Bushfires threaten drinking water safety. The consequences could last for decades



Warnings about poor drinking water quality are in place in some areas affected by the bushfires.
From shutterstock.com

Stuart Khan, UNSW

Bushfires pose serious short- and long-term impacts to public drinking water quality. They can damage water supply infrastructure and water catchments, impeding the treatment processes that normally make our water safe to drink.

Several areas in New South Wales and Victoria have already been issued with warnings about the quality of their drinking water.

Here’s what we know about the short- and long-term risks.




Read more:
How to monitor the bushfires raging across Australia


Short-term risks

Bushfires can damage or disrupt water supply infrastructure as they burn. And the risks can persist after the fires are out.

A loss of power, for example, disables important water treatment processes such as chlorine disinfection, needed to kill microorganisms and make our water safe to drink.

Drinking water for the towns of Eden and Boydtown on the NSW south coast has been affected in this way over recent days. Residents have been advised to boil their water before drinking it and using it for cooking, teeth brushing, and so on.

Other towns including Cobargo and Bermagui received similar warnings on New Year’s Eve.




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In some cases, untreated water, straight from a river supply, may be fed directly into drinking water systems. Water treatment plants are bypassed completely, due to damage, power loss, or an inability to keep pace with high volumes of water required for firefighting.

We’ve seen this in a number of southern NSW towns this week including Batlow, Adelong, Tumbarumba, and the southern region of Eurobodalla Council, stretching from Moruya to Tilba. Residents of these areas have also been urged to boil their drinking water.

Untreated river water, or river water which has not been properly disinfected with chlorine, is usually not safe for drinking in Australia. Various types of bacteria, as well as the parasites giardia and cryptosporidium, could be in such water.

Animals including cattle, birds and kangaroos can excrete these microorganisms into river water. Septic tanks and sewage treatment plants may also discharge effluents into waterways, adding harmful microorganisms.

Human infection with these microorganisms can cause a range of illnesses, including gastrointestinal diseases with symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting.




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Long-term risks

Bushfires can damage drinking water catchments, which can lead to longer term threats to drinking water. Drinking water catchments are typically forested areas, and so are vulnerable to bushfire damage.

Severe impacts to waterways may not occur until after intense rainfall. Heavy rain can wash ash and eroded soil from the fires into waterways, affecting drinking water supplies downstream.

For example, bushfire ash contains nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Increased nutrient concentrations can stimulate the growth of cyanobacteria, commonly known as “blue-green algae”.

Cyanobacteria produce chemicals which may cause a range of water quality problems, including poor taste and odour. Some cyanobacteria can produce toxic chemicals, requiring very careful management to protect treated drinking water.

Boiling water will kill microorganisms, but not chemical substances.
From shutterstock.com

Many water treatment plants include filtration processes to filter small suspended particles from the water. But an increase in suspended particles, like that which we see after bushfires, would challenge most filtration plants. The suspended particles would be removed, but they would clog the filters, requiring them to be more frequently pulled from normal operation and cleaned.

This cleaning, or backwashing, is a normal part of the treatment process. But if more time must be spent backwashing, that’s less time the filters are working to produce drinking water. And if the rate of drinking water filtration is slowed and fails to keep pace with demand, authorities may place limitations on water use.




Read more:
The bushfires are horrendous, but expect cyclones, floods and heatwaves too


Boiling water isn’t always enough

In order to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal and other illnesses, water suppliers and health departments may issue a boil water alert, as we’ve seen in the past week. Bringing water to a “rolling boil” can reliably kill most of the microorganisms of concern.

In cases where water may be contaminated with chemical substances rather than microorganisms, boiling is usually not effective. So where there’s a risk of chemical contamination, public health messages are usually “do not drink tap water”. This means bottled water only.

Such “do not drink” alerts were issued this week following bushfire impacts to water treatment plants supplying the Victorian towns of Buchan and Omeo.




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Impacts to catchments from bushfires and subsequent erosion can have long-lasting effects, potentially worsening untreated drinking water quality for many years, even decades.

Following these bushfires, many water treatment plant operators and catchment managers will need to adapt to changed conditions and brace for more extreme weather events in the future.The Conversation

Stuart Khan, Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How big alcohol is trying to fool us into thinking drinking is safer than it really is



Australia’s drinking guidelines are currently under review.
From shutterstock.com

Peter Miller, Deakin University

Over recent weeks, the alcohol industry has been drumming up media discussion around Australia’s new drinking guidelines.

