AP: Rights group urges halt to Brazil dam in Amazon
Reuters: Vietnam finally nets legendary turtle for treatment
Environmental News from the UNEP Regions
Other UN News
Environment News from the UN Daily News of April 6th 2011
Environment News from the S.G.’s Spokesman Daily Press Briefing of April 6th 2011 (None)
UNEP and the Executive Director in the News IEWY News (UK): Secretary-General Says Kenya’s Geothermal Developments Start of 20-Year Journey towards Making Nation ‘Low-Carbon, Resource Efficient, Green’ 5th April 2011
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the visit to the Olkaria Geothermal Facility, in Naivasha, Kenya, 2 April:
It has been a fascinating privilege to learn today how Kenya is tapping the volcanic heat of the Great Rift Valley to generate electricity. Kenya is not rich in oil, natural gas or coal reserves. But it is has a wealth of “clean fuels” — from geothermal energy, to wind, solar and biomass.
The geothermal developments here aim to generate 1,200 megawatts by 2018. This is, in many ways, the beginning of what promises to be a 20-year journey that could make Kenya a low-carbon, resource-efficient “green economy”. It is a remarkable story — not just in terms of renewable energy and climate change — but in partnership for development. It is among a growing number of examples of how the United Nations, the World Bank, donor Governments and the private sector are supporting forward-looking public policies — policies that can help to reduce poverty and lay the foundations for a truly sustainable future.
In the past few days I have learned about the development of the biggest wind farm in sub-Saharan Africa — a project in Turkana that will generate more than 300 megawatts. Kenya’s 2030 vision also includes waste-into-energy projects, co-generation and feed-in tariffs, and ongoing work with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other partners to support the tea industry with small-scale hydropower. And the United Nations’ own new energy-neutral offices in Gigiri, which we unveiled on Thursday with President [Mwai] Kibaki, underline the viability of solar power.
One of the technical challenges Kenya faces is how to integrate all these emerging components of a renewable energy economy into an efficient, modern distribution network. While geothermal can provide reliable energy like a coal-fired power station, other renewable resources can be more unpredictable and intermittent. UNEP and the Global Environment Facility are working with Government, regulators and power companies to address this through improved generation and distribution. Done efficiently and creatively, this can help to catalyse renewable energy not just in Kenya, but as part of the planned East Africa Power Pool. As Kenya and many other countries are showing, there is a growing menu of economically viable choices for generating energy.
Next year, Governments meet in Brazil for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development — 20 years after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992. The Rio Conference is a major opportunity to take stock; to examine how to connect the dots between energy, food, water and climate; to look at how we can grow economies and generate decent employment in a way that keeps humanity’s footprint within planetary boundaries; to explore how to scale up renewable resources and other low-carbon technologies; to mobilize the world in pursuit of truly sustainable development.
I would like to thank the Government of Kenya and the staff here at Olkaria for showing me part of Vision 2030 here in the Rift Valley. It was here, long ago, where humanity took some of its first faltering steps. Today, Kenya is helping to evolve the solutions that may help us to thrive long into the future.
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_________________________________________________________________ UN News Centre: Ozone layer over Arctic region experiences record loss, UN agency reports 5th April 2011
The United Nations agency dealing with weather and climate today reported that ozone loss over the Arctic has reached an unprecedented level this spring owing to the continuing presence of ozone-depleting substances and extremely cold temperatures.
Data shows that the Arctic region has suffered an ozone column loss of about 40 per cent from the beginning of the winter to late March, according to a news release issued by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The highest loss previously recorded was about 30 per cent over the entire winter.
“The Arctic stratosphere continues to be vulnerable to ozone destruction caused by ozone-depleting substances linked to human activities,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
“The degree of ozone loss experienced in any particular winter depends on the meteorological conditions. The 2011 ozone loss shows that we have to remain vigilant and keep a close eye on the situation in the Arctic in the coming years,” he said.
WMO notes that the record loss is despite the success of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in cutting production and consumption of ozone-destroying chemicals.
Substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons, once present in refrigerators, spray cans and fire extinguishers, have been phased out under the protocol.
“Without the Montreal Protocol, this year’s ozone destruction would most likely have been worse,” stated WMO. “The slow recovery of the ozone layer is due to the fact that ozone-depleting substances stay in the atmosphere for several decades.”
The depletion of the ozone layer – the shield that protects life on Earth from harmful levels of ultraviolet rays – is also due to a very cold winter in the stratosphere, which is the second major layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, just above the troposphere.
WMO noted that even though this Arctic winter was warmer than average at ground level, it was colder in the stratosphere than for a normal Arctic winter.
The agency also pointed out that although the degree of Arctic ozone destruction in 2011 is unprecedented, it is not unexpected. Ozone scientists have foreseen that significant Arctic ozone loss is possible in the case of a cold and stable Arctic stratospheric winter.
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_________________________________________________________________ Channel 6 News (US): WMO reports record stratospheric ozone loss in the Arctic 5th April 2011
Depletion of the ozone layer, the shield that protects life on Earth from harmful levels of ultraviolet rays, has reached an unprecedented level over the Arctic this spring because of the continuing presence of ozone-depleting substances in the atmosphere and a very cold winter in the stratosphere, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Tuesday. The stratosphere is the second major layer of the Earth's atmosphere, just above the troposphere.
The record loss is despite an international agreement which the WMO said has been 'very successful' in cutting production and consumption of ozone destroying chemicals. But because of the long atmospheric lifetimes of these compounds, it will take several decades before their concentrations are back down to pre-1980 levels, the target agreed in the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
The Organization said on Monday that the observations from the ground and from balloons over the Arctic region as well as from satellites showed that the Arctic region has suffered an ozone column loss of about 40 percent from the beginning of the winter to late March. The highest ozone previously recorded was about 30 percent over the entire winter.
In Antarctica, the so-called ozone hole is an annually recurring winter and spring phenomenon due to the existence of extremely low temperatures in the stratosphere. In the Arctic, however, the the meteorological conditions vary much more from year to year and the temperatures are always warmer than over Antarctica. Hence, some Arctic winters experience almost no ozone loss, whereas cold stratospheric temperatures in the Arctic lasting beyond the polar night can occasionally lead to substantial ozone loss.
And even though this Arctic winter was warmer than average at ground level, it was far colder in the stratosphere than for a normal Arctic winter, the WMO said.
But while the degree of Arctic ozone destruction in 2011 is unprecedented, WMO said it was not unexpected. Ozone scientists had earlier said that significant Arctic ozone loss is to be expected in the case of a cold and stable Arctic stratospheric winter.
Stratospheric ozone depletion occurs over the polar regions when temperatures drop blow -78 Celsius (-108.4 Fahrenheit), and such low temperatures clouds form in the stratosphere. Chemical reactions that convert innocuous reservoir gases into active ozone depleting gases take place on the clouds particles and the result is a rapid destruction of ozone if sunlight is present.
Ozone depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons, which were once present in refrigerators, spray cans and fire extinguishers, have been phased out under the Montreal Protocol. As a result, the ozone layer outside the polar regions is projected to recover to its pre-1980 levels between 2030 and 2040, according to WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
In contrast, however, the springtime ozone layer over the Antarctic is expected to recover between 2045 and 2060, while the Arctic will probably recover 10 to 20 years earlier. But without the Montreal Protocol, WMO believes this year's ozone destruction would have been far worse.
"The Arctic stratosphere continues to be vulnerable to ozone destruction caused by ozone-depleting substances linked to human activities," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. "The degree of ozone loss experienced in any particular winter depends on the meteorological conditions. The 2011 ozone loss shows that we have to remain vigilant and keep a close eye on the situation in the Arctic in the coming years."
