Making cheap water from thin air

ground-w-t-picWe had already covered LifeStraw, a ground-breaking invention that filters up to a thousand litres of contaminated water, used by millions around the world since 2005. But what if you could make gallons of drinking water from thin air for as little as eight cents a gallon?

Meet the Atmospheric Water Generation Unit (aka GEN-G), a water generator that can produce up to 210 gallons (approximately 800 litres) of purified drinking water. As impressive as making water from the air sounds, that isn’t the real breakthrough. The news is that Water-Gen, the Israeli-based startup behind the invention, claims to do it far more efficiently than others.

The portable unit captures atmospheric humidity and uses its “GENius” heat exchanger to cool the air and condense water vapour. “It looks simple, because air conditioning is extracting water from air. But the issue is to do it very efficiently, to produce as much water as you can per kilowatt of power consumed,” Co-CEO Arye Kohavi told CNN. The easily transferable technology was initially developed for the Israel Defense Forces, but Water-Gen is already selling to militaries in seven countries, including the US and India. 

The obvious thought that comes to mind is how handy this would be for developing countries, right? (and that we may be fine if we run out of water after all, I guess) But I personally don’t see how, since prices for the smaller model start at $18,000, and at $30,000 for the larger one. In other words, while making clean water with this generator is a bargain, the technology itself is clearly not. So unless Water-Gen makes some kind of generous deal to get these shipped to water-scarce regions, GEN-G is not that much of a life saver. However, there may be something in the works as Kohavi also said the future of the company’s products is in civilian uses.

Both the award-winning LifeStraw and GEN-G are pretty revolutionary, but the problem with such life-saving creations often lies in the complexity of making them accessible to those in real need. The World Health Organisation estimates that 780 million people still don’t have access to potable water, and that 3.4 million die every year thanks to water-borne diseases. 

Idi Amin

In 2006, The Last King of Scotland told the fictional story of a Scottish doctor who travelled to Uganda and became the personal physician of the dictator Idi Amin, a character immortalized by the brilliant performance of Forest Whitaker. Although the story of the movie was invented, it did show a partial portrait of one of the 20th century worst dictators of the African continent, Idi Amin Dada.

Born in the North of Uganda, in Koboko, Idi Amin grew up while his country was still a colony of the British empire. In 1946 he joined the British Colonial Army as an assistant cook, but by 1953 he was already a sergeant. His strength and size (1,95m) never passed unnoticed as he was the Ugandan box champion from 1950 to 1961.

In 1962, Britain granted Uganda its independence. By then, Idi Amin had built a close relationship with the new nation’s socialist prime minister, Milton Obote. He was promoted to army commander and worked closely with Obote until 1971, when he staged a military coup while Obote was attending a meeting in Singapore. By February 1971, Amid declared himself President of Uganda. Despite his promises to return to democracy, his eight years of leadership plunged the country into a human catastrophe and drove Uganda further away from peace.

As journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown argues in this documentary, the danger of Amin was that he was portrayed both as a fool and a villain. Big ego or simply ridicule, Idi Amin demanded many titles, among them those of “His excellency President for Life,  Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.”

Idi Amin dancing
Idi Amin performing ritual dancings

By the mid-1970s however, his titles were worth little as he became best known as the ‘Butcher of Uganda’ for his brutal authoritarian rule. According to Uganda’s Daily Monitor, between 80 000 and 300 000 people were killed during Idi Amin’s rule. Simple criminals, peasants, opponents, and especially, members of the tribes who had supported the previous government of Obote. Thousands of innocents were killed under Amin’s commands; many of them on National Television in order to spread terror amid the population.

His attitudes towards the international community most certainly granted him the worst  reputation. He did everything he could to provoke the British. In 1971, when Britain entered in recession, Amin started the Ugandan ‘Save the British Fund’ to collect food for the starving British. The following year, he expelled all Asians in Uganda with British passports. This measure backfired, as the Asian community represented the biggest business owners in the country, and for years, Uganda was incapable of assuring supply of goods as basic as sugar or butter.

Even more chocking were Amin’s comments following the 1972 Israeli massacre in Munich by Palestinian terrorists. As a revenge for Israel’s refusal to train Ugandan soldiers, Amin sent a telegram to the United Nations’ Secretary where he wrote “Hitler and all German people knew that the Israelis are not people who are working in the interest of the people of the world and that is why they burnt over six million Jews alive on the soil of Germany.”

