(stream / mp3)
Since last year, 36 people have died from a virulent strain of bird flu, transmitted largely from infected poultry stocks. Now there's evidence that the virus can jump from human to human, and health officials worry that it's only a matter of time before the flu evolves its transmission mechanism and starts a worldwide pandemic. Guest host Bruce Gellerman speaks with Dr. Jeremy Farrar, who's treating patients with symptoms of the avian flu in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City. (07:30)
ANWR Again!/ Jeff Young
(stream / mp3)
For the second year in a row, President Bush made a national energy policy one of the priorities in his State of the Union address, and Washington correspondent Jeff Young reports that ANWR is at the top of the energy bill wish list. (05:00)
Elephants Revered, Feared/ Gina Wilkinson
(stream / mp3)
In central Sri Lanka, population growth and deforestation is diminishing elephant territory. Hungry elephants are now expanding their boundaries and searching for food in farmers' fields and villages. Anxious humans are finding themselves in conflict with the elephants. Wildlife officials say one person and three elephants die every week in the skirmishes. Gina Wilkinson reports. (07:30)
A Journey to the Fourth World
(stream / mp3)
When William Powers arrived in Liberia in 1999 as an aid worker, he found a country rife with poverty, environmental devastation and corrupt leadership. He also found one of the world's most beautiful rainforests and a people filled with optimism. Powers chronicles his experiences in the book "Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edge" and he joins Living on Earth guest host Bruce Gellerman to talk about what it's like living in, what he calls, "a fourth world country." (08:30)
Emerging Science Note/Monkey Pay-Per-View
(stream / mp3)
Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports that our obsession with the glamorous and the powerful isn't just a human trait - it's also monkey business. (01:20)
Carbon-Neutral Super Bowl
(stream / mp3)
The half-time show isn't the only thing the NFL is keeping a close watch on this year. As Jack Groh, director of environmental programs for the NFL tells us, officials there have tallied the amount of greenhouse gas emissions likely to be generated from the Super Bowl, and plan to offset the emissions by planting trees. (05:30)
Whale of a Story/ Molly Menschel
(stream / mp3)
It was very like a whale, a 60-ton dead finback whale to be exact, and it washed ashore on a beach in the poorest county in Maine. Residents recount, in this audio postcard from producer Molly Menschel, how they had to very quickly decide what to do with it. (09:00)
HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Dr. Jeremy Farrar, William Powers, Jack Groh
REPORTERS: Jeff Young, Gina Wilkinson
PRODUCER: Molly Menschel
NOTE: Jennifer Chu
GELLERMAN: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.
GELLERMAN: I'm Bruce Gellerman. In Southeast Asia, a deadly strain of avian influenza seems to be mutating and now can be spreading from person to person and nation to nation. The outbreak has public health officials fearing the start of a global flu pandemic.
FARRAR: When we think of flu, we generally think of something which keeps us off work for a day or two. I mean, this influenza is a very horrible infection because probably none of us have any immunity to this type of virus.
GELLERMAN: Coming up, the doctor on the front lines in the battle against avian flu. And, here we go again. The White House launches a new offensive to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Opponents counterattack.
BOXER: And what we're very worried about is if you do it here, then what about all the other wildlife refuges. They're going to be next.
GELLERMAN: And why the Super Bowl won't be a gas. This week, on Living on Earth. Stick around.
ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman, sitting in for Steve Curwood.
In an average year, 20,000 Americans die from the flu. Last year in Southeast Asia, just 36 people died from a new strain called Avian influenza. But it's this bird flu, known as H5-N1, that keeps public health officials up at night because like a nightmare, they worry that their worst fears are about to come true. There's evidence the avian flu, first discovered in 1997, is no longer transmitted just from birds, ducks and chickens to people but has mutated. It can now spread person to person.
Ground zero of this year's outbreak is Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Dr. Jeremy Farrar is director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases there. Dr. Farrar, thank you very much for joining us. Hello.
FARRAR: Hello, it's good to speak to you.
GELLERMAN: Doctor Farrar, in your hospital you're seeing patients with avian flu, right?
FARRAR: Yes, we started a few weeks ago now. We actually don't have any patients, we haven't had any patients for a few days now. So, one could be optimistic and think that maybe we've seen the worst of it. But, certainly, going back for the last month or so, we've had a steady stream of patients with H5M1 as you describe.
