Monday, 25 July 2011

UN officially declares a famine in Somalia

Last week, the UN officially declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia. This is the first famine to hit Somalia since 1992 and although it is currently contained in the regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle, there are fears that this famine could spread throughout the rest of the country. The UN estimates that 2.5 million people in Somalia are in desperate need of assistance so why exactly has it taken so long for it to be officially classed as a famine?

Well, the main reason is that to define a famine is slightly more complex than simply a shortage of food, as some may think. In 2005, the UN established criteria to provide guidance to those needing to declare a famine and to help them allocate their limited resources. Therefore, the UN ranks food security into 5 stages, with famine being the fifth and most severe. They created 3 conditions that have to be met before a famine can be declared:-

- 20% of the population must have fewer than 2100 kilocalories of food available per day
- More than 30% of the children must be acutely malnourished
- 2 deaths per day in every 10,000 people or 4 deaths per day in every 10,000 children must be caused by a lack of food

National Governments have the responsibility to declare a state of famine but, due to the fear of the long term detrimental impact doing so could have on the way the country is perceived, many governments are reluctant to do so. In the case of Somalia, the UN had to step in and take control of the situation as there is a lack of central government in the country.

Until this month, aid agencies had been banned from working in quite large parts of Somalia by the Al-Shabab group, who exercise control over much of southern and central Somalia. It is hoped that the declaration of famine in southern Somalia will provoke greater international efforts to help tackle the situation, which is only likely to get worse without international intervention.

The worst drought in over half a century being experienced in the horn of Africa is to blame for the famine. So, what has created this bad drought?

Think back to the really bad floods experienced in Australia, Sri Lanka and Brazil earlier this year. Well they were caused by La Nina, however, La Nina does not increase rainfall across the globe and in fact, in some areas, it can drastically decrease rainfall. This is the effect that La Nina is having on the horn of Africa and it is one of the principal reasons why this area is experiencing a drought. The hope is that once the switch to El Nino occurs the rainfall will start again but at present, it could be a while until this switch occurs as there are no apparent signs that this is happening. Another factor that is believed to have made this drought so bad is the fact that the temperature of the Indian Ocean is warmer than it has been in previous years. This has provoked an increase in the precipitation over the sea which has reduced precipitation over the land. The rains have failed for three successive rainy seasons and two should occur each year (May to March and October to December).

The drought is, perhaps, the most influential contributory factor that has generated the famine but it is not the only reason…….

Conflict in the area has generated thousands upon thousands of refugees who further increase the population density of the area, meaning that there are more mouths to feed. Many of these refugees have been forced into Kenya and Ethiopia who, respectively, have a predicted 3.5 million and 3.2 million people in need of immediate assistance and this has only acted to increase the food and water shortages in these two neighbouring countries. Conflict, combined with other factors, has led to increases in both food and fuel prices, thereby meaning that affordable food is more and more of a problem. Farmers currently have to sell 5 goats to enable them to buy one 90kg bag of maize. One of the biggest issues is that around 65% of the population are Pastoralists and so make their living by raising and grazing livestock. The drought has caused many of their animals to die of dehydration, thus depriving people of their only food source and income. The lack of development in Somalia is responsible for leaving the Pastoralists vulnerable to such climate extremes as that currently being experienced as a lack of infrastructure, primarily roads and market centres, has closed off their easiest route to prosperity – something which many believe would insulate them from climate extremes.          

The conflict and control exercised over many regions of Somalia has slowed, and in some cases prevented, the aid getting through to the people who clearly so desperately need it. The UN has announced that they will begin airlifting food to Somalia on Tuesday and the World Bank has pledged $500 million in monetary aid - $12 million of which is being used for immediate assistance to the worst hit areas in East Africa. With more than 10 million people estimated to be at risk of starvation; the aid effort needs to be an internationally united one if it is to have the required effect. However, the aid effort cannot stop as soon as the food shortage has been solved. Money needs to be spent on making farming practices in Somalia more sustainable and productive so that food shortages are not a problem in the future. It is true that climate extremes such as the current drought, which has been triggered by La Nina, cannot be prevented but their impacts could be reduced. Improving transport links and infrastructure between rural and urban areas would allow for easier and more effective trade – something which would help prevent people for being isolated by similar climatic extremes.
This situation is far from being remedied and so if I were you I would monitor it and the effectiveness of the aid effort – this is an issue that could be linked easily to the Development and Globalisation module.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Are the 'Four Asian Tigers' a good model for developing countries?

