Diving within our brains

Universidad de Harvard. / SPL

Humans have managed to a probe launched from Earth land, after a journey of 6,000 million kilometers through space on a comet crosses the solar system 135.000 mph. However, that same human being is incapable of understanding his own brain. The organ that weighs 1.5 kg we have in the head is a complete stranger. No tools to study it. It contains 86,000 billion neurons, with trillions of connections between them. With current technology, it is impossible to cover it. It is like trying to understand the universe looking out the window at the Big Dipper.

 Universidad de Harvard. / SPL
Universidad de Harvard. / SPL

But this situation of powerlessness may be short. In April 2013, US President Barack Obama announced the BRAIN project, an initiative of 4,500 million dollars until 2022 to “give scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and understand how we think, learn and remember “.

BRAIN started on October 1, 2014, when laboratories, including some from the National Institutes of Health US and Research Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, the greatest exponent of military science) started receive dollars. In its first fiscal year, BRAIN began offering its first results.

Neuroscientists already peek the brain as never before had. One of them is Charles Lieber of Harvard University. His team presented in June in the journal Nature Nanotechnology a very flexible electronic device that can be implanted in the brain of mice with a microsyringe. This technique, revolutionary, can be covered with a mesh electrode cortex to record real-time neural electrical signals.

“This injectable electronic device has a structure in the form of mesh on a larger scale, look like a mosquito net which put on the windows to keep out the bugs. As a mosquito net, which is very flexible and you can easily see through our electronic device in a mesh is open in 90% of its surface is almost invisible in a glass of water”, says Lieber.

“And it’s almost a million times more flexible than the more flexible electronic devices studied by other researchers. Its flexibility and its spaces make our device closely resembles the nervous tissue and therefore does not cause reaction in the brain tissue once implanted”, he explains.

Possible applications are formidable. And not only to understand the brain. The device could also be used “to stimulate neural activity in deeper brain regions relevant to Parkinson’s disease”, said Lieber.

Young Evan Macosko, of Harvard Medical School, also located on the front line of the BRAIN project. Every cell in our brain custody inside a copy of all our genes. But each cell just read certain pages of this manual. A muscle cell using genes that allow it to contract. A kidney cell used to filter the blood that enable

“I still do not understand many of the functions of brain cells. If we know which genes are using, we could better understand their roles and how they are classified”, said Macosko. Said lighter, still do not know how many types of cells are in our brain or how many there are of each.

Macosko team introduced in May in the journal Cell, the Drop-seq, a technology that identifies which genes are using a cell, or the tens of thousands of cells in a tissue sample. “Our next step is to use Drop-seq to create an atlas of the brain cells, a detailed list of the types of cells that are present in each brain region”, he adds. An atlas and open the door to better understand the functions of different brain areas, but before Macosko and his men will have to refine the shooting: At this time, Drop-seq detects only 12% of the genes used by each cell.

The molecular biologist Bryan Roth of the University of North Carolina, is one of the scientists at the forefront of BRAIN. His team designs in his laboratory cell receptors, a kind of nightclub doormen cells. These synthetic guardians, known as DREADD, can be placed in brain cells to activate and deactivate them by remote control drugs.

“Basically, they allow us to take remote control of brain cells. Can turn them on or turn them off to understand how the brain works”, explains Roth. His approach is similar to optogenetics, another technique at the frontier of knowledge: scientists installed algae genes sensitive to light in virus that injected into rats or monkeys skulls. Once placed in neurons of animals, genes produce a protein that makes the cell switch, activating or deactivating a function of laser light bursts released by researchers.

Optogenetic problem is that it requires invading the skull to introduce laser light. And DREADD also have an Achilles heel, Roth admits: “We are not allowed rapid control of cellular activity, are slower than optogenetics”.

The group of molecular biologist has just presented a new DREADD, more sophisticated, in the journal Neuron. “The drugs we use do nothing to animals beyond power cycle neurons”, he says. The DREADD, and other emerging technologies of BRAIN initiative may be for the telescope brain was for the universe.


Water wars: fact or fiction?

water, eau, agua
water, eau, agua
water, eau, agua

By Ashok Swain – Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Box 514, SE-751 20 Uppsala, Sweden


It is often said that future wars will be fought over water, not oil. These water wars are predicted to take place over the sharing of international rivers. Recently, the world has witnessed several inter-state river-sharing disputes, but almost all of them have not crossed the critical threshold of becoming violent. Rather, most of these river disputes are being addressed through bilateral riparian cooperative arrangements. These agreements are primarily coming up on the rivers, which have potential for further water exploitation. However, to find a lasting solution and to strengthen the river sharing arrangements, this article argues for the water issue to be addressed comprehensively in the basin, by taking into account both the demand as well as the supply side of the scarce resource.

1. Water scarcity and international rivers

Rivers are one of the most important sources of fresh water available for human consumption. Many countries in arid and semi-arid regions of the world are already facing serious problems in meeting the rapidly increasing water demands. In this scarcity situation, river water has increasingly become a source of tension as users are worried about the present or future availability of the water resource. Even though such tensions are omnipresent they tend to become more complex and difficult when they concern international rivers.

According to a recently published World Bank technical paper [1] more than 245 river basins are shared by two or more countries. To find an agreement over sharing of these fresh water systems is a tricky one. The growing demand for fresh water has recently induced a number of disputes among the riparian countries [2],[3], [4], [5], [6], [7] and [8]. In some of the river basins, there are existing agreements, which regulate water sharing among the riparian states. However, some of these established arrangements have come under serious pressure due to increasing demand for fresh water. The dependence of many countries on external supply of water has forced them to orient their national security concern in order to protect or preserve the availability.

Egypt is surviving on water sources, of which 97% originate from its own border. This problem is also similarly acute for Hungary, Mauritania, Botswana, Uzbekistan, Syria, Sudan and Gambia. The acute scarcity of water combined with regional instability may lead to the use of force by the conflicting riparian states over the sharing of river water resources. Potential ‘water wars’ in the Middle East are now regularly mentioned in the media: Israel vs Jordan and Palestinians, Turkey vs Syria and Iraq, or Egypt vs Sudan and Ethiopia [9]. World Bank Vice President Ismail Serageldin, emphasising the water crisis in the Middle East and North Africa, stated at a conference at Stockholm in 1995 that in the next century wars would be fought over water and not oil.

This conflict scenario has brought the issue of water to the ‘high politics’. Politicians as well as media are of the opinion that the scarcity of water is replacing oil as the source of conflict. Many have started seeing the greatest threats to the world’s security in the coming century coming from ‘water wars.’ [10]. Fortunately these ‘water wars’ are yet to be translated into reality. As Toset and Gleditsch accept the possibility of armed conflict over water scarcity they nonetheless deny its inevitability [11]. In several cases, the competing riparian countries are moving towards sharing agreements rather than armed conflicts.

In the face of mutual dependence on the same fresh water resource, the withdrawal or pollution of one riparian state can potentially not only lead to conflict but also bring cooperation in the basin. In this century, water scarcity has caused a few skirmishes, but no war has yet been fought. As Yoffe and Wolf point out, 145 water-related treaties have been signed in this period [12]. Water continues to help integrate social and political groups. Treaties among the European countries over the Rhine and Danube Rivers laid the foundation of the present European Union. Water in general, and rivers in particular, have been seen as the source for nation and state building in the past. Scarcity of water, need to control water, is an important input in joint human construction. Dynamic cultures and great civilisations have grown across river resources, many of which are now the potential hot spots. Thus, water also brings people together [13], [14],[15] and [16].

In this century, many agreements have been drawn up in the industrialised world to share the international river basins, but it has not been the same with the developing countries. At present, there are more than three hundred treaties that exclusively address the sharing and management issue of international rivers. Peter Rogers finds two-thirds of the total treaties that are signed between countries on water issues are in Europe and North America [17]. Europe, for instance, has four river basins shared by four or more countries, but these are regulated by 175 treaties, while in Africa 12 river basins are shared by four or more nations with only 34 treaties. In Asia (includes Middle East), five river basins are shared by four or more countries but they are regulated by only 31 treaties. Europe leads among other continents in establishing joint institutional mechanisms to facilitate sharing of international rivers. The 1978 UN Study Register of International Rivers lists 48 joint river commissions in Europe, 23 in the Americas, 10 in Africa and 9 in Asia. Lack of international agreement or institutional arrangement over shared fresh water systems increases the potential for dispute.