Australia’s guidelines on alcohol consumption are under ongoing review by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), with new draft guidelines expected to be released in November.

The alcohol industry has labelled the current guidelines (two standard drinks per day and four in any heavy episode of drinking) as harsh, and voiced concern the guidelines may be tightened further.




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The global alcohol industry has been increasingly proactive in trying to undermine the ever-improving science on the harms associated with the product they make money from manufacturing, promoting and selling.

This is somewhat unsurprising given the industry would be significantly less profitable if we all drank responsibly.

Drinking guidelines

Panels of scientists develop drinking guidelines around the world by assessing the best and most up-to-date evidence on alcohol and health, and determining consumption levels which might put people at risk.

They then provide the information to health professionals and the public to allow people to make informed decisions about consumption. The guidelines are neither imposed nor legislated.

The current 2009 Australian guidelines recommend healthy adults should drink no more than two standard drinks per day to reduce their lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease or injury. They recommend no more than four standard drinks on one occasion to reduce a person’s risk of injury and death.

So how are the industry players trying to protect our drinking culture from such “harsh” guidelines?

Alcohol Beverages Australia: who they are and what they’re claiming

Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) is an industry body for global alcohol producers and retailers, including Asahi Brewers from Japan, Diageo Spirits from the UK, Pernod Ricard from France, Coca-Cola Amatil from the USA, and many others. Bringing together multiple industry groups to lobby government was a key strategy developed by the tobacco industry.

The NHMRC review of Australia’s drinking guidelines was open to public submissions on the health effects of alcohol consumption until January 2017. At this time, the ABA submitted a report claiming drinking alcohol carries health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. They requested the review take this into account in drafting any new guidelines.

In their communications with the media this month, the ABA resurfaced their 2017 submission to the process. It seems they have not updated the information to reflect the latest evidence.




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The most up-to-date evidence has shown previous research was substantially flawed in terms of the relationship between alcohol consumption and heart disease, blood pressure, breast cancer and overall mortality.

We know consuming any type of alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer of the bowel, mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver and breast. The World Health Organisation has classified alcohol as a class 1 carcinogen, along with asbestos and tobacco, for decades.

Any health benefits the ABA demonstrated evidence for is outweighed by the risks.

The current drinking guidelines in Australia recommend no more than two standard drinks per day for healthy adults.
From shutterstock.com

Alongside claiming the benefits of drinking alcohol need to be considered, to make their case, the ABA have compared drinking guidelines across different countries. In doing so, they are seeking to highlight Australia’s guidelines are ‘stricter’ than those of most other countries.

In making sense of these figures, the difference in drink driving levels is worth considering. It takes the average male four standard drinks to reach 0.05 in two hours and around seven standard drinks to reach 0.08. This is a big difference for most of us.

Those countries with 0.08mg of alcohol per L of blood as the legal limit are willing to accept more than triple the risk of having a car accident than Australia’s 0.05.

We need to ask whether these are countries whose health and safety models we want to follow.




Read more:
Health check: is moderate drinking good for me?


This is not a new problem

The industry is using language like “harsh” and “strict” to ferment public opposition to any tightened guidelines.

This spin strategy is predictable. The alcohol industry has been fighting for many decades to preserve profits over public safety, disregarding consumers’ rights to know the contents of their products, and the harms associated.

They fought against the 0.05 drink driving limit in the 1950s, and have successfully stopped Australian governments telling us about the cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption. For example, while policymakers have proposed warning labels with information about cancer risk be placed on alcoholic drinks, this is yet to eventuate.

The ABA is currently resisting a push to explicitly warn consumers drinking is harmful to unborn babies by means of mandatory labelling on all alcohol containers, suggesting it’s “too much information”.

These examples show how the industry continues to actively muddy efforts to educate the public of the harms of alcohol consumption.




Read more:
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Notably, we’ve seen all of this before, particularly in the tobacco industry, or “big tobacco”, which has previously employed strategies to minimise health concerns and delay effective legislation.

