• SciDev.Net Podcast: Online wildfire fighters and more

    Lou Del Bello

If you are unable to listen to this audio, please upgrade your browser or click here to download the file [45.3 MB].

Of the 16 million people worldwide who are injection drug users, 3 million are HIV positive and 10 million have Hepatitis C. In this month’s podcast we first look at an effective approach to reducing harm from drug abuse. Earlier this year, the city of Vancouver in Canada hosted a global conference on HIV to discuss options for treatment and infection prevention. Vancouver is one of the first cities in North America to trial a new approach to drug harm reduction. The strategy — of providing heroin addicts with a safe space and sterile needles to inject — reduces the likelihood of people contracting viruses such as HIV or hepatitis C through sharing needles. This approach isn’t new. But practical examples of this measure are still rare. The system is working in Vancouver, but could it be exported to the developing world?
We then travel to Kenya to learn about simple rainwater harvesting systems called sand dams that are helping nomadic farmers adapt to climate change. As the weather in already arid regions becomes more erratic, the nomadic pastoralists who live there are struggling to cope. The arid Isiolo County in central Kenya was chosen to pilot new technologies designed to tackle water shortages. One of these technologies was sand dams, which provide clean water both for domestic and farming use. The project was so successful it is being expanded to four other counties, covering 29 per cent of the country.
From tiny rainwater harvesting systems to huge hydropower structures, we next look at the mega dams that are mushrooming across Africa, and discover that projects currently in the pipeline could cause 78,000 extra malaria infections each year. This may be just a small proportion of the continent’s total malaria burden, but it is one that could easily be avoided by including prevention in the risk assessment plans of every new hydropower plant.
Finally, we explore wildfires and discover how an online tool hopes to improve their management. Wildfires are not just a threat. They are also a natural event in many arid regions, helping to regulate ecosystems. They occur during the dry season in many parts of the world, from the United States to South Africa. Here in particular, about 70 per cent of the land is naturally adapted to fire and needs fire to maintain its ecological balance.
But fire can be dangerous for humans and their activities, and so must be managed. Lee Annamalai, a researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa, talks about AFIS, an online tool that merges data from satellites with crowdsourced information to detect wildfires and help speed up the emergency response.                                                                                                                                    
This month’s reporter are:
 Meera Senthilingam @Meera_Senthi
 Sophie Mbugua @Smbuguah