Water availability is highly erratic in different regions of the world. Nearly 80% of the total global runoff is concentrated in the North, which has a relatively small population. In the tropical and arid areas, where most of the world population lives, the water situation is complicated by massive population growth and rapid urbanisation. Socio-economic development is linked to industrialisation and urbanisation, which increases the water requirements and affects its quality. Uneven distribution, seasonal availability and greater evaporation exacerbate the water scarcity further in these regions. In countries like India, the rainfall takes place only for four months (June to September) in the monsoon period. About 80% of rivers’ annual run-off passes through these four monsoon months. This rainfall also varies greatly from the desert areas of Rajasthan to the hills of the North-East. Jaisalmer of Rajasthan gets a paltry 0.2 meter annual rainfall while Cherapunji in Meghalaya gets not less than 11 meters [18]. In the arid and semi-arid regions, unlike temperate regions of the North, the rainfall evaporation is too high. In Southern Africa, an average of 85% of annual rainfall is evaporated. The situation in the Middle East and North Africa is much worse.

Moreover, the developing countries are primarily agricultural economies. To provide food to the growing population and also to achieve food security, these countries use proportionately more water in the agricultural sector than in the industrial sector. The need of water differs considerably from agricultural production to industrial production. Much of the water withdrawn for industrial purposes returns to the natural water systems for the use of other consumers. But this is not the same for water withdrawal to support the agricultural sector. If we take purely consumptive use of water into account, then agriculture consumes 86.9%, while the share of the industry is only 3.8% of the world’s water withdrawal. In the case of industry, the withdrawn waters come back to their source after cooling the plant, so the cause of the concern is not about the increasing volume of water withdrawn, but the discharge of heated and polluted water back into the system. In the industrialised world, where the per capita water availability is relatively abundant, the water supply is polluted by various human activities. Thus in the developed countries, unlike their poorer counterparts, the water quality not the quantity is the major issue [19].

Disputes over international river water sharing usually come up among the riparian states on three grounds: quantity, quality and control. The incompatibility on the last two issues (quality and control) are relatively easier to address with some financial and technical support. The quality issue, which had been the cause of disagreement among the riparian states in Europe’s Rhine and North America’s Colorado River in the past, has resulted in peaceful and cooperative arrangement. The disagreement over controlling Columbia River and Parana River in the water abundant Americas has been settled for some time. The dispute between Hungary and Slovakia over the control of the Danube has been settled recently by the International Court of Justice.

Water is not easily replaced, so the problem of its reduced quantity is more difficult to address. The quantity factor in many cases threatens to destroy existing cooperative arrangements and forces the parties to take conflicting positions. The quantity issue of river water has brought many riparian states into disputes in the arid regions of Asia and Africa. The riparian disputes over international rivers—Zambezi, Mekong, Nile, Jordan, Euphrates–Tigris, and Ganges—in these two continents are primarily on quantity issue. However, these disputes have not yet led to water wars as envisaged by the experts. The riparian countries of many of these international rivers, at least for the time being, have opted for water sharing arrangements. In the 1990s, there have been riparian agreements on the Zambezi, Mekong, Jordan and Ganges rivers. The existing agreements on the sharing of the Nile and Euphrates–Tigris river water have been going through severe stress, but they are still holding up. Usually, the riparian countries have agreed to settle their dispute over the quantity issue when there is a hope for further exploitation of the river resource.

2. Agreements in the pursuit of more water

An agreement can be possible among the contending riparian states over the quantity allocation of a river resource, when there is enough unused water left in the river. Agreement on the Indus River system became a possibility in 1960 between two traditional rivals, India and Pakistan, because nearly 80% of the river water was running into Arabian Sea without being used by either of the basin countries. When the then World Bank President Eugene Black, being backed by his financial muscles, got into the negotiator role, India and Pakistan agreed on an important issue for the first time. Of course it took nine long years for the World Bank to bring both the riparian countries into agreement, but it became possible when there was a scope of exploiting water resource further with the help of new projects.

The approach of the 1960 Agreement was to increase the amount of water available to the two parties. This future prospect persuaded the two countries to share the quantity of the flow and agree to this settlement: the partition of Indus Basin waters by allocating the three Eastern Rivers—the Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej—to India, and the three Western Rivers—the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab—to Pakistan. Partition of the rivers was more acceptable to the countries than joint management, and both countries got into the business of water exploitation of their respective shares with the help of ‘Indus Basin Development Fund’ administered by the World Bank.

In recent years, the water scarcity has increased very much in the Indus basin. Both India and Pakistan have almost developed the capacity to get the maximum use of water resources. The water demand is increasing rapidly within their own territory. The on-going projects in the upstream sections of the rivers on the Indian side may affect the water flow to Pakistan and that could cause difficulties for the Indus River Agreement.

One year before the Indus Agreement, another agreement on the sharing of the Nile River was reached between Egypt and Sudan. The 1959 agreement could become a possibility due to the large amount of run-off which had remained unallocated by the 1929 Agreement. From the newly calculated runoff of 84 billion m3of water at Aswan, Egypt got the right to use 55.5 billion m3 and 18.5 billion m3 was allotted to Sudan. The remaining 10 billion m3 were reserved for mean annual evaporation and seepage losses from Lake Nasser behind the High Aswan Dam. The agreement also included some provisions in regulating the filling of the storage created by the Aswan Dam.

Lake Nasser created by the High Aswan Dam is one of the largest manmade lakes in the world with the carrying capacity of 164 billion m3 of water. More than 55 million people are directly dependent upon the High Aswan Dam for their water supply. Without the Aswan, Egypt would undoubtedly have been in dire economic straits. The water reservoir has brought a significant increase in the welfare of the country due to the supply of reliable and adequate water for irrigation, municipal and industrial use. However, with the increasing water demand in the upstream area and less availability of unused water, the river has already become a source of serious tension among the major riparian countries. Ethiopia, the upstream nation which supplies 86% of water to the Nile, now demands its share. This has brought a serious challenge to the working of the 1959 arrangement [20].

The increasing riparian demand has also raised doubts about the continuation of the existing water sharing agreements on the Euphrates–Tigris river system. The Euphrates and the Tigris are the two largest rivers in the Middle East. Both rivers originate from the Anatolian highland regions in Turkey and flow through the Mesopotamian desert plain in Syria and Iraq. Both the rivers unite in Iraq at Qurna to form the Shatt al-Arab, which runs into the Gulf. Turkey contributes 98% of the water flow for the Euphrates and 45% for the Tigris.

Turkey and Syria signed a bilateral agreement in 1987 to share the Euphrates River. According to the 1987 agreement with Turkey, Syria gets 15.75 km3 (500 m3/s) of water per year from the Euphrates. In spite of bilateral tension, the possibility of future river water exploitation at the national level brought both the riparian countries to opt for this arrangement. Since the 1960s, Turkey and Syria have plans for several large-scale water projects over the Tigris–Euphrates. However, Turkey’s massive Southeastern Anatolia (GAP) Project on the Euphrates–Tigris River has brought serious doubts to the future of river water developments on the Syrian side.

The relationship between Syria and Turkey took a downward turn after the completion of the Ataturk Dam in 1990, which is a part of the ‘GAP’ project and the ninth largest dam on the globe. The filling up of the lake behind this massive dam caused a 75% drop in the downstream water supply for an entire month. The GAP is made up of 13 sub-projects, which aim to construct 22 dams including the massive Ataturk Dam. Seven of these sub-projects are being undertaken on the Euphrates River, while the Tigris provides the sites for the other six. Turkey is now building other dams as part of this huge project. This GAP project has not only strained relations between Turkey and Syria but also Syria’s relations with Iraq.

The April 1990 Agreement between Syria and Iraq at Tunis, regulating allocation of water at the point where the Euphrates leaves Syria, allots 58% to Iraq and 42% to Syria. With the decreasing runoff from the Turkish side, Syria may be forced to reduce the water supply to Iraq. Iraq asks for 700 m3/s of water from the Euphrates River on the basis of its historical claim. Thus, GAP has become a source of common concern for Syria and Iraq, and also a serious future threat to the bilateral water sharing agreements between Turkey and Syria and also between Syria and Iraq.