GELLERMAN: Well, are you optimistic?
FARRAR: By nature, yeah, I'm very optimistic. I think your introduction was very fair. I think there are often major worries in terms of global health and often it's crucial to keep these in perspective. I think the greatest fear facing the world in terms of a major outbreak is influenza. The devastation of 1918, the 1950s and the 1960s, when millions of people died from this disease, teaches us that it's very likely to occur again in the 21st century.
The only thing I would take a little issue with in the introduction is the case of the human to human transmission. Clearly, that is the crucial factor. The virus does go between poultry. The crucial issue is whether when one human being gets it whether he or she is capable of passing it to another. And as you rightly say, there has been a report of a case from Thailand, where it seems very clear that a child passed it to the mother. I think that was a special case. The mother was very intimately involved with caring for the child in the last few hours of its life and had very extensive exposure to the child.
I think we're not in a situation, at the moment, where the virus transmits between humans with any degree of efficiency. If that were to occur, in other words, the virus was then able to go from you to me or me to you or from somebody to somebody else, then that is really a terrible scenario where we will see many, many million people die, I suspect, if that were to happen.
GELLERMAN: The influenza outbreak in 1918, the Spanish flu, is now seen to be avian flu, am I correct?
FARRAR: Essentially yes, yeah.
GELLERMAN: So, is that the flu that we now have?
FARRAR: No, it's not. But it's very close. The avian flus are, occur in chickens, occur in ducks. Chickens get sick with it; often, ducks are not very sick with it, in fact, can display no symptoms at all. When it jumps into humans, it's a very, very nasty virus. It causes a huge amount of destruction of the lung tissue and when we think of flu, we generally think of something that keeps us off work a day or two. I mean, this influenza is unbelievably unpleasant. It's a very horrible infection because probably none of us have any immunity or very limited immunity to this type of virus which is why the available flu vaccines won't work to protect you against this infection.
GELLERMAN: I understand that there was a woman, a Cambodian woman, who came to Vietnam and died of the disease. She was seeking medical attention and then some other members of her family may have gotten the disease, too. And the suggestion there is that because of the timeline is that, in fact, it was human-to-human contact.
FARRAR: The case from Cambodia, I think, remains unclear at the moment whether this represents common exposure or human to human transmission. It's absolutely crucial to know the difference between those two. You have to remember, many people in Cambodia, Vietnam, live very closely with their poultry in their house or in their yard at the back of the house. And multiple members of families may be exposed to the virus at the same time
GELLERMAN: It's not just in birds. It's in domestic cats, leopards.
FARRAR: Yes, it seems to…one of the most worrying features over the last few years is its apparent ability to have spread in terms of the animals that it can infect. So, what maybe used to only infect chickens and ducks now seems to be able to infect cats. As you say, there were leopards in Thailand that were infected, different varieties of birds, not just chickens and ducks but also wading birds and migrating birds. And that, of course, is an enormous worry because it's difficult enough to control the chicken population where chickens are farmed or kept by households; but to control birds that migrate, is impossible as America's found out with the spread of West Nile which have been carried, probably, by migrating birds.
GELLERMAN: I understand they've been culling, killing these ducks and chickens in the city there.
FARRAR: Yeah, that's right. There's been a mass media campaign and the Vietnamese government has announced in Ho Chi Minh City that all ducks are to be culled as soon as possible.
GELLERMAN: This week, it's the Tet New Year. It's the year of the rooster, ironically, and I understand that in Vietnam, there's a lot of eating of duck and chicken.
FARRAR: Yeah, there would normally be at Tet. Tet is a major festival here. I guess, the closest thing it would come close to is Thanksgiving in the States. I mean, it's a great occasion and it's one that's very important in the Vietnamese cultural life and, of course, chicken and duck are both a major feature of that usually but certainly not this year. I've not seen any chicken or duck being served as part of Tet celebrations so far and I'm sure they won't be.
GELLERMAN: So, what is the atmosphere on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City now?
