PRI's The World on RADIO IQ

Weekdays at 4:00 pm on RADIO IQ.
Marco Werman

PRI’s The World is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. Launched in 1996, PRI’s The World, a co-production of WGBH/Boston, Public Radio International, and the BBC World Service.

The World's coverage is provided by a global network of international journalists. The program also has access to the 250 BBC correspondents located around the world. Unique in public radio, this network works in concert with the program's multinational team of producers and editors, and brings an exceptional depth of understanding and freshness of perspective to the program content. The result is an award-winning hour of breaking news, in-depth features, hard-hitting commentaries, and thought-provoking interviews found nowhere else in U.S. news coverage.

PRI's The World -- international news for an American audience -- weekdays at 4:00 on ourRADIO IQ With BBC News network of signals and streaming live on the web.

Program Headlines

  • Thursday, April 16, 2015 4:09pm

    Treasure hunting has come a long way since Long John Silver had a map marked with an X.

    There are still maps. Researchers make them after trawling through archives to locate the last known places where richly laden ships were sailing.

    But then, technology takes over. In a recent search for sunken treasure believed to be resting at record depth, a British-led salvage company deployed a deep-sea robot the size of a car. “It’s equipped with thrusters and cameras and video cameras and sonar and so on,” says CEO John Kingsford.

    The company, Deep Ocean Search, announced on April 15 that it had recovered several tonnes of silver coins from the steamship, “The City of Cairo,” which sunk in 1942.

    The City of Cairo was carrying 100 tonnes of silver coins, collected from across the British-controlled Indian Empire to pay for the war against Nazi Germany. Then, on November 6, 1942, it was spotted by a German U-Boat, which sank it with two torpedoes.

    Using their Remote-Operated Vehicle, the salvage team scoured an area of the South Atlantic using sonar until they positively identified the City of Cairo, perched on an undersea mountain at a depth of 5150 metres, or just over 3.2 miles.

    The robot then went into salvage mode, using a hydraulic bucket to scoop up the coins and some other relics, including the propeller from one of the torpedoes that sank the ship.

    The vehicle had been designed to operate at a depth of 6000 metres, but the rescuers found that it quickly broke down. Kingsford says when they told the manufacturers what they were doing, they said they were mad. But his team persisted and overcame the problems, and ended up deploying the vehicle for days at time. The whole operation took almost two years.

    The Remote-Operated Vehicle is in use with several salvage companies, but had never been subjected to such depths before. 

    The coins are the property of the British government, which got a good chunk of them but allowed Kingsford and Deep Ocean Search to keep an undisclosed percentage. 

  • Thursday, April 16, 2015 3:20pm

    No one knows for sure what started the West Africa Ebola outbreak, which has killed 10,000 people. But some scientists think it might have begun with a 2-year-old Guinean boy, a hollowed out tree he liked to play in, and a colony of free tailed bats that lived in it.

    So the idea of standing in a grove of trees in central Tanzania below hundreds of roosting fruit bats isn’t exactly comforting. But it’s the kind of place the researchers I’m with need to be.

    It’s where the shade is, says Zikan Kuba Sijali, so it’s where the people traveling this hot and busy stretch of road come to rest. Sijali is the Tanzania field coordinator for an outfit called Predict that’s spent the last five years searching for dangerous new viruses in hot spots around the globe. Places like Tanzania’s Kilombero valley, and these trees, where lots of people are coming in very close contact with lots of bats and lots of bat poop.

    A truck navigates the “wildlife-human interface” in Tanzania’s Kilombero Valley, where human and agricultural encroachment are disrupting the area’s high biodiversity, creating a much higher risk for animal viruses to spill over to humans. It's one of many viral "hotspots" around the world where the Predict project is trying to get ahead of the problem.


    Sam Eaton

    It’s “like a little mixing vessel for viruses,” say Predict’s director, Jonna Mazet, a veterinary epidemiologist from the University of California Davis.

    The whole place is, really. The town, Kilombero, is a bustling urban center that barely existed a decade ago, sprouting up around an immense sugar plantation at the edge of the still wild Udzungwa Mountains. Mazet says rapidly changing landscapes like this, where lots of people are suddenly coming in close contact with animals and the environment in ways they never did before, represent a new challenge in global health — a porous frontier where animal viruses can easily spill over into humans.

