Monday, May 18, 2015

Nepal - Starting to Rebuild?

Although the news coming out of Nepal has been bad, with a 7.3 magnitude quake coming just 2 weeks after the 7.9 jolt and aftershocks, there seems to be some hope that things are starting to enter the rebuilding phase.

Of course, Nepal is a poor country, and it's not just a matter of bringing in the heavy machinery.  There is very little of that kind of thing available.  What seems to work best, and perhaps the only way to get things done, is muscle power.

The Nepali Times had a series of pictures showing the destruction but also the spirit of the Nepalese people.  Some pictures here, and here, with another story about homelessness here.

Despite this kind of news, one western mountaineering group in Nepal at the time has decided to get busy and help out.  It's available on Facebook under #rebuildnepal.

There are a number of photos of the quake aftermath on this Facebook page.  As the poster put it:

 "If you want to help Nepal, then do not be afraid to visit Nepal.The 7.9-magnitude quake laid waste to large swaths of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu (including several iconic heritage sites) and entire villages across the countryside have been flattened, but companies and officials alike insist visiting the country is now more important than ever.The quake came during Nepal’s summer trekking season, and its aftermath and gradual recovery will undoubtedly affect this year’s peak autumn trekking expeditions beginning in September. The streets are empty. No one is buying anything, renting rooms, booking treks, or making reservations for the near future. While we help #rebuildNepal....... we need people to come see it. It is still a beautiful, and vibrant country with so much to offer.

There are several organizations that are accepting donations to help in the rebuilding process.  One more that I've discovered recently is: - programs to help girls in poor parts of Nepal (and their families).

In addition to the Red Cross and UNICEF, there is also OXFAM Canada.

Finally, there is this article about how (and how not) to help.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Disintegration of Civil Society?

The news has been full of events that point to more violence, more anger and what one might call the breakdown of civil society.  These articles caught my eye:

Police brutality far from Over in Baltimore

America is on the Road to Revolution

"I'm White and America's Police Frighten Me"

It could be a long, hot summer.  I think I'll stay home.

Breaking Research

Something many of us have long believed has been supported by recent research.

Uncertain what the fix will be.

[Update] - One of my witty former students commented that the best that could be offered by way of an antidote was a vaccine.  :-)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Nepal - Aftermath of an Earthquake

Pictures are now starting to come out of Nepal of the damage caused by Saturday's earthquake.

One set of pictures around Kathmandu.

This set from Swayambunath, Pashupatinath and Kathmandu

From rural Nepal, pictures and news are starting to arrive.

A journalist reflects on his time in Nepal

And, although the immediate relief effort is just getting started, there is already talk of rebuilding.

Donations are still badly needed.  This site lists Canadian charities that are directly involved in the Nepali disaster relief effort.

[Update] - One week after the quake and more information about the damage is starting to appear, including some CCTV video from Kathmandu.

[Update] - a map of the earthquake-affected areas of Nepal

Monday, April 27, 2015

Nepal - Reaching Out

The news is full of stories coming out of Nepal, and, in the aftermath of the 7.9 earthquake last weekend and the many aftershocks, it's not good.

I had the opportunity to spend 5 weeks in Nepal back in the fall of 2013, 3 weeks trekking in the Manaslu and Annapurna regions and another 2 weeks visiting Pokhara and Kathmandu, both very close to the epicenter of the quake.  I'm quite saddened to hear news of the human tragedy, misery for a people who already had little and who now have nothing, the damage to centuries-old cultural icons, UNESCO World Heritage sites that may be damaged beyond repair.

This source shows some before and after pictures.

One useful source of news is the Nepali Times, as well as the usual Western news outlets.  The sheer scale of the disaster and the difficulty of gaining access to affected areas is hard to imagine for people living in Canada and the USA.  At this time, the scale of the disaster in rural mountain villages is unknown. 

I've been trying to discover the best way to help out in Nepal's time of need and in the future as they try to rebuild.  This is what I've found so far.  I'd be interested in any other suggestions.

First, there is the immediate disaster relief effort.  There are many, many charities and disaster-relief organizations involved in Nepal.  To verify the credibility of any particular charity, prospective donors can get information about any charity from an organization called Charity Navigator.  They also have some general comments about donating to the relief effort in Nepal, as well as a list of some vetted organizations who are involved in the current disaster.  Keep in mind that this is an American organization but some of the organizations they mention are international.

Canada has dispatched the DART, has earmarked $5M for immediate help and has said it will match all donations to the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund until May 25.  This article from Global News has a number of suggested organizations which have good reputations and will be able to use donations.