The Four Asian Tigers have developed in a slightly different way to most of the other developed countries in the world. The question is though; is their chosen path of development one that developing countries should follow? And, if so, is this the contemporary way to develop?

Before I can answer these questions, I think I need to go back to the very beginning...........

Who are the Four Asian Tigers?
The term the Four Asian Tigers refers to the countries South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore (and primarily their economies) and the term started being commonly used in the 1970's. They are grouped in this way as since the 1960's they have all followed a similar path to development and went on to reach the fully developed status at the start of the 21st Century.

What did the Tigers do differently in terms of provoking development?
The conventional step taken to kick start development in the 1960's was to implement import substitution. This involved raising tarrifs to reduce the imports of consumer goods and thereby allowing a country's own industries to develop and stabilise. The Asian Tigers, however, decided to capitilse on the growing materlistic attitude developing in much of Europe and North America and so pursued an export-driven model of industralisation and development instead and this was achieved by rapidly increasing the production of goods that could be exported to the highly industralised nations of the world.

What common characteristics did the Tigers share?
These four countries have experienced very rapid growth and have had many things in common as they have done so:
- All four territories had a strong degree of Chinese influence, with most having a large ethnic Chinese community. Singapore had a population that included 75% ethnic Chinese, Hong Kong had 95% and Taiwan had 98%.
- They were relatively poor during the 1960's and had an abundance of cheap labour.
- They had non-democratic and relatively authoritarian political systems during the early years, so the governments could easily drive through their plans for economic development.
- They focused their development drive on exports to richer industralised nations rather than focusing on import substition, which meant that they built up trade surpluses with the industralised countries.
- The Tigers singled out education as a way of improving the productivity of the labour force and so they ensured that all children attended primary and secondary school. They then went on to invest heavily in the development of their university systems and in sending students to foreign universities.
- Domestic consumption and purchase of consumer goods was discouraged at first and this was done by placing a high tariff on imports. This high tariff on imports led to the encouragement of high saving rates which then allowed for specific areas of industry to be invested in.
- Trade unions were discouraged and in their place, governments encouraged managers to provide job security and other benefits in a paternalistic type of industrial organsiation.
- They all sustained double-digit rates for growth for decades.
- While industry was developing, agriculture was protected by subsidies and tariffs on non-essential imports. Land reforms were created to ensure that small and medium-sized farmers had security of tenure, which, in turn, encouraged them to invest in their land. This resulted in a cease in rural discontent and also allowed investment in the mechanisation of agriculture which released rural workers from the land and enabled for further industrialisation to occur.

Good or Bad???
This method of development seems to have worked for the Four Asian Tigers as, at the start of the 21st Centruy, they had all reached high positions in the ranking of countries by total GDP but is this path to development applicable to other countries or, in fact, should developing countries be encouraged to use the Tigers as role-models and therefore mirror they way in which they developed?

Well the Asian Tigers have received quite a bit of criticism from economists and geographers and their development has not been as smooth as it may first sound.

The biggest criticism they have faced is focused on the fact that they have relied on exports, at the cost of home demand, to develop. This has left the Tigers incredibly reliant on the economic health of their targeted export nations - a very risky factor to rely on! Their early development was also based on the utilisation of their abundant cheap labour force; which has now been rivalled and surpassed by the likes of China and India; who are agruably emerging as almost like the new tigers as they have incredibly fast growing economies.

However, fast expansion of a country's economy is not necessarily a good thing and, in the 1990's, the Four Asian Tigers learnt this lesson the hard way. Their economies had expanded so fast (too fast in reality) that their growth provoked the prices of properties, stocks and shares to become overvalued. This caused several of the stock markets to collapse, thereby creating a worldwide financial crisis. After much social unrest and political instability the Tigers had to recieve help from the International Monetary Fund.

