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The death of the last glaciers in Mexico | USA

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The Ayoloco glacier was once 200 meters thick, an icy colossus dragging rocks through its slow path down the slope. When you ascend to the 4,700-meter point of the Iztaccíhuatl volcano in central Mexico today, all that remains are the deep grooves it carved and a wall of old ice. The awesome force of its weight, dating back millennia, is gone.

Two researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) are now trying to affix a metal plate into one of those ancient grooves. They coat it with glue and secure it with screws. They don’t want it to fall down in the next storm. “This plaque is in memory of Ayoloco, to remind us it was here,” explains glaciologist Hugo Delgado. “And that it receded until it disappeared in 2018 because of climate change linked to human activity.”

The disappearance of this key water source cannot be reversed, and soon ice-free slopes and stones scattered like bones are all that will be left of Mexico’s once plentiful glaciers

This geologist has dedicated his career to studying Mexican glaciers, and says that measures should have been taken much earlier to prevent Ayoloco’s fate. The disappearance of this key water source cannot be reversed, and soon ice-free slopes and stones scattered like bones are all that will be left of Mexico’s once plentiful glaciers.

Delgado came to Iztaccíhuatl in 1974 to learn to walk on snow. He climbed the magnificent Ayoloco glacier with a hammer and ice ax, and lived here for two weeks in 1979 to prepare an expedition to the Himalayas. He lost his best friend on that mission. He has crossed this mountain so many times that he does not know the exact figure, and knows it like the back of his hand. “Our ice is heroic,” he says. “It is resisting as long as it can”.

Iztaccíhuatl is Mexico’s third-highest peak at 5,230 meters. Back in 1958, 11 glaciers were counted here in a national survey. Now only three remain: the Pecho, the Panza and the Suroriental glaciers. Between them, they barely cover 0.2 square kilometers, but in 1850 they stretched over 6.23 square kilometers, during the tail-end of the so-called “Little Ice Age”. In 170 years, the mountain has lost 95% of its glacier mass.

Mexico’s last five glaciers have a grim prognosis. Delgado predicts that in the next five years the three on Iztaccíhuatl will have disappeared

In the rest of Mexico, only two other permanent masses of ice remain: “El Norte” (North) Glacier and the small “Noroeste” (Northwestern) Glacier, totalling little more than 0.6 square kilometers. They are found in the Pico de Orizaba, also known as Citlaltépetl, on the border of the Mexican states of Puebla and Veracruz. The Pico de Orizaba is the highest mountain in the country, at 5,675 meters, and the third-highest in North America. Four glaciers have disappeared from its slopes over the last sixty years. El Norte, the geologists’ last hope, has lost its “tongues” – ridges or protrusions that snaked up the mountain. “The rock is showing through,” explains Delgado, “the ice layer is minimal”.

Remnants of the masses of ice that still survive in Iztaccíhuatl. On the video, the ascent to the former glacier of Ayoloco (Spanish language).PHOTO | VIDEO: TERESA DE MIGUEL

Mexico’s last five glaciers have a grim prognosis. Delgado predicts that in the next five years the three on Iztaccíhuatl will have disappeared. He gives those on Pico de Orizaba two decades. In any case, he says: “In 2050 there will be no glaciers in Mexico”.

Delgado also represents his country in the international glacier research group, and for years he has endured the jokes of Latin American colleagues, proud of the magnificent glaciers of Ecuador or Peru. “‘Soon you won’t even need to show up,’” they used to say, laughing at me… They have gone from making fun of the size of my glaciers to worrying about their own as they watch the ice vanish,” he explains.

The continuing disappearance of glaciers is a mirror held up to the world we are heading for: warmer, drier, worn out.

This fast-accelerating extinction is happening to ice masses simultaneously around the world. From Ok in Iceland to Pizol in Austria, the funerals are happening in quick succession, with requiems for Spanish glaciers and new lakes forming in the Himalayas. No one, no matter where they are, can escape global warming. Glaciers are a sensor for climate change: the more the planet’s temperature rises, the faster they retreat. Their continuing disappearance is a mirror held up to the world we are heading for: warmer, drier, worn out.

