Business as usual is not an option: Sustainable development is a critical factor in Ireland’s agenda for national recovery

Discussion paper presented by Niall O’Reilly at 6th International ‘Life & Development Forum’ – “We Make Life Better – Hangzhou, White Horse Lake Jianguo Hotel , November 8-9, 2013.

                                                                                                       *****
 

Well-being
Well-being

Sustainable development is a continuous, guided process of economic, environmental and social change aimed at promoting the well-being of citizens now and in the future. To realise this requires creating a sustainable and resource efficient economy founded on a fair and just society, which respects the ecological limits and carrying capacity of the natural environment (Source: Wikipedia)

In 2013, the economic situation in Ireland is dramatically different to the earlier part of the last decade, when Ireland was known as The Celtic Tiger. Measured against the standard indicators of GDP, and GNP – trends for economic development, new housing output, tax revenues, and employment levels have dropped sharply.

We have also seen rising unemployment, a banking crisis and a collapse in the property market after a sustained, if unsustainable, boom in the property market.  A number of factors drove these unsustainable trends, including: rapid growth in employment, large scale inward migration (annual immigration rose sharply from 52,600 persons in 2000 to peak at 109,500 in 2007) (2), rapid natural population growth (17% increase between 1996 and 2006), fiscal incentives for the construction sector, rising car ownership and weakness in the strategic approach to spatial planning.

At a time of rapidly rising prosperity and development, the existing structures and controls were not strong enough to withstand the pressures that unavoidably arose.

This legacy leaves Ireland facing huge challenges in the period ahead, challenges that are all the more serious when set against the backdrop of a global economic downturn.

The sustainability pressures on the economy continue to be high and while some progress has been made, there is still a distance to travel before Ireland can fully remove itself from what is the most serious fiscal and economic crisis in the history of the Republic of Ireland.

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In meeting the challenge, the Irish Government is implementing a radical Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland – a national recovery agenda, which seeks to integrate sustainable development principles into policy making across all sectors, for the purpose of stimulating:

  • the transformation of public services
  • economic growth based on knowledge and innovation
  • an inclusive, high employment society
  • a greener low carbon economy
  • and a good quality natural and built-environment so that Ireland can once again prosper on a competitive global stage.

Lessons must be learnt from Ireland’s recent experience and Ireland will have to ensure structures and systems are put in place that are strong enough to survive periods of pressure which might threaten to weaken sustainable growth and fiscal stability.

It is widely accepted that economic growth, social unity and environmental protection are equally important targets for meeting the prime objective of delivering well-being in a diverse multi-cultured society that promotes participation, a society in which everyone takes responsibility for the environment.

While the establishment of a more sustainable pattern of development for Ireland is one of the key challenges of government and ultimately for society, there is also a clear consensus that a return to ‘business as usual’ is not an option.

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At a global level there is a growing consensus that the world’s systems of production and consumption cannot be sustained without posing a huge threat to the environment and to human health. Water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, resource depletion and irreversible biodiversity loss are problems that have to be tackled as a matter of priority.

Consensus is now focusing around the need to put economies on a more sustainable, green growth path on the basis that the cost of sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services is lower than the cost of allowing biodiversity and ecosystem services to decline.

For Ireland ‘green growth’ and the ‘green economy’ are now fundamental aspects of Government policy as the country shifts away from the ‘brown economy’ on the road to becoming a low-carbon, competitive, resource efficient and climate resilient country, policy which will ultimately improve its citizens’ well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

Economic, environmental and social progress are mutually related.

Business as usual is not an option - Sustainable development is a critical factor in Ireland’s agenda for national recovery
Blue sky living

Ireland’s Framework for Sustainable Development

This Framework contains measures to help meet the overall goal of achieving continuous improvement of quality of life both for current and for future generations.

The following set of 7 principles for sustainable development are the central aspects of this Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland:

  1. In relation to “economy”, the principle seeks “to promote an innovative, competitive and low carbon economy with the aim of achieving smart, sustainable and inclusive growth” and to reduce pressure on natural resources
  2. In relation to “satisfaction of human needs by the efficient use of resourcesthe key objectives are that:

(a) “Prices should reflect the real costs to society of production and consumption activities and polluters should pay for the damage they cause to human health and the environment

(b) “The needs of current generations should be addressed without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”

(c) “Resources should be used within the capacity for regeneration

3. In relation to “respect for ecological integrity and biodiversity” the Framework seeks to ensure that “the abundance of wildlife and extent of habitats should be maintained, improved and restored where necessary, through sustainable management

4. In relation to social equity the main principle is that “social inclusion should be promoted to ensure an improved quality of life for all”

5. In relation to “respect for cultural heritage and diversity” the Framework will ensure that “the quality of landscapes, the heritage of the man-made environment and historic and cultural resources should be maintained and improved.

6. In relation to “Equity between countries and regions” Ireland will:

(a) “promote fundamental rights, by combating all forms of discrimination and contributing to the reduction of poverty”

(b) “promote consistency between local, regional, national, European Union (EU) and global actions in order to increase their contribution to sustainable development”

7. The 7th and final theme of Ireland’s Framework for Sustainable Development relates to good “decision-making”. In this regard, the framework will aim to:

(a) Guarantee citizens’ rights of access to information and public participation procedures.

(b) Ensure citizens’ access to review mechanisms.

(c) Develop adequate consultation with all interested parties, including citizens, businesses and social partners (such as trade unions), and develop participatory channels for all such interested parties.

Of course there are challenges.

Ireland’s Sustainable Development Framework catagorises 12 the key challenges under the following themes:

  1. Sustainability of public finances and economic resilience.
  2. Sustainable consumption and production.
  3. Conservation and management of natural resources.
  4. Climate change and clean energy.
  5. Sustainable agriculture.
  6. Sustainable transport.
  7. Social inclusion, sustainable communities and spatial planning.
  8. Public health.
  9. Education, communication and behaviour change.
  10. Innovation, research and development
  11. Skills and training
  12. The 12th challenge is how to address global poverty and sustainable development.

