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Two climate extremes: flooded cities, dry rural areas

Rising temperatures are leading to more intense storms and flooding in urban areas but drier soil in rural areas especially in Asia and Africa, says a new study. Carried out by engineers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney and published this month (August) in Nature Scientific Reports, the study analysed real-world effects of river flows and rainfall data from over 160 countries. The researchers noted that there’s a radical shift in streamflow patterns with more intense rainfall in cities, overwhelming infrastructure and causing flooding. But there’s also a puzzling observed phenomenon of drier soils and reduced water flow in rural areas. The answer turned out to be the other facet of rising temperatures: more evaporation from moist soils is causing them to become drier before any new rain occurs.

UN Treaty Against `Killer Robots' Urged

Founders of leading robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) companies from 26 countries have, in an open letter to the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), called for an international treaty to ban killer robots. Killer robots or autonomous weapons can identify and attack a target with no human intervention. They include armed quadcopters and drones where humans are not making the decisions, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones. The 2017 letter, signed by 116 top AI founders, is the brainchild of Toby Walsh, professor of AI at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Released during the opening of the 3-day (21-23 August) International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI 2017), the letter was to have coincided with the first meeting of the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, now rescheduled for November.

Ride through history, camelback

Camels, part of the dark days of White Australia, are still walking into the continent’s sunset. Australia invokes images of kookaburras and cockatoos, kangaroos and koalas, but it is also home to thousands of camels. These camels and camel handlers came to Australia from the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century. Camels are still an enduring part of the Australian landscape. They are used in races, rides, Outback safaris, and bred for camel milk, cheese and meat.

Is this innovative program the best way to get skilled migrants into work?

Of the highly trained humanitarian skilled migrants entering Australia, few end up in jobs that make use of their skills. Some companies, however, are beginning to realise what they’re missing out on. Rami Yousifani, a graduate in computer communications engineering from the Al Mansoor University College in Baghdad, arrived in Australia under the Special Humanitarian Program last September. Despite having in-demand skills, he was one of many skilled migrants almost certain of not finding employment.

Violence Surfaces in Papua New Guinea Elections, But Not Only

Violence is one of the most pressing issues, especially in the highlands, of Papua New Guinea [PNG] - one of the world’s most ethnically and linguistically diverse nations. “Increased access to high-powered guns such as military style M16s and homemade shotguns, and breakdown of traditional rules of warfare, has amplified the effects of violence, resulting in dozens - if not hundreds - of violent deaths and thousands of displacements each year, especially in the Highlands. We are seeing wounds that one would see in war zones,” says International Committee of the Red Cross’s [ICRC] chief official in PNG, Mr Mark Kessler.

Leaders need to ensure people feel connected, heard, says Valerie Amos

Valerie Amos, director of the London-based School of Oriental and African Studies, has been a firm believer in education as the key to development and social change. Amos served as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the United Nations from 2010—2015. In September 2015, she became the first black woman to lead a British university. Amos was in Canberra from 18 to 20 June to speak at the Australian National University’s 2017 Crawford leadership forum. She shared her views with SciDev.Net on developmental and humanitarian challenges currently facing the world.

Sea-level rise accelerates as adaptation turns urgent

As rising sea levels threaten the very existence of low-lying, small island nations of Asia and the Pacific, a new study highlights the urgency of mitigating climate change and creating coastal adaptation plans.  Published 25 June in Nature Climate Change, the study finds that annual global sea-level rise is now 50 per cent higher — 3.3 millimetres in 2014 from 2.2 millimetres in 1993 — in just two decades due to the dramatic increase in the melting of land-based ice from glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica as a result of global warming.

Australian aid cuts may hit Asia-Pacific development

The development sector in some of the Asia-Pacific countries may take a hit as Australia’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) is forecast to decline further in real terms in the next four years continuing its sweeping foreign aid cuts in recent years. Aid budget for 2017–2018 stands at US$2.90 billion, down from its peak of US$3.87 billion in 2012–2013.


It was never in Jamsetji Tata's ken

© Neena Bhandari, Business Standard, India

ImageThe Tata Group of companies has made big forays into Australia, investing and expanding in various sectors from mining to information technology. Historically too, remote though it may now be, Tata Steel has a connection to the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, which contains 50,000 tonnes of steel. Close to 80 per cent of the steel used in the bridge, spanning 1,650 ft (503 metre), was made by Teesside Company Dorman Long, which became part of British Steel Corporation after World War II. In 1999, British Steel merged with a Dutch company, Hoogovens, to become Corus. In 2007, Corus was bought by Tata Steel.

Tata Steel has had an office in Brisbane since 2000. The original name was Tata International, since deregistered. The principal business activity has been procurement of steel-making raw material in Australasia, predominantly metallurgical coal, for the steel operations in Jamshedpur. “These volumes have continued to grow and are now in the millions of tonnes. Additionally, Tata Steel Resources was tasked with identifying investment opportunities in metallurgical coal mines and made its first overseas coal mine investment in Carborough Downs, central Queensland, in 2005 with a five per cent equity stake. We are now actively identifying new investment opportunities to the increasing metallurgical requirements for the steel mill expansions in India for the next 10 years and beyond,” Bryan Granzien, chief executive officer, Tata Steel Resources Australia Pvt Ltd, said.

Sydney breaks bread with Sangrur - the wheat link

© Neena Bhandari, Business Standard, India

ImageWheat collaboration between Australia and India is likely to be extended, after experiments combining strengths in each other’s varieties show rising promise.

India and Australia are collaborating on research to enhance the volume and quality of grown wheat. The five-year bilateral programme on marker-assisted wheat breeding concludes in May 2012 but is set to be extended.

It has been exploring molecular technologies, management practices and more heat-tolerant cultivars, to face the challenges of climate change. India and Australia are particularly vulnerable to increasing temperatures, warns a leading Australian wheat scientist.

"In Australia, wheat is rain-fed and will be adversely affected by the combined impact of higher temperatures and drought. In India, increasing temperature linked with lowering water tables would mean farmers will be unable to irrigate with the current frequency. This will result in difficult production conditions and reduction in total yield,” says Richard Trethowan, director, A Watson Grains Research Centre, University of Sydney. India is the second largest producer of wheat and Australia seventh in the world. India produces all its consumption; Australia is the second largest global exporter of wheat and, so, a major contributor to global food security.

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