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Most Countries lagging on Health SDGs

Scientists warn that unless significant political and financial investments are made, many countries will not meet the health-related UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Fewer than five per cent of the countries were likely to meet targets on road deaths, childhood obesity, suicides and tuberculosis. However, over 60 per cent of the countries were on track to meet targets on malaria, child mortality and neonatal and maternal death rates, according to a study published this month (12 September) in The Lancet.Singapore ranked first and Afghanistan last out of 188 countries in terms of meeting SDG 3, which deals with ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all.

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.

Gender equality will be key to achieving SDGs in Viet Nam

Pham Thi Kim Viet is up before the rooster heralds the crack of dawn.The rice on the cooker is beginning to boil as she tosses freshly chopped vegetables and fish in a wok. She then hurries to wake her two daughters, 12 and four-years-old. At 7 a.m., dressed in laundered uniforms, she takes them to school on her trusted old scooter and proceeds to Hoi An, 30 km from her home in the mountains of Dai Loc district in central Vietnam, to report for work as a freelance tour guide. “Each day is a struggle to make ends meet. I work between 10 and 12 hours a day during the high tourist season to earn 20 dollars. During the low tourist season, there is very little work and I constantly worry about paying bills and putting food on the table,” says Viet, who has been coping with mental and financial abuse from her husband. The physical violence ended, when he moved out, but he drops in anytime, sometimes to demand money. Many of her female friends are in a similar situation

Women’s Health Policies Should Focus on NCDs

Science and medicine were not subjects of dinnertime conversations in the Norton household in Christchurch, New Zealand, but Professor Robyn Norton grew up observing her parents’ commitment to equity and social justice in improving people’s lives. It left an indelible impression on her young mind. Her high school years coincided with the women’s movement reaching its peak. She got drawn into thinking about addressing women’s health issues and moved to Sydney, Australia to enroll in a Master’s in Public Health. Norton feels it’s time the global health agenda expands from a predominant focus on women’s reproductive organs to include women’s whole bodies — and the NCDs, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes.

Excessive groundwater use may hit food security

The increasing use of groundwater for irrigation poses a major threat to global food security and could lead to unaffordable prices of staple foods, warns a new international study.
From 2000 to 2010, the amount of non-renewable groundwater used for irrigation increased by a quarter, according to the study published in
Nature on March 30. During the same period China had doubled its groundwater use. The study finds that 11 per cent of groundwater extraction for irrigation is linked to agricultural trade.  “In some regions, for example in Central California or North-West India, there is not enough precipitation or surface water available to grow crops like maize or rice and so farmers also use water from the underground to irrigate,” the study says.

Education & jobs crucial as Cambodia records pro-poor growth

SIEM REAP/BATTAMBANG [Cambodia] (IDN) - The once conflict ridden, impoverished country of Cambodia has made significant strides towards stability and progress, but it is still facing several socio-economic development challenges. In 2016, it became a lower middle-income country after recording an annual average economic growth of seven percent over the past decade. “The country’s economy has trebled and the number of people living in poverty has halved in the last 15 years. We have to set development issues in the context of those successes,” says Nick Beresford, United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Cambodia Country Director.

1.8 billion people have no access to safe drinking water

While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mandate safe drinking water for all by 2030, currently 1.8 billion people get drinking water from contaminated sources, putting them at risk of contracting various diseases, according to UN Water, the UN coordinating agency. Despite reaching the Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) target of halving the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water, huge disparities to access remain. Use of improved drinking water increased by 27 per cent between 1990 and 2015 in East Asia, with over half-a-billion people gaining access in China alone, according to the WHO and UNICEF’s 2015 Joint Progress Management report on drinking water and sanitation. But in Oceania, parts of Western Africa and in the Sahara region in Africa, less than three-quarters of the population uses an improved source with the figure below 50 per cent in Papua New Guinea, Angola and Equatorial Guinea.

More Indigenous doctors aim to close Australia’s health gap

Vinka Barunga was born in the Worrara tribe of the Mowanjum Aboriginal community in the remote town of Derby in Western Australia. As a child, she witnessed disease and suicide amongst her people, which made her resolve to one day become a doctor and help break this cycle of suffering. She is one of six, the largest cohort of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) students, to graduate in Medicine/Surgery from the University of Western Australia this year. Australia has fewer than 300 Aboriginal doctors, but things are gradually changing. Vinka is determined to be the first full time doctor in the town of her birth, situated around 2,400 kilometres north of the state capital Perth in the Kimberley region. It is the gateway to the state’s resource rich north, surrounded by mudflats on three sides, with two distinct seasons.

