Month: May 2024

Netflix series puts Pakistani red-light district in spotlight

A new Netflix series has turned attention to a historic red-light district in Pakistan. Set in Lahore, “Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar” is one of the most popular non-English series on the streaming platform. But as VOA’s Pakistan bureau chief Sarah Zaman reports, not everyone is happy with the attention. Videographer: Wajid Asad; video editor: Malik Waqar Ahmed.


Australian researchers find simple, cost-effective desalination method

SYDNEY — Australian researchers say a simpler and cheaper method to remove salt from seawater using heat could help combat what they call “unprecedented global water shortages.” The desalination of seawater is a process where salt and impurities are removed to produce drinking water.  

Most of the world’s desalination methods use a process called reverse osmosis. It uses pressure to force seawater through a membrane. The salt is retained on one side, and purified water is passed through on the other. 

Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) say that while widespread, the current processes need large amounts of electricity and other expensive materials that need to be serviced and maintained.  

Scientists at ANU say they developed the world’s first thermal desalination method. It is powered not by electricity, but by moderate heat generated directly from sunlight, or waste heat from machines such as air conditioners or other industrial processes. 

It uses a phenomenon called thermo diffusion, in which salt moves from hot temperatures to cold. The researchers pumped seawater through a narrow channel, which runs under a unit that was heated to greater than 60 degrees Celsius and over a bottom plate that was cooled to 20 degrees Celsius. Lower-salinity water comes from the water in the top section of the channel, closer to the heat. 

After repeated cycles through the channels, the ANU study asserts, the salinity of seawater can be reduced from 30,000 parts per million to less than 500 parts per million. 

Juan Felipe Torres, a mechanical and aerospace engineer at the Australian National University and the project’s lead chief investigator, explained his pioneering work.  

“We use a phenomenon people have not used before,” he said. “We are exploring its applicability in this context but in essence (it) should be something super simple, something as simple as a channel where you have water flowing through it and you are going to produce some sort of separation, and this is what thermal desalination is doing.”  

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has stated that by 2025, 1.8 billion people around the world are likely to face “absolute water scarcity.”  

Torres said the ANU’s invention could help ensure water supplies to communities under threat because of climate change. 

“Our vision, let’s say, for the future to have a more equitable world in terms of water security and food security is a method that does not require expensive maintenance or to train personnel to continue running it. So, we think thermal desalination would enable that,” he said.  

The ANU team is building a multi-channel solar-powered device to desalinate seawater in the Pacific kingdom of Tonga, which is enduring a severe drought.  

The research is published in the journal Nature Communications. 


Trillions of cicadas pop up in parts of US

It’s an emergence that’s been more than a decade in the making. Trillions of cicadas that have burrowed underground for 13 or 17 years are now emerging in parts of the Midwestern and Southern United States. And, VOA’s Dora Mekouar reports, they are ready to mate.


Ghana toddler sets world record as the youngest male artist

ACCRA, Ghana — Meet Ace-Liam Ankrah, a Ghana toddler who has set the record as the world’s youngest male artist.

His mother, Chantelle Kukua Eghan, says it all started by accident when her son, who at the time was 6 months old, discovered her acrylic paints.

Eghan, an artist and founder of Arts and Cocktails Studio, a bar that that offers painting lessons in Ghana’s capital, Accra, said she was looking for a way to keep her son busy while working on her own paintings.

“I spread out a canvas on the floor and added paint to it, and then in the process of crawling he ended up spreading all the colors on the canvas,” she said.

And that’s how his first artwork, “The Crawl,” was born, Eghan, 25, told The Associated Press.

After that and with his mother’s prodding, Ace-Liam kept on painting.

Eghan decided to apply for the record last June. In November, Guinness World Records told her that to break a previous record, her son needed to exhibit and sell paintings.

She arranged for Ace-Liam’s first exhibition at the Museum of Science and Technology in Accra in January, where nine out of 10 of his pieces listed were sold. She declined to say for how much the paintings sold.

They were on their way.

Then, Guinness World Records confirmed the record in a statement and last week declared that “at the age of 1 year 152 days, little Ace-Liam Nana Sam Ankrah from Ghana is the world’s youngest male artist.”

Guinness World Records did not immediately respond to an Associated Press query about the previous youngest male artist record holder.

The overall record for the world’s youngest artist is currently held by India’s Arushi Bhatnagar. She had her first exhibition at the age of 11 months and sold her first painting for 5,000 rupees ($60) in 2003.

These days, Ace-Liam, who will be 2 years old in July, still loves painting and eagerly accompanies his mom to her studio, where a corner has been set off just for him. He sometimes paints in just five-minute sessions, returning to the same canvas over days of weeks, Eghan says.