Unfortunately, the tells of Amin’s actions are too numerous to count. His reign lasted eight years, and in 1979, his troops – which he had sent to Tanzania to annex the Kagera region – were defeated, and the Tanzanian forces took over Uganda. Mr Amin fled to Libya, and later to Saudi Arabia, where he died in 2003.

He was never judged for his crimes.

Read more about Idi Amin in The New York Times and in The Guardian. And if you haven’t, make sure you watch The Last King of Scotland.

Legalize It?

On the 31st of July 2013, the Uruguayan House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize and regulate cannabis production, sale and consumption, bill that was enacted by the President José Mujica. Hence, it became the first country in the world to have such a measure.

Since then, several United States’ States have also pursued this course, and it is undeniable that the question of legalizing marijuana is one of the hot topics in Western countries. Countries such as The Netherlands or Bangladesh were already known for their permissive laws regarding cannabis, and other States allow its use for medical purposes.

Drug wars – specially in Latin America – are certainly a worldwide problem and unregulated consumption of drugs as well.

Cannabis has been used throughout the centuries, from a spiritual use (particularly in India) to strictly recreational purposes. With the International Opium Convention of 1925 (the first international treaty that deals with drug control), “Indian hemp”, which is another word for cannabis or marijuana, was banned from exportation to certain countries, while in those which continued to import it, there was an obligation to use it exclusively for medical or scientific purposes.

With a growing awareness of the damages caused by drugs, international regulation became increasingly stricter towards the use and sale of cannabis, nowadays being illegal to pass it from one country to another, since the majority of the world maintains repressive legislations.

What arguments can be brought forward for and against marijuana legalization?

One must keep in mind that cannabis is a drug and that it causes psychoactive effects. Current research shows that it even causes brain damages in young adult’s brains. Nevertheless, many claim that it is the most innocent of drugs, since compared to other hard drugs, it causes little dependency and very few physical damages.

But then again, aren’t there other drugs, known for causing much more deaths, such as tobacco and alcohol, that are completely legal in most countries in the world? It is undeniable that if legalized, cannabis surely needs high regulation.

The legalization and regulation of cannabis could help significantly reduce illegal trade, the black market and drug-related crime. Furthermore, if legalized, it would be possible to apply taxes to cannabis consumption, which would definitely represent a big increase in State’s revenues. According to the press, in a State such as California, in the United States, cannabis represents sales of approximately $15 billion per year. In taxes, that would mean that at least $1.3 billion could be raised every year. Could you imagine how this money could be used in a good way, such as scientific research? In Colorado, the tax of 15% on wholesale marijuana has brought 40% more in taxes than initially predicted, and its legal sale is apparently causing quite a success.

Legalize it?

#AdiósAdolfoSuárez . By Silvia González Marroquín

#AdiósAdolfoSuárez: A small tribute to the man that could promise, and promised.

(Un pequeño homenaje al hombre que pudo prometer, y prometió.)

When we think about the Spanish Transition, terms such as consensus, pact, dialogue, democracy, rapidly appear in our memory, as well as the names of two men: Juan Carlos and Adolfo Suárez. Two elected men, not by the people, but elected (what a paradox, don´t you think?): the first one by Francisco Franco, and the second by his majesty the King, to accompany Spain towards democracy. It was not an easy task, because it was not easy to assure anything, between the happiness of many, and the tears of others, the dictatorship died and democracy was conceived. Our democracy was conceived by men and women, and Adolfo Suárez is without any doubt one of its recognized fathers. He led the Transition, without any valid models or references, as he himself highlighted it: “we were our own precedent”.

Well yes, Adolfo Suárez, the advocate of dialogue and consensus, revolutionized Spain´s History without revolutions. At the age of 43 and after 9 years in politics, this unknown technocrat, with little support from the elite of the time, achieved in only two years and a half to walk Spain from a dictatorial State to a constitutional democracy. He did it with a surprising integrity for those who still resisted accepting the waves of change in Spain by confronting the destabilizing canon shots of the extreme right and terrorism. He achieved his goals: he was able to elect a Parliament by universal suffrage for the first time since 1936, to draft the Constitution which was adopted by referendum, and to set the foundation for a democracy rooted in values of dialogue, understanding and harmony, in which the voice of all could be heard and listened to.

Those who today pay a tribute to Adolfo are those who once led to his withdrawal from what was already becoming a Roman circus. The defensive rise of Felipe González, the revival of Suarez´s past in the National Movement, joined with the UCD´s internal divisions, weakened him. The Spaniard´s disappointment and discomfort in 1980, together with civil-military conspiracies, carried Adolfo to humbly resign from the presidency of the Government.

