Department of Journalism and Communication at Beijing Foreign Studies University and the School of Journalism and Communication of Tsinghua University. The workshop is taking place from August 23 to 28, 2010 at Tsinghua University, in Beijing.
The workshop brought together a total of 80 Chinese journalists, journalism educators and students from a large number of universities from different regions of Mainland China.
The workshop's lectures and discussions revolve around principles of media ethics: UNESCO’s work in the fields of freedom of expression and freedom of the press; media ethics in practice in both China and internationally; teaching media ethics - curriculum, textbooks and methods; researching media ethics; media law & ethics in the real world and in the classroom; and the impact on media ethics by Internet media and social communication.
Mogens Schmidt, Deputy Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information at UNESCO, opened the Summer School expressing UNESCO's gratitude to Tsinghua University for organizing it. He also delivered a two-hour keynote speech on Principles of Media Ethics. He presented the position of UNESCO with regards to media ethics and law by introducing the Article 19 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and stressing the importance freedom of expression for cultivating a good journalism.
Mogens Schmidt also met with journalism educators and students at Peking University to discuss issues related to ethical and professional standards and their relationship with media law and freedom of expression. Peking University has been in charge of the translation of the UNESCO reader on Freedom of information: a comparative legal survey, which will be launched officially in China later this year.
Since the 1990s, with the rapid development of media industry and the growing media commercialization and the rise of the new media, Chinese journalism is challenged by the flooding of fake news, misleading advertisements, paid journalism, various sorts of media corruption, and etc. To tackle these challenges, there is a need for fundamental measures including training practising journalists and educating future journalists, to which this training workshop would greatly contribute.
Will help countries to detect fire hotspots in real time
FAO today has launched a new online portal on fire information and real time monitoring to help countries to control fire effectively and protect property and natural resources. The new Global Fire Information Management System (GFIMS) detects fire hotspots from satellites operated by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Developed in collaboration with the University of Maryland, GFIMS has an online mapping interface for displaying fire hotspots in "near real" time meaning that there is a lag of approximately 2.5 hours between satellite overpass and the data being available. The new system also allows users to receive email alerts on specific areas of interest, enabling subscribers to react quickly.
"The GFIMS has been launched at a time when the incidence of megafires tends to increase," said Pieter van Lierop, FAO Forestry Officer, who is responsible for the agency's activities in fire management.
"The control of these fires has become an issue of high importance, not only because of the increasing number of casualties and the huge amounts of area burned but also because of the relations with issues of global interest, like climate change."In Russia alone this year due to the unprecedented heat wave with temperatures soaring to up to 40ºC and winds of up to 20 metres per second the total area burned has reached more than 14 million hectares, according to the data provided by the Sukachev Institute for Forests, based in Krasnoyarsk. Forest fires in Russia have already killed more than 50 people this summer.
Globally, vegetation fires affect an estimated 350 million ha of land each year- about half or more of this area is burnt in Africa. In the Mediterranean, between 700 000 and one million hectares are damaged by vegetation fires every year.
Easy to use
Until recently, natural resource managers have faced considerable challenges in obtaining timely satellite-derived information on vegetation fires.
"The information was very fragmented because it was gathered from various sources making it unsuitable for precise analysis and identifying trends," - said John Latham, FAO Senior Environment Officer in the Natural Resources Management and Environment Department. - "GFIMS is an integrated fire information system which delivers the essential data to its users while the fires are still burning."
GFIMS allows users to download fire information in minimal file sizes and in easy-to-use formats, including text files, ESRI shapefiles, Web Map Services, Google Earth/KML files, and a plug-in for NASA World Wind.
"GFIMS has also provoked strong research interest," added Latham. "Linking the system to land cover shows us what is burning. GFIMS now provides analysis on trends of prevalence of fire by year and month, and will include information on the size of burnt area by land cover type in the future. It will result in improving analytical data and timely response."
The system could be used by forest managers and fire fighters, as well as agencies involved in agricultural and natural resources monitoring. The subscription is free of charge. The system only requires a functioning email address. Initially GFIMS has been launched in three languages - English, French and Spanish. The monitoring system is hosted at the FAO's Natural Resources Management and Environment Department.
One of the European Space Agency experiments involves the collection of air samples to measure the quality of air in a confined space such as the Mars500 modules. Romain Charles demonstrates the collection procedure and describes the scope of this experiment.
The second, updated and revised, edition of Toby Mendel’s Freedom of Information: A Comparative Legal Survey has been translated into Arabic and is now available both in print and online versions.
The publication analyses the notion of the right to information, surveys international standards and trends, outlines the key features of a right to information regime and presents a comparative legal analysis covering 14 different countries.
“There has been a veritable revolution in recent years in terms of the right to information, commonly understood as the right to access information held by public bodies. Whereas in 1990 only 13 countries had adopted national right to information laws, upwards of 70 such laws have now been adopted globally, and they are under active consideration in another 20-30 countries,” states the author. His overview of best practice standards and review of laws and policies has become a point of reference for governments, civil society actors, development practitioners, academics and media involved in efforts to further the right to information around the world.
The publication is also available in its original English version, as well as in Chinese, French, Nepalese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish for free download in PDF format: click here.