Category Archives: Technology

Inactivity puts physical and mental health of more than 1.4 billion adults at risk, says WHO

Insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable disease, negatively impacting mental health and overall quality of life, according to a newly released United Nations health agency study.

Published in The Lancet Global Health journal on Wednesday, the study highlights the well-established benefits of being physically active, including a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes, as well as breast and colon cancer. Additionally, physical activity has positive effects on mental health, can delay the onset of dementia, and help people maintain a healthy weight.

“Unlike other major global health risks, levels of insufficient physical activity are not falling worldwide, on average, and over a quarter of all adults are not reaching the recommended levels of physical activity for good health,” warns the study’s lead author, Regina Guthold, of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Switzerland.

The study details the levels of insufficient physical activity in different countries and estimates global and regional trends. Findings reveal that there has been no improvement in global levels of physical activity since 2001 and that some one-in-three women and one-in-four men globally are not active enough to stay healthy.
Moreover, levels of insufficient physical activity are more than twice as great in high-income countries as compared to that of low-income nations, with a five per cent increase in higher income countries between 2001 and 2016.

There has been little progress in improving physical activity levels during that 15-year period, with data projecting that if these trends continue, the 2025 global activity target of a 10 per cent relative reduction in insufficient physical activity, will not be met.

Other main findings showed that by the end of 2016:

In 55 of 168 countries, more than one-third of the population was insufficiently physically active.
More than half of all adults in Kuwait, American Samoa, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq were insufficiently active, while inadequate levels elsewhere of 40 per cent appeared in the United States, 36 per cent in the United Kingdom and 14 per cent in China.
Only six per cent of adults in Uganda and Mozambique were insufficiently active – the lowest levels of all countries.
The greatest levels of insufficient activity comparing women and men appeared in South Asia (43 versus 24 per cent), Central Asia, Middle East and north Africa (40 vs. 26 per cent), and high-income Western countries (42 vs. 31 per cent).
Around one-in-three women and one-in-four men worldwide did not reach the recommended 150 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week.

Across regions, many individual countries recorded large differences in insufficient activity between women and men, such as 40 vs 16 per cent in Bangladesh, 31 vs. 14 per cent in Eritrea, 44 vs. 25 per cent in India, 48 vs. 32 per cent in the US and 40 vs. 32 per cent in the UK.

“Addressing these inequalities in physical activity levels between men and women will be critical to achieving global activity targets and will require interventions to promote and improve women’s access to opportunities that are safe, affordable and culturally acceptable,” said WHO co-author Fiona Bull.

The study is based on self-reported activity levels – including at work, home, and in transit, as well as during leisure time – for those aged 18 and above, from 358 population-based surveys in 168 countries, consisting of around 1.9 million people.

Source: UN News Centre

Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubani launches Mahikeng Astronomy Telescope, 7 Sept

North-West University Mahikeng becomes first historically disadvantaged campus to develop astronomy observatory
The North-West University’s Mahikeng Campus has been become the first historically disadvantaged institution in South Africa to develop an observatory for astronomy research.
The Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubani, will launch the Mahikeng Astronomy Telescope (MAT) at the university on Friday, 07 September, putting the institution on a par with developed institutions such as the Universities of the Western Cape and Cape Town.
The MAT is co-funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and is an effort to develop astronomy and related sciences at historically disadvantaged universities. It also demonstrates the country’s growing capabilities in the field, led by world-class projects like the building of the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, which is exciting the global scientific community.
The MAT programme is led by Prof. Thebe Medupe who started astronomy in the physics department of the university in 2010, attracting students and postdoctoral fellows to NWU.
Currently the Mahikeng physics department has four astronomers with PhDs, one student completing his PhD and two space scientists, as well as many other physicists. Several top astronomers have also been to the campus to do research, demonstrating that the programme has potential for further growth.
The telescope is a 16-inch Meade LX200 GPS, which is housed at the Mahikeng Astronomical Observatory. It will be operated remotely, which will allow learners and educators to access it from anywhere in the country, making the MAT a powerful teaching tool.
The telescope will be used for bright star research 60% of the time, allowing astronomers at the Mahikeng campus to study the interiors of stars, and their evolution. It will also be used for outreach purposes in communities and across the country as it can be operated remotely.

Source: Government of South Africa


PRETORIA– The 18th edition of the annual regional seminar on the implementation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) for southern Africa and Indian Ocean Island States opened in Pretoria Tuesday.

The four-day seminar is hosted by the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) under the theme, “Regional contributions to the implementation and development of IHL”.

The seminar brings together participants from 16 countries in the region, including the Indian Ocean Island States, as well as Nigeria, Djibouti and the Ethiopian Red Cross Society as guest participants to reflect on the status of IHL implementation at the national level.

Representatives from the African Union (AU) Commission, Parliamentarians, the Pan African Parliament and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat and senior military officials from within the region are participating.

The participants will share best practices and experiences, but also to identify emerging trends and priorities and reflect on what this means for the region.