FARRAR: It is worrying; it's very worrying and everybody knows about it. School children know about it. People are going into schools to educate people about it, but life goes on and, I think, banning chickens and ducks from a city has been a major step forward. People are getting ready for Tet and desperately hoping that this disappears. As you know, the virus particularly likes colder weather and it actually is quite cold in Vietnam at the moment. Hopefully, as the warmer weather comes in the next month or so, we will see less, fewer cases. But, yes, everybody is talking about it. It's in the newspapers daily and there is great concern. But the Vietnamese are incredibly phlegmatic people and tend to take things in their stride.
GELLERMAN: Dr. Jeremy Farrar is Director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Dr. Farrar, thank you very much. Stay well.
FARRAR: Okay, and you. Thanks.
[MUSIC: Sanpi Winpeng "Melody to Welcome Guests" The Chinese Deep South Ensemble: China - Many Faces (Ellipsis Arts) 1998]
GELLERMAN: For the second year in a row, President Bush made a national energy policy one of the priorities in his State of the Union address, urging lawmakers to pass the energy bill that has languished in Congress since 2001.
BUSH: Four years of debate is enough. I urge Congress to pass legislation that makes America more secure and less dependent on foreign energy. (APPLAUSE)
GELLERMAN: Among the items on the president's wish list for energy is the desire to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR for short. It's become something of an environmental battle royale and here to discuss it with us is Living on Earth's Washington correspondent Jeff Young. Hi, Jeff.
YOUNG: Hi, Bruce.
GELLERMAN: This debate over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, it's been around, it's been defeated three times, I don't get it. Three strikes, you're out. How come this bill keeps coming back?
YOUNG: Well, they're hoping to get some leverage, that is, the pro-drillers think they can get more mileage out of the newly-expanded Republican majority, especially in the Senate where they think they've picked up four pro-drilling votes in last year's elections.
And, also, they feel momentum from this push from the president to increase the domestic energy supply and cut down on imports. I spoke with Alaska's Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski about that and she says that if we want to do that, that's going to mean getting more oil out of Alaska, and ANWR.
MURKOWSKI: We have been delivering oil to the rest of country now from Alaska's North Slope for 30 years and we have been doing it with an environmental record that is stellar. We believe that we can do the same with ANWR. So, we are very concerned that we do this right and we are very certain that we can do it environmentally sound.
GELLERMAN: Of course, the opponents disagree with that. They say this is a calving ground for caribou and migratory birds use this. But this time, Jeff, the opposition, they've got a really tough fight on their hands.
YOUNG: Well, their numbers are reduced, but they're not giving up, by any means. In fact, I'd say they've stepped up their opposition here. Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman introduced a bipartisan bill in the Senate calling for full wilderness protection for the refuge. And, as far as this notion of using ANWR to sort of wean us off of foreign oil--Lieberman told a rally on the Capitol grounds that according to one study, the oil from ANWR would cut our imports by only about two percent.
LIEBERMAN : Let me ask you this question. Is that two percent worth forever
losing one of the most beautiful wild places in America and the world? (crowd: NO!) That's the right answer.
YOUNG: And Lieberman's argument is that we'd do a lot more to reduce foreign oil by conserving, instead.
GELLERMAN: Well, the oil companies must really be pushing for this. I mean, oil's, what, bumping around 50 bucks a barrel now?
YOUNG: Well, you'd think that, wouldn't you? But there's this odd trend afoot where some of the major oil companies that stand to benefit most seem to be losing interest in the lobbying effort to open up ANWR. Conoco Phillips last month rather quietly pulled out of the main pro-drilling lobbying group, called Arctic Power. BP, another company, had already given up on that group and that leaves just Exxon Mobil to lobby for access to ANWR.
GELLERMAN: So, wait, companies that would reap the profits from drilling in the refuge are no longer lobbying for access? What's going on?
YOUNG: Well, that's what I asked Fadel Gheit about this. Fadel Gheit is an energy analyst with the brokerage firm, Oppenheimer & Co. And, he says as these oil companies get bigger and bigger, the gains from something like ANWR look smaller because they can go do business somewhere else.
GHEIT: So, basically, you know, they are saying that we spent all this time and effort and all we got is a black eye and we don't need that. We don't need a bad public image.
YOUNG: In a word, precedent. Winning here in ANWR could pave the way for more access to oil and gas drilling in other protected areas. Or, at least, that's what the drilling opponents like Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California think is going on.