    Most of these viruses are probably harmless to people. But once in a great while, you get something nasty, even an Ebola.

    Mazet’s teams take samples in places like this, under the bat trees and elsewhere. So far, Predict has turned up some 800 new animal viruses, doubling the number known to science, and they’ve shipped 100 of the most potentially risky ones back to the US for further study.

    Two men rest under a group of trees that's home to hundreds of fruit bats in the town of Kilombero. The trees are a favorite shaded spot for people traveling the hot and busy stretch of road along Tanzania's Kilombero Valley, leading to concerns about infections from unknown viruses in bat droppings. Some scientsts believe that the Ebola outbreak began with close contact between a group of bats and a young boy in Guinea, West Africa.


    Sam Eaton

    But they’re not just looking for viruses that could make people sick. They’re also on the hunt for viruses that have already made people sick. That means going to the front lines of public health, places like a small rural clinic down the road from the fruit bats, where dozens of patients a day arrive by motorcycle and by foot from the surrounding villages.

    Clinics like this provide vital access to health care. Mazet says 99 percent of the people who come into such facilities with a fever will be tested and treated for malaria. Which is great, she says, if they have malaria. But she says the problem is many of them don’t have malaria, and the doctors in rural clinics rarely have the capacity for figuring out what they might have, especially if it’s something new.

    The head of the clinic takes us to a tiny lab where a doctor is testing a blood sample for malaria. The patient was complaining of a headache, the doctor says, but didn’t have a fever. A look at the sample under a microscope finds no sign of Malaria. But it also gives no insight into what the patient might have.

    Jonna Mazet, Predict's director and a Professor of Epidemiology and Disease Ecology and Director of the One Health Institute at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, has helped identify more than 800 new animal viruses, and is leading the effort to identify human infections by new animal viruses.


    Sam Eaton

    Predict’s team here is hoping to tackle that kind of uncertainty. Mazet’s Tanzanian partner, Rudovick Kazawala of the Sokoine University of Agriculture, says in this new phase of the project, Predict will partner with rural clinics like this one, using them as early detection centers for new viruses.

    But it’s not an easy transition, and today Mazet and Kazawala are just starting the conversation with clinic staff, trying to determine whether a partnership could work.

    If they do agree to work together, Predict will help with upgrades to the clinics’ labs, more training, and a delicate expansion of the clinic’s mission to include screening samples from patients for new pathogens. It’s a big challenge, but Mazet says there’d be a big payoff. She says working with the community’s local health infrastructure, they can control viral pandemics right at the source, avoiding scenarios like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

    The Predict team meets with the head of a rural health clinic in the Kilombero Valley. Predict hopes to make rural clinics like this one early detection centers for new viruses.


    Sam Eaton

    From this clinic it’s back in the Landcruiser and on to the next that Predict hopes to work with. Two more are on the schedule for today. In between, there's more evidence of the scale of the problem. Along the dusty road we pass village after village on one side and a fragmented forest on the other. The road is crowded with people and livestock crossing between the two to hunt and gather medicinal plants and firewood, each time opening up new pathways for viral spillover and what could become the next major outbreak.

    We stop at a small cluster of huts near the entrance of Udzungwa National Park, where a woman is hanging laundry behind her house. She runs a small restaurant for locals to get tea and soup. But her customers aren’t the only ones who come to visit. Baboons from the forest are everywhere. Sitting by the road, eating fruit from mango trees in people’s yards. The woman has metal screens and locks on everything to keep the monkeys out. But she says it rarely helps. She says they can operate her door, come into her house, take pots of her food. Even kill her chickens and eat them right here in the yard.

    It’s a very dangerous situation, Mazet says, creating huge risk for viral crossover from bird to monkey to human.

    It’s situations like this that make it easy to understand why emerging diseases have quadrupled over the last half century, and the urgency of Predict’s work. But Mazet believes Predict’s new holistic approach will help turn the tide. She says they now have a better handle of what kind of viruses are out there. And that opens up the possibility of preventing transmission.