DIRCO Deputy Minister Luwellyn Landers and the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the Democratic Repub,lic of Congo (DRC) Ambassador to South Africa, Bene M’Poko, will deliver the keynote addresses on the theme.


UN: Some Burundi Violations May Constitute Crimes Against Humanity

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Burundi has accused that country’s government and members of its allied youth league of gross violations of human rights, which it says in some cases might constitute crimes against humanity.

In its new 250-page report, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi documents summary executions, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, acts of torture, and sexual violence among other forms of abuse.

Commission member Francoise Hampson says it is hard to get accurate figures on the extent of violations being committed because efforts often are taken to make crimes less visible.

For instance, she says, the bodies of people killed in summary executions are often disposed of at night, and are difficult to find.

“We know that the form of executions has changed. So, they are hiding the bodies. But, what we do not know is if there are more people that are disappearing than were disappearing than before. But, we do not know if they are ending up dead. There is every reason to believe that in a large number of cases they are ending up dead,” says Hampson.

Burundi has been in turmoil since 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for and won a controversial third term.
The report finds the youth militia, the Imbonerakure, have become more repressive and are operating with almost total impunity. It says the group harasses and intimidates the population with the approval and effective control of the ruling party and the government.

Inquiry commission president Doudou Diene says the constitutional referendum organized in May and the campaign for the upcoming elections in 2020 have triggered acts of persecution, threats and intimidation.

He says serious human rights violations always increase during election campaigns. He says it is important for the international community to be exceptionally vigilant during this period, not only in monitoring the proceedings, but in preventing abuse from occurring.

The Burundian government has not responded to the report. It did not cooperate with the commission’s investigation and has, in the past, disparaged its work.

In June, Burundi’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva poured scorn on the previous commission report, calling it politically biased and based on a campaign of disinformation.

Source: Voice of America

With AI, jobs are changing but no mass unemployment expected – UN labour experts

The rise of frontier technologies like Artificial Intelligence has caused fears of robots taking over blue-collar jobs, but a United Nations expert says humans still have the upper hand given their creativity and ability to form relationships.

Ekkehard Ernst, Chief of Macro-economic policies and job unit at the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), says the manufacturing sector does not stand to profit most from AI, at least not in developed countries, and will not suffer the forecasted demise. The jobs more likely to be impacted are in service sectors such as construction, health care, and business.

“It is not so much about losing jobs but about how jobs are being transformed and employees in these sectors will add new tasks to their profile while being supported by computers and robots in others,” Mr. Ernst said.

The type of tasks that are being replaced by AI algorithms are routine, repetitive tasks that take a lot of time and can be more easily and more effectively performed by machines and by robots – leaving people to focus on interpersonal, social, emotional skills.

A bank teller, for example, is an example of a job changed but not cut due to AI. A typical teller focuses less time on transactions like giving money, and more time on helping clients with their overall financial needs and client loyalty.

In developing countries, the area which most stands to benefit is agriculture, Mr. Ernst said. AI is already helping farmers figure out the weather or get the latest market prices. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, a mobile app created in part with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) can identify crop pests such as the Fall Armyworm.

“What we need today is for people to get used to engaging with digital technology so they have no barriers to interacting with machines, that they speak to them, that they use them as a normal tool, as someone uses a car or an axe,” said Mr. Ernst.

Technological progress depends on whether consumers and firms ask for products and serves made possible by new technologies, Mr. Ernst said. That means in part on whether workers have the right skills to implement the changes, and whether consumers want them.

One example of a changing consumer taste is online buying. Mr. Ernst predicts that while there might be fewer brick and mortar stores, they will reinvent themselves, adding services to improve the customer experience – and not disappear.

Historically, technological advances have created new products and markets. At the turn of the 20th century automobiles put horse transport out of work, but created many more jobs for manufacturing and servicing of cars. More recently, mobile phone app developers became an actual job, with the creation of the smart phone which did not even exist before the 1990s.

The latest study on AI from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) anticipates the technology to have “profound impact” on labour markets and inequalities, but the path is not pre-ordained and can be shaped by policies at the local, national, and global levels.
He noted that humans may well be more productive and cheaper than machines. In addition to cheap human labour, the report also pointed to a lack of required skills, poor energy infrastructure and broadband, and transport network, as to why automation is not used on a global scale.

There are also legal and regulatory issues. For AI to be deployed on a large scale in healthcare, for example, it must be decided whether the doctor or the AI will be responsible for claims of medical malpractice.

The lead authors conclude that the current technological breakthroughs will not only impact labour markets and income inequality, but also broader societal change. The scale of which, they said, remains unknown.

They urge Governments and the UN to proactively influence processes – expand social protections when possible and adopt appropriate and flexible regulatory and legal policies and promote national capacities to innovate.

“Technological progress should not be used as an excuse for policy inaction, but rather as an incentive to find better solutions,” they concluded.

Source: UN News Centre