The hope for further exploitation has not only brought the agreements on the Indus, Nile or Euphrates–Tigris in the past; it has also facilitated agreements in recent years over some other shared river basins. The 1995 Agreement signed among the lower Mekong basin countries became a possibility as the slow flowing Mekong River provides a lot of potential for further exploitation (only one dam has been built in one of the tributaries of the Mekong River in Laos). The Mekong River consists of six riparian states China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. However, under the cold war politics, especially under the influence of the United States, a combined effort to exploit the river has been promoted since the 1950s for the four lower basin countries, namely Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Among them, geographical location puts Thailand in an advantageous position compared to the other three lower riparian states of Mekong.

Thailand has an ambition to exploit the river for hydropower and to supply water for its northeastern part, known as the Korat Plateau water transversion project. These Thai plans were opposed by the downstream countries especially Vietnam. With the mediation of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), a compromise was finally reached satisfying Thailand’s requirements. In April 1995, a new statute was signed by the four lower riparian countries, giving birth to the new Mekong Commission. However, the non-inclusion of upper riparian states—China and Myanmar—may become a spoiler in this cooperative effort to harness the river.

The Zambezi river basin is another example of riparian cooperation due to hope for further exploitation. The Zambezi passes through eight countries in Southern Africa before running into the Indian Ocean. Its riparian countries are: Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Within these countries a large number of different peoples and sub-groups build much of their social and economic life around the river. The population of the basin is currently estimated to be 26.8 million. In several cases, development objectives of different riparian countries are based on mutually exclusive claims for water from the Zambezi basin. Countries like Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and even South Africa have some plans for large scale withdrawal from the Zambezi.

Zimbabwe withdraws water from Zambezi River for its coal-fired Huangwe thermal station despite the fact that Zambia has surplus hydropower. There is also tension over the Zambezi River resources due to Zimbabwe’s plan to pipe water from the Zambezi (the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project) to its drought affected second city, Bulawayo. Furthermore, the intensification of irrigated agriculture in Zimbabwe has reduced the water supply to downstream Mozambique. The threat to Mozambique’s water supply is not only limited to Zambia or Zimbabwe’s water diversion from Zambezi. South Africa has a large water diversion plan, the Zambezi Aqueduct, to meet its water scarcity situation. South Africa intends to withdraw water over 1200 km from the Zambezi River at Kazungula through Botswana to Pretoria.

In spite of all these individual water withdrawal plans, there are also signs of increasing cooperation among the basin countries to develop Zambezi on a joint basis. Several projects have recently been undertaken for improved cooperation among the Zambezi basin countries. A major step towards the better management of the regional river has been taken up by the South African Development Community (SADC). In 1995, the SADC (all the Zambezi basin states are the members of this organisation) signed a protocol establishing basic principles for the sharing of the region’s water resources. The 1995 SADC Protocol on Shared Water Course Systems declares respect for the principle of equitable utilisation and aims to promote exchange of information, and to maintain a balance between development and protection of the environment (Art. 2). Articles 3, 4 and 5 of the Protocol prescribe the formation of river basin organisations, and Art. 7 bestows the power of dispute adjudication to the SADC tribunal. In November 1995, a meeting of regional water ministers was convened by SADC at Pretoria to explore opportunities for greater cooperation. The Pretoria meeting led to establishment of a Water Sector within SADC in August 1996, which is based in Lesotho.

Coinciding with the formation of the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), the Zambezi Action Plan (ZACPLAN) was drawn up in 1987 by the Zambezi basin states with UNEP support. It aims to ensure sustainable utilisation of Zambezi water resources within a sound and balanced environment. The involvement of large number of actors in this scheme has posed problems in execution. In spite of the slow progress, two ZACPLAN projects (ZACPRO 2) are presently being considered. ZACPRO 2 develops regional legislation and proposes the establishment of a river basin commission (ZAMCOM). The SADC Protocol of 1995 is the product of ZACPRO 2. ZACPRO 6 is being executed by the ZRA, which works for a joint water resources management proposal for the whole river basin.

The water scarcity in all these river basins has brought the riparian countries to come to the negotiation table rather than waging war against each other. The possibility of further extraction of water resources has been the attraction for the negotiated settlement. However, there are very few international rivers left, which can provide a certain hope for feasible further exploitation. Most of the rivers have been exploited to a large extent. Few other feasible water projects bear massive economic and environmental cost. Local politics and environmentalists have also brought difficulty to the engineering solution to the water scarcity problem. To overcome this, South Asia has recently developed a new ingenuity.

3. Manipulation of river runoff data to reach a settlement

When there is not enough water in the river to meet the demands of the contending riparian states, and almost all the feasible water projects on the river have been already undertaken, then to reach an agreement over the sharing dispute some may take the help of manipulating the river runoff data. The agreement reached between India and Bangladesh in 1996 over the sharing of the Ganges River is one of the examples of this ingenuity. Since 1975 India and Bangladesh were in disagreement over the sharing of the Ganges water. The quintessence of the complications lies in sharing the Ganges water for the five dry season months (January–May). During the rest of the year, there is sufficient water in the river for India and Bangladesh. But, in the dry seasons, the average minimum discharge at Farakka Barrage in 1975 was estimated at only 55,000 ft3/s, whereas India wants to divert 40,000 ft3/s from it for the Calcutta port [21].

Both countries had devised some working agreements from 1977 to 1988 to share the water at Farakka. The gradual decrease in the upstream flow hindered further agreement for 8 years. In December 1996, the Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh signed the Ganges River water sharing agreement again. Instead of their usual short-term approach to share the dry season flow at Farakka barrage, they went on this time for 30 years’ arrangement. However, this was basically a political agreement that had disregarded the real hydrological flow of the river. The agreement has been based on the river flow average of 1949 to 1988, but the real flow at Farakka in the 1990s is much less than that.

The Bangladeshi experts were very much aware of the amount of flow at Farakka in the dry seasons. In 1993, when they had complained of receiving only 9000 ft3/s of supply at Hardinge Bridge, they could have easily calculated the flow at Farakka to 49,000 ft3/s as the Farakka diversion canal’s maximum carrying capacity is 40,000 ft3/s. In the following years, Bangladesh gave the figures of water available at Hardinge Bridge (just downstream of the Farakka Barrage) as being close to 10,000 ft3/s. The basic arithmetic was overlooked when the political leaders of both countries decided to sign the agreement on the basis of an ideal minimum figure of 60,000 ft3/s. It was a political compulsion for the Bangladesh Prime Minister to get the agreement with the Indians. The very first year (1997 dry season) of the treaty witnessed a very low run-off in the river Ganges. Fortunately, in 1998 the situation improved thanks to good weather, and the dry season run-off was enough to fulfill the treaty requirement.

This ingenuity has become a South Asian specialty. The manipulation of river run-off data has also brought some agreements among the states within the Indian Federation over their shared rivers (Yamuna, Krishna, Cauvery etc.). Following this method, an agreement on quantity issue can be achieved but it might not last long in a democratic society where it can come under scrutiny from various independent quarters. But, the signing of an agreement has several advantages. It puts pressure on the ruling elites to work for increasing the river flow in order to keep the agreement going. Moreover, the agreement also helps to depoliticise the issue to a certain extent by pushing the river sharing dispute out of the front pages of the newspapers. This can help the political leadership of the riparian countries to take new initiatives in order to augment the river flow.

4. Need for a positive approach

Signing of a sharing agreement might solve the water scarcity problem for a short period of time, but it does not provide a long-term solution. The recent threats to the survival of the Indus River Agreement of 1960, the Nile River Agreement of 1959 and the Euphrates River Agreement of 1987 confirm this apprehension. For a fruitful and long lasting cooperation on international rivers, there is a need for a comprehensive approach to address the water scarcity issue in the river basin.

The efforts to find an internationally acceptable formula for sharing international rivers have not proven to be completely successful yet. However, with some help from the international institutions, the riparian countries of some of the international rivers are coming together to get the maximum benefit of the common water. These cooperative approaches of the riparian states need to be translated into a comprehensive and systematic effort. To find a lasting solution to the quantity question of the sharing of international rivers, the water issue needs to be addressed from both the demand side as well as the supply side. Otherwise, in the face of increasing water scarcity, many of the river water sharing arrangements will face difficulty in holding together for long. And that might pave the way for ‘water wars’.

