bird flu

I read an interview today with Mike Davis about his book, Planet of Slums. I have copied some key quotes from the article, though I recommend reading the whole article. It has implications for people on every continent. It has relevance to the US and US policies, most immediately in Iraq. It also has particular relevance to West Africa and citizens of the countries of the Gulf of Guinea. Here follow some passages from the interview:

Sadr City, at one point named Saddam City, the Eastern quadrant of Baghdad, has grown to grotesque proportions — two million poor people, mainly Shia. And it’s still growing, as are Sunni slums by the way, thanks now not to Saddam but to disastrous American policies toward agriculture into which the U.S. has put almost no reconstruction money. Vast farmlands have been turned back into desert, while everything focused, however unsuccessfully, on restoration of the oil industry. The crucial thing would have been to preserve some equilibrium between countryside and city, but American policies just accelerated the flight from the land.
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In my book, I looked at the relationship between the pervasive global slum, everywhere associated with sanitation disasters, with classical conditions favoring the rapid movement of disease through human populations; and on the other side, I focused on how the transformation of livestock production was creating entirely new conditions for the emergence of diseases among animals and their transmission to humans.

We have the:

. . . urbanization of livestock . . . millions of chickens living in warehouses, in factory farms. Bird densities like this have never existed in nature and they probably favor, according to epidemiologists I’ve talked to, maximum virulence, the accelerated evolution of diseases.
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At the same time, wetlands around the world have been degraded and water diverted.
. . .
This is a formula for biological disaster and avian flu is the second pandemic of globalization. It’s very clear now that HIV AIDS emerged at least partially through the bush-meat trade, as West Africans were forced to turn to bush meat because European factory ships were vacuuming up all the fish in the Gulf of Guinea, the major traditional source of protein in urban diets.
. . .
the future of guerrilla warfare, insurrection against the world system, has moved into the city. Nobody has realized this with as much clarity as the Pentagon, or more vigorously tried to grapple with its empirical consequences. Its strategists are way ahead of geopoliticians and traditional foreign-relations types in understanding the significance of a world of slums…
. . .
The question of the exchange of violence between the city of slums and the imperial city is linked to a deeper question — the question of agency. How will this very large minority of humanity that now lives in cities but is exiled from the formal world economy find its future? What is its capacity for historical agency?
. . .
Well, here you have an informal working class with no strategic place in production, in the economy, that has nonetheless discovered a new social power — the power to disrupt the city, to strike at the city, ranging from the creative nonviolence . . . to the now universal use of car bombs by nationalist and sectarian groups to strike at middle-class neighborhoods, financial districts, even green zones. I think there’s much global experimentation, trying to find out how to use the power of disruption.
. . . I’ll tell you what I suspect may be the greatest of disruptive powers — the power to disrupt global energy flows. Poor people with minimal technology are capable of doing that across the thousands of miles of unguardable pipeline on this planet.
. . .
The city is our ark in which we might survive the environmental turmoil of the next century. Genuinely urban cities are the most environmentally efficient form of existing with nature that we possess because they can substitute public luxury for private or household consumption. They can square the circle between environmental sustainability and a decent standard of living. I mean, however big your library is or vast your swimming pool, it’ll never be the same as the New York Public Library or a great public pool. No mansion, no San Simeon, will ever be the equivalent of Central Park or Broadway.

One of the major problems, however, is: We’re building cities without urban qualities. Poor cities, in particular, are consuming the natural areas and watersheds which are essential to their functioning as environmental systems, to their ecological sustainability, and they’re consuming them either because of destructive private speculation or simply because poverty pours over into every space. All around the world, the crucial watersheds and green spaces that cities need to function ecologically and be truly urban are being urbanized by poverty and by speculative private development. Poor cities, as a result, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to disaster, pandemic, and catastrophic resource shortages, particularly of water.

Conversely, the most important step toward coping with global environmental change is to reinvest — massively — in the social and physical infrastructures of our cities, and thereby reemploy tens of millions of poor youth.


For comprehensive information about avian flu, what you need to know, and what you may need to do, see the Flu Wiki. The Flu Wiki,, brings together all the information about avian flu, where it is, what is happening, what you can do, and any other news and developments.

The arrival of bird flu in Tema is most unfortunate. The virus has already circled the globe through the migrations of birds, so it can break out anywhere. If a pandemic flu hits, we can expect around 30% of ourselves and our neighbors to become ill and incapacitated. This will have a devastating effect on commerce, government, the water, food, and energy supplies, because around 30% of the workers will be ill and unable to work. H5N1, when it does effect humans, kills 56% of the people who get it. Luckily, so far, it is not easy for humans to get, although it can be devastating for domestic poultry.

The one circulating now in Asia and Africa and Europe in birds is H5N1, a particularly nasty character that kills more than 56% of those people who get it. While ducks and other birds can get H5N1 and live, it’s especially deadly to chickens and domestic poultry. It’s very difficult to catch, and even more difficult for humans to spread because the receptors in human airways for the current H5N1 are deep in the lungs of humans and not in the nose and throat.
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We don’t fully understand exactly how flu is spread, but the above basics apply. However, should something happen that would make a novel bird flu like H5N1 easier to spread, such as having the virus mutate to a form that likes the nose and upper airway receptors (so that it’s easy to catch and easy to spread by sneezing), or prefers the temperature of the human nose, it could start to spread in a human population.
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This has happened before. in fact, in 1918-9 H1N1 spread around the world, killing 50 million people. There were milder pandemics in 1957 and 1968, and we really haven’t seen one since, at least on that scale. But since we get around three each century, we are due, and that’s why scientists say that a pandemic of some sort is inevitable.

If you are worried about bird flu, can you eat poultry? Here is what the World Health Organization has to say about that:

Is it safe to eat poultry and poultry products?

In areas experiencing outbreaks, poultry and poultry products can also be safely consumed provided these items are properly cooked and properly handled during food preparation. The H5N1 virus is sensitive to heat. Normal temperatures used for cooking (70oC in all parts of the food) will kill the virus. Consumers need to be sure that all parts of the poultry are fully cooked (no “pink” parts) and that eggs, too, are properly cooked (no “runny” yolks).

Consumers should also be aware of the risk of cross-contamination. Juices from raw poultry and poultry products should never be allowed, during food preparation, to touch or mix with items eaten raw. When handling raw poultry or raw poultry products, persons involved in food preparation should wash their hands thoroughly and clean and disinfect surfaces in contact with the poultry products Soap and hot water are sufficient for this purpose.

In areas experiencing outbreaks in poultry, raw eggs should not be used in foods that will not be further heat-treated as, for example by cooking or baking.

Avian influenza is not transmitted through cooked food. To date, no evidence indicates that anyone has become infected following the consumption of properly cooked poultry or poultry products, even when these foods were contaminated with the H5N1 virus.