Jarraud said the WMO's Global Atmosphere Watch Network has many stations in the Arctic that help the Organization obtain an early warning in the case of low ozone and intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
If the ozone depleted areas move away from the pole and towards lower latitudes, one can expect increased UV radiation as compared to the normal for the season. And as the solar elevation at noon increases over the weeks, regions affected by the ozone depletion will experience higher than normal UV radiation. WMO advises the public to stay informed through national UV forecasts.
"It should be pointed out, however, that the UV radiation will not increase to the same intensity as one suffers in the tropical regions of the globe," WMO said. "The sun is still relatively low in the sky, and this limits the amount of UV radiation that passes through the atmosphere."
UV-B rays have been linked to skin cancer, cataracts and damage to the human immune system. Some crops and forms of marine life can also suffer adverse effects.
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_________________________________________________________________ The Wall Street Journal (US): Japan's Farmers Confront Toxins From the Tsunami 5th April 2011
As much of Japan worries about nuclear radiation, residents along its northeastern coast are confronting a different environmental disaster: the wide-scale destruction and contamination of farms and other land from salt water, chemicals and other detritus and toxins washed in with last month's tsunami.
The March 11 earthquake and waves not only left more than 25,000 people dead or missing, and hundreds of thousands more homeless, but also spread debris and chemicals across hundreds of miles of the country's best farmland, fishing areas and tourist zones. Government officials say they have only just started to survey the environmental damage, but early indications are that some ecosystems and the industries that depend on them could take years to rebound.
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Last month's tsunami affected close to 80% of the farmland in Japan's northeastern coastal city of Yamamoto Town, above, which used to have hundreds of strawberry farms.
More than 40% of the farmland of the costal city of Sendai, for instance, has been soaked with salt water, sludge, cars and garbage. The city is still trying to figure out whether the toxic cocktail has ruined the soil of its rice paddies and wheat fields and if they can be cleansed.
"There is debris everywhere," said Tomio Tsuchita, a manager at the agricultural promotion department of the city of Sendai. "Until we start to get rid of that garbage, we cannot even think about using the land again."
Fishing and farming are two of the biggest employers in this region, and authorities had high hopes for more tourism, given the area's once-unspoiled natural assets. Dealing with the environmental damage represents yet another long-term challenge for Japan as it determines how to rebuild its hardest-hit communities, and could play a major factor in deciding which of those areas can be rebuilt at all.
The Japanese government said last week that an initial survey, using satellite images and on-the-ground reports, showed that in Miyagi prefecture alone, more than 37,000 acres of farmland have been covered in seawater and debris. That is around 11% of its total farmland. Earlier reports cited by the United Nations indicated as many as 60,000 acres of agricultural land in several prefectures were damaged, with the equivalent of 53,000 American football fields inundated.
One expert, Kyoto University associate professor Nagahisa Hirayama, estimated there could be more than 14 million tons of waste left over in Miyagi prefecture. The prefecture has the capacity to dispose of only about 800,000 tons a year, according to data released by Japan's Ministry of the Environment in 2008, the most recent statistics available.
Rivers, groundwater sources and fishing areas are also at risk, as everything from factory barrels to hospital trash bins to high-school laboratory chemical sets were washed out to sea and other water sources.
"As the tsunami washed houses, cars, and factories among other things out to the ocean, it's highly possible that the ocean has been contaminated," said Koichi Miyamoto, an oceans expert at the environment ministry. "We need to look into this."
Authorities faced similar problems in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which dumped salt on thousands of acres of farmland, destroyed coral reefs at popular scuba-diving sites and left a film of gasoline and oil in mangrove forests along the coasts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Although relief groups were able to restore many of the damaged areas, after three years only about 25% of the aquaculture ponds in some of the worst-hit areas had been repaired, according to a report published by the United Nations.
Japan's recovery will likely be helped by the fact that it has more money to invest in the cleanup. But it also has far more trash to clear—and fewer places to put it, given the lack of available space for landfills.
"This will make it more difficult to handle in Japan," says Muralee Thummarukudy, a program officer at the United Nations Environment Program. The task of sorting out environmental damage "is going to be really huge."