The political animal and courageous democrat remained. On February 23, Suárez attended the investiture of his successor Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, when a Lieutenant Colonel of the Guardia Civil, a certain Antonio Tejero, attempted against the rule of law, the one that was costing so much to build, penetrating the democratic body with weapons. All deputies fell to the ground, all but three: Gutiérrez Mellado, Santiago Carrillo and Suárez.

Perhaps it was his political and personal generosity, which characterized him until the last moments of his life, leading him to express himself in this way when receiving the last visit of his confessor: “I’m always ready to give and to receive forgiveness “; perhaps it was his courage and vision of public affairs; perhaps his unwavering loyalty to the King and Spain; or perhaps the humility of a Christian, who combined his spiritual integrity with the great duties of a democracy thirsty for freedoms; perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. What is certain for me is that Suárez is one of the few Spanish men and politicians who inspire me.

His death has filled the Spanish society, which is going through a context of widespread political tension, complaints and alleged marches for dignity, with the nostalgia of a glorious past, in which prevailed the values of integrity, dialogue and consensus. Politicians and citizens must now go through the exercise of rethinking their duties and citizenship respectively, in our democracy, and avoid the temptation of threatening its principles which were championed by its founders, precisely the power of the word, integrity and courage against violence.

Neither the three days of official mourning, nor the more than 30,000 condolences and tributes that visited the funeral chapel, nor the almost unconditional recognition from the whole political spectrum, seems to me as sufficient to pay a rightful tribute to the courage, vision and faith of this statesman.

Demonstrations of affection are appreciated, but must go beyond political correctness. The real tribute is to change this circus in which the law of the jungle prevails. The real tribute is that each Spaniard makes an exercise of introspection, and applies the same level of requirement to others and to himself. Precisely today, when Spain is going through hard times we should remember the journey, not sublimating it, and look forward to the road that lies ahead. Neither the crisis nor the hardships or difficulties can make us forget that we owe ourselves to Spain, to a democratic Spain. It’s time to remember that citizens and politicians must keep working together for a society in which pluralism is respected and where the legality of the institutions is truly consolidated. I want to believe that with his death, Adolfo wanted to fill us with a message: the return to the spirit of the Transition, a spirit of harmony and of the construction a common project. A moment from which many good things blossomed, despite the fact that is was neither obvious nor easy to promise anything, as today it is not either.

Let’s give thanks and dedicate him a fairer, a more democratic, a better Spain. We need a reformer and visionary now! Lets be inspired by Adolfo, his moderation and humility as a man, a citizen, a politician and a Spaniard, but also by his weaknesses, in order to demand more from our politicians as citizens, but without forgetting that as citizens, we are called to aspire to be a little more like Suárez.

Gracias Presidente!

SILVIA GONZALEZ MARROQUIN is a Law student at Sciences Po Paris. She was raised between the US, France and Spain. She’s currently studying Law at IE University in Madrid.  

Al midan – The Square

The people demand the downfall of the regime” – is the motto of this documentary set deep inside the Egyptian Revolution. The uprising in Egypt was one of the ground-breaking movements of the so called “Arab Spring” (wrongly, I believe). It was a landmark, on so many levels, as people stood up to demand the resignation of a dictator who had spent the last 40 years in power – Hosni Mubarak.

We all know the story – from the occupation of Tahrir square, to the repressive measures taken by the President and, finally, his actual resignation. We have also become too familiar with the roller-coaster it has been since Mubarak was toppled: the Islamic brotherhood, shunned for so many years, saw the opportunity and got one of its own elected President – Mohamed Morsi.

The Brotherhood turned out not to be what it had promised and the shortcomings of the Islamic state model – that we have analysed here, at the J.R. Chronicle – became apparent and the rebellions re-started.

Morsi was toppled by the military and a new government and constitution are on its way, with rising protests on the streets, especially in universities.  But we all know this, it’s in the news. What we do not know are the stories behind the news. That is what Al midan aims to show.

