More than one billion young people risk damaging their hearing through excessive use of smartphones and other audio devices, the UN warned Tuesday, proposing new safety standards for safe volume levels.
In a bid to safeguard hearing, the World Health Organization and International Telecommunications Union issued a non-binding international standard for the manufacture and use of audio devices.
Young people are particularly prone to risky listening habits.
Around half of those between the ages of 12 and 35, or 1.1 billion people, are at risk due to “prolonged and excessive exposure to loud sounds, including music they listen to through personal audio devices,” the UN health agency said.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out that the world already has “the technological know-how to prevent hearing loss”.
“It should not be the case that so many young people continue to damage their hearing while listening to music,” he said in the statement.
Young people, he said, “must understand that once they lose their hearing, it won’t come back.”
Currently, about five percent of the global population, or some 466 million people, including 34 million children, suffer from disabling hearing loss.
WHO said it remained unclear how many of them had damaged their hearing through dangerous use of audio devices.
It insisted though that the new standard developed with ITU would go a long way to “safeguard these young consumers as they go about doing something they enjoy.”
WHO considers a volume above 85 decibels for eight hours or 100 decibels for 15 minutes as unsafe.
The Safe listening devices and systems standard calls for a “sound allowance” software to be included in all audio devices, to track the volume level and duration of a user’s exposure to sound, and to evaluate the risk posed to their hearing.
This system could alert a user if they have dangerous listening habits.
WHO is also calling for parental as well as automatic volume controls on audio devices to prevent dangerous use.
While some smartphones and other audio devices already offer some of these features, the UN would like to see a uniform standard used to help protect against disabling hearing loss.
“Think of it like driving on a highway, but without a speedometer in your car or a speed limit,” Shelly Chadha of the WHO told reporters in Geneva.
“What we’ve proposed is that your smartphones come fitted with a speedometer, with a measurement system which tells you how much sound you’re getting and tells you if you are going over the limit”.
An app is helping reunite South Sudan’s ‘lost’ children with their families
A new app launched in South Sudan on Friday aims to help aid workers reunite thousands of children with their families after they became separated during a five-year war and identify other vulnerable children.
The app was developed by the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) and the charity Save the Children to allow the hundreds of field workers tracing families in South Sudan to share information on their phones or tablets.
“Case workers are the backbone of everything we do. They walk for hours and hours under the scorching sun, wade through mud, travel for days on bumpy dirt roads to knock on doors,” said Rama Hansraj, head of Save the Children in South Sudan.
“They are in every corner of South Sudan, yet until now have found it difficult to communicate with other case workers on the other side of the country. With this new app, we’re bringing their work into the 21st century.”
South Suda has been ravaged by civil war since 2013 after clashes erupted between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.
The government signed a peace agreement with rebels in September, but the war has had a devastating impact. At least 50,000 people have been killed and one in three South Sudanese have been uprooted from their homes.
Children have borne the brunt of the violence, said aid workers, with more than 19,000 registered as missing, unaccompanied or separated from their families.
While more than 6,000 children have been reunited with their families, thousands are still living with temporary foster families or in care centres.
Many were abducted by armed factions to be used as child soldiers, informants or porters. Others were separated from their parents after an attack on their villages.
Some separated children are also migrants from poor families forced to look for work, or runaways who were facing physical or sexual abuse at home, said aid workers.
Child protection case workers – who come from various charities as well as the government – will now be able to directly input data on separated children into the app so that other field workers can easily access it.
The app is connected to a database featuring children’s pictures and biodata, as well as details on circumstances leading to separation and where their family used to live.
“The app will be vital in a poorly connected South Sudan. It can be synced before the case worker heads out and allows them to access the necessary files while in remote areas,” said Helene Sandbu Ryeng from UNICEF in South Sudan.
The app has photo and sound features, which is crucial – especially when parents and their children have been separated for years, which is often the case in South Sudan, added Ryeng.
It will also help identify minors who need help such as counselling for trauma.
Field workers will be able to input data on their apps, according a level of priority so that it can be quickly followed up by child protection teams based in their offices.
Using drones to provide life-saving medication in Ghana
The first hospital to use the service was New Tafo, a government hospital in Accra.
Ghana’s drone service which launched in April, makes on-demand emergency deliveries of 148 different vaccines, blood products and lifesaving medications to health facilities in the country, 24 hours daily.
The first hospital to use the service was New Tafo, a government hospital about two hours north of the Ghanaian capital, Accra. The service was brought to Ghana by Silicon Valley Company Zipline.
Medical superintendent Kobena Wriedu said the hospital had received at least 25 drone deliveries in the past month, with a handful coming in emergency situations much quicker than road transport.
By the end of the year, an additional three centres are set to be opened across Ghana. Combined, they will provide deliveries to 2,000 health facilities serving 12 million people, making up to 600 delivery flights a day on behalf of the Ghanaian government, under a contract worth $12.5 million over four years.