On a recent day, he ran excitedly around the studio, with bursts of energy typical for boys his age. But he was also very focused and concentrated for almost an hour while painting — choosing green, yellow and blue for his latest work-in-progress and rubbing the oil colors into the canvas with his tiny fingers.

Eghan says becoming a world record holder has not changed their lives. She won’t sell “The Crawl” but plans on keeping it in the family.

She added that she hopes the media attention around her boy could encourage and inspire other parents to discover and nurture their children’s talents.

“He is painting and growing and playing in the whole process,” she says.


Lava spurts from Iceland volcano for second day

GRINDAVIK, Iceland — Lava continued to spurt from a volcano in southwestern Iceland on Thursday but the activity had calmed significantly from when it erupted a day earlier.

The eruption Wednesday was the fifth and most powerful since the volcanic system near Grindavik reawakened in December after 800 years, gushing record levels of lava as its fissure grew to 3.5 kilometers in length.

Volcanologist Dave McGarvie calculated that the amount of lava initially flowing from the crater could have buried the soccer pitch at Wembley Stadium in London under 15 meters of lava every minute.

“These jets of magma are reaching like 50 meters, into the atmosphere,” said McGarvie, an honorary researcher at Lancaster University. “That just immediately strikes me as a powerful eruption. And that was my first impression … then some numbers came out, estimating how much was coming out per minute or per second and it was, ‘Wow.'”

The activity once again threatened Grindavik, a coastal town of 3,800 people, and led to the evacuation of the popular Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, one of Iceland’s biggest tourist attractions.

Grindavik, which is about 50 kilometers southwest of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, has been threatened since a swarm of earthquakes in November forced an evacuation in advance of the initial December 18 eruption. A subsequent eruption consumed several buildings.

Protective barriers outside Grindavik deflected the lava Wednesday but the evacuated town remained without electricity and two of the three roads into town were inundated with lava.

“I just like the situation quite well compared to how it looked at the beginning of the eruption yesterday,” Grindavik Mayor Fannar Jónasson told national broadcaster RUV.

McGarvie said the eruption was more powerful than the four that preceded it because the largest amount of magma had accumulated in a chamber underground before breaking the earth’s surface and shooting into the sky.

The rapid and powerful start of the eruption followed by it diminishing quickly several hours later is the pattern researchers have witnessed with this volcano, McGarvie said. It’s unknown when eruptions at this volcano will end.

“It could go on for quite some considerable time,” McGarvie said. “We’re really in new territory here because eruptions like this have never been witnessed, carefully, in this part of Iceland.”

Iceland, which sits above a volcanic hot spot in the North Atlantic, sees regular eruptions. The most disruptive in recent times was the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which spewed huge clouds of ash into the atmosphere and led to widespread airspace closures over Europe.

None of the current cycle of eruptions have had an impact on aviation.


Bird flu infects 3rd US dairy worker; Michigan set to expand testing


UN conference looks at possibilities, dangers of AI


All-gay choir in South Africa combines music, activism

The artists from South Africa’s Mzansi Gay Choir are known not just for their music, but also for their role in LGBTQI advocacy. Ihsaan Haffejee brings us this story from a rehearsal studio in Johannesburg, where the musicians gather for a practice session.


Health advocates seek reforms to combat Indonesian men’s high smoking rates


Health advocates push for reforms to combat Indonesia’s high male smoking rates

May 31 is World No Tobacco Day, a day when many health advocacy groups raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco. These groups have reason to celebrate: In most countries, tobacco use is declining. But not in Indonesia, where smoking rates are rising, according to the World Health Organization. Dave Grunebaum has the story.


Cricket making historic US debut in World Cup


WHO: Climate change could increase spread of diseases


US optimistic a deal to lessen threats of future pandemics is in sight 

Geneva — Despite the failure of negotiators to reach a pandemic accord ahead of this week’s World Health Assembly, a senior U.S. official remains optimistic that an agreement to lessen the threats of global killer disease outbreaks is in sight.

“We think the elements of a good deal are already on the table and that is why we feel optimistic because those are pretty good deals. It is just a matter now of fine-tuning it to make sure everybody says we are ready to sign on the dotted line,” Xavier Becerra, U.S. secretary of health and human services, told journalists at a briefing in Geneva Wednesday.

While disappointing, Becerra indicated that it was not surprising that an accord was not reached after two-and-a-half years of negotiations.

“Negotiations go on forever,” he said. “I think we have to put this in perspective. You do not build a nation overnight. You do not build an Empire State Building overnight. It takes a long time. Name me a major international achievement that came overnight.

“I think there is clear consensus that we cannot let the status quo be upon us if another pandemic comes,” he said.

His view reflects that of World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who, in his opening remarks at the World Health Assembly on Monday, assured delegates that the negotiations were on track and were not a failure.

