World sees rapid upsurge in extreme weather: report

1 / 2
The US capital is shrouded in snow on March 21, 2018 amid the fourth Nor’easter to strike in less than three weeks. Winter Storm Toby is throwing a fresh blanket of snow just as spring begins. (AFP / DAVID GANNON)
2 / 2
In this Feb. 28, 2018 file photo, students rally for clean energy in front of San Francisco City Hall. A federal judge presiding over lawsuits accusing big oil companies of lying about global warming is turning his courtroom into a classroom. U.S. District Judge William Alsup has asked lawyers for two California cities and five of the world's largest oil and gas companies to come to court on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 to present "the best science now available on global warming." (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Updated 21 March 2018

World sees rapid upsurge in extreme weather: report

PARIS: A world addled by climate change has seen a four-fold increase in major flooding events since 1980, and a doubling of significant storms, droughts and heat waves, Europe’s national science academies jointly reported Wednesday.
In Europe, where precise data reaches back decades, the number of severe floods has jumped five fold since 1995, according to the report, which updates a 2013 assessment.
“There has been, and continues to be, a significant increase in the frequency of extreme weather events,” said Michael Norton, environmental program director for the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council.
“They underline the importance of avoiding greenhouse gases, which are fundamentally responsible for driving these changes,” he told AFP.
For impacts that cannot be avoided, he added, “this makes climate proofing all the more urgent.”
In the United States, the damage wrought by storms doubled, on average, from $10 billion in 1980 to $20 billion in 2015, adjusted for inflation, according to the report, based in part on data from insurance giant Munich Re’s NatCatSERVICE.
The update also assessed new findings on possible changes in the Gulf Stream, powerful ocean currents running between the Arctic region and the Caribbean that warm the air in northwestern Europe and the US eastern seaboard.
The weakening of the Gulf Stream “is now a credible hypothesis,” said Norton.
“Some of the underlying drivers of extreme weather which were speculative four years ago are looking less speculative.”
The prospect of the Gulf Stream — also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) — slowing, or even shutting down entirely, “must be taken as a serious possibility,” he added.
Scientists have estimated that winters in Britain and much of western Europe would be several degrees Celsius colder under such a scenario.
The study also examined recent disruptions of the polar Jet Stream, a band of west-to-east winds that circulate at bullet-train speed some 10 kilometers above Earth’s surface at the upper boundary of the troposphere.
Recent research has linked severe winters in North America and Europe, as well some extreme summer weather, to Jet Stream fluctuations possibly driven by global warming in the Arctic, where temperatures have risen twice as fast as for the planet as a whole.
A 2016 study in Climatic Change forecast that, by mid-century, pockets of southern Europe will face at least one severe climate hazard every year of the scale now occurring only once every 100 years.
By 2100, according to these predictions, Europe’s entire Mediterranean seaboard will be confronted annually with extreme droughts, coastal floods or heatwaves.
And a few “hotspots” will be hit every year by two or more such formerly once-in-hundred-years hazards, which also include wildfires, river floods and windstorms.


Pakistan launches anti-polio drive as COVID-19 cases decline

Updated 15 August 2020

Pakistan launches anti-polio drive as COVID-19 cases decline

  • Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio is still endemic
  • Since Jan., Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases from various parts of the country

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health officials on Saturday launched a seven-day vaccination campaign against polio as part of efforts aimed at eliminating the crippling disease amid a steady decline in fatalities and infections from the coronavirus, which had recently overwhelmed the country’s fragile health system.
The anti-polio campaign, which began amid tight security, aims to vaccinate as many as 34 million children across Pakistan, including former Taliban strongholds bordering Afghanistan, a government statement said.
Medical workers participating in the drive against polio were seen adhering to social distancing regulations as they wore face masks and gloves while going house-to-house to avoid a spike in coronavirus cases.
“I am hopeful that parents will continue to realize the importance of vaccinating their children during this campaign,” said Faisal Sultan, an adviser to the prime minister on health issues.
According to Rana Safdar, who heads the government’s polio program, similar campaigns against polio will be launched in October, November and December.
Earlier Saturday, Pakistan’s military said Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist, praised Islamabad’s success in the fight against coronavirus in a telephone call to the country’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. It said Gates also discussed the resumption of the drive against polio.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio — a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the polio virus — is still endemic. The nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has helped Pakistan and other places worldwide fight the disease.
Pakistan had hoped to eliminate the disease by 2018, when only 12 cases were reported. But there was a surge in new cases the following year. Since January, Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases from various parts of the country, including the northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.
Pakistani Taliban and other militants regularly stage attacks on polio teams and security forces escorting them because they claim the anti-polio drive is part of an alleged Western conspiracy to sterilize children or collect intelligence. Attacks on polio teams increased after it was revealed that a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign was used as a ruse by the CIA in the hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed by US commandos in 2011 in Pakistan.
Pakistan halted the drive against polio in March and resumed it last month amid a decline in infections and fatalities from COVID-19.
On Saturday, Pakistan reported only 9 new deaths from the new virus in the past 24 hours, increasing the country’s total of COVID-19 deaths to 6,162. So far, Pakistan has reported 288,047 cases and officials say about 93% of the patients recovered since February, when the country reported its first confirmed case.