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LinkAsia News Brief

Party Fowl: Bird Flu Outbreak Threatens New Year's Celebrations

Throughout much of Asia, people are celebrating the traditional New Year. In China, it’s called the Spring Festival. In Korea and Vietnam, the Lunar New Year. But regardless of the country, chicken is supposed to be on the menu. A chicken in every pot represents good fortune in the coming year. But a bird flu epidemic is overshadowing the holiday. Tens of thousands of chickens and ducks have been destroyed in an effort to stop the disease.  In southern China, more than 100 people came down with bird flu in January. At least a dozen have died. And the centerpiece of the New Year dinner is viewed with alarm. Here’s Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, with a report.


Friday was the start of the Lunar New year. Many Chinese families will buy live poultry from local markets to cook it for family gatherings

Man on the street:

Live birds, killed fresh, taste much better”


But this year will be different because of bird flu.

News Anchor:

A market in Hangzhou was shut down. The agricultural department has banned keeping live poultry at home.”


Health officials in China are reporting that 103 patients have been diagnosed with bird flu in January alone. Of these, 49 cases are in the eastern province of Zhejiang. Others have been found in southern provinces like Guangdong. So far, 22 patients have died. The hospital in Zhejiang is crowded with people who fear they are infected by the bird flu virus. Health officials have been shutting down markets that sell live poultry for fear that the virus may be passed on to people through contact with live birds. But about a 30-minute drive from downtown Shanghai, we found an illegal vendor. He was selling chickens and pigeons. Clients would choose which ones they like, then he would kill them. The price is about 20% cheaper than the normal market price.

Bird Vendor:

Our market was shut down by the government. We had to kill 2,000 birds by ourselves. But we didn’t get any compensation. We have no choice but to sell our birds, in the street.


A few days ahead of the Lunar New Year, the demand for chicken meat picks up, and loads of them are being transported all across China. During the New Year season more than 3 billion people move around the continent too. The World Health Organization claims that there has been no evidence of sustained human to human transmission of the virus. But the authorities remain vigilant asking people to avoid contact with live birds.


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Could This Japanese Solution Provide Millions of Asians with Clean Water?

And now to a problem that's affecting hundreds of millions of people in Asia. More than 650 million don't have clean water to drink. A city in Japan says it has a solution. Here's NHK with the story.


Regional municipalities operate almost all the water work systems in Japan. The city of Kitakyushu in western Japan provides clean tap water to the city’s 490-thousand households. The city developed a water-purifying machine with the private company 15 years ago. Micro-organisms attached to activated carbon dissolve the pollutants. The machine is half the price of other technologies. It uses less chlorine to disinfect the water. Kitakyushu officials started promoting the technology with private firms from 2010 to emerging economies in Asia.

Kazuya Kubata, Waterworks Bureau:

Kitakyushu has a long history as a city of technology and manufacture. It's our mission to take  action. That’s something we must do.


Kitakyushu officials are now turning their attention to Vietnam. Haiphong is the country’s third biggest city. Raw sewage and industrial wastewater is discharged into rivers. The river water is purified for use in tap water by adding lots of chlorine. But that combination can generate harmful substances. Citizens boil tap water for drinking and cooking. They want clean water that their children can safely drink.


I don’t feel safe using tap water. I feel uneasy. Because I have small children. But I don’t have any other choice.


Kitakyushu officials told their counterparts at the Haiphong Water Authority about their water purification technology. The Vietnamese officials liked what they saw and decided to start using the Japanese system. It went into operation last month.

The Haiphong officials based their decision on low cost of the Japanese system and the fact that it uses less chlorine. The machine succeeded in eliminating most of the pollutants.

The Japanese system has caught the attention of officials in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s biggest city.

They started testing at this month. That could lead to a deal worth almost 20 million dollars. Seven other Vietnamese cities have also asked Kitakyushu officials to do on site service.

Ho Chi Minh City water official:

Providing people safe water supply is one of our biggest goals. I hope their technology will bring us good results.

Kazuya Kubota:

If we want to get orders from abroad. We need to go into the field with local officials, and talk with them about what needs to be done.


Kitakyushu officials have high hopes for their work in Vietnam. They hope it will encourage Japanese companies to work together to design water resource management systems and win orders from overseas clients.