The Centre in Omenako where the drones come from has a cold storage facility for the blood and medicines to be stored. Workers watch the screens as orders come through and quickly fill the orders and assemble and launch the drones. They get the orders from health care workers by text message.
Ghana’s services are still in the early stages, with only four health facilities using it so far. The Omenako Centre’s fulfilment operations coordinator, Samuel Akuffo, said the service would prove its worth as Ghana starts to see heavy rain for the rainy season. The drones can fly in all weather conditions, and over roads that vehicles might not be able to pass in heavy rain.
Technology is helping Kenya’s herders adapt to climate change
Weather forecasts are sent as text messages, so they are compatible with basic phones
For generations, Kaltuma Hassan’s clan would study the sky over Kenya’s arid north for any sign of rain — some wind here, a wisp of cloud there — to guide their parched livestock to water.
But such divination has been rendered hopeless by intensifying droughts. Days on foot can reveal nothing more than bone-dry riverbeds and grazing land baked to dust, sounding the death knell for their herd.
“You might go a long distance, and they die on the way… It is a very hard life,” Hassan told AFP in Marsabit, a sparse and drought-prone expanse where millions of pastoral families depend entirely on livestock to survive.
Today, she leaves less to chance.
The 42-year-old relies on detailed rainfall forecasts received via text message from a Kenyan tech firm to plan her migrations, a simple but life-changing resource for an ancient community learning to adapt to increasing weather extremes.
Nomadic livestock herders in East Africa’s drylands have endured climate variability for millennia, driving their relentless search for water and pasture in some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain.
But their resilience is being severely tested by climate change, forcing a rethink to traditional wisdom passed down for generations.
Kenya endures a severe drought every three to five years, the World Bank says, but they are increasing in frequency and intensity, and temperatures are rising too.
With conditions ever-more unreliable, Hassan no longer relies on warriors she once dispatched to scout for suitable grazing land for her cattle.
“They wake up very early in the morning and they look at the clouds, they look at the moon, to predict. I use this now,” she said, scrolling through customised weather updates on her phone, sent via SMS in Rendille, a local language.
The service uses advanced weather data from US agricultural intelligence firm aWhere to provide subscribers with rain and forage conditions for the week ahead in their locality.
The forecasts are sent as text messages, so they are compatible with basic phones often used by pastoralists in remote areas.
Kenyan IT firm Amfratech, which launched the SMS service earlier this year, has also rolled out a more advanced app-based version. They hope to eventually sign up tens of thousands of pastoralists.
Rainfall — the difference between feast and famine in East Africa and the Horn — is more erratic than ever, arriving late or not at all.
A long dry spell can set a pastoral family back years and erode their capacity to handle future shocks, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said in a 2018 report.
A second blow in quick succession can leave them teetering on starvation.
Such a crisis is already brewing in Kenya’s pastoral country to the north and over its borders in neighbouring arid regions.
This year’s so-called long rains failed to arrive, putting millions at risk. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network has warned that hunger in pastoral areas will worsen in coming months.
“It doesn’t rain like it once did,” said Nandura Pokodo, at a dusty livestock market in Merille, an outpost in Kenya’s northern pastoralist heartland. Nobody wants his drought-weary animals, so he will return home empty-handed.
“It’s harder to find pasture… year after year.”
As the rains failed, Pokodo, 55, wandered for days between March and April in search of grazing land but found nothing. He lost 20 goats and sheep — a ruinous outcome for nomads whose fortunes are intertwined with their beasts.
“Even if you have a million shillings but have no goats or sheep or camel, they consider you very poor,” said Daniel Kapana, the head of Merille market, and an intergenerational herder himself.
Turn to technology
The text messages have also helped Samuel Lkiangis Lekorima protect not just his livestock, but the safety of his community.
Longer, harsher droughts have stoked intense competition between pastoralists for ever-scarcer water and pasture. A feud between two groups over a watering hole near Ethiopia left 11 dead in May, local media reported.
Lekorima, a 22-year-old herder from Marsabit, said advance knowledge of rainfall helped keep his people wandering far, and avoid any potential tensions with distant clans.
“When I get that message, I phone people (and) tell them… don’t go far away, because there is rain soon,” he told AFP.
Other modern interventions are also playing a part, helping protect not just pastoralists but a sector that contributes more than 12 percent to Kenya’s GDP, according to the World Bank.
The Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute uses satellite imagery to determine when pasture levels are critically low — a portent of livestock death.
Some insurance products are linked to this index and issue payments before drought hits, so pastoralists can buy enough fodder for lean times ahead. Tens of thousands of herders have signed up, industry groups say.
“A drought should no longer be an emergency,” said Thomas Were, of CTA, an EU-funded institution that is driving a pastoralist-resilience project in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Helima Osman Bidu, a traditional herder and mother-of-three, has joined a women’s collective that invests in non-livestock related enterprises, another approach to drought-proofing the family finances.
“It is good to have something on the side,” she told AFP, nodding to a padlocked metal box nearby containing the group’s seed money.
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