I will now briefly explain Government-led initiatives regarding two of these themes: sustainable transport and public health

Smarter Travel – A Sustainable Transport Future

Transport, which is a key element of a sustainable development strategy, should be closely aligned to land use planning and the need to create more sustainable communities.

Sustainable transport is central to Ireland’s efforts to combat climate change, air pollution and other negative environmental and social impacts.

Transport trends in Ireland from the mid 1990’s onwards are unsustainable. The main problems associated with transport in Ireland are:

  • Rising pollution – greenhouse gases and particular air pollutants which are detrimental to health and the environment such as nitrous oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Increasing congestion on roads that lengthens journey times, adversely impacts on family, leisure time, and community life, contributes to the growing problem of obesity, and adds to pollution and costs at many levels including affecting Ireland’s national competitiveness. In Ireland there is a clear appetite to abandon the car for commuter driver, if only this were practical.
  • Safety also remains a key issue despite the steadily decreasing numbers of road deaths.
  • In addition, a key characteristic that distinguishes energy use in transport in Ireland is the almost total dependence on oil as a fuel and on import dependency, over 99% in both cases.

Without intervention, congestion will get worse, economic competitiveness will suffer, quality of life will deteriorate and carbon emissions from the transport sector will grow.

In order to achieve a sustainable travel and transport system by 2020, Ireland needs to change its unsustainable behaviour and habits as a nation and as individuals.

Sustainable and smarter transport measures currently being implemented by the Government under the Framework for Sustainable Development are set out in four key goals:

Goal 1 – to “reduce overall travel demand and the distance traveled by private car” and encourage smarter travel, including

  • focusing population and employment growth in sustainable compact forms, which reduce the need to travel for employment and services
  • using pricing mechanisms or fiscal measures to encourage behaviour change and discourage people from using the car unnecessarily.

Goal 2 – to “maximise the efficiency of the transport network” by ensuring that alternatives to the car are more widely available mainly through a radically improved public transport service and investment in cycling and walking.

Goal 3 – to reduce reliance on foss1il fuels and emissions by improving the fuel efficiency of motorised transport through

  • improved fleet structure
  • energy efficient driving
  • alternative driving.

Goal 4 – to improve accessibility to transport.

To achieve these goals the Government is pursuing a number of key targets such as:

  • Dramatically improving the placement of spatial and transport planning to stop urban sprawl, and urban-generated one-off housing in non-urban areas
  • Encouraging e-working through better broadband provision
  • 500,000 more people will take alternative means to commute to work (200,000 people will switch to cycling and walking) to the extent that the total share of car commuting will drop from 65% to 45%
  • Alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport will be supported and provided to the extent that these will rise to 55% of total commuter journeys to work
  • The total kilometres travelled by the car fleet in 2020 will not increase significantly from current levels
  • A reduction will be achieved on the 2005 figure for greenhouse gas emissions from the transport

These key targets are ambitious. However, they are necessary to improve the quality of life of Ireland’s citizens, to secure future energy supply, and to ensure that the transport sector substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the need for all developed nations to do so. These targets represent a complete turnaround in the current trends. They mean that the Irish public must radically alter how they travel, and that Government priorities in the transport sector must move towards more sustainable modes.

Smarter Travel and Sustainable Transport Ideas:

  • Specification of a maximum permitted level of car parking for Government offices and commercial sites, which have suitable public transport facilities and are within walking/ cycling distance to amenities
  • The adoption of flexible working policies. The Government has provided leadership in promoting such flexible policies in the public sector
  • Ensuring that every school and college in Ireland has a school travel plan to encourage students to take alternatives to the car.
  • Government commitment to a culture of walking in Ireland
  • A car-sharing website which will help employers to encourage such initiatives in the workforce.
  • One smart-card to pay for all forms of public transport
  • Conversion of taxi and public bus fleet to alternative fuels. 
Natural resources
Natural resources

A Healthy Ireland

Public health protection is an essential goal for society in delivering well-being and quality of life. Ireland has made significant progress in regard to the health of its population, but some key challenges remain.

The rise in life expectancy in Ireland during the past decade has been unmatched by any other country in Europe with the greatest gains in the older age groups reflecting decreasing mortality rates from major diseases.

In fact, the most important statistic from a health perspective is the number of people over the age of 65 which is projected to increase from over 500,000 now to over 1,300,000 in the next 30 years with the greatest proportional increases occurring in the 85+ age group.

However, Ireland’s ageing population, together with negative trends in obesity (60% of adults are obese), diet, exercise and other risk factors – such as smoking [6,000 deaths a year), and alcohol abuse (related road accidents cost over Euro 600 million a year) means that the level of chronic health conditions will certainly increase.

In addition, there are a range of social determinants of health, for example social exclusion, education, health services, the built environment and lifestyle choices:

People who are less well off or who belong to socially excluded groups tend to fare badly in relation to these social determinants

A healthy environment is also absolutely linked to the health of Ireland’s population which relies for survival on clean air and water and the crops we are able to grow in uncontaminated soil. Public amenities such as forest parks provide opportunities for recreation and add to our understanding of the environment thus supporting healthier lifestyles while contributing to our well-being.

The Irish Government’s Healthy Ireland framework is about taking important steps towards making Ireland a healthier and more prosperous country in which the whole population enjoys the best possible health and well-being.

It is designed to include Government Departments, local authorities and public bodies, businesses and employers, sports and voluntary groups, communities and families.

Initiatives within the Healthy Ireland Framework have four goals:

Goal 1: Increase the proportion of people who are healthy at all stages of life:

This means addressing risk factors and promoting protective factors at every stage of life – from pre-natal, through early childhood, adolescence, adulthood and into old age, to support lifelong health and well-being.

Initiatives in this context include:

  • Increasing the number of adults (by 5%) and children (6%) with a healthy weight by 2019
  • Increasing by 20% the proportion of adults eating the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day
  • Reducing smoking among young people by 1% a year
  • Decreasing levels of self-harm across all life stages
  • Increasing by 20% of proportion of the population undertaking regular physical activity

Goal 2: Reduce health inequalities:

Health and well-being are not evenly distributed across Irish society. This goal requires not only interventions to target particular health risks, but also a broad focus on addressing the wider social determinants of health – the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age – to create economic, social, cultural and physical environments that foster healthy living.