4.1. Managing the supply side of the water scarcity

The development of rivers occurs most optimally on the basin level. The whole international river basin needs to be regarded as an economic unit irrespective of state boundaries. Under an integrated water development programme, dam and storage are to be located at the best possible places and the benefits are to be used by the riparian states in need of those benefits. Such effort can bring reciprocal advantages, such as right to submerge upstream territories in return for sharing hydropower or provision of water to one state and electricity to another.

Formation of a river basin organisation encourages international collaboration and assistance for river water development. As constraints on the resource grow, the opportunity costs for not cooperating are becoming clearer. The increasing scarcity of available fresh water per capita and lack of financial strength in the developing countries may gradually encourage the basin countries to cooperate in order to achieve optimal benefit from the river. Basin-based development of irrigation, hydropower, water diversion or flood control projects can provide riparian countries greater net benefits than they could have achieved through purely state-centric development. Incentives for riparian cooperation for basin level development can come from international financial institutions and bilateral aid programmes. The lenders and donors can play a facilitator role in encouraging collaborative efforts among the basin states. International financial institutions may even become critical in encouraging and leading new incentives. These actors have resources that can be incentives for cooperation even in the face of available weak legal sanctions [22].

Flexibility is central to the successful negotiation of basin-based agreement on international rivers. To achieve riparian cooperation at the basin level, the riparian states need to be flexible while negotiating with each other. Without that, they will fail to overcome their vision of narrow state centric development path. Usually, the ordinary bureaucrats in the foreign ministries handle the international river sharing issues. Lack of interest and understanding on their part often leads to relatively long negotiations and unsuccessful resolutions [23]. An understanding of the issue of contention is necessary for the negotiators to find a way for conflict resolution. Water resource management is a complex and also continuously changing process [24]. For the regular foreign ministry officials, it is not easy to grasp the complexity of the issue involved. Thus, there is a need to entrust the water negotiation to those who can cope with such rapid changes as well as understand conceptual, methodological and institutional changes. Besides that, the help of ‘hydro-diplomacy’ may be taken to clear the path for riparian cooperation.

When political leadership takes an active interest in the outcome of the international river water issue, there is a greater probability of arriving at a speedy agreement. Political interest may help to overcome the bureaucratic delays in order to find a common agreement. Without support from the people, it is difficult to implement any elite driven river sharing arrangement. For the effective implementation of the agreement, there is a need to accentuate the use of public involvement and participation in water resources planning[25].

4.2. Restricting the demand for water

Only through better supply management, can the water scarcity issue be effectively addressed. There is a need to restrict and regularise the demand for the increasingly scarce water resource. The common notion that water is free and that the use of water in a particular economic or social activity could be pursued without concern is no longer acceptable. To reduce the incompatibility on the water sharing issue, the help of economic measures is very much needed. The pricing of water will create quantity restrictions for the competing users. It will force consumers to use water more efficiently than if there was no price tag on it.

In recent years, the construction of water projects has demanded greater investment. This is partly due to fact that the new sites for dams and storages are increasingly available only at greater economic and environmental cost. It is not only the construction of the projects, but also the proper management of the water storage and its distribution that is needed for efficient use of water. The water distribution systems, particularly in the developing countries, are not self-sustaining, because the price charged for the water has been kept very low. This huge cost–benefit difference has reduced the performance of many irrigation and water distribution systems.

Water disappears from city systems, mainly in the developing countries from theft, inadequate metering and inaccurate billing. The illegal ‘spaghetti connections’ in many slum and squatter areas is quite common. Thus, the enactment of pricing the water is not sufficient in itself. There is a need to make effective institutional arrangements to collect a ‘water tax’. In the state of Bihar in India, the government spent three times more money in collecting water revenue in 1996 than the actual tax collected from the farmers. The law must be simple but strong enough to compel the people to pay their tax. Water Courts may be created to facilitate speedy justice on disagreement over water sharing and also disputes over water taxation. By strengthening institutions, a single chain of authority is required to carry out policymaking, planning and management of water issues. Planning needs to be coordinated, making it strategic and holistic [26].

Pricing of water is not a politically sound act for the leaders of the developing countries. For a politician, political interest is invariably more important than economics or environment. Taxing the water might cost the political leaders their major ‘vote banks’. Farmers constitute the most important voting bloc in the South. Thus, there is a need to distance politics from technical, economic and environmental criteria in decision making. Greater awareness is needed about the water scarcity among the common people, which can help to depoliticise the water pricing to a large extent. Moreover, with the price, people should be offered some tangible benefits. Reliable and timely water supply, universal applicability of the rules and regulations under a democratic and efficient system, and rational allocation of water among various competing sectors are some of the prerequisites for the smooth implementation of water pricing.

There is also an urgent need to minimise water use, particularly in the sector that uses water the most—agriculture. This can be achieved through the intelligent use of ‘virtual water’. ‘Virtual water’ means the agricultural products that have been produced with large amounts of water.1 Stopping the production of water intensive agricultural products for export purposes and importing water intensive agricultural products from water abundant regions would decrease water demands in water scarce countries. Countries in Northern Africa use their scarce water resource for producing agricultural products like pepper and tomato in order to export to water affluent regions in Europe. Israel exports oranges to Europe by using its meagre water supply. Some Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia spend massive resources to produce wheat in the desert, which they can easily import from water abundant regions at a much cheaper price.

For many developing countries, achieving self-sufficiency in food production is the most important national agenda. There is nothing wrong in achieving this. It provides food security as well as strengthens the legitimacy of the state and regime. But self-sufficiency in food production is always an on-going struggle in order to satisfy the increasing demand of the growing population. Moreover, in most cases, temporary and limited self-sufficiency comes with a high unsustainable use of scarce water resource. The belief that a particular country must be responsible for its own food production impedes a rational solution to the problem of real and lasting food security. As Lundqvist and Gleick argue the goal must be “a world that grows sufficient food to meet the world’s needs, somewhere, and the institutions and mechanisms to deliver that food where it is needed.” [27]. With the help of trade and aid, mechanisms need to be developed to shift poor water-short countries away from water-intensive agricultural production.

5. Facing the future

Population growth results in a declining supply of fresh water per person. The Worldwatch Institute estimates that due to population growth alone, the amount per capita water availability from the hydrological cycle will fall by 73% between 1950 and 2050 [28]. Rapid population growth and striving for economic development has severely stressed natural renewable resources, so much so that fresh water is beginning to have a scarcity value and emotional intensity as exists for the fossil fuel. Countries have already started to frame the issue of water scarcity in national security terms. However, framing the issue as a national concern will in most cases make it impossible to resolve the issue [29]. The sheer size and nature of this problem demands solutions that go beyond the purview of a particular state or government. Managing water effectively requires consideration of all the interacting actors.

Multilateral water basins are mostly governed by bilateral arrangements. This has raised the concern of free riding behaviour. Decisions made by one riparian or some of the riparians likely will fail to serve the interests of non-participating riparians due to conflicting priorities of nations [30]. Thus, principles for comprehensive basin based water management and planning must be adopted. In order to face the future, there is an urgent need for water allocation priorities and mechanisms to derive optimum benefit from the available water resources in the world.

Many regions are using virtually all of the river flow to meet their water demand. The Colorado River in America, the Yellow River in China and the Nile River in Africa have very little water left when they reach the sea. Not only surface water, there is also growing pressure on the groundwater as well. Several major agricultural regions are extracting groundwater faster than it is recharged by rainfall. Due to this unsustainable practice, the water source might dry up or become too expensive to pump. It is not the water quantity alone; the poor quality of fresh water resources is also increasingly bringing hazards to a large portion of the world population.

To meet the increased water demands, crucial decisions need to be taken about water and the way it is to be used. Rather than continuing to search for more and more water to meet anticipated demand, it is time to decide what to do with the amounts that can be feasibly and sustainably developed. This perceptual change can help to avoid the ‘water wars’ and instead develop cooperation over the sharing of international rivers.


[1] Salman SMA, de Chazournes LB, editors. International watercourses: enhancing cooperation and managing conflict. World Bank technical paper No. 414. Washington (DC): World Bank, 1998.

[2] Beschorner N. Water and instability in the Middle East. Adelphi Papers. 1992/93. p. 273.

