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Opinions: Media Coverage Of Japan’s Natural Disasters; Water Shortages; U.S. Support Of PMTCT; U.S. Influence On Global Food Prices; Fasting For Food Aid

When Media Loses Perspective, Costs Run High

In a Boston Globe op-ed, former Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) argues the “volume and tone of the news coverage” following the events at the Fukushima nuclear facility triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami “were out of proportion to the significance of the broader events across Japan.”

Sununu outlines several lessons to be learned by the disaster that he feels were overlooked in media coverage, for instance: “[T]here is perspective to be gained by looking at the enormous human cost of this natural disaster compared with others that we are actually empowered to overcome. In sub-Saharan Africa each year, 800,000 people die from malaria. The pills necessary to save each life cost less than $2. It’s not a sensational story; it isn’t in our backyard; it doesn’t induce fear the way stories of radiation might. It’s no one’s fault, and everyone’s fault. It’s a failure of logistics, government infrastructure, health care systems, and funding.”

He concludes, “When individuals lose perspective, they make poor choices about their personal lives, safety, or finances. When the mass media lose perspective, it’s another matter altogether. We are left with public policy driven by emotion and misperception, which costs us all in terms of time, effort, money, and lives” (3/28).

What Water Shortages Could Mean For Future Business, Global Economy

“Without doubt the world’s most essential commodity is water. But despite its critical importance to life on earth, water is taken for granted and the impending issue of water scarcity remains largely invisible and neglected,” Ran Sanghera, lead water analyst at Eiris, writes in a Financial Times opinion piece calling on businesses to do more to promote water sustainability.

Sanghera outlines several ways water shortages will impact businesses – from undermining operations to escalating costs. “Water scarcity will not only threaten businesses. It will threaten the world economy. Under a business-as-usual scenario there will not be enough water to grow the food or agricultural raw materials that will be required and there will not be enough water to secure the energy supplies of some countries,” Sanghera writes. “In addition, as countries use more water than they have and damage the environment, the economic value of ecosystems will be lost,” he says, concluding, “Companies and investors that ignore these risks will put themselves at significant risk” (3/27).

Efforts To Reach Water, Sanitation MDG Should Center Attention On Cities

In a Times LIVE opinion piece, Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, chairman of the U.N. Secretary-General’s advisory board on water and sanitation, writes of the current gaps in water and sanitation services in urban areas throughout the world and potential opportunities for improvement to help meet the related U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target.

“By extending water and sanitation services to the most needy, public and private entities stand to benefit from expanded tax bases and returns on investment. And, most importantly, millions of Africans would enjoy a measurable increase in their standard of living,” Willem-Alexander writes. “Ensuring that the cities of tomorrow deliver the promise of a better life starts with the provision of basic services such as water, sanitation, energy and education. Our future depends on it” (3/26).

Now Is Not The Time To Scale Back U.S. Funds For PMTCT

“Over the past several years, the U.S. commitment to global HIV and AIDS programs has saved the lives of millions of men, women and children, particularly in countries throughout Africa where the burden of HIV weighs heavily on women and children,” Fortunata Kasege, foundation ambassador and advocate with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, writes in a Houston Chronicle opinion piece, where she describes the impact of such programs that support the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, or PMTCT. 

“Currently, we are reaching 53 percent of women around the world who need services to prevent the transmission of HIV to their babies. This is up from just 15 percent five years ago and a sign of incredible progress,” Kasege, who grew up in Tanzania and is currently living with HIV writes. “Cutting funding now,” as proposed last month by the House of Representatives, “would reverse this trend and have detrimental effects: According to government estimates, 100,000 fewer pregnant women would receive services to protect their infants from the virus, likely resulting in 20,000 babies needlessly infected with HIV – that’s 20,000 preventable infections.”

“U.S. budget problems are real, but they are not caused by effective global health programs that are saving lives,” Kasege writes. “We cannot lose sight of the lifesaving impact of HIV/AIDS services, funded through the generosity of the American people” (3/25).

How The U.S. Contributes To ‘High, Volatile Food Prices’

In a Financial Times letter in response to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s recent opinion piece in the newspaper, Gawain Kripke, director of Policy and Research at Oxfam America, writes while “Vilsack … did a lot to introduce complexity into the conversation about rising food prices,” he failed to offer “introspection on the ways that the U.S. contributes to high and volatile food prices.”

In addition to “gloss[ing] over the fact that the U.S., the world’s biggest producer and exporter of corn, is converting almost 40 percent of this year’s harvest into fuel – and the significant impact this has on food supplies and prices” – Vilsack “neglected to mention the billions of dollars in farm commodity subsidies that distort the market and make agriculture a more difficult livelihood for the billions of unsubsidised farmers around the world, undermining increased production in developing countries. Nor did he come forward with proposals to reform a bureaucratic and wasteful international food assistance programme that loses close to half its budget to red tape and special interests,” he writes (3/25).

Fasting For Food Programs 

In a Huffington Post piece, Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, describes his plans to participate in a one-week, water-only fast beginning March 28 to raise awareness of “programs that new budget proposals threaten to cut in the name of reducing the deficit.”

“Right now, just 14 cents for every dollar in the federal budget is spent on domestic social safety-net programs, not including health insurance and Social Security. Beyond that, less than 1 cent for every dollar is spent on foreign assistance that helps hungry and poor people,” Beckmann writes, adding, “Ironically, these programs are on the chopping block as Congress attempts to balance the budget. Cutting them would do far more damage than good.” Beckmann concludes, “We must not abolish the support systems in place for vulnerable people without a plan to replace them. This is a moral imperative, but also a practical one. It is bad economics to do away with support systems for millions of people who can’t afford to provide for themselves and their families” (3/25).