Initiatives in this context include:

  • Increasing the ‘stay at school’ rates of students in second-level schools
  • Reducing the % of the population in consistent poverty from current 6% to 2% or less by 2020.
  • Increasing self-reported happiness and well-being across socio-economic groups.

Goal 3: Protect the public from threats to health and well-being:

The Healthy Ireland Framework is designed to ensure effective strategies and interventions to protect the public from new and emerging threats to health and well-being are implemented. Being prepared to prevent, respond to, and rapidly recover from public health threats through collaborative working is critical for protecting and securing the population’s health.

Initiatives in this context include:

  • Increasing immunization rates for children to 95% uptake
  • Reducing prevalence of food-borne infections in compliance with Ireland and EU legislation
  • Complying with indicators defined in International Health Regulations, World Health Organisation (WHO).

Goal 4: Create an environment where every individual and sector of society can play their  part in achieving a Healthy Ireland:

It is beyond the capability of any one Government Department or organisation to promote society-wide health and well-being. This can only be done through society-wide involvement in and engagement with health and well-being promotion and improvement activities – from individuals making positive lifestyle choices and projects run by community and local groups, to policy and legislative changes at the highest level of government.

Initiatives in this context include:

  • Establishing key indicators measuring the level, range and effectiveness of cross government collaboration and effectiveness of structures.
  • Increasing percentage of people participating in informal, unpaid charitable work.

The current health status of people living in Ireland, lifestyle trends and inequalities in health outcomes are leading Ireland toward a future that is dangerously unhealthy and very likely unaffordable. The work that is underway to build a health service that is accessible and fair will only succeed if Ireland builds an environment that supports people and their families to lead healthier lifestyles.

Evidence and experience from around the world clearly shows that to create positive and sustainable change in health and well-being, it takes the involvement of the whole community, the whole of Government, all of society working in unison.

In conclusion, having endured the worst crisis in the history of the Republic of Ireland, by placing Sustainable Development as a critical component in Ireland’s Agenda for National Recovery the Government is clearly focused on pursuing coherent policies and sustainable actions for the health and well-being of the country’s most valuable asset: Its people.

Given Ireland’s present economic condition investment in the necessary infrastructure elements of the Framework for Sustainable Development will be challenging. However, the real challenge is to change mindsets, so that Ireland’s institutions and individual citizens realise the benefits from altering their behaviour for the common good.

END.

Business as usual is not an option - Sustainable development is a critical factor in Ireland’s agenda for national recovery
Bio-diversity

Niall O’Reilly

Managing Director, Accurate Group Ireland China Market Makers (Route to Market, Export, Import, Partner Due Diligence)

Website: http://www.accuratelimited.com

Twitter: @AccurateChina

China Office : Accurate Group China, Hangzhou – O: +86 571 8709 1253

Ireland Office: Accurate Ireland, Dublin – O: +353-1271-1830

China – Under The Hood: The Curious Incident Of The Dissolving Peach

No, I’m not being self-absorbed, and it’s not as if loads of locals around me are succumbing to nasty, mysterious illnesses (anyway the local tabloids always tone down the numbers). Nevertheless, of late in conversations with Hangzhouers I’ve noticed three questions coming up again and again in a tone verging on alarm.

-What are we eating?

-What are we drinking?

-and…. What the hell are we breathing?

-and I’ll toss in another issue…. How can one of the two peaches I bought in the local fruit shop last Sunday turn from unripe into a liquefied mush within 36 hours of purchase? That toxic peach dissolved right before my eyes!

[Anecdote:  A couple of weeks ago having enjoyed a second Kelloggs Nutri-Grain bar (courtesy of a Red-Cross parcel from my mother back home in Ireland, also filled with a critical supply of Barry’s Tea bags) I found myself checking out the nutritional label on the back of the wrapper. Clueless as to what I was reading, it suddenly dawned on me what I was reading wasn’t anything about food.  Why did I just eat a load of preservatives which are of zero benefit to my body? Why indeed..]

If you want to participate in a live laboratory in which the food – [and air-we-breath] – chain(s) are “unintentionally” (yeah right! the expressions of innocence on the faces of those perpetrators regularly showcased to the media are as fake as the vile products they have been caught tainting) exposed to poisonous industrial chemicals with the potential to totally wreck our bodily processes, then all roads lead to China.

I’d never even heard of most of these chemicals by name. Sure I can hardly pronounce them:

  • Watermelons overdosing (exploding melons of mass destruction) on forchlorfenuron growth hormones (May 2011)

  • Sports and fruit drinks laced with “particularly damaging to a young male’s fertility” dioctyl phthalate (imported from Taiwan, June 2011)
  • The “high blood pressure” yielding heavy metal cadmium in rice (February 2011); toxic “kidney failure” conducive melamine in milk (ongoing?)
  • Arsenic in soy sauce (ongoing?)
  • Copper in coffee (imported from Japan, 2008)
  • Bleach in mushrooms (December 2010)
  • The detergent borax in pork (added to make it resemble beef, April 2011)
  • and a whole host of fruit and vegetables smeared in deltamethrin, a synthetic insecticide, and preservatives with extremely long names!

Sure it only seems like yesterday when my buddy Umberto, who being Italian takes his cooking very seriously, watched a pot of fresh tomatoes turn white in a boiling confusion of red artificial colouring (2006).

Here in Hangzhou, affectionately known as “The Pond”, on account of its scenic West Lake,  so far (and counting…)we have:

  • Lead in the air (a lot of it apparently, courtesy of the local battery manufacturing industry)
  • Phenol in the water (courtesy of a tanker driver whose load tipped into the water supply, June 2011)… anyway phenol only causes severe eye damage, and sure what’s 25 tons of the stuff?