[3] Clarke R. Water: the international crisis. London: Earthscan Publication Ltd, 1991.

[4] Cooley JK. The war over water. In: Foreign policy., 1984:54.

[5] Gleick PH. Water and conflict: fresh water resources and international security. International Security 1993;18:1.

[6] Homer-Dixon TF. Environmental scarcities and violent conflict: evidence from cases. International – Security 1994;19:1.

[7] Starr JR. Water wars. Foreign Policy 1991;82.

[8] Swain A. Water scarcity: a threat to global security. Environment & Security 1996;1:1.

[9] Bullock J, Darwish A. Water wars: coming conflicts in the Middle East. London: Gollancz, 1993.

[10] Seabright P. Water: commodity or social institution? Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute, 1997.

[11] Toset HW, Gleditsch N. Conflict and shared rivers. In: Paper presented at the Third European International Relations Conference and Joint Meeting with the International Studies Association, 1998 – Sep 16–19; Vienna, 1998

[12] Shira BY, Wolf AT. Water, conflict and cooperation: geographical perspectives. Cambridge Review of International Affairs 1999;12:2.

[13] Barrett S. Conflict and cooperation in managing international water resources. centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment—CSERGE—working paper WM 94-04. 1994.

[14] Biswas AK. Management of international waters: problems and perspective. Water Resource Development 1993;9.

[15] Rogers KS. Rivers of discontent–rivers of peace: environmental cooperation and integration theory. International Studies Notes 1995;2:2.

[16] Wallensteen P, Swain A. International fresh water resources: conflict or cooperation? Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute, 1997.

[17] Rogers P. The value of cooperation in resolving international river basin disputes. Natural Resources Forum 1993;17:2.

[18] Swain A. Fight for the last drop: inter-state river disputes in India. Contemporary South Asia 1998;7:2.

[19] Swain A. Sharing international rivers: the need for a regional approach. In: Gleditsch NP, editor. Conflict and the environment. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997.

[20] Swain A. Dispute over the Nile River. Journal of Modern African Studies 1997;35:4.

[21] Swain A. Conflict over water: the Ganges water dispute. Security Dialogue 1993;24:4.

[22] Priscoli JD. Conflict resolution, collaboration and management in international and regional water resources issues. In: Paper presented at the 8th Congress of the International Water Resources Association (IWRA), 1994 Nov; Cairo, Egypt, 1994.

[23] LeMarcquand DG. International rivers: the politics of cooperation. Waterloo: University of British Columbia Press, 1977.

[24] Mandel R. Sources of international river basin. In: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, 1991 Mar; Vancouver, BC, Canada, 1991.

[25] Vlachos E. Transboundary water conflicts and alternative dispute resolution. In: Paper presented at the 8th International Water Resources Association Congress, 1994 Nov; Cairo, Egypt, 1994.

[26] Swain A. Constructing water institutions: appropriate management of international river water. Cambridge Review of International Affairs 1999;12:2.

[27] Lundqvist J, Gleick P. Comprehensive assessment of the freshwater resources of the world: sustaining our waters into the 21st century. Stockholm: Stockholm Environment Institute, 1997.

[28] Brown LR, Gardner G, Halweil B. Beyond malthus: nineteen dimensions of the population change. New York: W.W. Nortn & Company, 1999.

[29] Kukk CL, Deese DA. At the water’s edge: regional conflict and cooperation over fresh water. UCLA Journal of International Law & Foreign Affairs 1996;21.

[30] Just RE, Netanyahu. International water resource conflicts: experience and potential. In: Just RE, Netanyahu, editors. Conflict and cooperation on trans-boundary water resources. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1998.

Compound Bosutinib in Patients With Newly Diagnosed Chronic Myeloid Leukemia

Acute myeloid leukemia with very abnormal cells (AML M3/ t15;17) formerly leading to rapid death having a very good chance for cure since a vitamin A derivative is given in addition to chemotherapy

Acute myeloid leukemia with very abnormal cells (AML M3/ t15;17) formerly leading to rapid death having a very good chance for cure since a vitamin A derivative is given in addition to chemotherapy

Pfizer Inc announced today that a significantly higher proportion of patients with newly diagnosed chronic myeloid leukemia who were treated with bosutinib (39 percent) experienced a major molecular response (MMR), a secondary endpoint, compared with patients treated with imatinib (26 percent) in the intent-to-treat (ITT) population (p=0.002). However, the study did not meet its primary endpoint of superior complete cytogenetic response (CCyR) rate at one year versus imatinib (70 percent vs. 68 percent, respectively, [p=0.601]), in the ITT population.  These results are from a Phase 3 study of the investigational compound bosutinib as a first-line treatment in patients with Philadelphia chromosome positive (Ph+) chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), called the B osutinib E fficacy and safety in chronic myeloid L eukemi A [BELA] study. These data were presented at an oral presentation at the 52nd Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) (Abstract #208).(1)

Preliminary data show that fewer patients who took bosutinib progressed to an advanced phase of the disease (n=4, 1.6 percent) compared to patients treated with imatinib (n= 10, 4.0 percent), and there were fewer deaths in the bosutinib arm (n=4, 1.2 percent) than in the imatinib arm (n= 10, 3.2 percent).  Patients responding to bosutinib achieved CCyR faster than those responding to imatinib (13 weeks vs. 25 weeks, p<0.001).(1)

A pre-specified exploratory analysis also showed that bosutinib produced a higher rate of CCyR at one year compared to imatinib when CCyR was assessed only in the evaluable patient population, 78 percent with bosutinib (n=219) compared to 69 percent with imatinib (n=241). The evaluable population was different from the ITT population in that it included only those patients who received follow-up assessments for efficacy.(1)

The most frequently reported all-grade drug-related adverse events with bosutinib were diarrhea (66 percent), nausea (27 percent), vomiting (25 percent), and rash (18 percent).  The most frequent grade 3/4 adverse events with bosutinib included diarrhea (8 percent) and rash (2 percent), although no patients on the bosutinib arm discontinued therapy due to diarrhea. Gastrointestinal events associated with bosutinib had an early onset and usually subsided within the first four weeks of treatment. Most frequent grade 3/4 laboratory abnormalities with bosutinib included elevated ALT (21 percent), elevated AST (10 percent), and thrombocytopenia (7 percent).(1)

More patients on bosutinib experienced serious adverse events (25.4 percent vs. 13.5 percent) and adverse events leading to discontinuation (19.4 percent vs. 5.6 percent) than on imatinib. Adverse events leading to discontinuation were most frequently due to liver enzyme elevations in the bosutinib arm and neutropenia in the imatinib arm. There were no deaths in the study due to treatment-related adverse events.  The majority of patients on both treatment arms continued on study treatment after a median follow-up of 14 months.(1)

“We are encouraged by these data, as they demonstrate early and meaningful response to bosutinib in patients with newly diagnosed CML.  Given the length of time these patients are treated for CML, we need more therapeutic options to choose from since each patient is different and has different needs,” said Dr. Carlo Gambacorti-Passerini, professor of internal medicine and director, clinical research unit, University of Milano Bicocca, San Gerardo Hospital, Monza, Italy, and a lead investigator of the BELA study. “Based on my experience with bosutinib, I feel it would be an important option for patients with CML.”

BELA Study Design and Other Key Studies at ASH

The BELA study is a global, open label, multicenter trial of 502 adult patients randomized to receive either bosutinib (n=250) or imatinib (n=252).  The primary objective of the study was to compare the CCyR rate at one year between the bosutinib and imatinib arms in the ITT population. MMR rate at one year was a key secondary endpoint.(1) Although closed to enrollment, the study remains ongoing, and patients will continue to be followed for safety and efficacy outcomes.

Bosutinib is also being studied as a single agent in patients with previously treated chronic phase CML in an ongoing clinical trial with over 500 patients, known as Study 200.  Interim results from a patient cohort of this study that have failed prior imatinib therapy and were resistant or intolerant to dasatinib or resistant to nilotinib are also being presented at the ASH annual meeting during an oral data presentation (Abstract #892, December 7).(2)

“Based on the totality of evidence from the bosutinib clinical development program, we are actively engaged in discussions with regulatory authorities which we hope will enable Pfizer to offer a new treatment option for patients with CML,” said Dr. Mace Rothenberg, senior vice president of clinical development and medical affairs for Pfizer’s Oncology Business Unit.