So it’s hard not to wonder if the ABA are worried about the bottom line of their corporate masters, and therefore trying to influence deliberations through a media campaign, similar to those previously used by the tobacco industry.The Conversation

Peter Miller, Professor of Violence Prevention and Addiction Studies, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Research Check: can drinking coffee help you lose weight?



As keen as we may be to hear about any health benefits of drinking coffee, the headlines aren’t always what they seem.
Janko Ferlic/Unsplash

Andrew Carey, Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute

Researchers from the University of Nottingham in the UK recently published a study in the journal Scientific Reports suggesting caffeine increases brown fat.

This caught people’s attention because brown fat activity burns energy, which may help with weight loss. Headlines claimed drinking coffee can help you lose weight, and that coffee is possibly even the “secret to fighting obesity”.

Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that. The researchers did find caffeine stimulated brown fat, but this was mainly in cells in a lab.

For a human to reap the benefits seen in the cells, we estimate they’d need to drink at least 100 cups of coffee.

Although part of this research did look at people, the methods used don’t support coffee or caffeine as weight-loss options.




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What is brown fat?

Brown adipose (fat) tissue is found deep within the torso and neck. It contains fat cell types which differ from the “white” fat we find around our waistlines.

Brown fat cells adapt to our environment by increasing or decreasing the amount of energy they can burn when “activated”, to produce heat to warm us up.

When people are cold for days or weeks, their brown fat gets better at burning energy.

We understand caffeine may be able to indirectly accentuate and prolong some of these processes, mimicking the effects of cold exposure in stimulating brown fat.

Brown fat – and anything thought to increase its activity – has generated significant research interest, in the hope it might assist in the treatment of obesity.

What did the researchers do in this latest study?

The research team first conducted experiments where cells taken from mice were grown into fat cells in petri dishes. They added caffeine to some samples, but not others, to see whether the caffeinated cells acquired more brown fat attributes (we call this “browning”).

The dose of caffeine (one millimolar) was determined based on what would be the highest concentration that browned the cells but didn’t kill them.

The fat cell culture experiment showed adding caffeine did “brown” the cells.




Read more:
Can ‘brown fat’ really help with weight loss?


The researchers then recruited a group of nine people who drank a cup of instant coffee, or water as a control.

Before and after the participants drank coffee, the researchers measured their brown fat activity by assessing the temperature of the skin near the neck, under which a major region of brown fat is known to lie.

Skin temperature increased over the shoulder area after drinking coffee, whereas it didn’t after drinking only water.

How should we interpret the results?

Some people will criticise the low number of human participants (nine). We shouldn’t make broad recommendations on human behaviour or medicine based on small studies like this, but we can use them to identify new and interesting aspects of how our bodies work – and that’s what these researchers sought to do.

But whether the increased skin temperature after drinking coffee is significant cannot be determined for a few important reasons.

Firstly, although the study showed an increase in skin temperature after drinking coffee, the statistical analysis for the human experiment doesn’t include enough data to accurately compare the coffee and water groups, which prevents meaningful conclusions. That is, it doesn’t use appropriate methods we apply in science to decide if something really changed or only happened by chance.

Enjoy coffee for the taste, or the buzz. But don’t expect it to affect your waistline.
From shutterstock.com

Second, measuring skin temperature is not necessarily the most accurate indicator for brown fat in this context. Skin temperature has been validated as a way to measure brown fat after cold exposure, but not after taking drugs which mimic the effects of cold exposure – which caffeine is in the context of this study.

Myself and other researchers have shown the effects of these “mimic” drugs result in diverse effects including increased blood flow to the skin. Where we don’t know if changes in the skin temperature are due to brown fat or unrelated factors, relying on this measure may be problematic.

Although also suffering its own limitations, PET (poistron emission tomography) imaging is currently our best option for directly measuring active brown fat.

It’s the dose that matters most

The instant coffee used in the study contained 65mg of caffeine, which is standard for a regular cup of instant coffee. Brewed coffees vary and might be double this.

Regardless, it’s difficult to imagine this dose could increase brown fat energy burning when studies using large doses of more potent “cold-mimicking” drugs (such as ephedrine) cause no, or at best modest, increases in brown fat activity.




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Health check: can caffeine improve your exercise performance?


