Accra, Oct. 10 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Unsustainable agricultural practices in Ghana have contributed to the depletion of the country's virgin forests, a group of researchers have found.
Rather than raising crop yields per hectare, the West African country's agricultural growth depended predominantly on expanding the cropped area, through clearing virgin forests and reducing the length of traditional fallow periods, the researchers noted.
In a new book titled "Ghana's Economic and Agricultural Transformation: Past Performance and Future Prospects", researchers have established that this pattern of crop production is unsustainable and environmentally damaging.
The authors are Danielle Resnick, a senior research fellow, and Xinshen Diao, deputy director in the development strategy and governance division of the International Food Policy Research Institute, United States, as well as Peter Hazell and Shashidhara Kolavalli, independent researchers based in the US.
"This pattern of growth has reduced Ghana's competitiveness in developing agricultural exports other than cocoa, and in competing with imports like rice, poultry, and processed foods," the summary of the findings sent to Xinhua revealed.
"There is relatively little virgin forest left, and the reduction of fallow periods is leading to serious soil fertility problems which have been masked so far by the increased use of inorganic fertilizers to replace lost nutrients rather than to raise yields," it added.
The researchers urged the West African country, which exports gold, cocoa, and crude oil, to adopt more intensive agricultural practices that raise land as well as labor productivity.
Ghana has long been depending on rain-fed agriculture for food production, with food preservation at its basic stage.
Cairo, Oct 8 (AP/UNB) — Egyptian rights lawyers say authorities have released over 200 people who were among hundreds more arrested in a crackdown following small but rare anti-government protests last month.
Lawyers Mustafa el-Demiry and Mohamed el-Sarawe say the people were released on Tuesday, pending an investigation into claims they took part in activities of an outlawed Islamist group and disseminating false news on social media platforms.
Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights reported that 17 other suspects were released separately, late on Monday.
More than 2,000 people, including journalists, activists and foreign nationals, were arrested in the past three weeks, according to right lawyers. Authorities have since released hundreds.
Police rapidly dispersed small street protests on Sept. 20 in the capital, Cairo, and several other cities, triggering a sweeping security clampdown.
Kigali, Oct 6 (AP/UNB) — One afternoon last month, a young woman with a tablet computer sat next to Alphonsine Umurerwa on the living room couch, asking questions, listening carefully.
She learned that the woman's 23-year-old daughter, Sandrine Umwungeri, had been very sick for about a year, gradually becoming so weak she stopped leaving their tin-roofed home in a hilly section of Rwanda's capital city. The family thought she had malaria.
Medicines from a local pharmacy didn't help. In March, she died.
The interviewer asked: When did Sandrine begin to feel weak? Did she have a fever? Did her skin take on a yellow hue? Each typed answer determined the next question to pose, like following a phone tree.
This was a "verbal autopsy" — an interview in which a trained health worker asks a close relative or caretaker about a recently deceased person. Increasingly, health officials are using these tools and their computer algorithms to learn more about the global course of human disease.
About 50 countries have attempted verbal autopsy projects, and the list is growing. On Tuesday, Bloomberg Philanthropies — a major funder of international health data initiatives — announced it will devote another $120 million over the next four years to continue projects in 20 previously funded countries, and add five more.
That includes money for verbal autopsies, as well as cancer registries and other programs intended to help developing countries gather accurate data about the health of their citizens.
"With more and better data on causes of death, more countries can save more lives," said Michael Bloomberg, the philanthropy's founder, in a statement.
The work is badly needed, experts say.
An estimated 60 million people in the world will die this year, and half will have no death certificates or other records describing what killed them. Most will be in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Africa and parts of Asia.
That means the common understanding of overall disease and mortality trends in the developing world often relies upon broad estimates and guesswork. So do the decisions many countries make about which health problems to prioritize.
"The scale of the problem is really quite staggering," said Lucia D'Ambruoso, a University of Aberdeen researcher who has studied verbal autopsies. "There's a moral imperative, as well as analytical one, to be able to shine a light on those otherwise invisible deaths."
To be sure, knowing what's killing people can be tricky even in developed countries.
For example, though the United States requires doctors to sign death certificates, recent studies suggest some doctors put down certain conditions as a default, which is one reason why some experts believe heart disease has been over-reported as a cause of death in the U.S.
But it's far more problematic to collect accurate data in countries where only a fraction of deaths occur in hospitals, or with doctors present.
In Rwanda, only an estimated 20% of deaths occur in hospitals, and there is just one licensed doctor for every 8,000 people, according to data from the Rwanda Medical and Dental Council.
The current verbal autopsy campaign was pioneered more than 50 years ago, in small physician-led research projects in Africa and Asia.
One milestone study was conducted in India. In the late 1990s, trained interviewers — not doctors — went into the homes of people who had recently died. They asked close relatives about the symptoms and events that preceded a loved one's death. Small teams of physicians later used the interviews to determine the cause of death.
The Million Death Study, as it was called, suggested that India had far more malaria and smoking-related deaths than the World Health Organization had estimated, but far fewer HIV deaths than WHO expected.
Clearly, verbal autopsies have drawbacks. They rely on grief-stricken people to clearly recall clinical details. And the validity of results may vary depending on who's answering the questions, what questions are asked, and how responses are interpreted.
