Watching the World
Enough Food, but Malnutrition Persists
Even though world population has increased dramatically, there are over 150 million fewer malnourished people in the poorer countries than there were 20 years ago. “The food supply and the farmers have actually kept up with growth and exceeded it,” says John Lupien, director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. “Right now, there’s enough food to feed everyone, if in fact it could get to the people who need it.” Sadly, reports The Economist, “roughly 780 [million] people in poor countries, one in five of their population, do not get enough to eat. As many as 2 billion people who get enough to fill their bellies nevertheless lack the vitamins and minerals they need. . . . As many as 40,000 young children die every day, partly because malnutrition makes them susceptible to all kinds of disease.” On the other hand, overnutrition is also taking its toll, inducing ailments such as heart disease and certain cancers among wealthier sectors of society.
Somalian Relief Paradox
The influx of free food to famine-stricken Somalia has produced an interesting paradox. While the famine relief worked to stop starvation, it is also threatening to destroy the local farm economy. When food was so scarce that over 1.5 million people faced death by starvation, food prices became tremendously inflated. But after a steady stream of relief food, market prices plummeted. “The price of rice is said to be the lowest in the world, with the cost of a 110-pound [50 kg] bag of rice dropping to $5 over the past few months,” says a New York Times report. “By comparison, the same amount of a comparable grade of rice would cost about $11.70 in the United States and $120 in Japan.” As a result, local produce has been so devalued that the farmers cannot sell their crops. A program is now in effect to sell some relief food and to try to stabilize prices.
Fathers Also to Blame
For some time now, prospective mothers have been warned to steer clear of things that may cause birth defects, such as alcohol and smoking, and to eat a nourishing diet. “Now, similar precautions are being urged on fathers-to-be,” says U.S.News & World Report. “New research suggests that a man’s exposure to chemicals influences not only his ability to father a child but also the future health of his children.” Evidence shows that men “contribute far more than previously realized to both miscarriages in their wives and various malformations, cancers and developmental delays in their children.” It appears now that drugs and other chemicals (including by-products of cigarette smoking), as well as diets lacking sufficient vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin C, harm the sperm. Says toxicologist Devra Lee Davis: “For too long we’ve focused solely on mothers. The importance of the father in making healthy babies has been underappreciated.”
Growing Interest in the Supernatural
The growing worldwide fascination with the supernatural is profoundly evident in South Africa. Traditional witch doctors, charismatic religion, astrology, and Satanism have been rapidly increasing in popularity since the mid-1980’s. Why? “In times of trouble, people turn away from the rational, towards the mystic,” states The Weekly Mail of Johannesburg. “At the end of the second millennium, there is increasing interest in psychic phenomena.” Anthropologist Robert Thornton explains it this way: “I think these beliefs indicate the kinds of fears that people have. It’s a resort to external powers from people who don’t feel they’re fully in control.” Metaphysics lecturer Rod Suskind says: “One reason for the upswing is that the future seems so unpredictable, and people are looking beyond conventional sources to understand what is happening.” And according to The Weekly Mail, anthropologist Isak Niehaus “puts it all down to the perceived failure of conventional science and religion to answer the big questions facing people.”
At least 60 journalists were killed while covering conflicts around the world in 1992. This report, published by the International Federation of Journalists in Brussels, Belgium, and carried in the Manchester Guardian Weekly, named Turkey and Bosnia as the most dangerous places. At least ten journalists were said to have been murdered in those two countries during the past year. Journalists have also been threatened while covering the clan warfare and famine in Somalia. The federation is asking the United Nations and the European Community governments to declare that censorship is a “gross violation of human rights.”
Another Flu Pandemic?
“Pandemic influenza will be, almost without a doubt, a major plague when it emerges, probably in the next several years,” states The New York Times Magazine. According to scientists, the time is ripe for a flu epidemic similar to the one of 1918 that killed from 20 million to 40 million people. “There’s every expectation that if it occurred once, it can occur again,” says John R. La Montagne, chief of infectious diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland. However, the viral mutations that create pandemic strains of influenza are rare. They have occurred just three times in this century: the so-called Spanish flu of 1918, the Asian flu of 1957, and the Hong Kong flu of 1968; and the last two were relatively mild. Since the influenza virus changes so frequently and unpredictably, a lethal outbreak can occur before an accurate vaccine can be developed. The article concludes: “If history is any guide, we can probably expect a major alteration of those antigens—one big enough to lead to a worldwide outbreak of severe flu—before the century turns.”
“Almost 40 per cent of women polled in a federally funded survey said they had threatened or physically abused their spouse, considerably more than the percentage of men who made the same claim,” states The Toronto Star. “The research turns the popular belief about family violence on its head . . . Even the researchers were surprised by the results of the study.” The definition of abuse included threatening, throwing something, or hitting with an object. In most instances the women said that the motive behind their violence was not self-defense. “These findings should cause people to rethink the whole nature of spousal abuse in terms of criminal justice,” said Rena Summer, a doctoral student at the University of Manitoba’s family studies department and one of the study’s authors. However, since men are generally stronger than women, the women often suffer more serious injuries when abused by their husbands, she said.
Witch-Hunting Still Exists
Branded as witches, over a dozen women in the tribal hinterlands of India were killed by frenzied mobs in a two-month period, reports India Today. “Scores of other women have been beaten up, tortured, paraded naked, humiliated in the most bestial fashion and driven out of their villages.” The outbreak began with religious processions that went from village to village. This practice led to a social reform movement and a reduction in crime. But then some of the women in the processions became “possessed” and began identifying certain villagers as witches responsible for local problems. Failure to pass a “test” of innocence, such as resurrecting a dead person if accused of killing someone, meant instant retribution. Belief in witchcraft is said to be the root cause and, according to one anthropologist, “stems from an urge in tribal societies to harness the supernatural, to have power against the evil eye, power to achieve their desired goals and power to enforce their will on others.”
Putting the Blame on Caffeine
Heavy coffee drinkers who abruptly quit their habit frequently complain of headaches, depression, fatigue, anxiety, and even muscle pain, nausea, and vomiting. Now, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that these symptoms also occur in individuals who consume just a cup or two of coffee or tea daily, or a couple of cans of soft drinks that contain caffeine, and who go without it for two days. Withdrawal effects may be so severe that they may feel they must see a doctor. Victims can be those away from the office coffee machine on weekends, people who switch to decaffeinated sodas, or patients who must fast before an operation. Doctors are advised to take a caffeine history of patients who complain of headaches and other symptoms that fit the caffeine-withdrawal profile. Those who wish to cut down on their caffeine intake are advised to do so gradually. The study also raised the question of whether caffeine, and therefore coffee, should be classified as a physically addictive drug.