BOXER: You can't have a wildlife refuge and drill in it. And, what we're very worried about is if you do it here, then what about all the other wildlife refuges? They're gonna be next.
GELLERMAN: Hmm. So, Jeff, how's this likely to play out in Congress this time?
YOUNG: Oh, that's the big question. The real battle is in the Senate, where drilling opponents can still mount a filibuster. The pro-drillers are looking for a way to win this on a simple majority vote. They might be able to do that by attaching something to a budget resolution. So, I'd say watch the budget and those talks start any day now as the president sends his budget up to the hill.
GELLERMAN: Follow the money, huh, Jeff?
YOUNG: That's always good advice, I think.
GELLERMAN: Thanks a lot. Jeff Young is Living on Earth's Washington correspondent. Jeff, thank you.
YOUNG: You're welcome.
GELLERMAN: Coming up, an expedition to the fourth world. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: Alison Brown "The Red Earth" A World Instrumental Collection (Putomayo) 1996]
GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman.
In the wake of the Tsunami that struck in December, killing so many people and destroying so much property, the government of Sri Lanka says it will start enforcing a law banning construction within 330 ft. of water's edge. The move would force hundreds of thousands of people to relocate inland but residents worry there may not be enough room for them.
In central Sri Lanka, scarcity of land is already causing an unusual conflict. Due to logging and agriculture, the forest that is home to wild elephants is disappearing, Now, as Gina Wilkinson reports, hungry elephants searching for food are killing farmers trying to protect their crops.
[SOUND OF PUMPING WATER]
WILKINSON: In the tiny jungle village of Veheregala in central Sri Lanka, half a dozen locals gather at the communal water well.
[SOUND OF PUMPING WATER, CRANKING RUSTY HANDLE]
WILKINSON: Women chat as they take turns pumping the rusty metal handle to bring water to the surface to wash their brightly-colored sarongs and saris. Today's main topic of conversation is the latest in a series of devastating raids by ravenous elephants.
[WOMAN SPEAKING SINHALA]
WILKINSON: Fifty-five-year-old B.G. Babee describes how a herd of about 25 elephants arrived two nights ago and destroyed five acres of the village rice paddy.
Rice farming is the main source of income for the village and B.G. Babee says she doesn't know how they'll make ends meet after losing their crops to the elephants.
[BABEE SPEAKING SINHALA]
VOICEOVER: We are very poor people and we used all our money to buy seeds and fertilizer for the field. What do we do now? How will we live? We have nothing left.
WILKINSON: Not only are village rice paddies being decimated. In the past year, one third of the 150 homes in Veheregala have been damaged by elephants, as well.
Ajith is still rebuilding his home after it was attacked by a hungry pachyderm three months ago.
[AJITH SPEAKING SINHALA]
VOICEOVER: An elephant came to my house around 11 o'clock at night. I think it was looking for food or perhaps fruit from the tree in my garden. It attacked my house and ripped the roof right off my kitchen. When I tried to scare it off with a torch, it ran next door and attacked my neighbor's house, too.
WILKINSON: Farmers are not the only ones suffering. Elephants are also casualties in this conflict.
[SOUND OF TRUMPETING ELEPHANT]
WILKINSON: At Pinnewala elephant sanctuary, 60 miles southwest of Veheragala, a herd of trumpeting elephants heads down to the Mahaweli river for their afternoon bath.
[ELEPHANTS IN WATER, MEN YELLING]
WILKINSON: Elephant handlers, known as mahouts, surround with five-foot-long, metal-tipped spears, and warn curious tourists to keep their distance from the potentially dangerous pachyderms.
At Pinnewala Elephant Sanctuary, elephant handlers, known as mahouts, help the pachyderms take a bath in the Mahaweli River, Sri Lanka. (Credit: Gina Wilkinson)Many of these animals are wild elephants brought into this government-run sanctuary for medical treatment.
S. R. B. Dissanayake is an ecologist with the Sri Lankan Wildlife Department.He says many of the elephants here were attacked by farmers desperate to prevent the animals destroying their livelihoods.
DISSANAYAKE: With the nightfall, they come out and raid crops… It's like opening a supermarket for elephants. So, then, they come into conflict with people. Usually 140 to 160 elephants are killed annually and that means three elephants a week and one human; that's the rate.