Spare a thought for those Harbiners up north whose Songhua River water supply was  contaminated with at least 80 tons of the carcinogen Benzine (ok, so that was back  in 2005 –‘water under the bridge’…so the local officials will tell you, long-term cancer risks notwithstanding).  No doubt, these same faceless apparatchiks will point to Germany’s e-coli cucumbers and bean sprouts (last week), the UK’s Mad Cows (hmmm) and Ireland’s contaminated pig meat (2008) as symptomatic of a global problem not just a China problem   – I’ve noticed they don’t really like talking about the “far worse than governments are revealing to the public” Fukushima nucleur disaster.

The Good News

Yes there is. Multiple the uproar each food scandal outside China receives by 1,000 times and you’ll get a sense of the disgust local Chinese feel about the continuing government incompetence and cynical manipulation of consumers by devious producers. China’s ‘You Are What You Eat’ sensitive generation is becoming increasingly aware of potential hazards of almost everything they eat and drink. What they see all around them are poor public hygiene surveillance and low standards of food quality all of which are cultivated by official incompetence, slapdash law enforcement, corruption and a corner-cutting culture among some businesses. It’s common knowledge that corrupt manufacturers and growers still use bribery and corruption to escape scrutiny.

Which brings me back to the bad news – that peach.

Eat The Peach? Certainly Not!

The facts:

  • Sunday evening in the neighbourhood fruit store

A shop widely considered to trade in Hangzhou’s finest selection of fruits. A large store, open 24×7, all year round, I supposed its popularity was simply down to the fact you are given what you pay for: natural fruit, preservative and pesticide free, as in normal fruit, grown locally… generating visions of suppliers being meticulously selected by a resident ‘Man from Del Monte’, giving his nod of approval to the perfect pineapple or apple… Well not quite, clearly a figment of my imagination.

The shop has a large imported section, offering exotic fruits from all over the world to their bàofā hù (nouveau riche) patrons mad for anything deemed exotic, to know off their knowledge and sophistication.  In my mind best to avoid this part of the shop for the same reason I’d avoid purchasing any ‘fresh’ consumable products from outside China, knowing the length it took to get from source to shelf (Kiwi from New Zealand, Apples from the USA? Bananas from South America? Hmm, imported fruit just looks too perfect and do we really believe they’re all air-freighted in?).

So the local fruit section it is.

  • Discerning shoppers everywhere like pawing their fruit for ripeness and the masses here are no different

However, in a big fruit shop that can make for a lot of grubby paws feeling up the goods: ‘The greener the fruit, the less manhandled its likely to be; let it ripen at home’, so the prevailing wisdom goes.

Two curvy, still hard, peaches caught my attention. I reckoned after being stored at an average room temperature of about 22 Celsius they’d be perfect to eat in three days. Back in the apartment, I left them on the table in their open plastic bag and went about my business, as in business trip to another city.

36 hours later I noticed a damp blot on the table cloth under the plastic bag and lifted it up. Liquid is seeping right through the plastic bag, and while one of the peaches looks exactly like it did when purchased, the other has simply dissolved into a gooey toxic mush.

  • And the upshot of this morbid tale about defiled peaches?

Yesterday, still incredulous, I recounted the story to the wife of Umberto, who, Umberto often complains, is overly preoccupied by a fear of preservatives, toxic chemicals, phony foods, and corrupt practices. Mother of three, Wu Bei wasn’t in the least bit surprised offering me the following prudent advice the next time I go fruit hunting in China:

“.. pick the fruit that’s looks somewhat chewed  and scarred by insects, because if  it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for you…. The most flawless delicious looking fruit is the most dangerous of all”.

A slightly more resigned Umberto quips that perhaps the best rule of thumb is to keep changing your poisons.

Seeing is believing…

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Fast forward to March 2013

– Rivers of blood: the dead pigs rotting in China’s water supply

“Shanghai’s drinking water is under threat after 16,000 diseased pig carcasses are found in tributaries of the Huangpu river…” Source / read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/29/dead-pigs-china-water-supply?guni=Article:in%20body%20link

The reason why 16,000 pigs ended up in the Huangpu River was never fully explained by the authorities.

Fast forward to April 2013

– Bottled water scandal highlights food safety challenges

“The quality “..criteria Zhejiang’s Nongfu Spring uses are looser than national tap water standards in terms of the amount of arsenic and cadmium allowed in its products…. Nongfu Spring uses criteria that were set by the government of east China’s Zhejiang Province in 2005. National standards were upgraded in 2007…. Nongfu Spring was the only drinking water company to participate in drafting the Zhejiang provincial standards….. enterprises are only allowed to adopt local standards in exceptional cases when there are no relevant national standards….Nongfu Spring’s products do not meet the requirements for such an exception… China has formulated nearly 5,000 compulsory food safety criteria due to its excessive number of government departments….”

” Source / read more: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-04/12/c_132304484.htm

Fast forward to May 2013

– Forget mutton: in China, it’s rat, fox and mink dressed as lamb

Sold in thinly sliced rolls for consumption in hotpots  the “…”lamb” was mixed with rat, fox and mink with additives including gelatin. The meat was sold to farmers’ markets in the two cities…” Source / read more: http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20130505000018&cid=1103

Fast forward to October 2013

– China’s Gutter Oil Scandal: 1/10 Of China’s Cooking Oil May Be Recycled From Garbage

“… In our current society everybody tries to swindle everybody else there’s nothing we can do about it.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kne4PL5uH7c

….. and this food scandal concerning the cat meat trade…

“.. selling cat meat to butchers who then repackaged it and sold it as rabbit…” Source / read more: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10417032/Chinese-police-find-slaughterhouse-selling-cat-meat.html

170/108 Over Pressure – The Silent Killer

I was feeling really uptight, stressed. 52 hours on the go from Hangzhou to Dublin ..

The silent killer - 170/108 high blood pressure, heartburn, stress
Airport delays – The silent killer – high blood pressure, hypertension, heartburn, stress

Heavy snow, freezing temperatures. The busiest time of the year. Travel chaos. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Three cancelled flights, queues, queues and more queues, the rumour machine (“we could be here until Christmas Day“), the lottery for seats on the extra plane put on by Aer Lingus (the world’s worst airline), which didn’t depart on 11.30pm but rather 2.30am.

