Environmental vs Bureaucracy Issues

These last few days have been difficult ones for aviation companies, holiday firms and a high number of European and Scandinavian countries. A volcano in Iceland has recently erupted sending tons of lava into the atmosphere which in turn has created volcanic ash, a known irritant to engines. It produces minute particles which act as a grinding medium to blunt or stultify the effective running of an engine, causing it to seize and stop – even to the point of producing fire through the effort.

There is grave concern about the effect on the respiratory systems of children and adults who suffer from asthmatic conditions if the cloud of ash begins to sink to the earth. What amazes me about this particular situation is the reluctance on the part of hoteliers, tour companies and the like to extend a supportive hand to assist the holiday makers to enjoy an extended stay in their countries. There are tales of people being stranded at airports because the hotels would not allow them to stay, yet there are no replacement tourists coming to take their places.


At the time of writing this article, 23 countries have been affected by the cloud. A news article on a terrestrial network this morning confirmed my cynicism – tourists wishing to travel back to the UK on car ferries have been informed by the French authorities that they must have a vehicle in order to board. A number of people bought cycles. They began to push them up the ramps into the ferry but were stopped and informed that they had to travel ON the vehicle despite having cases and bags which they had somehow managed to balance on the bikes; they had to leave them and try to ride the cycles up steep ramps. Is this merely bureaucracy gone wrong or is there something more sinister afoot?

And More Bureaucracy

A few years ago I was involved in consultations with local authorities in England who wished to bid for funding to provide play for children and young people in the more deprived areas of their towns and countryside. There was a fantastic sum of money to gain and surprisingly few local authorities put in bids. The money was not re-allocated anywhere else.

The main justification given for not applying for this funding was the administrative hoops that were put in place during the application stage. The form-filling was tedious and protracted. Most people really wanted to put this money to practical use, but the road to the funding was littered with bureaucratic pitfalls and time-consuming irrelevant tasks which no one had the time or the inclination to complete.

Environmental Hazards

We are informed that more children are likely to suffer from respiratory or skin conditions due to the changes in farming methods, increased pollutants in the atmosphere and a serious lack of hygiene knowledge especially in our hospitals and other places where sick or contagious individuals gather.

The article below published by the Health Protection Agency identifies the rational for a UK-wide Children’s Environment and Health Strategy

Children and young people can be more vulnerable to the health impacts of environmental hazards than adults. This is because their bodies are still developing; they have different levels and patterns of exposure from adults, and as a result of their behaviour, and lack of awareness of environmental hazards and risk. In 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed the Children’s Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe (CEHAPE) to help bring about a reduction in the burden of disease amongst children attributable to environmental risk factors.

All 53 countries of the WHO European Region, including the UK, committed to develop national children’s environment and health action plans and, specifically, to address four Regional Priority Goals, which are to:

  1. reduce gastro-intestinal disorders by ensuring access to safe, affordable water and adequate sanitation;
  2. prevent and reduce the health impacts of accidents and injuries, and pursue a decrease in morbidity from lack of physical exercise;
  3. prevent and reduce respiratory disease by ensuring children live in an environment with clean indoor and outdoor air quality;
  4. reduce exposure to chemical, physical and biological hazards.

Why Do We Need a Strategy?

Children and young people (under 19 years of age) represent a substantial proportion (about 25 per cent, 14.8 million) of the UK population (ONS, 2008), the majority of whom experience excellent health and wellbeing. Whilst it is difficult to quantify the burden of disease amongst children due to environmental factors, it is well established that the environment can have a significant impact on health and wellbeing, particularly amongst children.

For example, clean water and food influence gastro-intestinal disease, and levels of air pollution affect respiratory health. Environmental factors also influence obesity, unintentional injuries, mental health and wellbeing, and environmental factors have been implicated as a cause in conditions such as cancers and congenital abnormalities. These are amongst the main causes of mortality and morbidity amongst children and young people in the UK today.

A century ago, everyone understood that in order to be as healthy as possible, we had to be clean – carbolic soap, hot soapy water, frequent sweeping and ‘laying down’ of dust was the order of the day. Nothing was partly boiled, it was cooked to death. Floors were scrubbed daily and fully carpeted homes were rare. There is evidence to suggest that carpets today  harbour parasites and bacteria that would have been scrubbed away in earlier times. Certainly there is a marked increase in body lice, bed bugs and fleas.

London Bed Bugs ‘Rise by up to 1,500pc’

(7:35am Monday 2nd March 2009 – Kirsty Whalley » Croydon Guardian)

Bed bug infestations in London have increased by as much as 1,500 per cent in some areas, council figures have shown.  Beds Bugs Limited, a pest company which collected figures from 22 London councils, warned that the capital could be returning to 1930s conditions if the bugs continued to spread at the current rate.  In the 1930s one in three homes suffered from a bed bug infestation, the firm said.

Freedom of Information requests sent out by the company showed that reported bed bug infestations rose from less than 1,000 cases in 2003 to more than 3,000 in 2007.  “There is a growth of between 300 per cent and 1,500 per cent in some parts of London,” said David Cain of Bed Bugs Limited. “If we don’t grasp the extent of this problem today then it will only be a matter of time before we get back to 1930s levels of one third of all London dwellings being infested with bed bugs.”

The worst affected post code areas are W5 (Ealing), W11 (Notting Hill), SW5 (Earl’s Court), E6 (Newham), E7 (Forest Gate) and E12 (Wanstead), followed by – among others – TW9 (Kew), CR0 (Croydon) and SE5 (Streatham). Bed bugs feed on human blood, usually just before dawn. Contrary to popular belief, the occurrence of bed bugs does not mean a home is dirty – they are attracted by body heat, not filth.

