The battle to stem climate change may be lost as new information indicates the Amazon rain forest is turning from a carbon sink – or area that absorbs CO2 – into a source of carbon dioxide, the World Meteorological Organization warns. 

The latest edition of the WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide once again broke all records last year.

The U.N. agency’s report warns the concentrations of these greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere are driving climate change. It says carbon dioxide, the single most important greenhouse gas, accounts for approximately 66 percent of the warming effect on the climate.

The secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas, says about half of CO2 emissions remains in the atmosphere for centuries. He says the other half is taken up by oceans and land ecosystems.

He says it is not clear for how much longer forested areas, often referred to as the lungs of the Earth, will continue to act as effective carbon sinks. 

“We have already seen some alarming indications that, for example, Amazonian rain forest ecosystem, which used to be a major sink of carbon, has become now a source of carbon, which is alarming,” Taalas said. “And this is related to deforestation in the area and also changes in local climate because of this deforestation.”

Oksana Tarasova, who heads the WMO’s Atmospheric and Environment Research Division, says the WMO only now is revealing this new finding because it has taken nine years of observation to gather the measurement data set needed to understand the changes taking place. She says not all of the Amazon forest is turning from a carbon sink to a net producer of carbon. 

“So, the Western part of the Amazonia still continues to work as a carbon sink at this point. But we do not know for how long that will continue this way,” Tarasova said. “We are making the measurements there and keeping our track on what is happening there. … I would take the whole Amazonia as a whole that is seen that it is a sink, but its capacity is substantially reduced.”

Meteorologists say climate change negotiators at an upcoming conference in Scotland must take concrete action and make concrete pledges to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

They say setting carbon neutral targets will not work in stemming climate change. They also warn the world is heading toward a temperature rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. This, they say, is far more than the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

 

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Health care activists in Cameroon are visiting homes, markets and farms this month, encouraging women to get free screenings for breast cancer. The central African state says the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer has risen sharply over the past year because many women delayed screenings for fear of COVID-19 infections. The push to increase screenings is part of this year’s breast cancer awareness month in October.

Civilians, mostly women, visit various neighborhoods in Yaoundé asking people to go to hospitals for free breast cancer screening.

Each group of a dozen people includes medical staff members, representatives of healthy living organizations, cancer patients and their family members.

Among those participating is 24-year-old Amin Ruth Tabi of the Noela Lyonga Foundation, a Cameroon-based NGO. The foundation’s main objective is giving hope to persons who have lost hope either due to frustration, stress or ill health.

Tabi says she wants to stop people from dying from breast cancer.

“Every female seven to ten days after menstruation is supposed to conduct a breast self-examination to look for abnormal nodules, redness, fluid coming from the nipples, orange skin appearance on the breast because breast cancer is treated well and quickly when it is noticed at an early stage,” she said.

Cameron’s Health Ministry said several thousand women came out in at least 11 towns including the capital Yaoundé, the commercial capital Douala and the English-speaking western towns of Kumba, Buea, Limbe, and Bamenda Kumbo.

Claudette Mani, 36, says she was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2020. She says thanks to prompt medical intervention and assistance from NGOs, her life was saved.

“I was so isolated, I was so weak, looked very bad and I felt like it was the end of the world,” she said. “At first just from my looks you will know that I have a problem, but now I am healthy, strong, and looking good. They [humanitarian groups] brought in doctors, educated us on how to feed ourselves, how to do exercises, to stay strong, eliminate the fact from our heads that we have this breast cancer and be focused on our dreams.”

Cameroon’s Association of Cancer Patients says breast cancer patients suffer from prejudices. Family members often think breast cancer is some sort of divine punishment for wrongdoing. The association says because of either illiteracy or lack of financial means, families abandon members diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cameroon’s Health Ministry says screening programs with mammography can lead to earlier diagnosis, and that coupled with effective treatment, will lead to reductions in breast cancer mortality.

Cameroon reports that in 2019, 3,000 of the 5,000 patients diagnosed with breast cancer died. In 2020, the number of breast cancers diagnosed rose to over 7,000 with close to 5,000 deaths.

Professor Paul Ndom is president of Cameroon’s National Committee for Cancer Prevention.

Ndom says many people neglect going to hospitals for consultation because breast cancer is not painful at its early stages. He says people at high risk of developing breast cancer are women who smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, women who are not physically active and women who refuse to visit hospitals for fear they will be exposed to COVID-19 infections.

Ndom said the government of Cameroon subsidizes treatment for people diagnosed with breast cancer.

The October Breast Cancer Awareness month campaign was launched by the American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Industries to encourage women to get regular screening for breast cancer. The month-long activities educate women to reduce their breast cancer risks, be screened and seek medical attention if a suspicious lump is detected.

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The director-general of the World Health Organization said Sunday that unless countries use existing tools in the fight against the pandemic effectively, there will be no end in sight. “The pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it,” Tedros said addressing World Health Summit, a global forum held in Germany.

“We have all the tools we need — effective public health tools and effective medical tools. But the world has not used those tools well,” Tedros said, addressing participants drawn from 100 countries online.

The barriers to fulfilling WHO’s goal of vaccinating 40% of every country’s population against the coronavirus are “politics and profit,” the WHO chief said, “not production.”

“The countries that have already reached the 40% target, including all G-20 countries, must give their place in the vaccine delivery queue to COVAX and the African Vaccines Acquisition Trust,” Tedros said. COVAX is the international collaboration established for the equitable distribution of the COVID vaccine.

The WHO official also urged vaccine producers to “prioritize and fulfil their contracts with COVAX and AVAT [the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust]” and become “far more transparent about what is going where.” AVAT is an African Union initiative focusing on providing access to COVID-19 vaccines across Africa. 