WILKINSON: The elephant is a national symbol and highly revered in Sri Lanka.
But over the past three decades, rapid population growth and deforestation have gradually caused conflict between pachyderms and humans. Forest cover has fallen from 44 percent to almost half that amount in just 50 years, with close to 100 thousand acres lost annually to logging and land clearing for agriculture.
New villages are springing up in what was once elephant territory. With Sri Lanka's population expected to double within 30 years, pressure on the pachyderm's natural habitat is set to rise even further.
Ecologist S.R.B. Dissanayake says many Sri Lankans are conflicted about their troubles with elephants.
DISSANAYAKE: It is a Buddhist country. People don't like to kill animals because killing is prohibited according to our religion. But, sometimes, they are compelled to kill because of the anger they have, because they lose their way of living because of these elephants.
WILKINSON: A century ago, Sri Lanka had more than 12,000 wild elephants. Now, that figure is estimated to be as low as 3,500.
The government has tried to set aside elephant habitat by making several protected national parks. It's recently built new waterholes and encouraged the growth of indigenous plants to attract and keep elephants inside the reserves.
But, it's believed that 70 percent of elephants live outside these protected zones, in areas also inhabited by farmers. The wildlife department is also planning special wilderness corridors to allow pachyderms to travel from one protected nature reserve to another without passing through villages and farmland.
Another proposal calls for building electric fences around some of the most vulnerable farming communities. Lower cost solutions are being tested in villages like Veheragala.
WILKINSON: Instead of turning to guns and poison, villagers in Veheregala are now using large bells, supplied by the Millennium Elephant Foundation, to scare away roaming pachyderms. Long ropes allow villagers to ring the bells from inside their houses when they see or hear the animals approaching.
And since most elephant attacks occur at night under the cover of darkness, Veheregala is particularly vulnerable because most homes don't have power and there's just one streetlight for the whole village.
Lyn Burnett, a volunteer with the Millennium Elephant Foundation, says they hope to reduce this problem by building an environmentally friendly bio gas plant.
BURNETT: The villagers will be putting in elephant dung, cattle dung and other human wastes and then that decomposes produces the gas, which is collected within the cylinder. And the gas that is collected will be used to either fuel three lamps which will burn each for four hours or one lamp that burns for ten hours.
WILKINSON: The villagers can also use the sludge produced by the bio gas plant as fertilizer for their crops and vegetable gardens.
[ELEPHANT TEARING LEAVES AND BRANCHES]
WILKINSON: Back at the Pinnewala elephant sanctuary, tourists watch a massive six-ton elephant tear leaves and branches from a tree. It's easy to see how he could destroy a field of crops in just a few hours.
[SOUND OF LEAVES AND BRANCHES CONTINUES]
WILKINSON: The 60-year-old bull is almost blind. Veterinarians suspect his eyes were damaged by a blast from a farmer's gun. Wildlife experts believe more pachyderms are likely to suffer a similar fate and the problem of human-elephant conflict won't be solved overnight. But officials, as well as villagers and conservation groups, hope they ‘re now on track to find a long-term balance that protects both farmers and the country's revered elephants.
For Living on Earth, this is Gina Wilkinson, in central Sri Lanka.
[MUSIC: Kronos Quartet "Escalay (Water Wheel)" Kronos Quartet: Pieces of Africa (Elektra Nonesuch) 1992]
GELLERMAN: Now, to Liberia where in 1999, William Powers traveled to the west African nation to take over as director of projects for Catholic Relief Services. Powers was fresh out of graduate school and filled with idealism and a healthy dose of fear. Seven years of a bloody civil war had ripped Liberia apart and the next seven years of so-called "peace" under then President Charles Taylor weren't much better.
Still, Powers believed in his mission to fight poverty and save Liberia's rainforest. He spent two years there trying to teach Liberians to live sustainably. But, it was the lessons he learned about, what he calls, "the fourth world" that endure.
William Powers has chronicled his experience in Liberia in a new book, "Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edge." Mr. Powers, How's da body?
POWERS: Body fine-o.
GELLERMAN: You really have a voice in this book that really captures the sounds of the people from Liberia.