David New, also of Bed Bugs Limited, said the firm had some difficulty in collating the data because councils had different ways of recording the bed bug incidents.  However, the results showed an alarming increase of the bugs.  One of the main problems is that no one wants to talk about the problem because of the stigma attached to it.

Last year, the Guardian spoke to single mum Pauline Chase, from New Addington, who called out exterminators four times to deal with bed-bug invasion. The 32-year-old mum of five was told to throw out all her new furniture, children’s clothes and toys after an army of the critters invaded her house last February.  She and her daughters, the youngest of whom was only three months old, were forced to sleep on the floor in their front room after an exterminator failed to get rid of them despite being called out four times.  She moved out of her home six months later.

Mr Cain said that, depending on the severity of the infestation, the problem is fairly easy to treat but needs to be done thoroughly.  He said a lot of pest exterminators do not know how to do it properly, throwing chemicals and aerosols into the room which does not kill the bugs hiding in nooks and crannies in the bed frame.

It would seem that we all rely on the effects of chemical products such as insect repellent or flea powders, but we do not use them properly. There is an assumption that if we merely sprinkle or spray, there will be total eradication. This is obviously not the case and as with head lice, successive applications and thorough cleaning of affected areas must follow.

I wonder if we have become rather blasé about our technology and have higher expectations that it can realistically provide. I certainly have a tendency to store items of food in my fridge for longer than the ‘use by’ date as I assume that the low temperature in the fridge will keep my food fresh and wholesome. Perhaps the environment is not the problem; maybe it’s us.

A Food Crisis?

(By Geoffrey Lean, published: 7:44PM GMT 08 Jan 2010 )

My mother was a Land Girl, one of the 80,000-strong Women’s Land Army that dug for victory during the Second World War. One of the family’s most cherished photographs is of her young self wielding a spade as she helped grow vegetables on what had been an immaculate lawn. The picture seems a world away from today’s mechanised, computerised, industrialised, depersonalised agriculture.

But if a growing number of experts are to be believed, my children’s generation will increasingly go back to the land to dig not for victory, but for survival. For once again, our food security is at risk. Then, German U-boats menaced the imports on which Britain had become reliant after decades of neglecting agriculture. Today, domestic food production has again been declining, just as world supplies look like getting much tighter.

Prof Tim Lang, of City University, perhaps Britain’s top food academic, says, “We are sleepwalking into a major food crisis.” Prof Sir John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientist, forecasts “a perfect storm” as population growth, diminishing resources and climate change create shortages in food, water and energy. Our generation may be the last, as well as the first, to be able to take food supplies for granted. “We need to produce more food,” Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, told the Oxford Farming Conference this week. A statement of the obvious?

It actually signals a change in policy. For decades, ministers have seen agriculture as unimportant since, as Benn’s own department put it less than two years ago, as a developed economy, “We are able to access the food we need on the global market”: manufacturing and the City would earn us enough to buy in supplies.

Over the last twenty years, the proportion of food that we grow for ourselves has slumped: we produce just three-fifths of what we need. The gap between imports and exports doubled between 1995 and 2005, and is now the largest in Europe. The alarm bells went off three years ago, when wheat and maize prices more than doubled, and those of rice more than tripled, in just twelve months, creating the first steep and sustained rise in world hunger for decades.

Most ominously, it happened at a time of record global harvests, and was largely caused by soaring demand from the mushrooming middle classes in China and India, and by the rush to produce biofuels. How much worse will things be if world production falters? Beddington’s perfect storm may ensure just that.

Global warming is expected to hit harvests worldwide, even if some countries may initially benefit. Agriculture uses vast amounts of water – 20,000 litres goes to produce just one kilogram of beef, including growing feed, watering the cattle and processing the meat – which will get much scarcer as populations and demands grow. Supplies of fossil fuels will also become more limited and expensive, yet farming depends on them, too: in the US, ten calories of fuel must be burned to provide just one calorie of food. And the financial crisis and declining earnings from manufacturing cast doubts on how easy it will be for Britain to buy food on tight world markets.

So we need to produce more. But food security will depend as much on how we grow it as on how much we harvest. The oil-soaked, water-gulping, soil-denuding, nature-destroying intensive agriculture that has marched across the country – spurred by the Common Agricultural Policy – may soon look as dated as my mother’s photograph, as we realise we have no choice but to farm sustainably.  As a Cabinet Office report concluded two years ago, “existing patterns of food production are not fit for a low-carbon, more resource-constrained future”.

That will have to mean taking more care of the soil, the very foundation of farming; about half of our arable land is thought to be at risk of erosion, with intensive farming the main culprit. It will involve conserving water and fuel, and almost certainly increasing organic agriculture as artificial fertilisers and pesticides become scarcer and costlier. And it will probably mean reversing the decline in the numbers working the land. When the Second World War broke out, fifteen per cent of the workforce was employed in agriculture; now it’s less than two per cent, and the average age of farmers has risen to an alarming 56.

This week, the Government produced a new food strategy, which tentatively points towards a more sustainable future. It is well overdue, although long on goals, short on specific action, and coy about spending money. But it may yet prove a turning point, as Britain finally starts to fight a peril surprisingly similar to the one that led my mother to pick up her spade.

I feel as if I have just read the pre-amble to the Grapes of Wrath. Do we really know what we are doing and how our actions NOW will influence the life styles and quality of life for our children and their children?

Returning to the volcanic ash episode, one of the spin-off reactions will be the high cost of imported fruit and vegetables.  We just can’t win can we?

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.