Feb 24, 2011

Operation Sulu Rescue: Perceptions of an Intern

For five weeks, all has been still. Though kept occupied by our tasks researching current social, economic, medical, and natural developments in the Philippines and in the broader Southeast-Asian sphere, the interns in the Washington, D.C. office have not been laboring at a frantic pace. Until now.

Though floodwaters have since receded following torrents of rain earlier this month, the southern-most Filipino provincial island chain of Sulu has an extremely long road to full recovery. The concern of the locals is no longer drowning, but that of an unseen rising tide nonetheless. Though precautions may be made, there is no guarantee against contraction. Without access to adequate sanitation, mosquito netting and repellant, and water-purification equipment, mosquito-borne endemics such as malaria and dengue fever as well as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever, may take root and decimate the indigenous population.

Unique to each illness is an underlying culprit, spread by means independent of their human hosts. Female mosquitoes deposit eggs into pools of non-moving water, which then hatch into larvae, remain dormant as pupae, and within a time span of about one week hatch and emerge as adult mosquitoes. At some point a parasitic protist of the genus Plasmodium infects the adult mosquito, and may then be transmitted to a human, causing malaria. The mosquito may also insert its proboscis into a person who has a serotype of the Dengue fever virus, and then transmit the virus to other people. Cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever are all caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, of the genus Shigella, or Salmonella enterica, respectively, spread by the consumption of contaminated water, food, or direct contraction via bodily fluids. Such maladies are increasingly difficult to avoid after flooding because proper sanitation and hygiene practices literally cannot be enacted—the rising waters had carried with them human and animal waste and rubbish, polluting everything in their path. Wells were filled with sewage or runoff from what was once on the ground, and small tributaries were simmering pools of floating refuse. And as the floodwaters evaporated or were drained, left behind were literally millions of areas of stagnant water, from old tires to puddles—the breeding ground for female mosquitoes.

Imperative to the effort of disease-prevention is immediate action by the local people to stifle the spread before it becomes an epidemic. But with their clean water infrastructure contaminated, the only sources of fuel to burn and boil water wet, and homes destroyed, we at Asia America Initiative sought to do as much as we could in order to assist our Filipino brethren before diseases carved their niche and began to take their toll on the hapless men, women, and children of Sulu. AmeriCares of Stamford, Connecticut was contacted with regards to an endeavor entitled ‘Operation Sulu Rescue’, an emergency intervention of hygiene kits (soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo, and towels), pails, dry blankets, plastic sheets for temporary shelters, and water purification tablets to not only thwart the spread of disease, but also to bring a sense of normality to those who lost everything.

Our contact in the Philippines, Rohaniza Sumndad-Usman, had sent us the following statistics:

Total Families Affected: 4,816 (approximately 24,247)

Number of Deaths: 6

Number of Injured: 147

Destroyed Homes: 3

Partially-Damaged Homes: 1,454

At first AAI planned to ship the roughly five pallets of emergency supplies by air, but the 9,000-mile trip would be prohibitively expensive with AAI’s pitiful operating budget. Thus, it was decided that said supplies would be purchased in the Philippines with a donation from AmeriCares, supplemented with an input of capital from an amount that was set-aside for just such an emergency from a 2010 grant, courtesy of the government of Norway. The medical and sanitation supplies would then be transported by boat and by land caravan to their ultimate destinations, the counties of Jolo and Patikul.

As of 15:00 EST, we have sent a request but are awaiting an approval of our funding request from AmeriCares.

Thank you to all of those who have contributed and who are considering donating to the ongoing work of Asia America Initiative.

Feb 18, 2011

Asia in Focus 29 - Keeping our promise: return to Isabela

Changing weather patterns across the world have increased the intensity of storms and conversely, drought, in some of the most vital food production areas of the Asia-Pacific region. These natural disaster trends pose the risk of civil and international rivalries and conflict.

In December 2010, Asia America Initiative conducted an emergency needs assessment in the "rice bowl" area of the northern Philippines, which had been severely damaged by Typhoon Juan [codenamed Megi].
We found houses reduced to piles of wood, schools without roofs and textbooks destroyed, children without shoes and as far as the eye could see, once productive corn and rice fields rendered barren.

There was little outside intervention present. Communities felt abandoned but were not giving up. We started with small gifts of basic medicines and toys - such as plastic sort-of soccer balls - to make a difference in the children's lives. We promised to return. And on February 16, 2011 we kept our promise. A 20 foot, ten-wheeled truck carried around a half-million dollars of hospital equipment, school supplies, toys and sanitation equipment for the 12 hour drive through the Cordilleras mountains to Isabela Province.

AAI synchronized and coordinated the partnership between on-site and international humanitarian and environmental organizations, provincial government officials, private businesses and pharmaceutical companies, the Philippine military and the Philippine Department of Health, Customs and Foreign Ministry, as well as the U.S. and Philippine Departments of Agriculture. The desperate plight of between 300,000 and 2 million persons directly and indirectly victimized by the storms spurred all participants to voluntary action. A spirit of goodwill overcame the lack of financial resources by all partners and significantly deterred corruption and mismanagement.

Feb 10, 2011

Food prices rise due to climate and food insecurity

Rising food prices threaten social, economic and political instability across the world. The sharp increase of related inflation in India and China exemplify this disturbing trend worldwide. Climate patterns in consumer and producer countries such as Russia, Australia, Brazil, Vietnam and the US are seen by scientists as a long term reality. Even in China the expanding Gobi desert is wiping out essential wheat producing areas and in the South the melting of the Himalayan ice cap is creating irrigation nightmares. For example China's reaction of damming the Himalayan-based rivers threatens India, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Pakistan. This trend, although humanitarian and economic at face value more dangerously, has a profound impact on political and social stability. The following articles emphasize the major powers of Asia. However, food shortages and rising prices have already caused riots and revolutions across the African continent.

Read 'Inflation Worries Spread: China Raises Rates Amid Hit to Wheat Crop'

In the meanwhile India is being hit exceptionally hard by the surging food prices. Prime minister Manmohan Singh has warned that the country's rapid economic growth - GDP grew by 8,5% in 2010 - is under serious threat from inflation mounting up to 8,4%. He considers getting this inflation under control as a matter of urgency, raising the prospect of an 8th interest rate rise in under 12 months. Especially the food price inflation of 17% is considered to be unsustainable. 'Inflation poses a serious threat to the growth momentum. Whatever be the cause, the fact remains that inflation is something which needs to be tackled with great urgency', Singh stated.

Analysts believe that surging food and oil prices mean that India's central bank may have to raise interest rates before its next policy meeting, which is scheduled for March 17th. India's stock market has fallen this year on fears that high inflation will scare off foreign investors. Also wages are on the rise as workers demand pay that keeps up with the cost of living.

Read 'India's economic growth under 'threat' from inflation'

The last article about mounting religious turmoil in the Indian region of Kerala is an example of how the double impact of rising food prices and latent religious conflict can result into a situation of spiraling violence amongst otherwise peaceful communities.

Read 'In a pluralistic part of India, fears of rising Islamic extremism'