Dublin Airport. The 5.00 am arrival (“where are our bags?“). More rumours… the chaos, bags, except mine, discarded all over the baggage reclaim area… the lack of Aer Lingus / Dublin Airport authorities ownership of the problem… everyone else to blame except them…. freezing cold waiting for the bus… that was dawn 23rd December… The welcome sight of my brother at the door standing in his jocks… a foot of snow outside the house..

And so to this heartburn-like feeling over the past week… the usual Christmas excesses or? I also felt wasted, like I had never felt wasted. At the urging of my ever attentive mother I went to see the family doctor for a check up.

When Dr. K started checking the battery of the blood pressure monitor I knew something was very wrong… He did the test again…
“How do you really feel?”
“Very tired, easy to nod off, mentally erratic, hard to concentrate, a little headache and strange white spots in my eyes”

The silent killer - 170/108 high blood pressure, heartburn, stress
The silent killer – high blood pressure, heartburn, stress

A reading of 170/108. Such blood pressure readings fall within Stage 2 Hypertension (readings of 160/110 and 180/110 usually indicate Stage 2 Hypertension), in which there is high risk of a heart-attack or a stroke.

There then followed the Mother of all Colds’, which knocked me out for five days … Related? Hypertension? To much salt?

Almost two weeks later I am wearing a blood pressure monitor taking readings on an hourly basis. From a 170/108 emergency, blood pressure readings are now in the low 130’s or high 120’s/88-82.. Absolutely normal.

So what was all that 170/108 about?

Life is not to be taken for granted. We can be here one second and the next second snuffed out. Hypertension and stress are invisible killers. I wouldn’t have been aware what the combination of symptoms were pointing to.

Wholesome home food and a relaxed mind are the keys to a healthy life…. Now, if only air-travel was less stressful!

I know what my 2011 priority will be…  “Good health = long life”.

 

170 108 Hypertension Over Pressure - The Silent Killer

2019

2019

2019

Full pandemic potential?

Last week, I found myself outside the Metropark Hotel in Wanchai, “Hotel Quarantine” on account of the one week government lockdown of guests and staff for the purpose of stopping the spread of Swine Flu/ H1N1 . Considering the hotel is adjacent to one of Hong Kong‘s busiest thoroughfares, Hennessy Road, the eeriness, like a scene from the film ‘28 Days‘ was compounded by all the uniforms of different protective clothing, the masked visages, the gloves, the ambulances and police vans. Inside guests fought boredom, celebrated birthdays, and made innocous signs to the media scrum as the countdown to the lifting of the quarantine approached single digits. Around the corner on Lockhart Road, a completely different scene. Wanchai’s bars were thronged with revellers… life goes on. But does it? Was this not a full dress rehearsal by the Hong Kong authorities for dealing with the consequences of a full pandemic?
Back in 2003 the Metropole Hotel (the sister hotel of the Metropark) in Kowloon was ground zero during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis, a more sinister health scare, which fueled by a media frenzy had people initially convinced it was airborne.  Standing across the street from the hotel, it wasn’t just the ‘double whammy’ of bad-luck incurred by the hotel owners I was contemplating, but rather how effective such measures by the authorities will be when a true pandemic materialises. Time for a Tamiflu innoculation.
Hotel Quarantine h1ni metro park swine flu hong kong

Noodle Shop sneezing fit: A really nauseating experience!

So I was hungry, needed an emergency pit-stop, and what better place to refuel than at the local noodle shop I’ve been frequenting for over a year? Or so I thought.

I am eating my bowl of noodles, minding my own business, watching the cook stirring his noodle soup pot, and the pedestrian traffic outside on the street …. when all of a sudden yer man the cook has a sneezing fit, and then again and again…

Suddenly he has his fingers on his nose to defecate, but he is still sneezing, and it’s all over his hand…. he flips his hand and splat right into the soup the clingy  mucous goes, following which he wipes his nose with the grubby sleeve of his white jacket and continues stirring his stock soup…

I mean how totally gross is that?!!!

…Oh and I didn’t finish my noodles.

Chinese sneezing fit  noodle chef

Local Chinese advice (1):

“If he (the cook) brought the soup to a boil, then there’s nothing to worry about”

Local Chinese advice (2):

“…there is a Chinese saying: ‘It’s clean if you do not see it’…… Oh and never try to ask them to make a new dish for you .  The cook probably would spit in the dish before remaking the dish and giving it back to you. He’ll get really upset as you give his boss a chance to punish him and he loses face. You could ask for a discount, much safer”.

Local foreigner advice (1):

“At least you can see the noodle guys preparing the food.  Imagine what they would do if you couldn’t see them.

Local foreigner advice (2):

“I am always super-cool to the noodle guys at my local noodle shop… they all know me, and they always seem to show me a little extra love when I order a bowl. However, I have made a point of NOT paying close attention to how they knock out my order. Ignorance is bliss”.

China – Under The Hood: Foreigners are the cause of China’s AIDS epidemic

21-October-07 at 5.45pm

Deluded, but nevertheless true this is pretty much the contribution of the man/woman on the street to the topic, and with a little bit of embellishment here and there before you know it gossip becomes fact.  It is plain to see that many people here have little understanding of AIDS and how it is affecting China

Recently, a Chinese friend, in order to back up the above claim, stated that “70% of foreigners come to China for sex”, a fairly racist remark that is typical of the many anti-foreign remarks thrown about  to divert attention from the true nature of China’s domestic AIDS problems. By ignoring the reality of AIDS in China she is making the AIDS situation here infinitely worse than it should be.

Here is a statistic, albeit one that is six years old. UNAIDS, the Joint United Nation Program on HIV/AIDS, indicates there were well over 1 million cases of AIDS at the end of 2001 and that this number will most likely mushroom to 10 million by 2010. That was six years ago. About 70% of those infected are peasants living in rural areas. Meanwhile, the government up in Beijing estimates that there are 840,000 HIV-positive people in the country and that 80,000 people have AIDS. 