Thankfully, since the 1990's crisis most of the Tiger economies have become finanically stable and now have stronger companies and regulatory frameworks in place to prevent another similar crisis. However, this has shown many Asian governments that the easy and predictable prosperity of export-led growth and cheap labour costs will not last forever. The emerging manufacturing giants of China and India are forcing the Tigers to look into creating new industries that add more value and create stronger service sectors to help provide strong demand at home, so that they can compete.

The question I really want to answer though is, should developing countries try and copy the journey taken by the Tigers?

I am not really sure, to be honest, and there is clearly no right or wrong way to develop. The 1990 crisis shows that it is ever so dependent on the economic health of other countries - something I think is extremely risky in the current global economic climate. I also question just how sustainable this development is, due much in part to its dependency on many influential factors beyond their control, but then again, as I do more and more reading around the subject of development, I struggle to see if development as we know it is actually sustainable at all (another rather large debate though so perhaps I will leave it for another blog post!). On the other hand, it seems to be an alternative to what I think I would class as the 'old-fashioned' development that utilised colonialism as the building blocks/foundations and so could, perhaps, be used be other similar countries. So, what do you think, are the Tigers a good model for other countries?

Friday, 15 July 2011

Geography Picture of the Day - Volcano erupts on Sulawesi

Thousands of people have been forced to flee the Indonesian island of Sulawesi after Mount Lokon started erupting yesterday afternoon. As yet, there have been no reports of casualties but this is perhaps thanks to the fact that over the last month there has been a significant increase in volcanic activity in the area and so people were already aware of a possible eruption. Only two days ago the alert status was raised to the highest level. Prior to the eruption a two mile evacuation zone was established and, so far, 4,400 of the 28,000 people that live in that area have been evacuated - the evacuation process is still underway.

The 1,580 metre, Mount Lokon is one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia - although there are many - and it last erupted in 1991. This lastest eruption has seen ash, sand and rocks thrown some 1500 metres into the air.

Yet another volcanic eruption - I would keep an eye on the situation!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Gaia, by James Lovelock - A student's book review

I read this book over a week ago now but have been putting off writing a review as I was not, and still am not, 100% sure what excatly to say - but I am going to give it go!
This book puts forward the idea that the Earth functions as if it was a living organism and is entirely based on the Gaia hypothesis. The Gaia hypothesis suggests that the physical and chemical condition of the surface of the Earth, of the atmosphere, and of the oceans has been and is actively made fit and comfortable by the presence of life itself. This is in contrast to the conventional wisdom which held that life adapted to the planetary conditions as it and they evolved their seperate ways - this describes the original Gaia hypothesis which is now acknowledged to have been wrong. It also includes the belief that life does not regulate or make the Earth comfortable for itself. Lovelock believes that regulation, at a state fit for life, is a property of the whole evolving system of life, air, ocean, and rocks and that, since it has a mathematical basis in the model Daisyworld and makes testable predictions, can be known as the Gaian Theory. The Gaia theory is not contrary to Darwin's discovery of evolution by the process of natural selection but instead is a development of it and this book is, essentially, the account of a journey through space and time in search of evidence to support Lovelock's interesting view - one that I have to admit have never given much thought to - of our planet and all the organisms that inhabit it.

The book is constantly asking questions - all of which are extremely thought provoking - but one of the first is what is life? When I first read it, I thought what an odd question to ask, but try defining it......... I spent ages trying to do so but got absolutely no where!

To put you out of your misery, the definition given in the book is "A common state of matter found at the Earth's surface and throughout its oceans. It is composed of intricate combinations of the common elements hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorous with  many other elements in trace quantities. Most forms of life can instantly be recognized without prior experience and are frequently edible. The state of life, however, has so far resisted all attempts at a formal physical definition. " So, did you get anywhere close to that? 