About Bosutinib

Bosutinib is an investigational oral dual Src and Abl kinase inhibitor.(1) It is believed that by dual inhibition of the Src and Abl tyrosine kinases, bosutinib may inhibit signaling in CML cells that allows the cells to grow, survive and reproduce.(3)

About Chronic Myeloid Leukemia

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), one of the four main types of leukemia,(4) accounts for 15 percent of all leukemias worldwide.(5) A hallmark of CML is an abnormal chromosome known as the Philadelphia Chromosome, a DNA mutation that initiates a series of events leading to the development of Bcr-Abl, a tyrosine kinase that causes CML cells to grow and reproduce rapidly.(6)

Response to treatment in CML can be assessed via cytogenetic or molecular markers.  A complete cytogenetic response (CCyR) indicates no cells with the Philadelphia chromosome can be found in the blood or bone marrow.  A major molecular response (MMR) as measured by a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, means that the amount of Bcr-Abl in the blood is very low.  A PCR test checks for the Bcr-Abl oncogene in leukemia cells in a blood or bone marrow sample and is sensitive enough to detect this oncogene even when doctors cannot identify the Philadelphia chromosome in bone marrow cells with cytogenetic testing.(6)

Pfizer’s Commitment to Hematology

Pfizer Oncology is committed to developing therapies to treat a variety of hematologic malignancies in both adult and pediatric patient populations.  Collectively, hematologic cancers represent the fifth most commonly occurring cancers and the second leading cause of cancer death.  While there have been significant advancements in the treatment of hematologic cancers, there continues to be a need for new therapeutic approaches, both for newly diagnosed patients and relapsed patients.  In order to deliver new options that target specific hematologic abnormalities and mutations, it is important to understand the molecular subtypes and genetic variations associated with hematologic cancers. Pfizer Oncology has biologics and small molecules in clinical development across a number of hematologic malignancies.

About Pfizer Oncology

Pfizer Oncology is committed to the discovery, investigation and development of innovative treatment options to improve the outlook for cancer patients worldwide.  Our strong pipeline, one of the most robust in the industry, is studied with precise focus on identifying and translating the best scientific breakthroughs into clinical application for patients across a wide range of cancers. Pfizer Oncology has biologics and small molecules in clinical development and more than 100 clinical trials underway. By working collaboratively with academic institutions, individual researchers, cooperative research groups, governments, and licensing partners, Pfizer Oncology strives to cure or control cancer with breakthrough medicines, to deliver the right drug for each patient at the right time.   For more information please visitwww.Pfizer.com.


(1) ASH Accepted Abstract #208. An Ongoing Phase 3 Study of Bosutinib (SKI-606) Versus Imatinib In Patients with Newly Diagnosed Chronic Phase Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. Oral Presentation. Carlo Gambacorti- Presenter. 52nd American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting. Orlando, FL. December 4-7, 2010.

(2) ASH Accepted Abstract #892. Bosutinib as Third-Line Treatment for Chronic Phase Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Following Failure of Second-Line Therapy with Dasatinib or Nilotinib. Oral Presentation. H. J. Khoury – Presenter. 52nd American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting. Orlando, FL. December 4-7, 2010.

(3) Konig H et al. Effects of Dasatinib on Src Kinase Activity and Downstream Intracellular Signaling in Primitive Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia Hematopoietic Cells. Cancer Research. 2008; 68: 9624-9633.

(4) National Cancer Institute. What you need to know about leukemia – Types of Leukemia. Available here: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/leukemia/page3. Accessed  November 16, 2010.

(5) Jabbour E et al. Targeted Therapy in Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.  Expert Review of Anticancer Therapy. 2008; 8: 99-110.

(6) American Cancer Society. Detailed Guide: Leukemia – Chronic Myeloid (Myelogenous). Available at:http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003112-pdf.pdf.  Accessed  November 16, 2010.

U.S. scientists took a key step toward controlled nuclear fusion

U.S. scientists have crossed a key step toward controlled nuclear fusion,
atomic process that could result in an inexhaustible source of clean energy and solve problems around fossil fuels and emission of greenhouse gases.

The researchers managed to produce an unprecedented level of energy and break the barrier of megajoule, said the National Nuclear Security Administration of the United States.

“Breaking the barrier of megajoule us closer to the fusion ignition,” said agency administrator, Thomas Dagostino, in a statement.

U.S. scientists managed to produce one megajoule with concentration of 192 laser beams simultaneously at a temperature of 111 million degrees Celsius on a tube the size of a pencil sharpener filled with deuterium and tritium, two isotopes of hydrogen.

“This milestone is an example of the benefits achieved with our nation’s investment in nuclear security and other areas, from advances in energy technology to better  understanding of the universe, “he added.

Nuclear fusion is the engine of the sun and the stars and their artificial production would provide an unlimited choice of clean generation to replace the reliance on dwindling fossil fuel reserves. However, until now controlled fusion technology is an unresolved challenge for researchers because of the very high pressures and temperatures involved.

In the experiment the laser energy was converted into X rays, which compressed fuel to levels of temperature and pressure billions of times greater than Earth’s atmosphere, the statement said.

The process leads to the fusion of hydrogen nuclei, releasing energy from nuclear fusion precursor.

The temperature produced by the device during the few billionths of a second experiment, was equivalent to 500 times the energy consumed by U.S. in that same time.

It is also thirty times greater than that obtained so far by any other process with a group of lasers in the world.

Nuclear energy can be released in two forms: nuclear fission, which already occurs in a controlled and arises from the division of nuclei of radioactive elements and heavy as uranium-and nuclear fusion, which in turn binds (hence the name of fusion) of hydrogen nuclei into helium, the two lighter elements.

Twenty years ago, chemists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann caused a sensation by announcing that they had succeeded in producing a cold fusion, a very coveted by scientists in its search for energy sources, clean and economical.

But the dramatic announcement that lost strength after several scientific research teams failed to seek to replicate the experience.


192 Laser Beams Combined to Form One Megajoule Laser Shot


1. Statement by Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, Under Secretary for Science and Director, Office of Science, US Department of Energy (22 May 2008) [Back]

2. Sandia’s Z machine exceeds two billion degrees Kelvin, Sandia National Laboratories news release (8 March 2006) [Back]

3. Safety and Environmental Impact of Fusion, I. Cook, G. Marbach, L. Di Pace, C. Girard, N. P. Taylor, EUR (01) CCE-FU / FTC 8/5 (April 2001) [Back]

General sources

Iter website (www.iter.org)
JET website (www.jet.efda.org)
National Ignition Facility website (https://lasers.llnl.gov)
PETAL website (www.petal.aquitaine.fr)
HiPER website (www.hiper-laser.org)
The Fusion Power website of the EURATOM/UKAEA Fusion Association (www.fusion.org.uk)
European Fusion Network Information website (www.fusion-eur.org)
Website of the Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) program of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science (www.er.doe.gov/Program_Offices/fes.htm)
Large Helical Device website (www.lhd.nifs.ac.jp)
HiPER activity, Nuclear Engineering International (November 2008)
Fast track to fusion energy, Michael H. Key, Nature 412, 775-776 (23 August 2001)

How Energy Farms Work

checking_temp_of_compostEnergy Farms grow food, but are also net producers of energy. They can operate at a range of scales, and use a mix of ancient and new crops and technologies.

Less than a century ago most farms were net energy producers; today US farms consume more energy than they produce, and our food system as a whole consumes 7.3 calories of energy for every calorie we eat. In the face of declining fossil fuel stocks, members of the Energy Farms Network are dedicated to relearning how to put food on our plates in a way that produces more energy from renewable sources than we consume from nonrenewable sources.

The Energy Farms Network includes farmers, gardeners, and researchers sharing their experiments with mixed food and energy production systems through a blogs, web-casts, vidoes, and other emerging media.

The various Energy Farms projects are guided by a clear set of priorities intended to steward the Earth, promote social equity, and foster local food and energy security.

