Lawsuits after the eruption of Mt Ontake

This news isn’t about new volcanic activity in Japan but rather the results of one of the most tragic volcanic events in the last few years. In September 2014, Ontake had a surprising phreatic (or phreatomagmatic) explosion. There was little in the way of clear signs that such a blast was going to occur beyond some volcanic earthquakes that started in the week before the eruption. Ontake is a very popular hiking destination, so many people were on the volcano when the eruption occurred and at least 54 people died as a result of the eruption.

Now, families of some of the victims are suing the local government over the eruption, claiming that they downplayed the threat posed by the volcano and that it was inadequately monitored (only three of five seismometers were working at the time). This is a little bit like the trial of the Italian geologists after the L’Aquila earthquake, where they were blamed for the deaths due to the earthquakes because they downplayed the risk.

The big problem is that geologists monitoring volcanoes or assessing earthquake hazards only have pieces of data from which to work, so making claims without a firm backing can be as bad. If geologists lose credibility because of too many “false positives” about an eruption, then getting people to leave when a real crisis arises can become nearly impossible. The volcanologists from the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) worked with the data in hand and determined no apparent threat in Ontake’s behavior. This ended up being incorrect, but not really due to misinterpreting the data that was being collected, however imperfect.

Is the local government (geologists) really to be blamed for the deaths or was it a unavoidable accident?


Malaria superbugs threaten global malaria control, scientists say

More than half the world’s people are at risk of malaria infection. Most victims are children under five living in the poorest parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Recent progress against the mosquito-borne disease has been dramatic and numbers falling ill have been significantly reduced, but it still kills more than 420,000 people each year, the World Health Organization says.

Malaria specialists worldwide say emerging drug resistance in Asia is now one of the most serious threats to that progress.

From the late 1950s to the 1970s, chloroquine*-resistant malaria parasites spread across Asia and then into Africa, leading to a resurgence of malaria cases and millions of deaths.

Chloroquine was replaced by sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine*(SP), but resistance to SP subsequently emerged in western Cambodia and again spread to Africa.

The fear now is that the same pattern of resistance spread and the resurgence will repeat itself.

*Chloroquine and sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine are drugs used to cure malaria, however, overtime, probably due to poor use of the drugs, malaria parasites grow immunity over the drugs. This make it impossible for the drugs to help treat malaria patients.

Source: ChannelNewsAsia

Are tourists killing the Rafflesia?

All parties are important in ensuring sustainable tourism is successful – the local community (Orang Asli), tour operators, tourists, planning authorities (Kelantan Forestry Department) and NGOs (in this case Universiti Malaysia Kelantan).

Planning Authority’s view:

Kelantan Forestry Department director Datuk Zahari Ibrahim said the department had received information on the threat posed by visitors who stopped by while on their way to Cameron Highlands, or enroute to Pulau Perhentian in Terengganu, especially at Pos Jedik, which was part of the Lojing Permanent Forest Reserve.

“Some tourists step on the buds and host plants without realising the damage.

“It should not happen in the first place because the Rafflesia Kerri is among the state’s tourism products, and all parties, including travel agents, must play their role in keeping the flower safe,” he said.

Zahari said to protect the plant under the High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF) management plan for the Rafflesia kerri species, the state government had decided to fence 18 plots on a 50ha land at the forest reserve, from which visitors would be barred from entering.

University’s view

The dean of UMK’s  Natural Resources and Sustainability Science department, Zulhazman Hamzah, said the university was aware of the threats and had taken necessary measures to help the authorities.

“The tourism sector is a likely contributor to the destruction of the Rafflesia’s habitat,” he said.

He said the university also started awareness campaigns to educate the Orang Asli and other communities in the state about the preservation of the flower.

“We have been promoting the Rafflesia as a tourist attraction in Lojing Highlands for some time now.

“This provides the Orang Asli more job opportunities as they can work as tour guides.

“We also give talks and share our knowledge with state government departments, local agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on the flower’s recovery and its potential to help the people through eco-tourism activities.”

Source: New Straits Times