    This woman runs a small restaurant for locals to get tea and soup near Udzungwa National Park. She says she has metal screens and locks to keep the baboons out, but that these rarely helps. The monleys can operate her door, come into her house, take pots

    This woman runs a small restaurant for locals to get tea and soup near Udzungwa National Park. She says she has metal screens and locks to keep the baboons out, but that these rarely helps. The monleys can operate her door, come into her house, take pots of her food, kill her chickens and eat them in her yard. Jonna Mazet says such situations create a huge risk for viral crossover from bird to monkey to human.


    Sam Eaton

    “We don’t have to chase the last thing if we can prevent and control at the source these new diseases,” Mazet says.

    If it does work, it would be a huge step forward for global health, and for the idea that the fate of animals, people and the environment are inextricably linked. Even revolutionary, Mazet dares to say. Starting in places just like this.

  • Wednesday, April 15, 2015 1:19pm

    Losing a loved one is never easy, but imagine if you had no remains for a proper funeral or no gravesite to visit. That has long been the case for the families of thousands of Americans who died in military service, but new rules may change that.

    The Defense Department announced a new policy on Tuesday regarding the unidentified human remains in permanent US military cemeteries across the country. In essence, where there’s a good chance of identifying the dead, their bodies are to be exhumed.

    The new policy was prompted by one specific case, that of the battleship USS Oklahoma.

    The Oklahoma was moored at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese launched their surprise attack on December 7, 1941. The ship was torpedoed by Japanese warplanes and capsized within 12 minutes. Hundreds of men were trapped on the ship, and more were killed when the Japanese strafed survivors struggling in the water.

    Of the 429 sailors and Marines aboard the Oklahoma who died, only 35 were identified in the aftermath of the attack. Most of the victims remained in the ship until it was salvaged later in the war. The human remains were then collected and buried in mass graves in what’s now the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in downtown Honolulu. 

    In the DoD’s language, the remains are "co-mingled" in caskets containing up to 100 individuals. But the Defense Department is confident that, thanks to modern DNA technology, it can now identify most of the remains. It has medical and dental records for 90 percent of those who were lost, and DNA evidence from close family members for 84 percent of the men.

    Families and survivors have been asking for years for the idenfication effort to be made. One champion is Ray Emory, originally from Peoria, Illinois, who served on the light cruiser USS Honolulu when it was also attacked at Pearl Harbor. Emory has been campaigning to get the remains properly identified since he retired and moved to Hawaii more than 30 years ago.

    The exhumations are set to begin in a few weeks. That process should be complete within six months, but identifying all of the remains could take up to five years.     

    “This mission is about the families,” says Air Force Lt. Col Melinda Morgan, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency. “Not too long ago I had a family member — not with USS Oklahoma but another case — say to me, ‘You can’t appreciate having a funeral until you don’t have one.' This disinterment is about the families and bringing their loved ones back to them, and allowing them to say their goodbyes and have a place where they can visit their loved ones.”

  • Thursday, April 9, 2015 4:54pm

    Getting online in Cuba has never been easy, so it's no surprise that people who thought the US-Cuba thaw would quickly improve Internet connections to the island have so far seen only disappointments.

    "The feeling was, 'Oh, the Obama Administration is opening Cuba, and so now all Cubans will have access to Internet, they'll have all these freedoms they didn't have before,''' says Ellery Roberts Biddle, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "That's really not what's happening."

    In fact, she says, things seem to be going backward. "I was there in 2004 ... and I found it easier to use the Internet than in 2009," she remembers.

    Part of the problem is political. Cuban officials know greater Internet access will make it easier to challenge their power. Outdated infrastructure is another barrier. Dial-up connections remain the status quo in most of the country, and fewer than one percent of Cubans have Internet access in their homes, anyway. 

    "The government of Cuba would like to increase Internet access for regular Cubans for sure, but it has been made quite clear that that change is going to be made with a bunch of regulations for how the Internet is used," Biddle says. "The top priority, officials have said, is national security. So that translates for me as digital surveillance, like in many, many other parts of the world, and maybe more control on content."