Yamamoto Town, a sleepy seaside suburb of Sendai, dubbed its waterfront the "Strawberry Line" for all the strawberry farms that stretch along the coast. The aim was to attract tourists to enjoy hiking, sea breezes and strawberry picking.
Now, close to 80% of the farmlands are soaked with salt water and covered with garbage. Some 90% of the farms have been destroyed, locals estimate. Hundreds of greenhouses have been washed away, along with the latest crop of strawberries and everyone's farm equipment.
Most homes were scraped off the coast down to their concrete foundations. Crooked pipes that once were part of greenhouses are all that remain in most fields.
"It was a good life," said Takaharu Otsubo, 63 years old, who has been farming strawberries with his wife for 30 years. "Now we want to move, but we don't have the money."
Theirs was one of the few homes left standing, but now its living room is filled with debris from the neighborhood. Uprooted pine trees pierce their ground floor.
Even if the soil isn't ruined by salt, which can reduce farms' productivity, the Otsubos said it would take hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of work to bounce back. There is also the issue of continued worries over the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which even if it doesn't leak more radiation could make consumers reluctant to buy fish or food from the region for a long time. Mr. and Mrs. Otsubo aren't sure whether they can rise to the challenge at their ages.
"None of the strawberries are coming back. Even the onions that I planted here are dead," said Mr. Otsubo's wife, Shu, 63, as she walked around her fields looking for signs of life. "We would have to start from zero again."
Farming and fishing communities up and down the coast tell similar stories. Sea beds that used to yield tons of surf clams are covered with debris. Swans have stopped showing up in area swamplands.
See all the graphics on the situation in Japan -- from before and after photos to the status of the reactors to survivors' stories.
To revive the fields, farmers will need government help cleaning out the debris, which also includes tractors and trains. They will have to test what is in the soil now, and whether it will poison plants. Some farmers figure they will have to bring in truckloads of new soil and expensive fertilizer. The local agricultural cooperative is recommending farmers flood their fields and paddies with water to wash the salt out.
"The problem is that there is no water and no way to bring it to the fields right now," said Kazuhiro Miura, a Sendai representative of the Japan Agricultural Cooperative, which advises and organizes farmers across Japan.
Yoichi Fukanuma, 30, a third-generation strawberry farmer, said many of the older farmers are planning on giving up. He and other younger farmers hope that with a lot of government help, and debt, they can start over again. The soil used to be quite fertile for growing fruits and vegetables, he said, and Yamamoto Town had a longer harvesting season than many areas because the nearby hills blocked the coldest winter winds from the west, while sea breezes keep the area cool in the summer.
Even those that want to rebuild say they may move their homes, though. The terror of the tsunami is still fresh.
Maybe "we can work here but live somewhere else," Mr. Fukanuma said.
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_________________________________________________________________ IB Times (UK): Climate Change & Health: Q&A with Changing Planet, Changing Health coauthors Paul Epstein, MD, and Dan Ferber 5th April 2011
Climate change is sometimes portrayed as a victimless crime, but it’s not. In 2005, the World Health Organization found that climate change was already causing 150,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses a year. That was an underestimate, and the threat is growing. Major medical or public health groups have recently issued urgent warnings about the harm climate change could pose to human health, including the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Lung Association, American Thoracic Society, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association. The Lancet, the leading international medical journal, stated flatly that “climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”
The earth’s atmosphere is warming because of the huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by human activities since the start of the industrial revolution. These extra greenhouse gases act like a blanket, warming air, land, and oceans. Warmer oceans evaporate more water, and warmer air holds 7% more water vapor for each 1oC of warming. This extra water vapor in the atmosphere returns to earth as heavier rains and snows. In the United States, torrential rains of more than six inches occur 27 percent more often than they did in 1970. Climate change means more heat, but also more wild and potentially dangerous weather.
Question: In what ways do these changes threaten our health?
In five main ways—for now.