He urged vaccine manufacturers to “share know-how, technology and licenses, and waive intellectual property rights.”

“We’re not asking for charity,” Tedros said,” we’re calling for a common-sense investment in the global recovery.” 

A report in The Washington Post says Americans living abroad are struggling to receive COVID vaccines, while many of their U.S. counterparts are starting to receive booster shots after receiving their first two vaccine doses. 

Marylouise Serrato, executive director of American Citizens Abroad, told the Post, “You have Americans who are filing and paying taxes, and a promise by the administration that all Americans will get vaccinated, and yet that whole community has been left out of the equation.” 

The White House “has insisted that it has no special responsibility to vaccinate Americans abroad,” the Post reported. At least 9 million Americans are living overseas, the report added.

A surge of British COVID cases has Dr. Edward Morris, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, concerned the National Health Service may not be able to provide “the care it needs to” for women giving birth, according to a report in The Guardian.

Morris also said the COVID surge has also resulted in the creation of an enormous backlog of cases of women who have had to postpone gynecological treatments.

The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Monday that it has recorded 243.7 million global COVID infections and nearly 5 million global deaths. Almost 7 billion vaccines have been administered, according to the university’s data.

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“Coral reefs are amazing and beautiful, and we must conserve them,” Sam Purkis, chair of the department of marine geosciences at the University of Miami, told VOA.

Although coral reefs only cover 0.1% of the ocean floor, they are a lifeline for the planet.  With the most biodiverse marine ecosystem on earth, they contain 25% of all marine life, including more than 4,000 fish species.

Besides food, “corals provide economic, ecological and even cultural value,” where local communities living near the reefs bond over fishing activities, explained Robert Richmond, director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory at the University of Hawaii.

“Corals also hold potential drugs from the sea, the vast majority of which we haven’t discovered yet,” Nancy Knowlton, scientist emeritus at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, said during an interview with VOA.

However, coral experts have sounded the alarm that the reefs could disappear, threatened by a number of factors, including pollution, overfishing and especially climate change.

The latest study on the status of coral reefs, released earlier this month by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, blamed climate change for killing 14% of coral reefs in just one decade.

“Large-scale bleaching events caused by elevated sea surface temperatures are the greatest disturbance to the world’s coral reefs,” the report said.

Despite the gloomy picture, coral reef experts say there is hope, despite significant coral losses worldwide.

“We still have corals that are healthy, but it requires a massive global effort to protect them,” said Elizabeth Mcleod, leader of The Nature Conservancy’s global reef work in Arlington, Virginia.

Richmond is also optimistic.

“Although coral reefs are severely threatened, they are not doomed,” he said. If we take “aggressive action against climate change, then we will have coral reefs as a legacy for the future.”

“We’re not going to be able to restore them back to pristine condition like they were 50 years ago,” added Jennifer Koss, director of the coral reef conservation program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  “But through restoration, and by curtailing climate change, coral ecosystems have a chance to flourish again.”

The experts agree that curbing carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming is key.

“We need to significantly lower our emissions, so there is actually hope for coral reefs,” Madhavi Colton, executive director of the Coral Reef Alliance, in Oakland, California, told VOA.

The most striking impact of warmer ocean temperatures is bleaching, when corals turn eerily white.

“We’re seeing this drastic decline in coral cover,” said Purkis. “Unless conditions improve, many corals will die from bleaching because the organisms are weakened and usually catch a disease.”

Eliminating other stressors may help the reefs better withstand bleaching.  

“If we combat stressors like overfishing and improve water quality, the reefs can better tolerate global changes and are more likely to survive and reproduce,” Colton said.

Discovering heat resistant corals may also be a game-changer.

“In the Red Sea, you find corals that have adapted and are resilient and responsive to the heat.  So, these ‘super reefs’ have solved the problem, and we should figure out how they’ve done that and use them for restoration efforts,” said Stephen Palumbi, a marine biology professor at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station.

Local involvement can make a difference in protecting coral reefs.

In America Samoa, the local population is working on watershed projects that help preserve coral reefs, Koss said.  Rain gardens were installed on land to hold back sediment that can smother the corals.

Various methods are being used in Indonesia to safeguard the reefs.

“The locals are watching for illegal fishing, and some communities are partnering with ecotourism groups to raise awareness about the importance of the reefs,” Mcleod said.

A reef restoration program has been particularly successful in the Pacific island nation of Palau.

Citizen scientists are using readily available materials like rebar and cable ties to make frames for heat-resistant coral nurseries, Palumbi said.

“We’ve been teaching community college students through peer mentoring and on Zoom how to do these experiments and get the results on Instagram. The young people are taking steps to secure their own future.”

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British finance minister Rishi Sunak’s budget this week will include an extra $8.1 billion of spending for the health service over the next few years to drive down waiting lists, the finance ministry said on Sunday.   

The sum comes on top of an $11 billion package announced in September to tackle backlogs built up over the COVID-19 pandemic, the finance ministry said.   

The spending is aimed at increasing what is termed elective activity in the National Health Service (NHS) — such as scans and non-emergency procedures — by 30% by the 2024/25 financial year. 

The increase comprises $3.2 billion for testing services, $2.9 billion to improve the technology behind the health service, and $2 billion to increase bed capacity.   

“This is a game-changing investment in the NHS to make sure we have the right buildings, equipment and systems to get patients the help they need and make sure the NHS is fit for the future,” Sunak said in a statement. 

Sunak is expected to set fairly tight limits for most areas of day-to-day public spending in his budget on Wednesday, which will seek to lower public debt after a record surge in borrowing during the pandemic. 

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