But let’s look at the caffeine dose used in the cell experiments. The one millimolar concentration of caffeine is a 20-fold larger dose than 300-600mg of caffeine dose used by elite athletes as a performance-boosting strategy. And this dose is five to ten times higher than the amount of caffeine you’d get from drinking an instant coffee.

Rough calculations therefore suggest we’d need to drink 100 or 200 cups of coffee to engage the “browning” effects of caffeine.

So people should continue to drink and enjoy their coffee. But current evidence suggests we shouldn’t start thinking about it as a weight loss tool, nor that it has anything meaningful to do with brown fat in humans. – Andrew Carey


Blind peer review

This Research Check is a fair and balanced discussion of the study. The limitations identified by this Research Check apply equally to diabetes, which the study encompassed, but didn’t get picked up as much in the headlines.

Coffee contains more than caffeine, and while there is some evidence that modest coffee consumption may reduce diabetes risk, decaffeinated coffee seems to be as effective as caffeinated coffee. This is consistent with the point made by the Research Check that you would need to drink an implausible number of cups of coffee to produce the effect seen with caffeine in the cultured fat cells. – Ian Musgrave


Research Checks interrogate newly published studies and how they’re reported in the media. The analysis is undertaken by one or more academics not involved with the study, and reviewed by another, to make sure it’s accurate.The Conversation

Andrew Carey, Group Leader: Metabolic and Vascular Physiology, Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Health check: is moderate drinking good for me?



File 20190307 82669 qqvs4x.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
We previously thought moderate drinking could be good for our health. There’s now evidence that says the opposite.
From shutterstock.com

Hassan Vally, La Trobe University

For the past three decades or so, the conventional wisdom has been that drinking alcohol at moderate levels is good for us.

The evidence for this has come from many studies that have suggested the death rate for moderate drinkers is lower than that for non-drinkers. In other words, we thought moderate drinkers lived longer than those who didn’t drink at all.

This phenomenon has been communicated with great impact by the J-shaped curve that shows death rates fall as you move from non-drinking to moderate drinking, before rising again as drinking levels increase.




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Most of us embraced these studies with enthusiasm. But the findings were probably too good to be true. The problem has always been the potential mixing of many other variables – called confounding factors – with drinking.

The concern was that non-drinkers as a group in many of these previous studies were different to moderate drinkers in many ways in addition to their drinking. Non-drinkers may have been unhealthier to begin with (hence not taking up drinking in the first place) or they may have included recovering alcoholics with poor health.

These confounding factors may have made moderate drinkers look healthier than they actually were (relative to non-drinkers) and thus have led us to associate moderate drinking with better health.




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More recent studies have been able to address this challenge of separating out the effect of drinking on health, independent of other confounding factors. And these newer studies tell us moderate drinking is probably not good for us at all.

Instead of the J-shaped curve described previously, the most recent evidence is showing a curve that continues on an upward trajectory.

As you increase your level of drinking beyond not drinking at all, for all levels of drinking, your health outcomes worsen. The curve starts off relatively flat, before rising dramatically, indicating much higher rates of early death as drinking levels increase.

So what is the health cost of moderate drinking?

If we look a recent Lancet study that addressed this issue, we can start to make sense of this cost. This suggests that if you drink one alcoholic drink per day you have a 0.5% higher risk of developing one of 23 alcohol-related health conditions.

But risk expressed in this way is difficult to interpret. It’s only when we convert this to an absolute risk that we can begin to understand the actual magnitude of this risk to our health. It translates to four more illnesses* per 100,000 people due to alcohol, which is actually a pretty small risk (but an increased risk nonetheless).

While the health implications of moderate drinking have been a point of contention, it’s clear drinking excessively isn’t good.
From shutterstock.com

This risk estimation assumes several things, including that you drink alcohol every single day, so you would expect the risk to be smaller for those who drink every other day or only occasionally.

The latest evidence suggests the health cost of light to moderate drinking, if there is one, is quite small. What was previously thought to be a marginal benefit of moderate alcohol drinking is now considered a marginal cost to health.




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So for you as an individual, what does this new evidence mean?

Maybe it means having to lose the contentedness you have felt as you drink your evening glass of wine, believing it was also improving your health.

Or maybe this new evidence will give you the motivation to reduce your drinking, even if you are only a moderate drinker.

Of course, if you get pleasure from drinking responsibly, and you have no intention of changing your drinking habits, then you will have to consider and accept this potential cost to your health.

