Dangerous dust storms in Asia have intensified fivefold over the past half-century, posing health and economic hazards as part of global trend toward bigger natural disasters, the UN warned yesterday. \nThe dust storms originate in the desert regions of Mongolia and increasingly China, where 30 percent of the land is parched by over-farming, overgrazing, deforestation and changing weather patterns, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) said. \nThe sands whip up as far away as the Korean Peninsula, Japan and the Pacific basin, for a combined economic loss of US$6.5 billion a year, UNEP said. \nCities like Seoul become shrouded in a haze of "yellow dust" that sometimes leaves a film of grit. In severe cases, it forces school closures and airline cancelations, can disrupt communications and damage crops and livestock. \nUnlike similar storms from Africa's remote Sahara Desert, the Asian storms pose serious health risks because the dust particles pick up toxic pollutants from Chinese industry. \nDuring a South Korean dust storm in April 2002, dust levels reached 2,070 micrograms per cubic meter, twice the level deemed hazardous to health, UNEP said. \nSince the 1950s, the frequency of Asian sand storms has increased five times, UNEP said. The Gobi Desert in China alone expanded by 52,400km2 from 1994-1999, according to UNEP's GEO Global Year Book. \nThe new findings were released as environment ministers from around the world gathered at a UN environment summit aimed at sustainable development. \nIronically, the news comes a day after the Korea Meteorological Administration issued a dust alert for much of South Korea, urging care for those with respiratory problems. \n"We are worried about the creep of environmental problems -- their disrespect of political boundaries -- and the way they threaten to compound and disrupt the functioning of major natural systems," UNEP executive director Klaus Toepfer said. \nThe dust storms are part of a larger trend of increasing natural disasters, UNEP said. \nIt cited the record heatwave in Europe that killed thousands last summer, widespread flooding in China that left millions homeless last July, the recent appearance of a hurricane in the South Atlantic for the first time and a record season of tornadoes in North America. \nThe cost of damage from dust storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and other weather-related catastrophes topped US$60 billion for the first time last year, according to UNEP. \nAbout 80 percent of such disasters worldwide occur in Asia, affecting 1.7 million people and inflicting US$369 billion in damage from 1991-2001. \nUNEP is working with governments and the Asian Development Bank on a US$1 million early warning system for dust and sand storms in the region. The system will use a network of monitoring stations to standardize data. \nRecent research shows that dust storms originating from the Sahara Desert trigger algae infestations of coral reefs as far away as the Caribbean Sea. \nThose sands pose less of a risk to human health because they are relatively cleaner than the Asian variety, UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall said.
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
ACADEMIC FREEDOM: One professor told her students to submit anonymized papers and not to record any online classes. Some US schools have announced similar steps Students at Oxford University specializing in the study of China are being asked to submit some papers anonymously to protect them from the possibility of retribution under the sweeping new security law introduced three months ago in Hong Kong. The anonymity ruling is to be applied in classes, and group tutorials are to be replaced by one-to-ones. Students are also to be warned that it will be viewed as a disciplinary offence if they tape classes or share them with outside groups. The Hong Kong National Security Law was imposed on June 30 by Beijing after more than a year of pro-democracy
Japan’s government yesterday urged people to seek help if they were struggling to cope, following Sunday’s death of the popular actress and Miss Sherlock star Yuko Takeuchi, 40. News of her death shocked the nation and follows other recent cases of Japanese celebrities taking their lives, with figures showing a recent rise in suicides. Takeuchi was a household name in Japan and had given birth to her second child in January. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato did not mention a particular case, but said that some people were struggling to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There has been an uptick in the number
The scarcity of commercial flights landing at Sydney Airport has been a disaster for airlines and workers, but for hobby pilots the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The quieter-than-usual runways mean that private pilots have been given the chance to land at the international airport for the first time. When Sydney Flight College club captain Tim Lindley put out a call, he received an overwhelming response. He eventually organized for 14 light aircraft to fly into Sydney airport on Sunday. “For a lot of the pilots involved, including myself, it was a childhood dream to land in a big