Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Epidemic

Why is the Israeli army suddenly concerned about Gaza?

For years, Gaza has been on the brink of collapse. Jonathan Cook looks at the troubling reasons behind a sudden uptick in interest by the Israeli military

More than 10 years ago Israel tightened its grip on Gaza, enforcing a blockade on goods coming in and out of the tiny coastal enclave that left much of the two million-strong population there unemployed, impoverished and hopeless.

Since then, Israel has launched three separate major military assaults that have destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure, killed many thousands and left tens of thousands more homeless and traumatised.

Jonathan Cook. January 21, 2018

Gaza is effectively an open-air prison, an extremely overcrowded one, with only a few hours of electricity a day and its ground water polluted by seawater and sewage.

Last week Israeli military officials for the first time echoed what human rights groups and the United Nations have been saying for some time: that Gaza’s economy and infrastructure stand on the brink of collapse.

After a decade of this horrifying experiment in human endurance, the Israeli army finally appears to be concerned about whether Gaza can continue coping much longer.

In recent days it has begun handing out forms, with more than a dozen questions, to the small number of Palestinians allowed briefly out of Gaza – mainly business people trading with Israel, those needing emergency medical treatment and family members accompanying them.

A Palestinian with blood on his hands reacts as a wounded demonstrator is evacuated during clashes with Israeli troops, near the border with Israel in the east Gaza Strip on January 19. Mohammed Salem / Reuters

One question asks bluntly whether they are happy, another whom they blame for their economic troubles. A statistician might wonder whether the answers can be trusted, given that the sample group is so heavily dependent on Israel’s good will for their physical and financial survival.

But the survey does at least suggest that Israel’s top brass may be open to new thinking, after decades of treating Palestinians only as target practice, lab rats or sheep to be herded into cities, freeing up land for Jewish settlers. Has the army finally understood that Palestinians are human beings too, with limits to the suffering they can soak up?

According to the local media, the army is in part responding to practical concerns. It is reportedly worried that, if epidemics break out, the diseases will quickly spread into Israel.

And if Gaza’s economy collapses too, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians could be banging on Israel’s door – or rather storming its hi-tech incarceration fence – to be allowed in. The army has no realistic contingency plans for either scenario.

Nonetheless, neither Israeli politicians nor Washington appear to be taking evasive action. In fact, things look set to get worse.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week there could be no improvements, no reconstruction in Gaza until Hamas agrees to give up its weapons – the only thing, in Hamas’s view, that serves as a deterrent against future Israeli attack.

Figures show Israel’s policy towards Gaza has been actually growing harsher.

In 2017, exit permits issued by Israel dwindled to a third of the number two years earlier – and a hundredfold fewer than in early 2000. A few hundred Palestinian business people receive visas, stifling any chance of economic revival.

The number of trucks bringing goods into Gaza has been cut in half – not because Israel is putting the inmates on a “diet”, as it once did, but because the enclave’s Palestinians lack “purchasing power”. That is, they are too poor to buy Israeli goods.

Mr Netanyahu has resolutely ignored a plan by his transport minister to build an artificial island off Gaza to accommodate a sea port under Israeli or international supervision. And no one is considering allowing the Palestinians to exploit Gaza’s natural gas fields, just off the coast.

In fact, the only thing holding Gaza together is the international aid it receives. And that is now in jeopardy too.

The Trump administration announced last week it is to slash by half the aid it sends to Palestinian refugees via the UN agency UNRWA. Mr Trump has proposed further cuts to punish Mahmoud Abbas, the increasingly exasperated Palestinian leader, for refusing to pretend any longer that the US is an honest broker capable of overseeing peace talks.

The White House’s difficulties will only be underscored on Sunday evening, when Mike Pence, the US vice-president, arrives in Israel as part of Mr Trump’s supposed push for peace.

Palestinians in Gaza will feel the loss of aid severely. A majority live in miserable refugee camps set up after their families were expelled in 1948 from homes in what is now Israel. They depend on the UN for food handouts, health and education.

Backed by the PLO’s legislative body, the central council, Mr Abbas has begun retaliating – at least rhetorically. He desperately needs to shore up the credibility of his diplomatic strategy in pursuit of a two-state solution after Mr Trump recently hived off Palestine’s future capital, Jerusalem, to Israel.

Mr Abbas threatened, if not very credibly, to end a security coordination with Israel he once termed “sacred” and declared as finished the Oslo accords that created the Palestinian Authority he now heads.

The lack of visible concern in Israel and Washington suggests neither believes he will make good on those threats.

But it is not Mr Abbas’s posturing that Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump need worry about. They should be listening to Israel’s generals, who understand that there is no defence against the fallout from the catastrophe looming in Gaza.

Hussein Ibish The Trump administration has made a grim situation worse for Palestinians

Zahra Lari Arab sportswomen like me are the role models for the next generation



 Massive Impact, Uncertain Future? Avian Flu Epidemic

You might have to be an avid reader of medical journals—or a poultry farmer—to notice that the United States is in the midst of a slow-motion disease disaster.

The disease is avian influenza, and though it has not, as yet, affected any people, it is wreaking havoc nonetheless.