    Even if they can't get online frequently, a growing number of Cubans do have laptops and cellphones. They resort to what Biddle calls "Internet offline" — copying music and videos onto a USB stick to share. Some Cubans buy a service called the "Paquete Semanal," or Weekly Packet, that's delivered to them on a thumb drive. They can include programs like Homeland, BBC documentaries and Brazilian telenovelas. 

    "When Netflix made their big annoucement that they're coming to Cuba, everybody sort of laughed," Biddle says. "'We've seen House of Cards.'"

  • Wednesday, April 8, 2015 11:34am

    Starting today, residents in several cities in northern Taiwan will wake up, turn on the tap and nothing will come out. 

    Drought seems to be capturing headlines lately. California, as you've probably read, is facing extreme water shortages. Brazil, too. And now Taiwan — an island nation surrounded by water — is being forced to ration water.

    The cause for Taiwan’s current water shortage, according to the BBC’s Cindy Sui, is an extended period with little rain.

    “It’s interesting to point out that Taiwan doesn’t actually normally lack rain, but in the psat year the amount of rain that has fallen here has reached a record low,” Sui says.

    Officials are attributing the lack of rain to climate change, according to Sui.

    “While there is a lot of rain falling in Taiwan, the number of rainy days has been fewer so a lot more rain falls in a shorter number of days. Basically we’re seeing more extreme weather conditions here that’s partly what’s causing this problem,” Sui says.

    More than one million households will be affected by rationing measures.

    Starting Wednesday, Taiwan turned off the taps completely for two days in several northern cities to ease water consumption.

    “Many people are getting by using tubs, filling them up with water the night before and using the tubs to flush toilets, to take baths and do their cooking,” Sui explains.

    This isn’t the first instance of Taiwanese rationing water. In 2002, the capital city, Taipei was forced to limit its water use.

    Still, this type of water rationing isn't foremost on the minds of Taiwanese, Sui says, and that’s partly because water in Taiwan is usually quite cheap.

    “Many Taiwanese people take water for granted. Water rates here are among the lowest in the world. It’s only one-fifth of the average global cost for water," Sui says. "Most people don’t even think about how much they’re spending on water because it’s so cheap and that leads to lots of waste."

    It’s only recently that the Taiwanese have begun to install water saving toilets and faucets. Indeed, even Sui herself, who lives in Taipei, isn’t aware of how much her own water bill costs.

    “I actually don’t even keep track of that, partly because my husband is in charge of paying the bill. But we don’t even discuss it because it’s so low. I mean, the phone bill, I know, the phone bill is quite high, but the water bill we don’t even think about it,” she says.

    Sui is originally from California and is accustomed to water saving techniques.

    “I remember even 10 to 20 years ago, people were planting cacti in their lawns instead of plants that required more watering. I went back last year and friends were using shower water to flush their toilets. But you simply don’t see that in Taiwan because people have taken water for granted,” she adds.

    Veteran environmental journalist and author Fred Pearce says water shortages can't, necessarily, be blamed on climate change. “You’ll sometimes find that public utilities will be very quick to blame climate change, after all they’re a bit embarrassed if their supply systems fail. In Taiwan, there has been under-investment in the water supply.”

    “The global picture really is very mixed,” says Pearce, a frequent contributot to the New Scientist. “What we’re getting is more extreme weather. So we’re getting more droughts, but we’re also getting more storms, more floods, more rain where we don’t expect it and where it does damage. And that’s not a surprise. It’s what the climate models produced by scientists on climate change have been predicting. Now that doesn’t mean that every outbreak of weird weather is caused by climate change, but it’s certainly part of a pattern, and it’s a pattern we’re seeing all round the world.”

    “Therefore,” adds Pearce, “we are going to have to have water supply systems that are more robust, more adaptable to long periods when there’s simply no rain at all.”

    He says whenever an extreme event happens, you can usually point to some other time that it’s happened. “So you can never say it’s unique, and wouldn’t have happened but for climate change. But you can often say it’s much more likely to happen with climate change. If you like, climate change is loading the dice, so that whenever you throw the dice, the chances of something extreme turning up are just that much greater.”   

    Critics say the Taiwanese government should raise the rates for water, however that’s a highly unpopular proposal. The cost of many more things would also go up. And government officials are especially wary of supporting such measures in the lead up to elections next year.

    “This will cost them votes,” Sui adds.