“Of course, we all wish that we had been able to reach a consensus on the agreement in time for this health assembly and cross the finish line,” he said. “But I remain confident that you still will—because where there is a will, there is a way.”

WHO says 7,010,681 people have died from the COVID-19 outbreak as of April 13 and that a total of 704,753,890 cases have been confirmed in 229 countries and territories.

Becerra noted that threats against global health have an outsized influence on broader global political and economic interests.

“There is no stability without health. There is no security without health. Our nations cannot be strong unless they are healthy.

“Getting out of COVID is our main health priority,” Becerra said, noting that U.S. President Joe Biden was committed to achieving a pandemic treaty.

“When the president came in, we were experiencing two or three 9/11s every day in America in terms of loss of life. That is where we started. Today, we are walking around without masks. We are treating COVID the way we treat the flu,” he said, indicating that now is not the time to become complacent.

“I think we realize that another pandemic could be upon us. I mean, we are dealing with avian flu in the U.S. right now. We do not know how long it is going to be before we get another type of COVID kind of tragedy. We do not want to wait,” he said.

Sticking points to a pandemic treaty include disagreements over sharing information about pathogens that cause pandemics, a formula for global sharing of vaccines and medicine during international health emergencies, and financing to set up surveillance systems.

The WHO says that member states have agreed to continue to work during the World Health Assembly “to develop the world’s first pandemic accord” to prevent a repeat of the “global health, economic and social impacts” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We really have an incredible opportunity this week,” Loyce Pace, assistant secretary for global affairs at HHS, said.

“We have spent so long trying to come together and finding compromise and consensus. I think we talk about what is left to do, but I do not know if we talk enough about what has been done toward reaching an agreement.”

“So, whatever happens this week, we need some deliverable, if only to keep this momentum on towards any other work that should continue. We shouldn’t be leaving Geneva and go home without an accord, not after all that has been done,” Pace said.

Secretary Becerra agrees, saying that he does not think there are substantive disagreements about the essential elements of a pandemic treaty.

“It is more how they are packaged, how they are defined. People generally agree with what we have to do in order to be ready to take on any pandemic that may come across our path,” Becerra said.

“I am the son of immigrants. Optimism is in my DNA and so, I believe we are going to get this done because it would be tragic, especially given how far we have come and not get it done.

“We have to be ready,” he said. “Who knows what is coming around the corner. Something is going to broadside us. We just have to be ready.”


‘Open source’ investigators use satellites to identify burned Darfur villages

Investigators using satellite imagery to document the war in western Sudan’s Darfur region say 72 villages were burned down in April, the most they have seen since the conflict began. Henry Wilkins talks with the people who do this research about how so-called open-source investigations could be crucial in holding those responsible for the violence to account.


OpenAI unveils new safety committee


Robot will try to remove nuclear debris from Japan’s destroyed reactor

TOKYO — The operator of Japan’s destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant demonstrated Tuesday how a remote-controlled robot would retrieve tiny bits of melted fuel debris from one of three damaged reactors later this year for the first time since the 2011 meltdown.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings plans to deploy a “telesco-style” extendable pipe robot into Fukushima Daiichi No. 2 reactor to test the removal of debris from its primary containment vessel by October.

That work is more than two years behind schedule. The removal of melted fuel was supposed to begin in late 2021 but has been plagued with delays, underscoring the difficulty of recovering from the magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami in 2011.

During the demonstration at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ shipyard in Kobe, western Japan, where the robot has been developed, a device equipped with tongs slowly descended from the telescopic pipe to a heap of gravel and picked up a granule.

TEPCO plans to remove less than 3 grams (0.1 ounce) of debris in the test at the Fukushima plant.

“We believe the upcoming test removal of fuel debris from Unit 2 is an extremely important step to steadily carry out future decommissioning work,” said Yusuke Nakagawa, a TEPCO group manager for the fuel debris retrieval program. “It is important to proceed with the test removal safely and steadily.”

About 880 tons of highly radioactive melted nuclear fuel remain inside the three damaged reactors. Critics say the 30- to 40-year cleanup target set by the government and TEPCO for Fukushima Daiichi is overly optimistic. The damage in each reactor is different, and plans must accommodate their conditions.

Better understanding the melted fuel debris from inside the reactors is key to their decommissioning. TEPCO deployed four mini drones into the No. 1 reactor’s primary containment vessel earlier this year to capture images from the areas where robots had not reached.


Pope apologizes for using vulgar term against gay people


San Francisco’s Chinatown: Forged by discrimination, now a cultural treasure

America’s oldest Chinatown sustains traditions even as members of the Chinese diaspora continue to spread out and evolve. Matt Dibble has the story from San Francisco, California.