Some health advocates — including the philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates — have pushed for other methods like minimally invasive tissue sampling, a technique in which fine needles are inserted into a dead person's body, gathering samples from different organs for rapid analysis.
But such sampling has limitations, too. It requires specially trained technicians, and samples have to be taken and shipped for analysis within 24 hours after a person's death.
Verbal autopsies "are much better to do that than do nothing, which is the only alternative" in some countries, said Peter Byass, a researcher at Sweden's Umea University and an expert on the interviews.
The New York-based organization Vital Strategies began working with the Rwandan government in 2015 to develop a verbal autopsy program, using Bloomberg and other funding. The project trained government health workers — who already provide health and hospice care in homes — to conduct the interviews.
About 2,700 verbal autopsies have been done in nine small pockets of the country. That's not enough to provide a good look at national death trends, but the government is planning to scale up the work in coming years to achieve a nationally representative sample.
At first, neighbors sometimes perceived the questions as intrusive. But over time, most people have come to accept them.
"When we explain to them why we do this, in the end they will understand and answer our questions," said Janvier Ngabonziza, who conducts the interviews in a rural area called Rwamagana.
The verbal autopsy of Sandrine Umwungeri was conducted by Leonie Mfitumukiza, who had met her mother through her job as a community health worker. After allowing several months for the family to rest and grieve, she had come to ask about Umwungeri's illness.
Respectfully, and pausing often to offer comfort and consolation, Mfitumukiza followed the standardized set of questions about her symptoms. The information she gathered will be run through a computer algorithm to assign a cause of death.
The solemnity was broken when a family friend walked into the home carrying a giggling 2-year-old girl. It was Blessing, Umwungeri's daughter, now being raised by her grandmother.
Afterward, Mfitumukiza said she believes Umwungeri died of diabetes, not malaria. But she noted her job that day was to gather information, not to draw any conclusion.
Cairo, Oct. 6 (Xinhua/UNB) -- The recent negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) being built on the Nile River reached a "dead end," spokesman for Egypt's Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, Mohamed Sibai, said on Saturday.
The spokesman held Ethiopia responsible for the failure of the negotiations as the Ethiopian side rejected all the proposals that would help Egypt avoid serious harms due to the construction of the dam, according to Egypt's state-run MENA news agency.
The Egyptian, Sudanese and Ethiopian ministers of irrigation concluded on Saturday three-way negotiations in Khartoum to discuss the file of the GERD.
Ethiopia presented a new proposal during the negotiations at the level of the independent scientific research group, the spokesman said, noting that the new proposal goes against all the process of filling and operation principles that have been agreed upon.
He pointed out that the new proposal does not ensure the minimum levels of the dam's annual discharge, adding it did not deal with droughts and protracted droughts that may occur in the future.
Ethiopia also refused, according to the spokesman, to discuss the rules of operation of the dam.
He noted that Ethiopia's stance violates Article V of the text of the Declaration of Principles Agreement signed on March 23, 2015, and contradicts with the norms used internationally to cooperate in the construction and management of dams on common rivers.
"The Ethiopian position has brought the negotiations to a standstill, especially after Ethiopia rejected the Egyptian proposal, which presented an integrated proposal for the rules of filling and operating the dam, which is fair and balanced and takes into account the interests of the three countries," the spokesman said.
Ethiopia started building the dam in 2011 and it is expected to produce over 6,000 megawatts of electricity and to be Africa's largest hydropower dam upon completion.
Egypt, a downstream Nile Basin country, is concerned that the construction of the GERD might affect its 55.5-billion-cubic-meter annual share of the river water. Meanwhile, upstream Ethiopia and downstream Sudan eye massive future benefits through the dam.
Filling the reservoir, whose total capacity is 74 billion cubic meters, may take several years. While Ethiopia asked to fill it in five-six years, Egypt seeks to prolong the period to avoid the negative effects of water shortage, which is a main point of their talks.
Lagos, Oct. 6 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Nigerian air force carried out strikes on a hideout belonging to the Boko Haram militants, killing scores of them in the country's restive northeast Borno state, an official said Saturday.
The strikes hit Boko Haram fighters at Kirta Wulgo on the fringes of Lake Chad in the state, said Ibikunle Daramola, spokesperson for the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), in a statement sent to media.
Daramola said the operation was executed by the Air Task Force (ATF) of Operation LAFIYA DOLE on Friday.
The air strike was conducted by the ATF after persistent Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions revealed that the settlement was being used as a staging area from where the terrorists launch attacks.
"Overhead the target area, scores of Boko Haram fighters were observed attempting to flee upon sighting the attack platforms," he added.
He said the aircraft took turns in engaging the location, scoring accurate hits which led to the destruction of some structures as well as the killing of several terrorists.
Daramola said NAF, operating with surface forces, would sustain efforts to completely destroy remnants of terrorists in the restive northeast.
In a similar operation, troops of the Nigerian army on Friday successfully ambushed suspected Boko Haram terrorists in Gwoza area of Borno, killing three of them.
Ado Isa, an army spokesperson, told Xinhua that the successful operation followed credible information from some patriotic Nigerians about terrorists movement around Pulka in Gwoza general area.
He said unconfirmed number of terrorists were reportedly wounded during the ambush, adding there was no casualty on the side of Nigerian army.
He said two AK 47 rifles and two bicycles were recovered by the troops.