But remember, the evidence is still incontrovertible that drinking high levels
of alcohol is very bad for you. It will shorten the length of your life and affect the quality of your life and those around you.

Correction: this article originally said one alcoholic drink per day equated to four more deaths – rather than illnesses – per 100,000 people due to alcohol.The Conversation

Hassan Vally, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Alcoholic? Me? How to tell if your holiday drinking is becoming a problem



Holiday drinking can get out of hand before we know it. It’s important to know the signs of overuse.
Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock.com

Sara Jo Nixon, University of Florida

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, when holiday parties collide with collegiate and professional athletics events. What do they all have in common? Booze, lots of it, and often free. It’s no wonder the lead reindeer has a red nose.

Of course, drinking isn’t limited to a single season, but it holds a prominent place during the holidays. Across a few short weeks, consumption of spiked cider, boozy nog, wine, beer, cocktails and variations thereof may be higher than at any other point in the year. One industry study suggested that drinking doubles at this time of year. During this party time, we see up close the drinking habits of our partners, co-workers, relatives and, of course, ourselves.

This holiday season, you might take notice of just how much you drink. You may start to question your motivation for drinking. Or wonder about the long-term effects. While it might be tempting to dismiss these unsettling reflections, as director of the University of Florida Center for Addiction Research and Education, I encourage you not to.

Sometimes one drink is too many.
bogdanhoda/Shutterstock.com

How many is too many?

About one in eight U.S. adults met criteria for an alcohol use disorder in 2013 – the most recent year for which we have data. Compare that to just over one in 12 in 2002. That’s a nearly 50% increase.
Alcohol misuse can lead to interpersonal violence and physical injury and worsen medical and psychiatric conditions. Besides its impact on health and well-being, alcohol misuse costs the U.S. an estimated US$224 billion a year in lost productivity, health care costs, criminal justice costs and others. More than 75% of those costs are associated with binge drinking.

But these statistics don’t answer the question I get most often from friends, family, casual acquaintances and even strangers at parties or on cross-country flights. What everyone wants to know is, “How much can I drink without being an alcoholic?” The answer is, “It depends.”

For starters, stop calling names

To effectively address the question, we must rethink our use of the term “alcoholic.” People have disorders; they are not themselves these disorders. The distinction is not merely a matter of semantics. It is fundamental to eliminating the stigma of substance use disorders and other psychiatric conditions.

Still, the more appropriate question, “How much can I drink without developing an alcohol use disorder?” gets the same answer: It depends. The amount that a person drinks doesn’t directly determine an alcohol use disorder diagnosis. But how can a “drinking problem” not have a definitive cutoff?

That’s because two people could drink the same amount and experience completely different consequences. So, the diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder focus on those consequences, rather than number of drinks imbibed.

For example, inability to control your drinking, no matter how much you drink, is a red flag. Having cravings for alcohol is another one. Does drinking interfere with your work, school or home responsibilities? Do you drink in situations in which you know it’s risky to do so?

Of course, the more you drink, the more likely it is that you will experience negative consequences.

There are resources available to help you know if are drinking too much.
and-one/Shutterstock.com

Risky business

Most drinkers do not develop a disorder. But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Research shows that Americans are drinking more and for longer each time they drink than ever before. And, adults are continuing to drink into older ages than ever before.

Women, in particular, seem to drink more as they age. A significant percentage of drinkers over age 55 often exceed the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s suggested guidelines for moderate drinking without necessarily meeting criteria for an alcohol use disorder. Whether you have a diagnosable disorder or not, all this drinking can cause problems.

One of those problems is driving. People mistakenly think of this as a young person’s problem. But about one in four adults 45 to 64 and another one in 12 over age 65 report driving after drinking in the previous month.

At blood alcohol concentrations equivalent to one or two drinks, older adults show notable shifts in cognitive performance, neural activity and driving strategies compared to younger ones.

Putting all this in the context of the holidays, it’s not just the pervasive presence of booze that makes us drink. It’s the party culture. If you’re seen without a drink, you are often encouraged to take one. If you lose track of your drink, you get another (full) one.

This excess may meet criteria for a binge drinking episode. For women, that’s four or more standard drinks in a single occasion. For men, it’s five or more. And, as for “standard” drinks, we all know that many of us are typically pouring ourselves two to three times the standard in every glass.