Production: Food First

  1. Grow food for local consumption
    The program aims to generate toolsets, methods, and discourse that will prove useful to groups and communities that want to maintain food security in a post petroleu m context. Additionally, the program Tp_and_spinachprovidesdata related to the true cost of food without chemicals, excessive transport, or subsidy.
  2. Improve the soil
    The soil is the farm’s greatest resource. If intensive vegetable and grain cultivation are expected, then an equally intensive compost system is required to secure the fertility of the land. When possible the Energy Farm Program makes use of marginal land to grow energy crops and works to revitalize soil with cover cropping, reduced tillage, and compost.
  3. Trade locally
    In addition to growing food, Energy Farms produce commodities that support other farms. They generate items of legitimate value and are cornerstones of local commerce.

Minimize Energy Inputs

  1. Use muscle powerGlaser_Use
    Before cheap oil drastically influenced agriculture practice in the early to mid 20th century, most agricultural work was performed by muscle power (i.e. human, horse, ox, mule). Agricultural systems that rely on cheap, imported fuel are vulnerable to inflation in energy prices and may not be able to sustain current yields or operation. The Energy Farm program realizes that there is a need for more farms at a smaller scale. These farms must be able to produce consistent reliable forms of food and energy without relying on fossil fuel, heavy machinery, or petroleum based chemicals.
  2. Use appropriate technology that saves fuel, labor and time
    Farmers are famous for improvising tools that meet the needs of specific farm tasks. Likewise, the Energy Farm program is developing tools and assembling toolsets that will meet specific needs of farmers in order to them help cultivate and process farm-based commodities in a post petroleum era. Society cannot afford to revert to primitivism and we must use our historical vantage point to integrate useful methods from past as we experiment with new tools to build the future.
  3. Use renewable energy on the farm
    Food and energy are interconnected and it is imperative that farm infrastructure be powered by renewable energy technology to produce consistent reliable food and energy. Some farm tasks require more energy than a team of laborers can perform and must look for ways to power the tools that has made modern agriculture so productive. Wind turbines and solar panels, ethanol and biodiesel, each have their place in an agricultural system that uses heavy machines only when necessary.


  1. Prioritize using local labor, energy, materials, capital, and biomass for farm activitiescompost
    One of the surest ways to build your community is to invest locally in people, projects, and programs that are working toward a common goal of stewardship and sustainability. When groups derive their resources locally they are likely to be less vulnerable to resource scarcity concerns. Energy Farms are built to rely on as few outside imports as possible, and in some instances, even go as far as to grow their own organic fertilizer on site.
  2. Develop relationships with local buyers of farm goods and providers of farm needs
    An Energy Farm is of no use in isolation. Farm members participate in the community discourse and integrate themselves into many facets of the community in order to assist and be assisted by as many people as possible. Local organic restaurants, farmers markets, the Grange, welders and fabricators, master gardeners, universities, other non-profits, and permaculture guilds are all important connections for the Energy Farm because they provide an outlet for produce and a maintain a web of material and intellectual support.
  3. Promote “relocalization” practices:
    • Revitalization of co-ops supporting community supported manufacturing and agriculture
    • Co-op acquisition of small threshing machines for cereal and oilseed processing or micro hydro turbines for electricity
    • Creation of local waste management systems to collect food scraps to be converted to compost, biogas, and livestock feed.


  1. Collect data on all farm production, including energy inputs, labor inputs, growing conditions, and yieldslocalize_now_0
    Record-keeping allows comparisons between systems and technologies.
  2. Develop scientifically robust research programs to determine optimal local practices for food and energy production
    Findings are only meaningful if they are reproducible. Collaborate with people trained in experimental design. Ideally, research will have untreated controls, and treatments will be replicated, and randomly assigned.
  3. Share and collaborate
    Energy Farm researchers share information through new media, including blogs, videos, and web presentations. These new media can make preliminary research results available to a broader audience, but they do not replace the peer-reviewed journal articles that researchers use to share information. Preliminary results should be viewed critically. Interactive technology, including blog comments, can help shape research in progress to ensure it is meaningful and conclusions are valid. Readers should approach material posted to the Energy Farms blog as critical collaborators, not passive consumers.

Biosecurity on farms

There are times when perniciously false premises are treated as the criteria by which truth is determined. We lose the argument before it’s begun. And where does that leave us in our efforts to control mortal dangers of our own making?

An article of faith among veterinarians and epidemiologists is that large industrial farms are both biosecure and biocontained: livestock pathogens such as highly pathogenic influenza can’t check in, and if they do, they can’t check out. The premise is so engrained that international health agencies have codified levels of biosecurity by the size of farming sectors alone. The operational standard is the bigger the farm, the better its protection.

A paper published last year cuts against the grain. Graham et al.’s review shows industrial farming can promote the spread of pathogens to other farms, to the outside environment, and to farm workers. All three modes can expose surrounding communities to daily doses of the latest and greatest in xenospecific bugs, some of which, as this spring’s swine flu pandemic attests, may take root as widespread human outbreaks.


Graham et al. begin with the origins of modern industrial farming. Over the past 70 years, beginning in the United States and now extending globally, farming has become vertically integrated. All links in the filiere, from breeding through butchering, have been gathered top to bottom under the aegis of a small number of agribusiness conglomerates. In other words, a fundamental shift in basic pathogen ecology has emerged:

Large-scale animal production is based on high throughput processing of single breeds of livestock. Beef and dairy cattle, pigs, broiler and layer chickens, ducks, turkeys, crustacea and fish are now raised separately in large populations typically concentrated in and confined to feedlots rather than left out on open forage. These economies of scale are sustained by government-subsidized grain-based diets laced with antibiotics aimed at maximizing bulk over short generation times. The faster large animals can be processed (before their diet kills them), the more money can be made. According to Graham et al.,

In the U.S., this change began in the 1930s and now more than 90% of broiler chickens and turkeys are produced in houses in which between 15,000 and 50,000 birds are confined throughout their lifespan. For swine, this transformation occurred more recently and more rapidly: from 1994 to 2001, the market share of hogs produced in [intensive food animal production] increased from 10% to 72% of total U.S. production.

The geography of livestock has shifted too. Although orders of magnitude larger, farms are much more concentrated and often sequestered to regional agricultural ghettos. American swine, for instance, is largely confined to three states: North Carolina, Iowa, Minnesota, and parts of a few others. At the same time, livestock of different species are often raised in the same area, increasing the likelihood of zoonotic transmission.

Despite intensive veterinary supervision and, in the U.S., 24 million pounds of antibiotics a year, the scale of stockbreeding has outpaced efforts to control the pathogens intensive agriculture incubates. Industry assurances have belied themselves. Despite ‘biosecurity’s’ invocation of a prison hospital, no megalopolis of millions, grouping animals into supercolonies for which they never evolved, is ever so lockdown spic-and-span.

Graham and his colleagues identify a variety of pathways by which pathogens can spread out of and between large confined animal feedlot operations:

Farm workers. There is little regulation of occupational exposure to agricultural microbes. Workers are offered little or no protective clothing or opportunities for decontamination on-site. Clothes are typically washed at home. Poultry workers worldwide have routinely tested for antibodies to a variety of non-human influenzas, including pre-pandemic swine flu H1N1, H5N1, H7N7, and H9N2.

In work published after Graham et al.’s review, Wang et al. (2009) detected very few cases of H5 among 2191 Guangzhou workers occupationally exposed to birds. H9 influenzas, on the other hand, appeared widespread across the poultry commodity chain, especially among poultry market retailers (15.5%) and wholesalers (6.6%) and workers in large-scale poultry-breeding enterprises (5.6%). One study of an outbreak of influenza H7N7 in the Netherlands in 2003 found some farmers’ family members infected as well. In other words, influenza outbreaks have been tracked off farms and into civilian populations.

Ventilation. To regulate heat and humidity, high-volume fans positioned at one end of livestock buildings vent air out into the environment. The resulting aerosolized dust has been measured at a million-fold greater concentration than for air sampled nearby. A 2004 British Columbia outbreak of poultry influenza was attributed to venting across confinement lots.

Animal waste. Livestock shit contains a multitude of pathogens that can persist in the open environment as ‘live ammunition’ for as long as a year for bacteria and six months for viruses. In the U.S., concentrated animal feedlots produce 314 million metric tons of waste a year. That’s a hundred times more than what Americans produce. And yet, unlike human sewage, livestock waste is subjected to no requirements for treatment. Once landfilled, livestock waste can leach into surface and ground water or be pecked at by migratory waterfowl foraging for spillover feed. Workers moving and storing animal waste risk exposure by inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact.

