Science & Health
0 Comments

Poliovirus resurgence sparks concerns in Pakistan

Islamabad — The recent detection of poliovirus in sewage water samples collected across 30 districts in Pakistan has reignited concerns about a potential surge in polio cases.

Among those deeply troubled is Musal Khan, a polio survivor who navigates life in a wheelchair. Having represented Pakistan in wheelchair cricket at the global level, Musal Khan doesn’t want others to endure the same hardships he has faced.

Reflecting on his own experience, Khan, who contracted polio at age 2, told VOA, “My father didn’t permit polio vaccination for me, leading to a lifetime confined to a wheelchair.”

Khan urges all parents to give polio drops to their children and protect them from lifelong disabilities.

His father, Awal Khan, carries a heavy burden of guilt for his son’s condition. He joins Musal in urging parents not to obstruct polio workers and health officials from administering the vaccine to their children.

Polio, a highly contagious viral illness primarily affecting children under 5, spreads through feces, oral transmission or contaminated food and water. While incurable, it can be prevented through vaccination. Health experts warn that the poliovirus is a persistent presence in Pakistan, particularly in urban centers such as Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar.

Plan to eradicate polio

Shahzad Baig, the coordinator of the National Emergency Operations Center, has outlined Pakistan’s goal of eradicating imported strains of the poliovirus, particularly those originating from neighboring Afghanistan, by the end of 2024.

To achieve this, he announced the implementation of eight comprehensive polio vaccination campaigns scheduled throughout the year.

Despite concerted efforts, the recent emergence of two polio cases in Chaman and Dera Bugti underscored the challenges facing Pakistan. Moreover, alarming findings from the analysis of more than 83 sewage water samples collected across 30 districts have revealed the presence of the virus.

Baig emphasized the importance of vaccination efforts considering these findings. He noted that even in areas where polio drops are administered, children remain susceptible to the virus due to deficiencies in the drainage infrastructure. Broken sewer lines contribute to the contamination of drinking water sources, facilitating the transmission of polio.

Baig stressed the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address not only vaccination coverage but also the improvement of sanitation infrastructure to prevent the spread of poliovirus.

This story originated in VOA’s Urdu Service.

0
Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
0 Comments

Clouds gather over Japan’s ambitious Osaka World Expo

Osaka, Japan — One of the largest wooden structures ever built is taking shape in Osaka but hopes that Expo 2025 will unite the world are being dogged by cost blowouts and a lack of public enthusiasm.

The imposing circular centerpiece will be crowned by a 20-meter-high sloping canopy, designed by top architect Sou Fujimoto, known as the “Grand Roof.”

It has a circumference of a staggering 2 kilometers and 161 countries and territories will show off their trade opportunities and cultural attractions at pavilions within the vast latticed ring.

A crane hoisted a block of beams into place this week as organizers said construction was largely on schedule, one year before visitors will be welcomed.

Expo 2025 global PR director Sachiko Yoshimura maintained that global participants would be “united” by the event even though there are conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza and elsewhere.

Russia will not be among the participants at Expo 2025, which will run from April 13 to October 13.

“Of course, there are so many crises around the world, but we want everybody to actually get together and think about the future and sustainability,” Yoshimura said.

It has also met a lukewarm response in Japan, where promotion is ramping up and the red-and-blue Expo 2025 mascot “Myaku-Myaku” — billed by the official website as “a mysterious creature born from the unification of cells and water” — is ever-present.

A recent Kyodo News survey found that 82% of Japanese companies, sponsors and others involved said “fostering domestic momentum” would be a challenge.

Ballooning budget

The construction budget has ballooned 27% from 2020 estimates to $1.5 billion due to inflation and Japan’s chronic worker shortage.

Some say the costs are also hard to justify when 6,300 people are still in evacuation centers and hotels after an earthquake on New Year’s Day devastated parts of central Japan.

Fujimoto’s “Grand Roof” alone has a price tag of 35 billion yen and has been slammed by opposition leader Kenta Izumi as “the world’s most expensive parasol.”

The “Grand Roof” and other structures are temporary, with no clear plan for them other than organizers saying they will be reused or recycled.

The site on an artificial island in Osaka Bay will be cleared after the Expo, with plans to build a resort there containing Japan’s first casino.

Jun Takashina, deputy secretary general of the Japan Association for Osaka 2025, acknowledged budget and regulatory “struggles” among foreign participants but said organizers would help make sure the displays are ready in time.

Among the most hotly anticipated attractions are flying electric cars, which take off vertically, showcasing the event’s technological and environmental aspirations.

But the vehicles — subject to reams of regulations — will be a “kind of experiment,” Yoshimura said.

More than 1.2 million tickets have already been sold, and organizers hope to attract 28.2 million visitors, including 3.5 million from abroad.