Anyway, the book investigates knowledge of various feedback systems to try and prove that the Earth, as a living organism, responds to changes in conditions - some of which are as a result of our existance like pollution - to maintain a state of constancy. There are numerous examples of this and, of course, a few links to the future and climate change.  

Overall, I would suggest that any Geography student reads this book. I must mention though that is was written a while ago and so there are some scientific mistakes which, in the new added preface the author does address and explains why he chose not to correct them. Despite it being intended for the non-scientists it does include quite a bit of science (although, on reflection, not in much challenging detail) - especially Chemistry. It covers a wide range of topics related to Geography but be warned, you need to read this with an open mind and it will make you think an awful lot!

I am sorry that this is such a bad book review but this book presented so many new and intriguing ideas that I am still trying to process. So, all I can really say is read it and then let me know what you think!!!

Blood Diamond - A student's film review

My Geography film of the week this week was Blood Diamond - a film I had never previously watched but a family member suggested it might be of interest to me in relation to the Development and Globalisation module..... and they were right!

Blood Diamond is set during the explosive 1999 civil war in Sierra Leone and follows the story of the unlikely friendship that develops between an ex-mercenary turned smuggler, a Mende fisherman and a journalist who is trying to make the Western world aware of the dire situation in Sierra Leone. These people are forced to join together as they try to complete seperate, but all desperately dangerous, missions : recovering a rare pink diamond of immense value, rescuing the fishermen's son who has been conscripted as a child soldier into the brutal rebel forces and telling the story, to the rest of the world, of the origins of the diamonds that the comsumers in the developed world desire at the lowest possible price.


I don't want to give to much away about what happens in the film as I think it is one of those films that is intended to shock you!
Is it a good Geography film to watch? Definetly!!! This film covers numerous issues that I am sure are going to be raised as we continue to move through the Development and Globalisation module. You get an immediate insight into life in Sierra Leone - a country that alternates between times of peace and beauty and times of bloodshed. The film forces the issue of the diamond trade upon the watcher and makes them see the impacts that the desire of the developed world for affordable diamonds has on the people of exploited coutnries, like Sierra Leone. Afterall, without a consumer there would be no market for the trade of such goods. This made me think about lots of things but one thought that stuck in my mind was, what would the countries of Africa be like today if they didn't have the raw materials that the Western world wants to exploit? Would we have still colonialised the countries? Would we still ensure some sort of control/influence in them today? And so, essentially, how has their abundance of resources, such as rare earth minerals, influenced their development? One of the other issues that features throughout is that of the civil war and the impacts it has had on the country and its people. Unfortunately, children in many countries are still conscripted as child soldiers by rebel forces. Much of the civil war experienced throughout Africa is, arguably, an unintended, detrimental, side-effect of colonialism (this is rather a big topic so I will leave this for a future blog post!) and so, in preparation for our first essay when we go back; this is quite a good film to watch as an introduction to the topic. So,overall, I would recommend that you watch this film as it makes you think about quite a few key issues surrounding African development, influences of the developed world and the impact of colonialism.

A Painted Veil - A student's review

I watched this film a while ago and whilst doing some research for the group work we had to do over the past few weeks (my group did Haiti) I realised that its link to Geography was not as tenuous as I first believed.
The film is based on the classic novel by W.Somerset Maugham and, set in 1920, follows the story of a young English couple, Walter, a middle-classed doctor, and Kitty, an upper-class woman. They get married for the wrong reasons and relocate to Shanghai, where she falls in love with someone else. Then, in an act of venegance when he uncovers her infidelity, he accepts a job in a remote village in China ravaged by a deadly epidemic, and insists that Kitty accompany him - and this is where the link to Geography can be found!

The deadly epidemic that is ravaging through the Chinese village is cholera; the same water-bourne disease that claimed so many lives in Haiti after the earthquake last year. The film provides an insight into the causes of cholera and why it is such a huge problem in underdeveloped countries. It claims so many lives and simple things like a safe, clean water supply and sufficient sewage systems prevent it from doing so. It also demonstrates the issues surrounding the prevention of the spread of this water-bourne disease, with particular reference to the impact of religious beliefs - especially burial traditions. Many people, like the villagers in the film, like to hold on to the bodies of the dead for a while before burying them, often near water sources. This often further fuels the epidemic and this issue is something that is common between the film and the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The film also presents the oppurtunity for the watcher to make comparisions between the level of development (bearing in mind it is set in 1920) in London, Shanghai and the Chinese village experiencing the cholera epidemic and also touches on the political instability present at the time in China.