Binge drinking, too, is increasing in older adults. And that matters because it has an immediate impact on driving abilities, fall risk and prescription medications.

Should I take action?

If your alcohol use is gnawing at your conscience, you have options. Talk candidly with a trained professional about your drinking. Access the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website, where you can assess your drinking and seek help. If you believe a friend or relative has a problem, talk with someone who can help you identify next steps.

Here are some ways to be a safer drinker:

  • Before that party, eat something, even if you have to eat it in the car.
  • Make your first drink nonalcoholic. It keeps you from gulping down the first “real” drink and allows your “car snack” time to settle.
  • Alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks.
  • Eat (actually, graze) throughout the evening. Assuage guilt about calories by prioritizing fitness.
  • Disregard peer pressure. Susceptibility to it may lessen with age, but seldom vanishes. When you reach your limit, don’t be swayed.
  • To escape from an awkward conversation, don’t make a beeline to the bar. Take an indirect route through the room, mingling, checking out decorations.
  • Take a ride-share home or to and from a party.

If you think your holiday drinking could be a sign of a year-round issue, discuss it with a medical or behavioral health provider. There are a variety of options, including the support and help of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is free. Online AA meetings are also available. For more information, visit: https://www.aa.org.

[ Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day. ]The Conversation

Sara Jo Nixon, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

India Briefs: Recent Incidents of Persecution


Karnataka, India, April 8 (CDN) — Four Christians, including a police constable, were beaten on April 1 in Madikeri district on allegations of “religious conversion abetment,” as if conversion were illegal in India. Daijiworld Media Network reported that K. Nidugane villagers were enraged when a Christian constable identified only as Prasanna, along with three others identified only as Diwakar, Lawrence and Dias, went door-to-door distributing pamphlets and books in Nandimotte village. A few enraged Hindu villagers beat them, tore their clothes half-off, and brought them to a police station. Hindu extremist leaders who found out rushed to the village, but before they could manhandle the four, policemen intervened and took the accused Christians into custody. Deputy Superintendent of Police J.D. Prakash said that a recommendation had been sent to the superintendent of police seeking Prasanna’s suspension from service, the Daijiworld report stated. Diwakar, along with his wife Telcy Diwakar, had also been arrested and released on bail when they visited Devastoor village on March 26. A police official told Compass that the Christians have been charged with “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”

Karnataka – Police on April 1 arrested Christians after Hindu nationalists registered false complaints of “conversion” against them (religious conversion is legal in India) in Kodihalli, Bangalore. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that citizens identified only as Vincent, Johnson, Satyan and Naveenand Vinod were at a prayer and fellowship meeting in the home of a Christian when area Hindu extremists led by a person identified only Prashanth stormed the house, made the accusation and forced them to the Kodihalli police station. A GCIC coordinator told Compass that the intolerant Hindus shouted anti-Christian rants along the way, and that police were mute spectators as the extremists mocked the Christians at the police station. Police charged the Christians with “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”

Himachal Pradesh – On March 17 at Rekong Peo in Kinnur district, Hindu extremists ostracized the Christian community and warned them under threat of violence to conduct no future worship meetings. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that Hindu nationalist extremists barred Christians from using a public road, collecting drinking water and entering a local forest. A group of 20 Christians filed a complaint at the Bhavannagar police station, but officials failed to protect the victims at the behest of the local Hindu extremists. AICC submitted a detailed report to the National Commission for Minorities, requesting an investigation.

Kerala – On March 31 on Kara Beach Road, Kodungallur, Hindu extremists attacked Pastor N.V. Eliyas and Pastor Milton George of New India Church of God as they were returning home with their families from a house dedication prayer service. The extremists shouted slogans against the Christians as they accused them of “forceful conversions,” reported the Global Council of Indian Christians. The Hindu extremists damaged the Christians’ vehicles. Pastor Eliyas sustained injuries on his head and ear and was rushed to the Kodungallur Government Hospital. Police arrested 35 Hindu extremists who were involved in the incident.