(1) Dangerous heat waves. Heat waves kill 1,500 people a year in the United States-more than hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods combined. But that’s an underestimate because heat waves trigger heart attacks and other causes of deaths that aren’t logged as heat-related. The brutal 2003 European heat wave killed 52,000 people, and was so far off the historical norm that the chance of it not being caused by climate change was just one in ten million. At least one rigorous climate model has projected that if we don’t radically cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, heat waves like that will occur every other year in the United States by the 2040s.
(2) Infectious diseases. A warming climate allows mosquitoes and other disease-transmitting animals to move to new locations. For example, mosquitoes that carry malaria have moved into the East African highlands, which were once too cold for the mosquito to survive. For example, in the book, Changing Planet, Changing Health, we relate how a seven-year-old girl named Elena barely survived a life-threatening case of malaria in the Mt. Kenya foothills. There are hundreds of thousands of children like her in the East African highlands who are newly vulnerable to malaria.
North Americans are also susceptible to climate-linked disease. Dengue fever, known as breakbone fever for the intense pain it causes, is epidemic in Central America. It has moved north to northern Mexico as the climate has warmed, and now it’s poised to spread to Texas and throughout the South. Ticks that transmit Lyme disease have spread north through New England as the climate has warned, increasing 8-fold in New Hampshire and 10-fold in Maine in the past decade alone. Studies using rigorous computer models concluded that the disease will spread through eastern Canada in the coming decades.
(3) Asthma and allergies. Burning gasoline, diesel, oil and coal helps cause both respiratory diseases and climate change. Vehicles and heavy industry emit several air pollutants that worsen asthma, allergies, and other respiratory diseases. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) from tailpipe emissions react in the air with air pollutants called volatile organic compounds to form ground-level ozone—a principal ingredient of smog, which corrodes the lining of the lungs and worsen allergies. Tiny particles of soot from the tailpipes of diesel-burning trucks and buses penetrate tiny airways deep in the lung. Both of these processes can trigger asthma attacks and worsen respiratory disease.
Carbon dioxide emissions themselves can also worsen allergies. One of us (Paul Epstein) and Lewis Ziska of the U.S. Department of Agriculture have shown that elevated carbon dioxide levels and warming cause ragweed to produce more pollen, and make the pollen more potent, worsening allergies. Others have shown that pollen gloms on to soot particles, which carry the pollen deep into the lung, further aggravating allergic asthma in polluted cities.
(4) Extreme weather Extremely heavy rains (over 6 inches in a day) have become 27 percent more common in the United States since 1970. They can cause devastating floods, as in Cedar Rapids in 2008 and Nashville in 2010. These floods can kill or injure hundreds, even thousands, as in Pakistan in 2010. Lingering floodwaters can trigger epidemics of diarrheal, respiratory, mosquito-borne disease and rodent-borne disease. Ice storms, blizzards can injure or kill people from falls, car crashes, and heart attacks with shoveling snow.
(5) Diseases of trees and crops. The warming climate in the U.S. and Canadian West has unleashed bark beetle infestations that have destroyed vast areas of forests, turning them into tinder. A warmer, drier climate has caused larger and longer-burning forest fires. Smoke from these fires aggravates bronchitis, asthma attacks, releases carcinogens and raises the risk of heart attacks. Plus, the fires themselves destroy thousands of homes, cost a lot to fight, and kill people.
Crop diseases and infestations can cause shortages of healthy food, which can spell malnutrition – or even famine. We describe research at the University of Illinois that shows how soybeans fall prey to more insect damage at carbon dioxide levels expected by 2050. Other crops may be at risk as well. Scientists estimate that each 1oC warming will cut grain crop production by 10 percent.
Question: You also write in Changing Planet about some slower-moving, but potentially even more serious threats. What are the biggest worries?
Drought is a big one. Climate change is making dry areas dryer. Drought can cause famine that kills hundreds of thousands, as it did in sub-Saharan Africa in the early 1980s. Droughts make it harder to provide safe drinking water, which is already scarce for almost a billion people. The U.N. Environmental Programme projects that two out of three people will live under water-stressed conditions by 2025—and that’s without accounting for climate change. Mountain glaciers that help supply downstream areas with water for drinking and irrigation are melting worldwide, including in the North America West. A warming Indian Ocean has already fostered drought in Ethiopia that is causing crop yields to fall. Groups that monitor famine are watching the area closely.