You can hear crunching footsteps on the earth, the heavy breathing and the bristling zacatones, plants that cover the slopes of Iztaccíhuatl like a blanket. In a clearing, before reaching the snow, crosses commemorate Luis Rosas, a mountaineer who died in 1971, and Daniel Peralta, who lost his life in 2013. These plaques in homage to mountain lovers inspired the farewell to Ayoloco.

The silence on the path suddenly shifts to a low, constant rumble. “Can you hear that? It’s a gas leak, with a lot of pressure. There are sometimes some explosions. It’s Popocatépetl,” says Robin Campion, a volcanologist from UNAM who accompanies Delgado on his expeditions to the glaciers. From the foothills of Iztaccíhuatl, the smoke of the other volcano is clearly outlined in the clear May sky, as a constant reminder of its presence.

Popocatépetl also had glaciers until 2000, when a strong eruption buried them. “There is still some ice left, but it does not function as a glacier because it has no movement or feeding process. In fact, those ice masses are ironically being preserved by the volcano’s ashes,” explains Delgado. If one day Popocatépetl falls dormant and the temperature increase has not melted the ice, the glacier could be regenerated.

A thick blanket of clouds accompanies the mountaineers on their ascent until it covers their feet, knees and the belly of Iztaccíhuatl. The hollow that occupied the Atzintli glacier until around 2012 appears on the western slope, on the route to Ayoloco. Now lizards hide among the rock piles and lichen at 4,500 meters above sea level. For centuries both glaciers were an important source of water during the dry season. Their names in Nahuatl, “heart of water” and “my water”, spell out the link with the people who lived here.

The two glaciers disappeared when the temperature increased and remained below the so-called “equilibrium line”. Geologists define this as the area in the mountains where the average annual temperature is zero degrees or less. Above this line, snow, blizzards or hail accumulate and feed the glacier. “As it feeds, it moves downslope due to gravity. When it exceeds the equilibrium line, it reaches what we call the ablation zone,” Delgado explains. This is where the temperature is higher than zero degrees and where everything begins to melt. “Glaciers have this dynamic of feeding and loss and there is a balance that allows them to conserve mass or lose it,” he adds.

This line of equilibrium has moved naturally over time. All the mountains of the Valley of Mexico taller than 3,500 meters were once covered with ice: the Ajusco, the Sierra de la Cruces, the Nevado de Toluca or the mountains of the Sierra Nevada all harbored glaciers. The temperature increase means that the level of the line is ever higher up. In 1958, it could be found in Mexico at 4,500 meters; now it is at 5,250 meters.

In addition to global warming, Mexican glaciers are trying to survive while surrounded by the industrial zones of the Valley of Mexico and Puebla state, and densely populated areas like Mexico City and Nezahualcoyotl

All of Iztaccíhuatl’s glaciers are already below the equilibrium line. “This means that solid precipitation has no hope of staying put,” Delgado explains. While the researchers secure the Ayoloco plate, the snow is falling heavily on the belly of the mountain. The rainy season has just begun and at this altitude the storm is shedding snowflakes relentlessly, but they do not cover all of the exposed rock. “The snow doesn’t last more than a few days, maybe a few weeks with luck. But it doesn’t stick, it can’t feed the glaciers.” The trio that remain on Iztaccíhuatl remain couched inside the craters, as the hollow protects the body of ice. “They are being maintained by the conditions on the surface, but the hope that they will stay is practically nil.”

Things are different at Pico de Orizaba. The summit and its glaciers are still 120 meters above the equilibrium line. But geologists have detected a lack of synchronization when it snows in the rainy season, which in Mexico coincides with summer. The high temperatures prevent the snow from sticking, and when it gets cold enough, there is no precipitation. “If things continue with the same temperature records, in a couple of decades they will disappear,” Delgado predicts.

In addition to global warming, Mexican glaciers are trying to survive while surrounded by the industrial zones of the Valley of Mexico and Puebla state, and densely populated areas like Mexico City and Nezahualcoyotl. As the glacial ice melts, outcrops of dark mountain rock start to appear which absorb instead of reflect solar radiation, causing additional warming.