The main cause of AIDS appears to be the use of infected needles, mainly those shared by injection drug users, but also needles used in unhygienic ways during paid blood plasma collection, are the main cause of AIDS in the People’s Republic. In rural poorer area selling blood is a regular way to earn extra money, especially for drug users and prostitutes. Disastrously, many of the blood-collecting companies are unlicensed and against the law and their use of contaminated needles has been a major factor in spreading the disease, according to UNAIDS.  Furthermore, those who sell blood to these companies are often in the most high-risk groups and have already been infected with HIV. Their blood is not tested, and is mixed into the blood pool and sold. Most of this occurs in poor, remote areas of People’s Republic (well away from the foreigner tourist trail) where there is less likely to be proper due diligence from authorities. Shuang Miao village in Henan was reported by Reuters, in 2004, to have an HIV infection incidence of 24% of the entire population, due to infected blood-collecting. Many local governments simply do not want to know or let others know about AIDS in their particular regions, as it might make them look bad. So information is suppressed. In addition, local officials worry that an honest assessment of prostitution, illegal plasma collection and drug abuse in their region would lead to their being accused of being inept.

As to other causes, the Shanghai Family Planning Institute believes no more than half of Chinese youngsters use condoms “or any precautions at all” during first-time sex.  “Many youngsters believe their sex partners won’t have a sexually transmitted disease and abortion seems easy”.

http://www.forbes.com/home/2007/07/10/durex-People’s Republ ic-contraception-markets-equity-cx_vk_0710markets5.html    

Special Olympics World Summer Games Euphoria – From Dublin 2003 to Shanghai 2007

Wow! It’s already over four years since the last Special Olympics World Summer Games were hosted Dublin. It was the largest sports event ever hosted in Ireland.

From 2nd to 11th October the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games will be hosted by Shanghai [http://www.2007specialolympics.com], the first of the three Olympic Games to be staged in China over the next 14 months, including the Summer Olympics and the Paralympic Games to be held next Summer in Beijing.

Unlike now, the days before the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2003 in Dublin were mired in controversy. At the time both Hong Kong and China were affected by the outbreak of the illness known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Irish Government fearful of SARS spreading to Ireland decided to ban the Hong Kong Special Olympics team from traveling to Ireland to compete at the Games. There was outrage in Hong Kong with protests outside the office of the Honorary Consul of Ireland. For me what was particular odious about this decision was the fact that business men and women were still allowed to freely travel to Ireland.

In Ireland on the radio, television and in the newspapers there was intense debate about the Irish Government’s decision. Living and working in Hong Kong there was a palpable sense of outage amongst the Irish community. Something had to be done. I decided to write two letters. The first which was published on 6th June, was to the Irish Examiner newspaper, while the second letter was to Chairman of the Organising Committee, Mr. Denis O’Brien (who was also an investor in the company I was working for at the time).

Irish Examiner Newpaper

Friday 6th June, 2003

 “Hong Kong’s special athletes hit by a peculiar Irish infection”

I WRITE in response to the latest “final” June 4 decision of the Department of Health and Children’s expert group on SARS and the Special Olympics to maintain its ban on Hong Kong’s disabled athletes travelling to Ireland, thus depriving them of the chance to attend what likely would be the most thrilling event in their lives.

This illogical decision comes after a period of unprecedented high-level dialogue between senior Hong Kong government officials and Irish medical experts in which the Hong Kong side sought to articulate a clearer understanding of the situation and the extra efforts that it would make to guarantee the health of its athletes before departure.

It is almost two weeks since the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced the lifting of its travel advisory against Hong Kong, noting that SARS outbreaks had been contained, which is not much different to its observations regarding the status of Canada and mainland China.

In fact, all new SARS cases confirmed in Hong Kong over the past month (an average of fewer than five cases per day compared to upwards of 60 daily at the end of March) have occurred in people who were already identified as contacts of a person with SARS and under active surveillance by the local health authorities.

None of the Hong Kong Special Olympics athletes hoping to travel to Ireland has had contact with any SARS patients, or any suspected cases.

The WHO has highly commended Hong Kong’s transparency and aggressive Hong Kong Special Olympics procedures.

All close contacts of known SARS cases are quarantined at home.

In addition, their Hong Kong ID numbers are passed to the immigration department to ensure that they cannot leave the territory.

Since the implementation of these rigorous exit-screening procedures at border checkpoints, which also include mandatory temperature checking of all outbound travellers, there have been no reports of internationally exported cases of SARS from Hong Kong.

What is more, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended against cancelling or postponing gatherings that will include people travelling to the US from areas with SARS, and the quarantine of persons arriving from SARS-affected areas who have shown no fever or respiratory symptoms.

As such, over the past fortnight Hong Kong exhibitors have been welcomed to the Las Vegas Jewellery Fair and the Cannes Film Festival as a result of the precautionary measures that the exhibitors had undertaken voluntarily.

And yet, it is against such transparency that Ireland still maintains its travel ban depriving athletes, some of whom have trained for up to eight years and whose team won 53 gold medals at the last Special Olympics, their chance to be the pride of Hong Kong.

Remarkably, no such travel ban has been imposed on other travellers from Hong Kong seeking entry to Ireland.

This ‘final’ decision appears not only irrational, but also hypocritical, given the latest guidelines conveniently lifting the travel ban on athletes from cities and regions where local transmission of SARS has not been reported, meaning that the Special Olympic Games will not be devoid of two of the largest participating teams, Canada and China.

It demonstrates that the Department of Health and Children has chosen not to follow the WHO‘s advice and made a decision without due regard to the precautionary measures that the Hong Kong Special Olympics Committee had proposed to take before their departure for the games.

The official flag presentation ceremony for the Hong Kong Special Olympics team is set to take place here on June 8, an event supported by The Hong Kong Gaelic Athletic Association, the St Patrick’s Society of Hong Kong, the Irish Business Forum and Enterprise Ireland.