Another worry is abrupt climate change. Climate has crossed many tipping points in the past few million years, changing radically within a decade or two, or even a few years. Scientists know this from analyzing annual layers of ice sheets, ocean sediments, and tree rings. A little-known Pentagon planning scenario a few years ago concluded that if climate crossed a tipping point today, it would lead to global economic depression, widespread crop failures throughout the Eastern United States, worsened drought in the U.S. West, famine in China, mass migration, increased tension and possibly war over resources.
Question: Even if our changing climate causes a little more disease, can’t we take it in stride?
Up to a point. But our changing climate could overwhelm our ability to adapt. Weather extremes pose the greatest threat to life and health. In a two-year study sponsored by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, the United Nations Development Programme, and the reinsurance giant Swiss Re, we had teams of experts create scenarios of how climate change would affect human health and the world economy. The mildest scenario of continued warming and more severe weather extremes projects and increased health impacts. In the second, more severe, scenario, a rapidly changing climate and other environmental damage caused ecosystems to buckle, causing famine and population displacements via loss of food crops, fisheries and forests. Already food prices have spiked to historic highs, posing nutritional risks for people in many nations. Climate change is partly to blame.
Question: Which climate change solutions give us the biggest bang for the buck?
We need a smart electrical grid that will increase efficiency, reduce demand and incorporate renewable sources. We also must carefully choose energy sources that best preserve human health and the natural systems we depend on. The winners here are wind, concentrated solar, geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics, wave, hydroelectric. The losers are nuclear, coal, even with carbon capture and storage, and corn-based ethanol.
These choices are based on extensive studies called life cycle analyses that take every step of a technology and its effects into account—not only what consumers pay, but also effects on human health, wildlife, and the environment. In January Paul Epstein and a dozen other researchers published their own life cycle analysis of coal in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. The take-home: coal and its waste stream cost the U.S. public more than one third of a trillion dollars per year. That’s $4000 per year for a typical family of four. The numbers are based on coal’s cost, plus its contribution to climate change, air pollution, black lung disease in miners, the destruction of Appalachian landscapes. Air pollution from burning coal leads to 30,000 premature deaths each year–almost twice the death toll from homicides.
Ethanol-based biofuel is another loser. Forty percent of U.S. corn harvest now goes to ethanol, enough to feed 350 million people. And widespread use of E85 fuel—85% ethanol and 15% gasoline—would cause more air pollution deaths than any other energy source, save for a nuclear plant accident like Chernobyl.
Question: You argue that money and geopolitical forces drive climate change and harm health. How? And, how should we take these global forces into account when coming up with climate solutions?
We describe how international financial institutions—the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization—enforce policies that drive the destruction of climate-preserving forests, create poverty and harm human health. We propose changes to global rules, institutions, and funds to reverse this destructive course. Currency speculation destabilizes national economies and discourages them from long-term investments to protect public health and forests. A new global fund of $500 billion a year, drawn from a small levy on currency transactions, should offer grants to preserve forests and move the world toward renewable energy. And an institution like the UN’s Global Environment Facility, rather than a bank like the World Bank should be put in charge of the money. It already offers grants for climate stabilization projects worldwide, but it’s vastly underfunded.
Question: This all sounds hugely ambitious. Is it realistic?
Transforming our energy system is daunting, no doubt. We need bold public works programs: the equivalent of a Manhattan Project to research renewable energy technologies; a Marshall Plan to finance them; an Apollo Plan to launch the transformation, and a Green New Deal to sustain it. But all of these projects have succeeded in the past, and so can this one. We still have a fighting chance of preventing runaway climate change, and we have the moral obligation to do everything we can. Think of it as the equivalent of a global health insurance policy. We need to pay the premiums and do the work, and we need to do it now.
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