However, one easy donation to make which will definitely trigger matching $$ from the Canadian Government is the Canadian Red Cross.  The link to the Red Cross donate page for Nepal is available from here.  So far, I have been unable to determine what other organizations you can donate to and still trigger the matching donation.  I will update as more information becomes available.

[Update] - It appears that donations to Oxfam Canada will also qualify for the matching government money.

There are, obviously, many credible organizations already doing important work in Nepal.  These include Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, and others too numerous to mention here.

After the immediate crisis has been managed will come the next, long-term challenge, that if rebuilding Nepal.  I'm still researching organizations that have been involved in that kind of work in the country and which will be involved in the future needs of the country.  One possible organization is the American Himalayan Foundation.  I would welcome information about any other organizations which do this more long-term work in Nepal.

[Update] - from the National Geographic - what's still standing....

[Update] - Donations to UNICEF Canada will also qualify for matching $$ from the Canadian Government AND also matching donations from UNICEF's corporate donors.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The "War on Terror" - Is There a Better Way?

One of my favourite (or is that "favorite"?) podcasts is Freakonomics.  If you haven't listened to any of their podcasts, you should.  I know it's about economics and economics has been called "the dismal science", but Freakonomics is economics delivered in a whole new way.  As it's creators put it, "The Hidden Side of Everything".  They also have books....

However, given the obsession with terrorism, state sponsored or otherwise, the White House hosted A Summit on Countering Violent Extremism late in February 2015.

There is also the Canadian Government's move to extend our role in Iraq, possibly bombing in Syria and it's own obsession with getting legislation passed such as Bill C-51, which some have dubbed the "Police State Act".

Freakonomics put out a podcast on this very topic earlier in February and it can be found here.  While it does examine some research into the whole issue, it does not just involve the opinions of what some might call "pointy-headed academics" (never mind that such people actually might have valid points to make on the issue).

Some take-away points made in the podcast:

  • What should we expect from this summit?  Alas, very little.
  • Many people might think we couldn't make the problem worse.  Oh yes, we can make it much worse, very quickly, as we saw with Iraq.
  • Many think terrorism has something to do with religion.  Examining the data over several decades shows that most have very little to do with religion.  Instead, almost all terrorism and extremism shares a specific strategic objective - to compel a democratic state to withdraw combat forces from territory the terrorists see as their homeland.  This idea of occupation could be seen as the root (but not the only) cause of suicide terrorism. 
  • In Iraq, for example, "we" (as in "the West", or, more specifically, the Americans), decided to go into Iraq to "wring the Islamic fundamentalism out of the country by introducing democracy to the region".  So before the invasion, there were about 50 suicide attacks per year (with none in Iraq), and almost none were specifically anti-American.  A few years after the invasion, there were over 500 a year, with over 300 in Iraq.  And we have seen very clearly how anti-American those have been.

There is much more, including a few comments about young people fro the West and the supposed allure of joining the jihad.

Listen to the podcast.  It makes some very good points.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Waking Up the Masses?

Yesterday I had a first on Facebook.  I got booted out of a group.

The group was "Canada: Waking Up the Masses".

I joined originally because the group seemed dedicated to being a rallying point for unseating Harper and his cronies in the next election.  Listed were many reasons for such a move.  They resonated with my views on the current government.

The other day, however, there was a post complaining about how BC's water was being sold at give-away prices to a bottled water company.  Good point.  Then there were responses claiming that access to water should be a right (fine), should be free (really?) and then one where the poster claimed not to have drunk tap water for decades, supporting the bottled water industry.  (Huh?)  I pointed out that water was a commodity and that it's value wasn't being recognized by sensible pricing and that it seems a bit odd to complain about water being sold on the cheap to big corporations while supporting the bottled water industry through one's own purchasing practices.  A mini-debate ensued.  Tap water bad.  Bottled water good.  Bottled water should be banned.  And so on.

Then there was a typical anti-GMO post or two with comments claiming that you'd have to be "stupid" to not be against GMOs.  I responded in my usual way - some GMOs could be beneficial; no evidence of harm....

I then wondered, aloud, how such posts were related to unseating the Harper government and had this group become just another soapbox for anti-GMO and anti-vaccine hysteria.  One response to me wondered if I was a troll for corporate interests.  Obviously that person didn't bother to know me very well....  :-)

By later in the day, I had been removed from the group and I noted that the group had been changed to "closed", meaning that it was no longer possible to even see the discussions, let alone participate.

So, I guess I got my answer.