Starting in the roots of the revolution – at Tahrir square – this 2013 Oscar nominated documentary portrays the personal lives of several people and how they intervened, fought, adapted and lived in and through the uprisings. As it is so eloquently mentioned on the film’s own website, “The Square is an immersive experience, transporting the viewer deeply into the intense emotional drama and personal stories behind the news. It is the inspirational story of young people claiming their rights, struggling through multiple forces, in the fight to create a society of conscience”. For that, it won the Audience Award for World Cinema in the documentary category at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and the People’s Choice Award in the documentary category at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival.

el-meydan
Ahmed Hassan, one of the activists featured in the film. On The Square’s website he is described as “a born storyteller and street revolutionary. He is a key part of the defense of Tahrir in the 18 days leading up to Mubarak’s resignation, and all of the occupations of the square since. His hope is to create a new society of conscience in Egypt”.

It is a story only made possible using the technologies of the XXI century and that can only be told because that technological evolution has occurred. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, combined with smartphones, DSLR and action cameras have speaking up and sharing your thoughts a lot easier. That is what made the revolution in Egypt and that is what made this documentary possible.

From a personal point of view, these are the kind of stories that one can connect to, that are the most telling and, last but not least, the ones that are definitely worth reporting.

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The North Sentinel Island

In the Indian Ocean’s Bay of Bengal lies a group of islands known as the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Approximately 800 km South-East from India, the archipelago officially belongs to and is under administrative control of India.

The geographical location of the North Sentinel Island
The geographical location of the North Sentinel Island

The North Sentinel island is 72 square km large and belongs to this group of islands. Nevertheless, to say that it is under the control of India is almost laughable. Indeed, the North Sentinel is an autonomous region that is known for being the home of one of the most hostile indigenous tribes in the world: the Sentinels.

The North Sentinel Island seen from above
The North Sentinel Island seen from above

There are no records of this people having ever been into contact with the modern world, and the few encounters between strangers and the Sentinels have usually ended up in drama. 

They are supposedly close to the Jarawa and Onge tribes, which inhabit other islands of the Andaman archipelago. Nevertheless, despite some initial hostility, these last tribes have had normal contacts with the outside world, whereas the Sentinels are known for killing (or at least injuring) any person that sets foot on the island, including foreign fishermen. 

For that reason, the Indian government prohibits all visits to the islands. In 2004, the Tsunami that severely affected South-East Asia, had begun in the area of the Andaman islands. When a helicopter was sent by the Indian government to the North Sentinel island in look for survivors, it eventually turned around and left when several men armed with bows and arrows started to point at it. Thus, there are no records of how that population was attained by the tsunami. In fact, there are not even records accounting for the exact population of the island!

We know little to nothing about the habits of the people, but it is assumed that they are hunter-gatherers and do not know agriculture. Hence, the Sentinels remain one of the few isolated peoples in the world. This hostility and isolation are comprehensible, when we think that most that comes from the outside world has probably been violence and disease, much like the indigenous peoples during the colonizing period.

Check out this amazingly interesting documentary of 1975, entitled “Man in search of man”, about the Andaman’s peoples and which portraits the contact with the North Sentinel island starting from minute 10. While filming this, the director received an arrow on his leg.

Watching the 1974 Portuguese Revolution through Facebook

What would an 18 years old middle class Portuguese think in 1974? What would he write in his Facebook page if he had one?

For the last month, an unknown Portuguese writer has been feeding a Facebook page pretending to live in 1974 – the year when the Portuguese revolution put an end to almost half a century of conservative dictatorship.

Pedro Xavier

The author puts himself in the skin of Pedro Xavier, a young man who fled to France in 1973 as he refused to fight for the colonial war. Despite his rejection for the country’s regime, Pedro’s love for a Portuguese woman who stopped answering his letters makes him comeback to his country at a crucial historical moment.

We are in March 1974, just one month before the Carnation Revolution. Through Pedro Xavier’s Facebook page, we discover his clandestine journey to enter Portugal and his arrival in Lisbon where he has to hide from his neighbors who could denounce him to the political police. We follow his hunt for his disappeared girlfriend, and learn about the first actions that led to the revolution of April 25th.

25abril

More than a Facebook page, Pedro Xavier’s page seems like a book of very small chapters describing an exceptional event through the eyes of a young runaway. The essence of it is in the small details, such as the many photographies and the scanned newspaper articles and advertisements of the time. This brilliant idea actually seems like a whole new way to teach History.

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Unfortunately, the Facebook page is only available in Portuguese but you could always give it a try! And for those of you who read French, check out this article from Courriel International.

Nigeria: Africa’s top economy and its future

As of last Sunday, Nigeria is Africa’s top economy and the 26th largest in the world. The country underwent a process of recalculation, bringing the base year of calculus from 1990 to 2010 and its GDP jumped 89%. New data provides a more adequate assessment of the country’s economic structure and includes several important sectors that were previously excluded from the statistics. The film industry (the second biggest employer after the oil industry) telecoms, music, online sales, airlines and information technology are among them.