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With Typhoon Relief Scant, Residents Rush to Leave Tacloban
Typhoon HaiyanThe Philippines was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan over the weekend. One hundred and ninety mile per hour winds and a storm surge of more than 13 feet battered the coastline. The city of Tacloban was hit especially hard. More than 650,000 were displaced, at least 9.5 million people have been affected, and damage costs will exceed USD$70 million according to one report. More than 2500 are dead and that But more urgently, those affected are facing food and water shortages since aid is slow to reach the disaster area. Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported from the scene.

Bodies litter the landscape. Some of the dead remain buried beneath debris. People have lost their homes, and their belongings. Food and drinking water are scarce. More and more people say their only option is to leave. The airport in Tacloban is only open to military aircraft and chartered planes. We saw hundreds of people struggling to enter. With nothing left here for them, these people here are scrambling not for food but for a ride in the c-130 plane that will take them out of here. Security guards tried to stop the crush of the people at the gate.

Resident 1:
We need to go elsewhere to live because we have no more food.

Resident 2:
We lost our home. Life is very difficult here. Kids are getting sick from the smell of dead bodies. We have nothing to eat anymore.

Resident 3:
Anywhere, but not here. We want to get out.

Residents fear for their safety. They say armed looters are taking what little food remains. Philippine troops are putting priority on airlifting sick people and families with small children off the island. Every flight that leaves is packed. From the air, the devastation in Tacloban becomes clearer. The people who've managed to flee consider themselves lucky.

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Japan: Crews Start Process of Removing Fukushima Fuel Rods
FukushimaThe 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan, causing catastrophic damage to the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant. The outcome was a meltdown of the plant's number four reactor, causing an environmental disaster not seen since Chernobyl. Now, after two years of careful planning, crews are ready to start the delicate process of removing the reactor's roughly 1500 fuel rods. Once again, here's NHK.

The media entered the Fukushima-Daiichi plant on Wednesday to see the number four reactor building. The building contains more than 1500 fuel units. Most of them have been used. They're extremely hot, highly radioactive, and experts say they need to be kept cool for 30-40 years. The rods are stored in a pool about 20 meters above ground, the water traps radiation and keeps the rods cool. But a hydrogen explosion in 2011 weakened the building's structure. Experts say the rods must be moved to a safer place. Managers of Tokyo Electric Power Company have been preparing to start the job for the last two-and-a-half years. They planned to lift the rods out with a crane, but the building was too weak to support it. So workers built a steel frame. They will transfer the rods to containers that can seal in radiation. They will then move these to a storage facility within the compound and put them back into water. The job is far from straightforward. The workers have to maneuver the rods underwater to prevent any radiation from escaping. And they will have to cope with the high levels of radiation, up to 200 Microsieverts per hour.

Akira Ono:
The working environment here is more difficult and stressful than usual. Therefore, I want to devote every effort to safely transfer all the fuel rods.

TEPCO officials say it will take more than a year to remove all the rods from reactor number four. Then they will have to do it all over again at the three other reactors. They haven't said when they expect to finish. The operation will start this month. It's the latest hurdle in the long process of decommissioning the plant, a project that's expected to take up to 40 years.

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Japan: Heavy Rains Fall on Fukushima, Become Radioactive
In Japan, the weather's making an environmental disaster worse. Heavy rains from recent typhoons fell on the stricken nuclear plant at Fukushima. Some of the rainwater became radioactive. Here's Japan's public broadcaster NHK with the story.

Workers at Fukushima-Daiichi have been struggling for months with leaks of contaminated water. Now they're dealing with another problem -- rain. They saw a heavy downpour last week during a typhoon. And on Sunday, another storm brought more than 100 millimeters of rain. All that water built up inside barriers surrounding tanks that store contaminated water. Workers discovered it had flowed over the barriers at 11 spots. In six areas, they detected levels of radioactive strontium above the government's safety limits. The highest rating was more than 70 times the standard. Now the workers are trying to find out whether some of the water flowed through ditches and into the Pacific Ocean. The barriers are designed to contain any tainted water that leaks from the tanks. The ones that fitted with drainage pipes. Initially, whenever it rained, workers opened the pipes to discharge rainwater. But in August, they found that 300 tones of highly radioactive water had leaked from one of the tanks. It traveled through a pipe to the area beyond the barrier. Workers decided to shut off all the pipes and pump out any water that collected inside the containment area. They now check the pumped out water for radioactivity to ensure it meets government's standards. Heavy rains are making that job a lot harder. Managers plan to install more pumps around the tank to make sure they can deal with any amount of water. They say they don't want to get caught out the next time a storm hits.

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