That would be 4 million more than the last World Fair in Dubai but pales in comparison to the 64 million people who attended the 1970 Expo in Osaka, a record until it was overtaken by Shanghai in 2010.

Future like science fiction

The first world fair to celebrate culture and industrial progress was held in London in 1851, with the Eiffel Tower built for the 1889 Paris World Fair.

Osaka academic Shinya Hashizume, a specialist in architecture history and town planning, said he was amazed as a 10-year-old when he saw a “future that looked like science fiction” at the 1970 Expo.

The first film in IMAX format was shown at that event and visitors could admire rocks brought back from the moon.

“Those six months were extraordinary for Osaka. Simply put, the whole town was having a party,” he said.

The advent of mass tourism and hyper-connected societies may have since lessened the attraction, but some Osaka residents still think it’s a good idea.

Kosuke Ito, a 36-year-old doctor, said it would “strengthen the economy.”

However, Yuka Nakamura, 26, said she might be put off by adult entry fees ranging from $25 to $50 a day.

0
Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
0 Comments

Indiana aspires to become next great tech center

indianapolis, indiana — Semiconductors, or microchips, are critical to almost everything electronic used in the modern world. In 1990, the United States produced about 40% of the world’s semiconductors. As manufacturing migrated to Asia, U.S. production fell to about 12%.  

“During COVID, we got a wake-up call. It was like [a] Sputnik moment,” explained Mark Lundstrom, an engineer who has worked with microchips much of his life. 

The 2020 global coronavirus pandemic slowed production in Asia, creating a ripple through the global supply chain and leading to shortages of everything from phones to vehicles. Lundstrom said increasing U.S. reliance on foreign chip manufacturers exposed a major weakness. 

“We know that AI is going to transform society in the next several years, it requires extremely powerful chips. The most powerful leading-edge chips.” 

Today, Lundstrom is the acting dean of engineering at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, a leader in cutting-edge semiconductor development, which has new importance amid the emerging field of artificial intelligence. 

“If we fall behind in AI, the consequences are enormous for the defense of our country, for our economic future,” Lundstrom told VOA. 

Amid the buzz of activity in a laboratory on Purdue’s campus, visitors can get a vision of what the future might look like in microchip technology. 

“The key metrics of the performance of the chips actually are the size of the transistors, the devices, which is the building block of the computer chips,” said Zhihong Chen, director of Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center, where engineers work around the clock to push microchip technology into the future. 

“We are talking about a few atoms in each silicon transistor these days. And this is what this whole facility is about,” Chen said. “We are trying to make the next generation transistors better devices than current technologies. More powerful and more energy-efficient computer chips of the future.” 

Not just RVs anymore

Because of Purdue’s efforts, along with those on other university campuses in the state, Indiana believes it’s an attractive location for manufacturers looking to build new microchip facilities. 

“Purdue University alone, a top four-ranked engineering school, offers more engineers every year than the next top three,” said Eric Holcomb, Indiana’s Republican governor. “When you have access to that kind of talent, when you have access to the cost of doing business in the state of Indiana, that’s why people are increasingly saying, Indiana.” 

Holcomb is in the final year of his eight-year tenure in the state’s top position. He wants to transform Indiana beyond the recreational vehicle, or “RV capital” of the country.  

“We produce about plus-80% of all the RV production in North America in one state,” he told VOA. “We are not just living up to our reputation as being the number one manufacturing state per capita in America, but we are increasingly embracing the future of mobility in America.” 

Holcomb is spearheading an effort to make Indiana the next great technology center as the U.S. ramps up investment in domestic microchip development and manufacturing.  “If we want to compete globally, we have to get smarter and healthier and more equipped, and we have to continue to invest in our quality of place,” Holcomb told VOA in an interview. 

His vision is shared by other lawmakers, including U.S. Senator Todd Young of Indiana, who co-sponsored the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, which commits more than $50 billion in federal funding for domestic microchip development. 

‘We are committed’

Indiana is now home to one of 31 designated U.S. technology and innovation hubs, helping it qualify for hundreds of millions of dollars in grants designed to attract technology-driven businesses. 

“The signal that it sends to the rest of the world [is] that we are in it, we are committed, and we are focused,” said Holcomb. “We understand that economic development, economic security and national security complement one another.” 

Indiana’s efforts are paying off. 

In April, South Korean microchip manufacturer SK Hynix announced it was planning to build a $4 billion facility near Purdue University that would produce next-generation, high-bandwidth memory, or HBM chips, critical for artificial intelligence applications.  

The facility, slated to start operating in 2028, could create more than 1,000 new jobs. While U.S. chip manufacturer SkyWater also plans to invest nearly $2 billion in Indiana’s new LEAP Innovation District near Purdue, the state recently lost bidding to host chipmaker Intel, which selected Ohio for two new factories. 