So, is this a good Geography film? Well, its link to Geography is slightly more tenuous than some of the other films I have watched lately, but it is still definetly worth a watch! Throughout you get to see some spectacular footage of the Chinese countryside and you get an insight in what life was like in China at that time. The reflection, provided by the film, of the impacts of cholera on a region can easily be linked to our current module and helps you to gain an understanding of the issues that Haiti faced whilst trying to deal with the cholera outbreak, whilst also dealing with the aftermath of the devasting earthquake.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Rostow Model of Development

The Rostow Model of Development was created in 1960 by an American, W.W.Rostow. He based the Model, which represents economic development, on 15 countries - most of which were European - and suggested that it was possible for all countries to break  the viscious cycle of poverty and develop through the 5 linear stages that construct his model.
- A subsistence economy based on basic agriculture. The outputs are consumed by the producers instead of being exchanged and the only trade that exists is the barter/exchange of items required for living (not done for profit). Agriculture is crucial to daily life and the only industry that exists. The work is very labour intensive as there is very limited technology. Other than the land for food production there is very limited exploitation of raw materials and so the development of other industries and services is also restricted.
- Agriculture starts to become more commercialised as mechanization occurs. Other industries start to emerge, although one will take dominance (this is usually textiles), and resources start to be exploited.  TNC's start to invest and this further provokes the development of industries. This investment is known as FDI = Foreign Direct Investment.
Stage 3: TAKE-OFF
- This stage is characterised by the dominating presence of the multiplier effect - also known as the Model of Cumulative Causation. Industrialisation increases and workers switch from working the land to working in factories thereby kick-starting the process of urbanisation. Political and social reforms and improvements occur in conjunction with the industrialization. Infrastructure continues to be developed but growth often remains only in a few regions in the country = growth poles.
- Growth becomes self-sustaining as it is now supported by technological innovation. The population continues to grow and rapid urbanisation starts to occur. Earlier industries start to decline as manufacturing takes dominance and a wider range of industries develop. Economic growth becomes more evenly distributed throughout the country due to a process of filter through - this occurs via Cumulative Causation .
- The initially exploitative industries move elsewhere and any remaining industries shift production to durable consumer goods. A rapid expansion of tertiary industry occurs.

One of the main shifts that occur as a country moves through the 5 stages of the Rostow Model of Development is within the employment sector and the changes that occur here reflect those that happen within industry.

- The model is quite old (created in 1960) and, perhaps, oversimplified. Its age prevents it from taking into account new technologic and scientific advances that have accelerated developement.
- It is very Eurocentric and so perhaps reflects Westernisation more than it does development as all countries development differently and at different rates.
- The model makes the presumption that all countries start with the same foundations i.e have the same climate, amount of natural resources and same population size/structure and this is not in fact that case.
- Money is clearly needed for a country to move beyond stage 1 and often, knowadys, this money is provided via international aid. However, debt repayments often restrict further advancements - something which is not taken into account in the model.
- This model is based on the development of countries like the UK. Our development was, agruably, at the expense of others, through colonialism. This model underestimates the importance of colonialism in the early development of many of the nations it is based on.

- It provides a general path for development and splits this path into 5 stages. This enables countries to use it as a rough guide to development.
- To some extent all countries can be compared to it.
- It is easy to understand.
- In conjunction with the Demographic Transition Model, it can be used to generate population policies.

Thursday, 7 July 2011


Foraminiferids are microscopic, single-celled organisms which secrete shells composed of calcium carbonate. They are also the organisms which I attempted to pronounce (and if you are in my EPQ group will realise that I failed to do so) the name of today!!! I only mentioned them in passing today and so, as they are really quite interesting, I thought I would write a short post about them and why they are important to my EPQ.