Aquaculture. Poultry waste is now used to feed fish. The unregulated practice exposes migratory waterfowl which frequently visit aquaculture sites. The fecal-water-oral route is a highly effective means of influenza transmission.

Transport. Pathogens can be spread in the course of transporting livestock between farms and processing plants. Animal stress during transport increases pathogen shedding. Shipping containers can be contaminated, spreading infection across shipments.

Pests. Flies caught near a Kyoto broiler farm where a 2004 outbreak took place carried the same strain of highly pathogenic influenza H5N1. Rats appeared implicated in the spread of another Japanese outbreak of H5N1 in 2007. Pest species are an underappreciated intermediary by which pathogens may migrate between waterfowl and poultry facilities.

It would appear ‘biosecure’ operations are not so biosecure. In addition to the virulence such farms likely select for, their practices permit pathogens to spread beyond the lot’s edge,

At the animal-human interface in these operations, there is inadequate protection of workers and their communities, and, more generally, there is incomplete biocontainment to prevent transfers from the animal house to the general environment. Indeed, the main emphasis of disease prevention with increasing production intensity is typically on enhancing biosecurity, whereas biocontainment is considered less of a priority. Evidence would suggest that once a pathogen has been introduced into such a production facility, it can rapidly multiply; for some pathogens, enormous quantities of infectious organisms can be released and expose other production units.

An industrial model aimed at treating organisms like widgets is undermined by the commodity’s living biology no matter how much its practitioners pretend otherwise. The price of their product should reflect the epidemiological costs governments must cover in clean-ups, culling campaigns, and antivirals. Cheap chicken is never as cheap as it’s rung up.

Better yet, a new agriculture is in order, one that treats its ‘units’ as members of an agro-ecological community shared with their human minders. Farm workers must be treated not as bipedal chattel but as the members of our communities that they are. Doing both would go a long way to mitigating the spread of deadly livestock pathogens into human populations. It’s a reasonable expectation that a chicken in every pot need not be accompanied, at any point later, by a virus in every lung.

John Maynard Keynes

If you owe your bank a hundred pounds, you have a problem. But if you owe a million, it has. -JMK

This recession that we have been suffering through since essentially late 2007 is not something new; our economic history contains numerous instances of negative-growth economies, some obviously worse than others. However, in many ways, our current situation has perhaps brought to light the name John Maynard Keynes; a name that most likely wasn’t familiar to most people before this recent downturn and even in the midst of our recession, who he actually was and how his writings have influenced our economy may not be well known. Over my next three posts I’m going to be covering John Maynard Keynes; discussing the man, his theories, and finally, his impact on our current economic policy.

John Maynard Keynes was an early 20th century British economist. Born to a middle-class family in Cambridge, England on June 5th, 1883, Keynes demonstrated from an early age an aptitude for mathematics. Ironically, the year he was born was also the year that Karl Marx died; latter in his life Keynes spent considerable time challenging many fundamental Marxist principles. Despite extended periods of poor health when young, he excelled in school and in 1905 earned a degree in mathematics from King’s College in Cambridge.

After graduation, Keynes worked a variety of positions, initially as a civil servant clerk in Britain’s India Office. Despite a promising start to his career that included the publication of his first book (an analysis of the Indian monetary system), he soon left his position to take a job as a lecturer at Cambridge. Soon after accepting that position he took a leave of absence to work for the British Treasury after the beginning of World War I. There he worked on international finances, quickly rising through the ranks to the point where he was the Treasury’s representative during the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference. He quickly became frustrated with many of the conference’s other attendees, who he thought were instituting vindictive, counter-productive economic restrictions on Germany, eventually causing him to resign his post. Upon returning to England he wrote the book that brought him his initial fame: The Economic Consequences of the Peace.

The Economic Consequences of the Peace was a biting criticism of the French and American approach towards the Versailles Peace Conference. Keynes argued that such a hard approach would keep Germany in poverty and could ultimately undermine the goal of the Peace Conference by once again stirring up unrest and creating an unstable German state. At the time of its publication, his book received a lot of attention due to its vitriol directed towards powerful international political figures. However, as Keynes predicted, the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference enacted policies that led to the Germans being unable to recover and rebuild (leading to a period of hyperinflation in 1923), laying the groundwork for the Nazi aggression of World War II. Learning from their mistakes, and at the advisement of Keynes, both the United States and Britain took a different tone at the conclusion of World War II, setting aside vindictive ambitions in favor of more comprehensive assistance, which allowed Germany’s post-war economy to grow in a safe environment.

After the 1919 Peace Conference, Keynes returned to his philosophical and mathematical roots and published his Treatise on Probability. Additionally, at this time Keynes became more involved in journalism and finance as he began to amass his considerable personal fortune. It was also during this time, leading up to the second World War, during Britain’s economic struggles preceding the Great Depression, that he began to develop his theories on responsible government spending during economic downturns, which would eventually become a central theme of what is now referred to as “Keynesian Economics”. During this time, Keynes also advocated against returning Britain to the gold standard, a call which was ignored before finally being heeded in 1931 after it was shown to produce some of the disastrous effects that Keynes had predicted in his The Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill.

Similarly to his call to abandon the gold standard, his calls in the early 1930s for deficit spending during periods of a stagnant economy were taken seriously but not readily adopted. Perhaps the most famous adopter of early Keynesian Economic ideas, Franklin D. Roosevelt did not initially take to Keynes’ notion that balancing the federal deficit was much less important than using the spending power of the government to stimulate the economy. Soon, however, Keynes would be granted the opportunity to prove his theory, as the advent of World War II left Roosevelt and other world leaders no choice but test Keynes on his ideas.

The economic productivity that resulted from the application of Keynesian principles during World War II proved to be an incredible success. This lead to wide-spread adoption of Keynes’ ideas on an even broader scale that would last well into the 1970s, when economic theorists attempted to formulate a more mathematically formal model of economic development, in comparison to Keynes’s more informal (and at times, disjoint, convoluted and disorganized) theories. In addition, as time progressed, Keynes’ initial assumptions about the state of current economic realities became insufficient as the world’s major powers progressed from an intrastate economic model to an interstate economic model. Regardless, his writings on inflation and unemployment remained relevant and still garnered support in many economic circles, achieving a near renaissance starting in late 2007 during the world’s current economic crisis.

Keynes worked tirelessly through the entirety of his life, leading to a series of heart attacks in early 1946, which eventually lead to his death on April 21st, 1946. He left his wife, ballerina Lydia Lopokova and no children. He died with a sizable fortune, which he had obtained due to an uncanny ability to effectively invest in the stock market. Parts of his fortune were used to continue his life-long patronage of the arts – he was highly influential in establishing the Arts Council of Great Britain after the war. His philosophies continued to resonate after his death: he was influential in the eventual establishment of the International Monetary Fund, his economic theories were adopted by nations across the globe, and his writings on rebuilding failed states became highly influential.

Bacteria used to create ethanol for biofuels

Bacteria used to create ethanol for biofuelsUS scientists claim to have successfully used bacteria to create cheap, environmentally-friendly biofuels.

According to research presented at the annual general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, these microscopic organisms are “biological factories” that can serve as alternatives to fossil fuels.

Currently, the majority of biofuel comes from ethanol, which is fermented from sugars that are found in corn starch.

However, a team of US researchers has learned that a bacterium called A. thermophilum can break down plant-based (cellulosic) biomass into sugars and ferment it into ethanol without the need for specifically grown feedstock.

Using this process, the environmental impact of ethanol production can be significantly reduced while the financial incentive for transport and petrol companies to use biofuels is made much stronger.

“Right now it is expensive to break down cellulosic biomass,” said Martin Keller, from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“That is why we don’t have a sustainable biofuels industry. This is what we as a centre are working to overcome.”

A study is also being conducted by the University of Wisconsin, Madison into a purple bacterium called R. sphaeroides, which uses photosynthesis to produce hydrogen using cellulosic feedstock and sunlight.

This hydrogen can then be converted into electricity using fuel cells, which lead researcher Tim Donohue labelled “microbial batteries”; it is claimed they are powerful enough to power a laptop when exposed to sunlight.

Source : http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/asfm-swt051409.php