A monitoring station on the Pico de Orizaba also corroborates that Mexico’s ice is “hot ice”, with a temperature so close to zero degrees that the ice melts easily with just a small rise in temperature. In addition, in the dry seasons the glaciers suffer from the sun’s rays due to their altitude and orientation, and although temperatures are low the ice turns from a solid state into gas and evaporates.

The loss of the Mexican glaciers means losing a sensor for climate change, but it also means losing a water source. In an increasingly populated and drier country – the average temperature in Mexico has risen 2ºC in the last 34 years – glaciers are an additional contribution to drinking water in the dry season for communities living near the mountains. They contribute about 5% of the region’s water, in runoff or by feeding into aquifers. “It’s very little, but even that will still cease to exist,” Delgado notes. All the signs – receding glaciers, melting poles, emptying dams – point in the same direction: “There will no longer be as much water available. Our society will be under water stress. It is a problem that is already here, but  the magnitude of it is not yet clear. The real challenge now is how we are going to adapt.”

There is no hope for these frozen masses fading slowly away on Mexico’s mountain tops, but we can try to slow down the process. Reducing greenhouse gases, saving water, avoiding deforestation and investing in environmental education are all necessary today. Delgado, who finds hope in the upcoming generation, concludes: “This is not to protect the planet, but the environment that allows us to survive as a species. We are risking our own existence.”

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UK Pharmacists Warn Medicine Shortages Put Patients at Risk

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The issue first came to the fore in April, when shortages of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs resulted in an outcry, with doctors warning that some women will resort to unorthodox methods to get the medication they need.

British pharmacists have expressed concern over medicine shortages in the UK, which they believe put patients at risk, a new poll has revealed.

A survey of 1,562 UK pharmacists for the Pharmaceutical Journal found that more than 54% of respondents said that patients had been put at risk in the last six months due to drug shortages.

The outlet cited an unnamed pharmacist from a children’s hospital in England as saying that problems pertaining to variable supply of nutritional products may pose threat to patients’ health.

“We had to ration it, and this has potentially put patients at risk of vitamin deficiencies,” the pharmacist pointed out.

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They were echoed by another hospital pharmacist, who voiced alarm about drugs being unavailable at the end of a patient’s life.

“There was no alternative for one patient who had to deal with an additional symptom in his last days of life due to lack of available treatment,” the source told the Pharmaceutical Journal.

The same tone was struck by Mike Dent, director of pharmacy funding at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, who said in an interview with the journal that they are “becoming increasingly concerned about medicine supply issues and the very serious impact this is having on both community pharmacy teams and their patients.”

A spokesperson for the UK Department of Health and Social Care, in turn, stressed that they “take patient safety extremely seriously, and […] routinely share information about medicine supply issues directly with the NHS [National Health Service] so they can put plans in place to reduce the risk of any shortage impacting patients, including offering alternative medication.”

“We have well-established procedures to deal with medicine shortages and work closely with industry, the NHS and others to prevent shortages and resolve any issues as soon as possible,” the spokesperson added.

The remarks followed the UK government issuing a number of “medicine supply notifications,” which highlight shortages of a whole array of key drugs, including live­-saving ones such as antibiotics, insulin and antidepressants.

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The issue first came to light at the end of April 2022, when a shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication left some women in the UK sharing prescriptions and feeling suicidal. HRT is used to relieve most symptoms of menopause and it works by replacing hormones that are at a lower level.

According to the UK newspaper Express, drug shortages “are being caused by a shortage of raw ingredients used to manufacture medicines. These are often supplied by countries in the Far East. There are also rising costs set by pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers.”



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Cannabis: Canada to spend $200 million on medical marijuana for veterans | International

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The Canadian government is on track to spend CA$200 million (around $154 million) on medical marijuana for veterans, an increase of 30% compared to 2021 and 135% compared to 2019. Since 2008, Canada’s Veteran Affairs has been reimbursing former military personnel for what they spend on medically prescribed marijuana.