There are two main species of Foraminiferids - the planktonic foraminiferids which live on the sea surface and the benthic foraminiferids which live on the ocean floor in the deepest oceans. I am only really concerned with the planktonic species as they very cleverly alter their body architecture in relation to changes in sea temperature. The planktonic species (if you are interested their proper name is Neogloboquadrina pachyderma - a name which I am not even going to attempt to say!) live in the oceans located in high latitudes and can be found in two varieties. The prinicpal difference between the two varities is the way in which they coil and, the direction in which they do so is determined by sea temperatures. The variety that coils to the right live in ice-free water whereas the variety that coil to the left reside in waters where sea ice is common. Therefore there distribution in cores of ocean-floor sediments can be used to show when, in the North Atlantic Ocean, there were periods when it was covered in sea ice and wasn't. Not only do Foraminiferid studies provide an insight into past sea ice conditions of the high latitude oceans but they also enable for the construction of sea surface temperature maps to occur. This is thanks to studies of a collection of species of modern Foraminiferids which show that their distribution across all the Earth's oceans is determined by ocean temperatures. For example, of the 16 most common planktonic foraminiferids, 1 is limited to high latitudes, 5 to middle latitudes, 5 in middle and lower and the remaining 5 in solely low latitudes. This allows for assemblages of Foraminiferids to be indentified that characterise polar, subpolar, tropical and subtropical waters, both today and in ocean-floor sediment cores. These studies have enabled a north-south profile of the Atlanitc to be drawn which summarises the changes through time in the planktonic foraminiferids. These profiles show many things including the fact that hardly any change, if any, occured in temperature  in the south of Spain whilst the high latitudes were affected by incursions of polar waters during both the last and penultimate glacial period. By looking into the abundance of the varieties that seasonally flourish, surface-water isotherms can also be plotted. These are really useful as, by comparing the temperature distribution around 18ka ago with present day conditions, it becomes apparent that the warm-water currents of the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift (which are play a dictatorial role in determining the climate of western Europe) were not operating, 18ka ago, to warm the north-east Atlantic as they do today.

By gaining an understanding into the past climates, provided by the insight into past ocean conditions gained via the distribution of this tiny organism, more educated predictions into both future atmospheric circulations and ocean ciruclations will be able to be developed.

Structure of the atmosphere

As ocean circulations and atmospheric circulations are a couple system, I need to have a basic understanding of the atmosphere and so what better place to start that the structure of the atmosphere!

The atmosphere is split up into 4 main zones, each of which has distinct characteristics......

TROPOSPHERE:- this zone lies closest to the Earth and is the zone where the majority of the weather processes take place. It exhibits the highest temperatures as solar radiation warms the Earth's surface which, in turn, warms the air directly above it (via convection, conduction a d radiation).  However, this effect decreases rapdily with distance away from the surface and air temperature drops by 6.4 degrees Celcius with every 1000m gained in height. Wind speeds also increase with increasing altitude as frictional drag with the surface plays a diminishing role. This is the mst unstable layer and contains most water vapour and particulate matter. The end of the troposphere is marked by the TROPOPAUSE which is an isothermal layer where the temperature remains constant, despite the increase in altitude. The tropopause marks the upper limit of the zone of weather and climate.

STRATOSPHERE:- this zone is characterised by a steady increase in temperature (this is known as a temperature inversion) as a result of solar radiation by the ozone layer. The ozone layer absorbs much of the incoming UV radiation that would be harmful to humans otherwise. the atmosphere is noticeably thinner in this zone as pressure decreases with height and there is a lack of vapour and dust. Wind speeds increase with height tomwards the STRATOPAUSE - another isothermal layer.

MESOSPHERE:- temperature declines rapidly to c.-90 degrees Celcius in this zone as there is not water vapour or particulate matter to absorb radiation. it is characterised by very strong winds (often approaching 3000km/hr) and culminates in another isothermal layer known as the MESOPAUSE.

THERMOSPHERE:- this is so named because of the increase in temperature resulting from the absorption of UV radiation by the atomic oxygen found at this altitude.