It is the fervent wish of the Irish community in Hong Kong that the Irish government remove this unnecessary travel ban.

Niall O’Reilly,

15, Mosque Street,

Mid-Levels,

Hong Kong.

[Source: This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Friday, June 06, 2003 

http://www.irishexaminer.com/archives/2003/0606/ireland/hong-kongaposs-special-athletes-hit-by-a-peculiar-irish-infection-983257838.html]

The about-turn was remarkable.

Three days before the Opening Ceremony in Dublin, without prior notice, at 3.00 am I was awaken by the loud ringing sound of my telephone.  On the other end of the line was Denis O’Brien excitedly describing the excellent news that the Irish Government had decided to lift its travel ban and that the special athletes from Hong Kong were free to travel to Ireland. Denis O’Brien also offered to send his private jet to collect the Hong Kong team from London.

The Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin were a wonderful success, and I have heard from several people who were lucky enough to attend, the Opening Ceremony or witness it television that one of the most emotional memories of the evening was the arrival in the Croke Park stadium of the Hong Kong team when the packed house of 80,000 people stood up to cheer them these very special athletes. 

For me the abiding memory that will stay with me is being invited to represent the Irish Community of Hong Kong at the welcome home ceremony for the successful Hong Kong team. The sparkling smiles on the faces of the Hong Kong Special Olympics athletes, bedecked with gleaming gold and silver medals, will always stay in my mind.

“On June 19, I had the privilege of carrying the Olympic Torch – or Flame of Hope as it is called – and leading the Final Leg Torch Run team into Clonmel. Clonmel is a town of about 25,000 people and I would estimate that about half were on the streets to greet us. I have never seen so many Hong Kong flags in my life. They flew from the rooftops, from the buildings, from the churches and from the hands of thousands of people on the streets. And everyone was shouting Hong Kong! Hong Kong! at the tops of their voices.

“We ran into the town square where the Lord Mayor was present to greet us. I handed over the Flame of Hope. The Mayor took me to one side and told me that the Hong Kong team had not arrived. They were still in Macao under quarantine for SARS.

“To have run so far (over 200 miles) and not see the Hong Kong team was heartbreaking. I am not ashamed to say that I fell to my knees and wept.

“However, the Mayor told me that the Hong Kong team would be arriving in Dublin the following day and that a delegation from Clonmel would go to meet and welcome them. On the evening of June 21, we carried the Flame of Hope into Croke Park, Dublin, for the start of the games.

“The Special Olympics teams then marched into Croke Park in alphabetical order. I heard the master of ceremonies say “And now I see a particular team coming into the stadium. This is a team that we thought we would never see. But now they are here and we are so pleased to see them. Give a big, big welcome for Hong Kong!” About 85,000 people stood up and at the tops of their voices shouted: Hong Kong! Hong Kong! The noise was unbelievable! But it was obviously inspiring Ñ the Hong Kong Special Olympics team won 31 medals at this year’s games.

“I had a wonderful career with the Hong Kong Police Force and have had a wonderful life. But nothing in my experience is likely to top the emotion that I felt running for Hong Kong on the Law Enforcement Final Leg Torch Run.”

Source: Mr Peter Halliday, former Assistant Commissioner (Information Systems), Hong Kong Police Force helped carry the Special Olympics Games torch from Athens to Dublin http://www.police.gov.hk/offbeat/757/eng/s01.htm

"Special Olympics has not only given me the opportunity to compete, but also the confidence to compete. I am very proud of my accomplishments, and where else would I get to travel around the world?" (Source: Mei-Yu Lau - http://couch-gymnast.blogspot.com.es/2008/11/cartwheels-in_21.html ]
Gymnast Mei-Yu Lau, Team Hong Kong, on the vault at the 2003 Special Olympics Summer Games in Dublin: “Special Olympics has not only given me the opportunity to compete, but also the confidence to compete. I am very proud of my accomplishments, and where else would I get to travel around the world?”                                (Source: Mei-Yu Lau – http://couch-gymnast.blogspot.com.es/2008/11/cartwheels-in_21.html )

And so fast forward to late next week when a delegation of 1,000 Irish Special Olympians and their families will arrive in Shanghai to participate in the Special Olympics World Summer Games, 2007. Let the Games begin!

[Note: Special Olympics is an international non-profit organization dedicated to helping individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition]

Note: My review of the Special Olympics World Summer Games, 2000, in Shanghai  ‘Words matter: Mentally retarded or human gift? Looking back at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai’ is posted here: 

https://nialljoreilly.com/2007/11/08/words-matter-mentally-retarded-or-human-gift-looking-back-at-the-special-olympics-world-summer-games-in-shanghai/ ]

Jet lag and a visit to Banality

How to deal with jet lag

Constipation, clammy sweat, diarrhea, disorientation, dry cough, dry eyes, dry skin, ear ache, fatigue, headache, hemorrhoids, impaired coordination, impaired vision, impatience, insomnia, insecurity, irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness, loss of libido, low blood sugar, memory loss, nausea, reactions to drugs, sore throat, susceptibility to illness, and swollen feet. And this is just a partial list.

So at present my biological clock is a little screwed up, but not that screwed up! Can’t imagine having constipation and diarrhea, let alone all these symptoms of ‘jet lag’ at the same time….

Having departed overcrowded Dublin Airport Monday morning, and following a 14 hour flight (and +6 hours) time-zone eastwards and I find myself in Bangkok. Along the way the Etihad Airways aircraft touched down in the “Father of the Gazelle”, or Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. Considered by some to be the richest city in the world I was at least expecting an airport matching the accolade, having no time between flight connections to amble around the city.

What of the expression about first impressions counting? How true.

Banally, the enduring image of the satellite-shaped Abu Dhabi Airport, with its green and blue circular tiled jelly mould-like centre, was the lipstick counter in the Duty Free’s cosmetics department congested with Arab women who, dressed in an assortment traditional Jilbab, Burka, Abaya and Chador and trailing behind their white thobe dressed men folk, were loading up on multi-coloured lipsticks by the dozen.