Uttar Pradesh – On March 20 in Lonianpurawa, Balrampur district, an irate mob of 60 Hindu extremists barged into the worship meeting of The Healing Church and beat those present. An earlier incident had taken place the previous Sunday (March 13), when Hindu extremists threatened the worship led by convert Gudgi Verma and his wife Saroja Verma, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). Opposing their thriving ministry in the area, local Member of the Legislative Assembly Gorakhnath Baba allegedly had sent about 25 Hindu extremists to the church to deliver the warning to discontinue church services. The Christians continued, and on March 16 Baba and 50 Hindu extremists went to the site, urged the couple to stop all Christian worship meetings and restore Hindu idols to the house, give offerings to the temple and observe all Hindu festivals, according to EFI. Evangelists Abhay Kumar and Keshov Parsad went to Lonianpurawa on March 20 to lead worship, and the Hindu extremists suddenly barged in, verbally abused the Christians for their faith and beat them. The situation in the area is reported as tense, and local Christians are praying to be able to resume regular Sunday worship meetings.  

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Christian Nursing Student Nearly Dies from Assault in Pakistan


She charges Muslim doctors threw her from hospital window after gang-rape.

KARACHI, Pakistan, July 26 (CDN) — A Catholic nurse trainee has regained consciousness after a Muslim doctor allegedly raped her and threw her from a hospital’s fourth-floor window this month.

The student nurse told media and rights groups that on July 13 several Muslim men, led by Dr. Abdul Jabbar Meammon, beat and raped her, and then threw her from the window of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC) to keep her from revealing the abuse.

Meammon, who had taken over a room in the all-female wing of the hospital, has a history of abusing Christian nurses, a hospital administrator said. Dr. Seemi Jamali, chief of JPMC’s Emergency Department, told Compass that Meammon had been suspended from the hospital seven times for drinking alcohol on the job and other misbehavior, and that he was drunk when he assaulted Ashraf.

A medico-legal officer at the hospital who carried out autopsies, Meammon was forcibly occupying a room in the women-only wing of the doctors’ hostel, Jamali said. She added that Meammon is an influential figure backed by a leading political party in Karachi.

The third-year student nurse, Magdalene Ashraf, was unconscious for 56 hours as surgeons fought for her life at the intensive care unit of JPMC and is still in critical condition. On July 19 she gave a statement to police that has not been released. Later that day she spoke to media and a lawyer from the Christian Lawyers’ Foundation (CLF), saying several men took hold of her at 4:30 p.m. on July 13, and after abusing her for several hours threw her from the window.

Ashraf said that fellow nurse Sajjad Fatima tricked her into going into Meammon’s room by telling Ashraf that he wanted to talk with her about a grade on a class assignment. When she arrived, she told media and the CLF, another doctor and Meammon’s driver were also present, and that Meammon grabbed her.

“When I resisted and tried to escape, nurse Fatima slapped both my cheeks and pushed me into Dr. Jabbar,” Ashraf said. “I cried out but no one arrived there to rescue me. They not only gang-raped me, they also tortured me physically and ruthlessly beat me.”

She dismissed claims by Meammon that she jumped out the window.

“If I had jumped myself, my legs would have been fractured, and I would not have had injuries to my head, brain and shoulders,” she said.

Khalid Gill, head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance in Punjab Province, told Compass that Meammon had a history of sexually harassing female Christian students at the teaching hospital.

Gill and the Rev. Azher Kaleem, general secretary of the Christian Lawyers’ Foundation (CLF), said that after Ashraf was thrown out the window, Meammon also jumped down in order to portray himself as innocent, claiming people trying to harm him were pursuing him as well. His hip injury from the jump was treated at the better-equipped Agha Khan Hospital, where he was hand-cuffed and his feet shackled before being transferred to a holding cell to face charges.

The Rev. Khadim Bhutto of advocacy organization Gawahi Mission Trust told Compass that he had the opportunity to speak with Meammon. According to Bhutto, Meammon said that he was relaxing in his room when Magdalene ran in followed by five unidentified men, from whom both of them eventually fled.

Bhutto said that Meammon was grinning about the incident as he told his version, seemingly pleased with what he had done.

The pastor said police have only charged Meammon and his accomplices with attempted murder, but that Christian organizations are urging police to file gang-rape charges. He added that police have also arrested Dr. Ferhat Abbas and another doctor identified only as Tayyab and are holding them at an undisclosed location.

A preliminary medical examination indicated that Ashraf was raped and tortured, said Natasha Riaz, a fourth-year nursing student.