This new data, revised and approved by the IMF and World Bank paints a prettier picture of Nigeria’s economy, not just because it is 89% larger but also because it is more diversified (full data available here). As Africa’s biggest oil producer and exporter, Nigeria could have allowed its economy to be over dependent on the oil industry, as most producing countries are. Instead, the sector accounts for only 14.4% of National GDP (even if it is the source of 70% of the state’s revenues).

Nigeria
Source: Nigeria Bureau of Statistics

Agriculture and industry have 21,6% and 25,6% of the share, respectively, and  telecoms are now a huge part of the economy as well (see chart above). The sector accounts for 8,6% of GDP and has seen a rapid growth in the last few years, as mobile phones become more and more accessible to Nigeria’s 169 million citizens. Nollywood, the country’s film industry and second biggest employer, accounts for 1,4% of GDP. Services, as expected, dominate and are responsible for 51,9% of GDP.

All these indicators paint the picture of a healthy economy that is worth a second look by investors and could be the start of a new age of investment in Nigeria, and possibly in Africa. Often referred to as the “world’s richest continent”, Africa is poised for an economical boom and it is only a question of “when”. Adding to the already attractive indicators, is the fact that Nigeria’s economy is under performing. South Africa’s population of only 51 million managed to achieve a GDP of $372bn last year. With 169 million people living within its borders, Nigeria’s GDP stood at $509bn. Numbers that mean the country can dream of even more if it can improve its productivity. Investment should not be hard to find and, with public debt dropping to 11% of GDP, some of it can even come from the state.

However, there are some problems that the government must try to solve. Terrorism and violence are still a problem in the North, due mostly to the Islamic extremists of Boka Haram. Attacks continue to make headlines when it comes to African news and can be a major disincentive for possible investors. Another issue in Nigeria is inequality. While the economy has been growing steadfast, 60% of the county’s population live in extreme poverty, while at the top end, new multimillionaires emerge, each year. Such inequality can stifle violence, crime and instability, another investor deterrent, and can partly explain the prevalence of Boka Haram.

Narendra Modi (1950 – )

Narenda Modi (1950-) is an Indian politician and the front-runner to be India’s next prime minister.

A man of humble origins, Modi was born in a family belonging to the low Ghanchi caste, also known as “other backward class”. As a child, he worked with his father selling tea at railway stages and by the age of 8, he volunteered  to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), “a movement whose purpose was to see India remade as a Hindu state”.

Modi built his political career in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is based on right-wing Hindu nationalist ideals and represents today India’s second largest political force. He dedicated the last twenty years to the local government of Gujarat and the success of his economic policies made him gain national attention. Indeed, some even talk about a ‘Modinomics’ model.

Today chief minister of the Gujarat state, Modi is also the most likely future prime minister of India.

Despite his marriage with Jashodaben Chimanlal when he was only 13, Modi claims to have no family and uses his celibate as a political argument. At a time when India has been hit by countless corruption scandals, Modi embodies the figure of the last honest politician, claiming that because he has no family, he has no one that would profit from his election.

Yet, his populist rhetoric has its flaws. First, the economic success of Gujarat is challenged by many. Although many claim that Gujarat has become one of the most business-friendly states of India, others question its inclusiveness.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen points that Gujarat’s infant-mortality is more than three times that of Kerala, a much poorer state. And for Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris specialized in India, the Gujarati Muslims are facing much worse working conditions that other Gujaratis.

Another controversy surrounding the candidate is that Modi was investigated for complicity in the wake of the 2002 communal violences, a mass killing against the minority Muslim population in the state of Gujarat. He was cleared of all charges in 2011 but his lack of rapid reaction at the time of the events is certainly criticized by many.

If you’re interested in knowing a bit more about (probably) one of the most powerful future world leaders, don’t miss The Economist last week edition “Can anyone stop Narendra Modi?”  and the Washington Post “The two views of India’s Narendra Modi”.

In The Economist’s words, “If economics alone mattered, Mr Modi’s achievements in Gujarat suggest he is the man best placed to get India moving again. The problem is that political leaders are responsible for more. For all his crowds of supporters, his failures in 2002, and his refusal since to atone for them, or even address them, leave him a badly compromised candidate with much left to do”.

You can also read Rosa Perez’s article on The JR Chronicle about the indian elections, in case you missed it.