Australia's No to Prohibit-Nukes Resolution Triggers Debate

As the curtain falls on 2016, the year that marked the fifth anniversary of Fukushima and the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl nuclear disasters, sending a sombre reminder of the devastating humanitarian and environmental consequences of these weapons of mass destruction, the resolve to free the world of nuclear weapons is stronger than ever before. The United Nations Resolution A/C.1/71/L.41, which calls for negotiations on a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading toward their total elimination”, was adopted at the 71st session of the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on October 27, 2016 with 123 members, including nuclear North Korea, voting in favour of taking forward the multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, 38 voted against and 16 abstained. Australia, once a champion of nuclear disarmament, chose to oppose the Resolution even as the continent country’s nearest 26 neighbours in the Asia-Pacific voted in favour alongside African, Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Protests in Australia Against Adani Coal Mining Project

The Adani Mining Pty Ltd is confident of commencing construction of the Carmichael mine by mid-2017, which will be Australia's largest coal mine, despite growing concerns and protests from environmental and indigenous groups that it will jeopardise the Great Barrier Reef and Aboriginal heritage. There were protests in Melbourne and Townsville, where Adani announced that he will set up the headquarters of the project. These groups are calling on the Australian government to invest in solar energy rather than coal, while the proponents for the mine say it will create jobs and boost the local economy. The Adani Group is also planning solar projects in Australia with a capacity of 1,500 MW within five years. The coal projects are yet to reach financial closure.


Want to smash the pay gap? Here’s why it requires collaboration

Elizabeth (Libby) Lyons has been director of the WGEA for just over a year now, so it’s a good time to take stock, particularly given the recent figures showing the gender pay gap hasn’t altered much and is currently at 16.2 per cent. But Lyons is a pragmatist. “The pay gap has hovered between 15 and 19 per cent for the past two decades. We need to be realistic; it’s not going to change overnight. My focus is on working with employers to create a sustainable momentum for change,” she says.

From Kannada rock to Sufi gospel: India puts its soft power on show in Australia

Cultural diplomacy is putting a positive spin to the India-Australia bilateral relationship and also enriching the Australian economy. The first ever Confluence Festival of India in Australia, touted as one of the largest ever foreign cultural festivals to be organised in the continent country, rolled out 25 productions showcased over 70 different events at iconic landmarks across seven cities. For decades, India's soft power potential has remained largely untapped, but the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government has been focusing on raising India’s profile in the international arena through cultural diplomacy.

Joining the dots

In the grainy red sand, Anangu Aboriginal artist Sarah Dalby, 42, glides her fingers to draw a collection of symbols to demonstrate how the Aborigines have been passing knowledge about their land, culture and traditions from one generation to the next. It is a warm spring afternoon in Yulara, the resort town in Australia’s Red Centre desert, and I am in the town square for a 90-minute Maruku Arts dot painting workshop. Dalby draws concentric circles, linking them with lines to depict a journey from one place to another. She then etches crescent-like shapes, representing men and women squatting on the ground, and envelopes them with more symbols that embody desert flora and fauna.

Oswals seek a fresh start as legal drama ends

Indian industrialist couple, Pankaj and Radhika Oswal, have left Australia perhaps never to return, after settling a multi-billion-dollar legal stoush with one of Australia’s leading banks, the Australia and New Zealand [ANZ] Banking Group. The commercial settlement, the terms of which are confidential, reached on September 22 resolves the A$2.5 billion claim made by the Oswals against ANZ over a dispute about the receivership and sale of Burrup Fertilisers Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Burrup Holdings Limited, in 2010. It has cost ANZ over A$200 million, tens of millions in legal fees and a dent in its reputation. In a statement, ANZ announced that the net pre-tax impact of the settlement will be reflected in an additional provision charge of approximately A$145 million to be taken at the Full Year 2016 results.

Body's own cancer-busters

In recent years, researchers have made significant strides into finding a cure for cancer, which claim 8.2 million lives annually. Cancer immunotherapy, which relies on harnessing the body’s own immune system to fight malignant cells, is the new frontier for treating cancer alongside the conventional therapies—surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Globally, more than 100 clinical immunotherapy trials for a whole range of cancers are underway.

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