Watching the World
NEW CATECHISM ASSAILED
The Vatican, for the first time since the 16th century, is revising its catechism. But the 434-page compendium of Roman Catholic doctrine has been assailed by some bishops in the United States. They “told the Vatican that the new catechism uses outdated biblical scholarship and sexist language and shortchanges the ecumenical progress of recent decades,” says U.S.News & World Report. “The bishops faulted it for taking a literal view of creation accounts and for treating some New Testament passages as ‘direct historical reporting.’” A wrong impression is given, said the bishops, “that all areas are equally important.” They argued that “essential” church doctrines, such as the resurrection of Jesus, should be distinguished from beliefs that, in their opinion, are less certain, such as the existence of angels and Christ’s descent into hell. When completed, the new catechism will “serve only as guidance for church leaders in each country as they fashion their own catechisms,” says U.S.News & World Report.
Eight to ten million people worldwide are infected with the AIDS virus, reports WHO (World Health Organization), an increase that reflects a growing heterosexual transmission of the virus. “It is now clear that the toll of HIV infection around the globe is worsening rapidly, especially in developing countries,” says Dr. Michael H. Merson, a director of the agency. WHO also predicts that the surge in infections will bring death to at least three million women and children in the 1990’s, over six times the number who died from AIDS in the 1980’s. The number of men who will die from AIDS during the decade is expected to be even higher. With the loss of their parents, millions of uninfected children will become orphans. According to the report, AIDS is already the leading cause of death for women from 20 to 40 years of age in major cities in the Americas, Western Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa, where about 1 in 40 adult men and women are said to be infected.
HERBAL “GOLD MINE”?
Could countries like Brazil make their rain forests profitable? Possibly, according to an article in Scanorama (Scandinavian Airlines System’s in-flight magazine): “WHO [World Health Organization] suggests . . . the cultivation of herbal gardens and the sale of medicinal plants. The Danish botanist Ole Hamann says he considers such projects a potential ‘gold mine’ for developing countries.” How so? The abundance of plants in the rain forests, in many cases still untested as to medicinal properties, is a challenge to researchers. About 250,000 plants are already identified, but “botanists estimate that another 30,000 plant species, mostly tropical, are still unknown to science.” Many of these plants may prove to be valuable in combating various diseases, since “of all prescription medicines used in the West, at least 25 percent, and probably closer to half, contain natural substances obtained from plants.”
“During the past two decades, use of tobacco has increased worldwide by almost 75%,” reports JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association), and “is responsible for almost 2.5 million excessive or premature deaths per year—almost 5% of all deaths.” While demand for tobacco products has been reduced in economically developed countries, developing nations, particularly in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, have seen a surge in the number of people smoking. The United States, for instance, has found itself in the embarrassing position of backing an antismoking campaign domestically while applying pressure to open new foreign markets for its tobacco products in order to help ease trade deficits. According to the report, an estimated 200 million children now under 20 years of age will eventually die from tobacco use, and lung cancer deaths will increase worldwide to two million by the year 2000.
Bamboo. According to Asiaweek a quarter of the world’s population rely on it for food, livestock fodder, furniture, scaffolding, and paper products. Giant pandas thrive on it. It is strong, resistant to rot, and light in weight. But most species of bamboo flower and produce seeds only once, taking from 12 to 120 years to do that, apparently according to an internal clock, and after that the whole grove dies. Until now, this characteristic has frustrated scientific endeavors to develop improved strains, since the most economically important species take 30 years to flower and thus often outlive the scientists involved. Nature magazine states that botanists now say that they have found a way to defeat the clock in two bamboo species and induce early flowering that could make it possible to produce better strains and have a steady supply of seeds for reforesting. By putting infant plants in a special growth mixture, adult-sized flowers were produced in a few weeks, and most produced seeds after blossoming.
WHEN LIFE BRINGS DEATH
“Imagine,” says obstetrician Malcolm Potts, “that every six hours, day in, day out, a jumbo jet crashes and all on board are killed. The 250 passengers are women, most in the prime of life, some still in their teens. They are all either pregnant or have just delivered a baby. Most of them have growing children at home, and families that depend on them.” The illustration portrays the half million women worldwide who die during pregnancy or childbirth each year. “All but 1 per cent of these maternal deaths take place in the Third World,” says New Scientist. “The biggest killers are haemorrhage, infection, toxaemia, obstructed labour and unskilled abortion.” Unwanted pregnancies lead to an annual massacre of mothers and fetuses. “Every year somewhere between 40 and 60 million women seek abortion,” the magazine states.
EGYPT’S RELICS IMPERILED
The construction of the Aswân High Dam in the 1960’s “brought a fundamental change to the environment of the Nile Valley,” notes The New York Times. “Ground water beneath the monuments has risen; the air is more humid because the irrigation canals never empty; salts in the soil are drawn through ancient facades, peeling them away from the rock below; sewerage has tainted the soil.” As a result, Egypt’s archaeological treasures—the most extensive in the world—that have survived so many millenniums are now seriously threatened. Evidence has mounted that even unexcavated sites, once thought safe and protected, have been damaged. Experts are stymied by the enormity of the problem, not knowing what to do. “There are more than 2,000 tombs, a lot of monuments, pyramids, obelisks,” says Sayed Tawfiq, director of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization in Cairo. “If you gave every tomb two years of restoration, that would be 4,000 years.”
NEW SPECIES DISCOVERED
Each year scientists discover over 10,000 new species of plants and animals. A large number of these are insects, with five to ten new mammals and an equal number of birds identified each year. As many as this may seem, biologists still have a long way to go. There are an estimated 50 million species of plants and animals in the world, and less than 1.5 million have been seen and cataloged. The discovery of a new primate, the black-faced lion tamarin, recently drew attention, as it was discovered less than 200 miles [320 km] from the world’s third-largest metropolis, along the densely populated Brazilian coast. As tropical forests vanish, it is feared that species will disappear faster than they can be found.
IMPACT OF FAMILY LIFE
“Family structure has much to do with children’s health and development,” notes an article in The Wall Street Journal. Statistics from a U.S. “government survey of the health and emotional status of some 17,000 children ranging in age from infancy to 17” disclosed that “children living in non-traditional families had substantially greater problems than those living with both natural parents.” The risk of having an accident or injury in the year before the survey was 20 to 30 percent higher for children living with a divorced or remarried mother. Compared with those living with both their biological parents, such children were from 40 to 75 percent more likely to have had to repeat a school grade. Children from disrupted marriages were 70 percent more likely to have been suspended or expelled from school; and those whose mothers had never married were more than twice as likely to have had those problems. Children in mother-headed families were also 50 percent more likely to have asthma.