As of Monday, almost 26 million chickens and turkeys have either died, or been killed to keep the disease from spreading.

Three states—Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin—have declared states of emergency.

Layoffs have begun at poultry farms, and the industry is warning that there may not be enough surviving turkeys to fill tables at Thanksgiving.

The federal government has released $330 million in emergency funds, and in Minnesota, the National Guard has been called out.

Twenty-six million sounds like a lot of birds—but while the epidemic is devastating to states and to individual farmers, so far it has barely dented the United States’ poultry supply.

The U.S., after all, produces about 9 billion meat chickens, 360 million laying hens and 240 million turkeys per year; the current losses equal less than three-tenths of one percent of the total.

Poultry raising, though, is an intricate economy of many moving parts.

The potential losses from this epidemic include not only individual farm businesses—that is, the income of farm families, and of their workers and their families—but also the businesses they use, from feed dealers to equipment sales and service to slaughterhouse and packing workers to the cafe in the local town.

Beyond that, there is an international ripple effect as well.

Each of the top 10 importers of U.S. poultry products has either banned their being imported or restricted them in some way. Those restrictions extend beyond meat and eggs to breeding stock—which means that, if the epidemic continues, other countries will see cuts in their poultry supply too.

And even more than the economic impact, there is concern about a possible medical one.

A particular strain of avian influenza—technically, high-pathogenic H5N1—caused great alarm in 1997. (See my last post on bird flu for a short primer on terminology.) It jumped from birds to humans in Hong Kong, sickening 18 people and killing six of them.

It was suppressed only by killing all the chickens in the Hong Kong territory—but flared up again in 2003 in Vietnam, and began moving through Asia and west.

To date, according to the World Health Organization, it has sickened 826 people and killed 440, more than half of them.

And because the greatest flu pandemic known to history, the “Spanish flu” of 1918—which killed at least 50 million and possibly 100 million people around the world— began as an avian virus, disease authorities watch any bloom of bird flu carefully, braced in case another strain makes that bird-to-human leap.

There is no evidence yet that this bird flu has. “While we are cautiously optimistic that there will not be human cases, we must be prepared for that possibility and we are taking routine preparedness steps, including studying these viruses further and creating candidate vaccine viruses which could be used to make a vaccine for people if one were needed,” Dr. Alicia Fry of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on a CDC-USDA conference call two weeks ago. “So far, genetic analysis has not shown any of the markers that are known to be associated with increased severity of illness in people or an increased ability to be spread to people or spread among people.”

A remarkable thing about this epidemic: It has been spreading since last December (as I covered at our sister blog The Plate).

It was spotted first in British Columbia, hopped cross-border to Washington and Oregon, and then began to move inward across the continent.

It exploded when it reached Minnesota, the center of the turkey industry, and Iowa, one of the centers of the egg industry, because the farms where the virus has landed are enormous: One chicken facility held 5.7 million birds, two others held more than 3 million, and the two largest turkey farms housed more than 300,000 each.

I spoke to several scientists working on the outbreak who asked not to be identified.

They acknowledged that exactly how this flu is spreading is not clear. The usual source of avian flu is wild waterfowl, primarily ducks, which pick the strains up in Asia without being made sick by them, and spread them across the globe as they migrate.

Ducks can intermingle with backyard poultry—and they were observed doing that in the British Columbia outbreaks, which occurred on small farms—but they have little chance of making contact with conventionally raised birds. Those large farms (such as the multi-million-bird ones in this outbreak) keep their birds entirely inside buildings, and are expected to have tight biosecurity precisely because confined conditions make it easier for diseases to spread.

The scientists I spoke to said it is possible the flu is now being spread, not by other birds, but by humans—and not because the humans are infected, but because they are unknowingly transporting the virus from one place to another.

That could happen via anything that comes onto a farm and has already been on another farm: a truck, car tires, even the clothing or equipment of delivery drivers, equipment-service workers or veterinary technicians. It could even come from water sources elsewhere on a farm that have been contaminated by ducks landing on them, if the water is used to spray down barns or flush away manure.

If that speculation is correct, then controlling the spread of the virus will be unusually challenging—but it will have to be managed, because biosecurity is the industry’s current best defense. Unlike some other countries, the United States does not routinely vaccinate poultry against bird flu.

One researcher I spoke to described an outbreak of this size as being like a 100-year flood: for 99 of those years, the expense of vaccinating flocks would not be justified, and—unless it was mandatory for all producers—could put some farmers at a competitive disadvantage versus other farmers who did not buy the vaccine.

(In fact, the last major outbreak of high-pathogenic bird flu in the U.S. was not 100 years ago, but 32: There was a multi-state outbreak in 1983-84, when 17 million birds died or were killed.

Before that, the last large U.S. outbreak was in 1929.)

I asked the sources who talked to me what they expected to happen next, and they were cautious. Influenza viruses prefer cooler weather; in the USDA’s April briefing, officials predicted viral spread would slow as summer arrives. That would solve the problem, but only until autumn, when migrating waterfowl could bring the virus south again.

If high-pathogenic bird flu became something that had to be defended against every year, that could force  the poultry industry to change its operations in significant and expensive ways.

What the risk is of that happening, no one yet can say.




May 2023

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