“Companies tend to like to go to locations where there is already that infrastructure, where that supply chain is in place,” Purdue’s Lundstrom said. “That’s a challenge for us, because this is a new industry for us. So, we have a chicken-and- egg problem that we have to address, and we are beginning to address that.” 

Lundstrom said the CHIPS and Science Act and the federal money that comes with it are helping Indiana ramp up to compete with other U.S. locations already known for microchip development, such as Silicon Valley in California and Arizona. 

What could help Indiana gain an edge is its natural resources — plenty of land and water, and regular weather patterns, all crucial for the sensitive processes needed to manufacture microchips at large manufacturing centers. 

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

Scientists struggle to protect infant corals from hungry fish

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — South Florida researchers trying to prevent predatory fish from devouring laboratory-grown coral are grasping at biodegradable straws in an effort to restore what some call the rainforest of the sea.

Scientists around the world have been working for years to address the decline of coral reef populations. Just last summer, reef rescue groups in South Florida and the Florida Keys were trying to save coral from rising ocean temperatures. Besides working to keep existing coral alive, researchers have also been growing new coral in labs and then placing them in the ocean.

But protecting the underwater ecosystem that maintains more than 25% of all marine species is not easy. Even more challenging is making sure that coral grown in a laboratory and placed into the ocean doesn’t become expensive fish food.

Marine researcher Kyle Pisano said one problem is that predators like parrot fish attempt to bite and destroy the newly transplanted coral in areas like South Florida, leaving them with less than a 40% survival rate. With projects calling for thousands of coral to be planted over the next year and tens of thousands of coral to be planted over the next decade, the losses add up when coral pieces can cost more than $100 each.

Pisano and his partner, Kirk Dotson, have developed the Coral Fort, claiming the small biodegradable cage that’s made in part with drinking straws boosts the survival rate of transplanted coral to over 90%.

“Parrot fish on the reef really, really enjoy biting a newly transplanted coral,” Pisano said. “They treat it kind of like popcorn.”

Fortunately the fish eventually lose interest in the coral as it matures, but scientists need to protect the coral in the meantime. Stainless steel and PVC pipe barriers have been set up around transplanted coral in the past, but those barriers needed to be cleaned of algae growth and eventually removed.

Pisano had the idea of creating a protective barrier that would eventually dissolve, eliminating the need to maintain or remove it. He began conducting offshore experiments with biodegradable coral cages as part of a master’s degree program at Nova Southeastern University. He used a substance called polyhydroxyalkanoate, a biopolymer derived from the fermentation of canola oil. PHA biodegrades in ocean, leaving only water and carbon dioxide. His findings were published last year.

The coral cage consists of a limestone disc surrounded by eight vertical phade brand drinking straws, made by Atlanta-based WinCup Inc. The device doesn’t have a top, Pisano said, because the juvenile coral needs sunlight and the parrot fish don’t generally want to position themselves facing downward to eat.

Dotson, a retired aerospace engineer, met Pisano through his professor at Nova Southeastern, and the two formed Reef Fortify Inc. to further develop and market the patent-pending Coral Fort. The first batch of cages were priced at $12 each, but Pisano and Dotson believe that could change as production scales up.

Early prototypes of the cage made from phade’s standard drinking straws were able to protect the coral for about two months before dissolving in the ocean, but that wasn’t quite long enough to outlast the interest of parrot fish. When Pisano and Dotson reached out to phade for help, the company assured them that it could make virtually any custom shape from its biodegradable PHA material.

“But it’s turning out that the boba straws, straight out of the box, work just fine,” Dotson said.

Boba straws are wider and thicker than normal drinking straws. They’re used for a tea-based drink that includes tapioca balls at the bottom of the cup. For Pisano and Dotson, that extra thickness means the straws last just long enough to protect the growing coral before harmlessly disappearing.

Reef Fortify is hoping to work with reef restoration projects all over the world. The Coral Forts already already being used by researchers at Nova Southeastern and the University of Miami, as well as Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources.

Rich Karp, a coral researcher at the University of Miami, said they’ve been using the Coral Forts for about a month. He pointed out that doing any work underwater takes a great deal of time and effort, so having a protective cage that dissolves when it’s no longer needed basically cuts their work in half.

“Simply caging corals and then removing the cages later, that’s two times the amount of work, two times the amount of bottom time,” Karp said. “And it’s not really scalable.”

Experts say coral reefs are a significant part of the oceanic ecosystem. They occupy less than 1% of the ocean worldwide but provide food and shelter to nearly 25 percent of sea life. Coral reefs also help to protect humans and their homes along the coastline from storm surges during hurricanes.

0
Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
0 Comments

Cambodia’s relocation of people from UNESCO site raises concerns

RUN TA EK, Cambodia — It’s been more than a year since Yem Srey Pin moved with her family from the village where she was born on Cambodia’s Angkor UNESCO World Heritage site to Run Ta Ek, a dusty new settlement about 25 kilometers away.