“The swabs taken from her have confirmed that she was raped, and apart from Dr. Meammon, five other men were also involved,” Riaz said.

One of Ashraf’s family members told Compass that they have continued to receive threats from Meammon; the relative also said that Ashraf had complained of being harassed by him.

Dr. Donald Mall, an administrator with Seventh Day Adventist Hospital, told Compass after visiting the victim that there “are hundreds of rape cases of Christian nurses by doctors which go unreported in Pakistan,” and that the Sindh Province Health Department has ignored them.

Police sources told Compass that they are searching for Fatima, the nurse who is an alleged accomplice of the alleged rapists, and Meammon’s driver, identified only as Arshad, both still at large. Police said that when they arrived at the hospital, administrators stalled them long enough for Fatima to escape.

Since the assault, Christians have staged several demonstrations against religiously motivated violence such as the alleged assault on Ashraf and the July 19 murder of the Rev. Rashid Emmanuel and his brother Sajid Emmanuel, who were accused under Pakistan’s “blasphemy” laws. The latest demonstrations took place in Karachi on Saturday (July 24), and in Sargodha and Lahore the next day.

Report from Compass Direct News

Lao Christians Expelled from Village Suffer Critical Illnesses


One dead, two hospitalized; village chief threatens other residents.

DUBLIN, May 14 (CDN) — In spite of assurances of religious rights by officials in March, Lao Christians expelled from a village in Saravan Province in January are suffering from a prolonged lack of adequate food and clean water.

The lack of basic resources has led to diarrhea, dehydration, eye and skin infections, fainting and general weakness for the Christians expelled from Katin village, and one person has died, Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported.

A Christian who went by the single name of Ampheng died suddenly in April while praying for one of two other Christians who were hospitalized with illnesses caused by their living conditions, an HRWLRF spokesman told Compass. The exact cause and date of Ampheng’s death were not immediately known.

Expelled from their village at gunpoint on Jan. 18 for failing to renounce their faith, the 48 Christians were forced to build temporary shelters at the edge of the jungle, about six kilometers (nearly four miles) away from the village.

They have since survived on food found in the jungle and water from a hand-dug well that is unfit for cooking or drinking, sources told HRWLRF.

District officials in early May gave the Christians permission to return to Katin village and take rice from their family rice barns to prevent starvation, said another source on condition of anonymity.

In addition, some of the Christians have returned to tend their family rice fields, fearing that if the fields are completely abandoned they may lose the right to cultivate them next year. Water buffaloes essential for farm work, however, were confiscated in January along with the Christians’ homes and registration papers, according to HRWLRF.

When the Christians interred Ampheng at the local burial ground, district officials fined them for failing to produce the required proof of house registration, according to HRWLRF.

Katin’s village chief recently warned other residents that their personal possessions would be confiscated if they had any contact with the expelled Christians. If any family continued to maintain contact despite repeated warnings, their own homes would be torn down, the chief reportedly said.

Official reactions to the plight of the Christians have been mixed. In March, a delegation of provincial and district officials led by Gov. Khamboon Duangpanya visited the Christians at their jungle site and assured them of their legal right to embrace the faith of their choice and to live anywhere in the district.

Just days earlier, however, the district head, identified only as Bounma, summoned seven of the Christians to his office and said that he would not tolerate the existence of Christianity in areas under his control. (See “Lao Officials Visit Expelled Christians, Give Assurances,” March 19.)

High level officials failed to intervene last July when villagers seized a Christian identified only as Pew and poured rice wine down his throat, killing him by asphyxiation. Village officials later fined Pew’s family for erecting a cross on his grave, and then detained 80 Christians in a school compound, denying them food and pressuring them to renounce their faith.

The heads of 13 families then signed documents renouncing Christianity in order to protect their children, but most resumed attendance at worship meetings within a few months.

Provincial officials did call a meeting in September 2008 asking Katin authorities to respect Lao religious laws and allow the Christians freedom to worship, but their request was ignored.

A communist country, Laos is 1.5 percent Christian and 67 percent Buddhist, with the remainder unspecified. Article 6 and Article 30 of the Lao Constitution guarantees the right of Christians and other religious minorities to practice the religion of their choice without discrimination or penalty.

Report from Compass Direct News