Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - Page 14 News List

Bill Gates fears superbugs, warming

EMERGING RISKS:Experts think that a pandemic could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year, and such an event could occur in the next 10 to 15 years, Gates said


Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates joined the UN to warn world leaders about a new series of threats shaping up as megatrends, led by global warming, superbugs and artificial intelligence.

US Vice President Michael Pence and trans-Atlantic military officials were on the receiving end of the warnings issued by Gates, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

They all said that the world is not prepared to deal with the emerging risks.

“The next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus, or a super contagious and deadly strain of the flu,” said Gates, whose private foundation helps combat public health and global warming problems. “Getting ready for a global pandemic is every bit as important as nuclear deterrence and avoiding a climate catastrophe.”

“War zones and other fragile state settings are the most difficult places to eliminate epidemics,” Gates told the Munich Security Conference. “They’re also some of the most likely places for them to begin — as we’ve seen with Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and with cholera in the Congo Basin and the Horn of Africa.”

“So, to fight global pandemics, we must fight poverty, too... the point is, we ignore the link between health security and international security at our peril,” he said in a speech.

Even as trans-Atlantic leaders focus on the immediate risks from refugee flows and military conflicts on their peripheries, they are being forced to pay attention to accelerating climate and technological threats. Global interconnections — from trade and travel to communication technologies — could potentially amplify the risks.

Experts were warning that a new pandemic could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year, with a reasonable probability that such an event could occur in the next 10 to 15 years, Gates said.

The figures appeared hard to believe, but Gates recalled that the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 killed 50 million to 100 million people.

Even if there were no repeat, “we would be wise to consider the social and economic turmoil that might ensue if something like Ebola made its way into a lot of major urban centers,” he said. “We were lucky that the last Ebola outbreak was contained before it did.”

New vaccines and treatment regimes would help, he said.

At the same time, most of the control measures needed were those that governments had already put in place to cope with a terrorist biological attack, he said.

“The problems of peace and security in the future will have new dimensions for which we must be prepared,” Guterres said. “It is important to understand the linkages of today’s global mega trends.”

While Guterres named climate change and population growth as the top security threats, he also flagged the need for leaders to begin thinking about international regulations on genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.

“There are huge risks in security dimensions but also in ethical dimensions,” he said, adding that there is a “lack of knowledge in government, in international government about what these new areas represent.”

The private sector is clearly ahead with scientific and technological breakthroughs that are “changing the nature of relations in our world,” he said.

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