Hers is one of about 5,000 families relocated from the sprawling archaeological site, one of Southeast Asia’s top tourist draws, by Cambodian authorities in an ongoing program that Amnesty International has condemned as a “gross violation of international human rights law.” Another 5,000 families are still due to be moved.

The allegations have drawn strong expressions of concern from UNESCO and a spirited rebuttal from Cambodian authorities, who say they’re doing nothing more than protecting the heritage land from illegal squatters.

Yem Srey Pin’s single-room home is a far cry better than the makeshift tent she lived in with her husband and five children when they first arrived, which did little to protect from the monsoon rains and blew down in the winds.

And their 600-square-meter property is significantly bigger than the 90-square-meter plot they occupied illegally in the village of Khvean on the Angkor site.

But the 35-year-old is also in debt from building the new house. Her husband finds less construction work nearby and his wages are lower, and there are no wild fruits or vegetables she can forage, nor rice paddies where she can collect crabs to sell at her mother’s stand.

“After more than a year here I haven’t been able to save any money and I haven’t earned anything,” she said. 

The Angkor site is one of the largest archaeological sites in the world, spread across some 400 square kilometers in northwestern Cambodia. It contains the ruins of Khmer Empire capitals from the 9th to 15th centuries, including the temple of Angkor Wat.

When it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1992, it was named a “living heritage site” whose local population observed ancestral traditions and cultural practices that have disappeared elsewhere.

Still, UNESCO at the time noted that Angkor was under “dual pressures” from some 100,000 inhabitants in 112 historic settlements who “constantly try to expand their dwelling areas,” and from encroachment from the nearby town of Siem Reap.

Cambodia’s answer was a plan to entice the 10,000 families illegally squatting in the area to resettle at Run Ta Ek and another site, as well as to encourage some from the 112 historic settlements to relocate as their families grow in size.

“The number of people were on the rise, including those coming illegally,” said Long Kosal, spokesperson for the Cambodian agency known as APSARA that’s responsible for managing the Angkor site. “What we did was that we provided an option.”

Cambodia began moving people to Run Ta Ek in 2022, giving those who volunteered to leave their homes in the Angkor area plots of land, a two-month supply of canned food and rice, a tarp and 30 sheets of corrugated metal to use to build a home. Benefits also included a Poor Card, essentially a state welfare program giving them around 310,000 riel (about $75) monthly for 10 years.

In a November report, Amnesty questioned how voluntary the relocations actually were, saying many people they interviewed were threatened or coerced into moving and that the relocations were more “forced evictions in disguise.”

The rights group cited a speech from former Prime Minister Hun Sen in which he said people “must either leave the Angkor site soon and receive some form of compensation or be evicted at a later time and receive nothing.”

Amnesty also noted Hun Sen’s track record, saying that under his long-time rule Cambodian authorities had been responsible for several forced evictions elsewhere that it alleged “constituted gross violations of human rights.” It said Run Ta Ek — with dirt roads, insufficient drainage, poor sanitation and other issues — did not fulfil international obligations under human rights treaties to provide people adequate housing.

That has now changed: Homes with outhouses have been built, roads paved, and sewers installed. Primitive hand pumps made of blue PVC piping provide water, and electricity has been run in.

There’s a school, a health center, a temple; bus routes were added, and a market area was built but is not yet operating, Long Kosal said.

But Amnesty maintains there are major concerns.

Among other things, families have had to take on heavy debt to build even basic houses, and there is little work to be found, said Montse Ferrer, the head of Amnesty’s research team investigating the Angkor Wat resettlements.

“They had a clear source of income at the time — tourism — but also other sources of income linked to the location at Angkor,” she said. “They are now at least 30 minutes away from the site and can no longer access these sources.”

Following Amnesty’s scathing report, UNESCO moved up the timeline for Cambodia’s submission of its own report on the state of conservation at the Angkor site, specifically asking for the allegations to be addressed.

In that report, submitted to UNESCO in March, Cambodia said it had not violated any international laws with the relocations, saying it was only moving people involved in the “illegal occupation of heritage land” and that in Run Ta Ek many were now property owners for the first time in their lives.

UNESCO said it would not comment on the situation until it has been able to analyze Cambodia’s response.

It referred The Associated Press to previous comments from Lazare Eloundou Assomo, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, who stressed the agency had “always categorically rejected the use of forced evictions as a tool for management of World Heritage listed sites.”

Yem Srey Pin said even though Run Ta Ek has slowly improved since she arrived in February 2023, and her new home will be paid off fairly soon, she’d rather return to her village if it were possible.

But with almost all of the village’s 400 families moving out, Yem Srey Pin says there’s nothing left for her there.

“I can’t live in my old village alone,” she said.

0