Jet lag and a visit to Banality - the richest city in the world

The lipstick samples were, naturally, left untouched, it being considered ill-mannered for an Arab lady to expose her lips in public. Otherwise, from a people-watching perspective this was was just another congested, stuffy airport transit area featuring rude and abrupt officials acting like cowboys herding cattle into transportation enclosures. Suffice to say that on this particular evening I could have been in any airport in the Gulf States (previous characterless transit stops have included Sharjah, Bahrain, and Muscat). Dull. What’s the attraction of getting posted to this part of the world?  Oh, yeah…  Money!

Anyway that was characterless Abu Dhabi. I have digressed as I am now safely ensconced in a Bangkok hotel room.

What’s with the swollen feet, dehydration, disorientation and memory loss? Where am I? Where are the lipstick ladies?

Apparently, jet lag is easier to cope with flying in a westward direction compared to flying eastward. Science tells us that our body rhythm adapts more quickly when the day is artificially lengthened, which is what happens when we travel westwards. Personally I don’t buy this theory. Jet lag is cycle logical not psychological, and if you cycle over 6,000 miles across several time zones in one day, no matter the direction, you’re going to be extremely tired for a couple of days.

So it’s going to take a few days to adjust to being back in Asia, and where better to adjust than on a beach in Thailand. I’m hungry!

Welcome back to Asia Niall. Year #19 has begun.

JC come back and we’ll play a different tune

JC come back and we ll play a different tune

Those who knew JC, and who should have known better, didn’t pursue him, they left him alone. They said JC has gone away to Thailand with his buddy J, wait for another day, he’ll come home. That was in 1996. J never came home. I took charge of his funeral in Bangkok.

JC was all about reassuring the people who knew him “I’ll see you soon” … “I’m going away to find a place to stay, I’m going to dance on the Moon” … “One of these days when I change my ways, I’ll come back home”.

I have finally deciphered JC. His purpose of being in Thailand is to be a nobody in the way of a terminal alcoholic. Such a role is too stressful back in his utopia of origin up North. Blind to the fact that it is his addiction and its consequences that are making him miserable, JC falsely believes that the drink is the only source of comfort and security available to him in a cruel, cruel world.

You see JC has been telling me for three years that he is perfectly aware he has a drinking problem, that he does not intend to let it get out of hand, and that he will be taking steps to control it. He has been adamant that he can and will deal with it by himself rather than seeking any kind of professional or support group help.

Yet, as an alcoholic JC still doesn’t understand the nature of his alcohol addiction and still supposes his recovery to be merely a matter of will power. He doesn’t have the courage to ask for help from others for what he feels he ought to be able to do by himself.

In Thailand JC always has a cheap bottle he can turn to, and he has been turning every day… Long hard drinking.

The bottle doesn’t take effect the way it used to and he’s hurting in old familiar ways. It has let him down and JC has gone beyond the point of no return. He has lost his self-esteem and just can’t find the will to stop.

China – Under The Hood: Hangzhou No.1 People’s Hospital – A Hospita(ble) Experience

Had a significant health scare in early May, namely to do with my hearing. The first ENT doctor I met in Hangzhou‘s No. 1 People’s Hospital, a public hospital, recommended I stay in in the hosiptal for five days while they pump me full of steroids (no way is anyone going to fill me with that nasty stuff).  An equally alarmed local friend introduced me to Dr. Ruan, a renowned acupuncture doctor with her own private clinic. Now after six weeks of daily Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments including acupunctureherbal medicine, and massage (tui na) I feel really great. Harmony reigns.

View from Hangzhou:  No.1 People’s Hospital - A Hospita(ble) Experience - Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese Medicine – Acupuncture

By all means visit the provincial and city public hospitals for the western medicine tests etc (the leading public hospitals have all the modern equipment you’d see in a hospital in Hong Kong or Ireland, and tests are cheap… an MRI scan cost RMB 450 (about Euro 40)), but try and find a recommended private doctor for the diagnosis. Such a doctor may well be an experienced Traditional Chinese Medicine (中医 /  zhōng yī) practitioner who in order to trace the symptoms of an underlying disorder will check the pulse and inspect the tongue.  Traditional Chinese Medicine, based on five thousand years of observation and experience, is tried, tested, and true, and, in my opinion, well worth trying.

View from Hangzhou:  No.1 People’s Hospital - A Hospita(ble) Experience - Acupuncture
Traditional Chinese Medicine – Eectroacupuncture stimulation

Regarding the No.1 People’s Hospital it was like Hangzhou railway station on Chinese New Year’s Eve.  If you don’t speak Chinese you’ll just be swallowed up, so make sure you have a local friend with you. Note, unlike the western medicine focus in patient confidentiality, in China there is no such thing as a private consultation: everyone is there listening in, and commenting if need be, and if you are a foreigner the bigger the attraction . Finally, we’ll I won’t mention about the way the blood test (RMB 80 (about Euro 80)) was handled. I’ll just write “fifth time lucky finding the vein”. Darts anyone? Call it what you will, but the needle eventually punctured the vein and blood was drawn. Next?

Traditional Chinese Medicine - Inspection of the tongue

Private hospitals in Hangzhou appear to be a total scam…  They have a pretty lousy reputation, in fact I have heard nothing good about them. Take the case of my friend’s wife who recently gave birth at a private maternity hospital in Hangzhou. The delivery went smoothly, but he, the father, was handed the wrong baby!

Health systems the world over are being stretched to breaking point: Good and bad everywhere. In the UK and Ireland you can spend months on a waiting list to see an over-priced consultant, while patients wait on trolleys for days and days because there are no beds, killer MRSA super bugs notwithstanding.

If you living in one of the bigger coastal cities, and you can blot from your mind the masses of people, thoughts about poor hygiene, and being misdiagnosed, and you have a local friend to whom you’ve explained in minute detail the nature of your illness, then attending a leading public hospital in a developed city isn’t too bad an experience – well at least in Hangzhou. Oh and always get a second, and even third opinion. That’s RMB well spent!