Canada legalized recreational cannabis in October 2018 (the second country to make such a regulatory change after Uruguay). The government of Justin Trudeau justified the measure as a move to fight organized crime and ensure the safety of consumers. Marijuana for medicinal use, however, has been legal in Canada since 2001. The Canadian Health Ministry backed its decision on the grounds that studies show it can be beneficial for patients who suffer from problems such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

In 2008, after overcoming various legal disputes, Veteran Affairs approved a measure to reimburse war veterans for the cost of medicinal marijuana, although reimbursements were to be decided on a case-by-case basis. In 2011, the authorities simplified the procedure to make it accessible to more candidates. That year, 37 people were reimbursed for a total amount of CA$103,400 (81,000). In November 2016, the ministry modified its compensation rules, reducing the daily limit from 10 grams a day to three. The current maximum rate for refunds is $8.50 per gram.

Veteran Affairs stated that medical cannabis is “a developing area of treatment,” and it will continue to review information and “adjust the policy as necessary to guarantee the welfare of veterans and their families.” A Canadian Senate commission called for such a review in 2019, emphasizing the positive results of cannabis for therapeutic purposes, in particular as an effective substitute for highly addictive opioids against chronic pain. Senators also said that the maximum price needs to be constantly evaluated, as costs may exceed what some veterans can afford.

According to the latest data, some 18,000 ex-combatants were reimbursed for medicinal marijuana in 2021, which equated to CA$153 million ($118 million) in federal spending. While experts largely support the plan for veterans, they say it should be accompanied by psychosocial support, especially in cases of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Campaigners call on UN Women to pull out of BlackRock partnership | Women’s rights and gender equality

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The UN agency responsible for promoting gender equality is being urged to pull out of a partnership with BlackRock, the world’s biggest investment fund manager, over the company’s “record of prioritising profits over human rights or environmental integrity”.

Hundreds of women’s organisations and activists have written to UN Women demanding it rescind the partnership.

The letter, sent on Tuesday to Sima Sami Bahous, UN Women’s executive director, and her two deputies, Åsa Regnér and Anita Bhatia, said the partnership “gives BlackRock a veneer of feminist approval that it clearly does not merit”.

While details of the collaboration have not been made public, BlackRock published a statement on its website in May saying it had signed “a memorandum of understanding” with the UN agency “agreeing to cooperate in promoting the growth of gender lens investing”.

BlackRock has faced pressure from environmental activists to improve its climate action policies, given its vast holdings in fossil fuel companies, and wide global reach.

The asset manager has investments in some of the world’s largest weapons sales companies, the letter said, noting that BlackRock is “consistently” ranked among the worst performers on corporate accountability by civil society watchdogs.

From left to right: Pam Chan of BlackRock, UN Women representative Anita Bhatia and Isabelle Mateos y Lago of BlackRock at Davos this year.
From left to right: Pam Chan of BlackRock, UN Women representative Anita Bhatia and Isabelle Mateos y Lago of BlackRock at Davos this year. Photograph: UN Photo

The letter, signed by almost 600 groups and individuals, said BlackRock also holds large amounts of debt in Zambia and Sri Lanka. It was among the private sector lenders that refused to delay debt interest payments to prevent Zambia’s finances from collapsing. The country has had to cut health and social care spending by a fifth in the past two years to balance its budget, cuts that have disproportionately affected women and marginalised groups.

Sanam Amin, a Bangladeshi academic and activist, said: “We want this agreement to be rescinded. This will not have a positive outcome for UN Women or the feminist organisations it is working with.”

She said BlackRock was using UN Women for bluewashing and pinkwashing purposes, and that it was “a fantasy” to imagine that “gender-impact investment can keep investment bankers rich and also save the world”.

“This is an illusion and relies on the labour and resources of marginalised communities in a gendered fashion, in the global south and across global supply chains.”

This is not the first time UN Women has been criticised for partnering with the private sector. In 2015, after pressure from women’s groups, the organisation backed out of a deal with Uber to encourage 1 million women to sign up as drivers.

Emilia Reyes, a feminist activist, said a lack of money was driving the UN into partnerships with the private sector. “We are calling for member states to fulfil their commitments on funding for UN departments as a whole,” she said. “In the search for extra funding, [UN bodies] are undermining their mandate and pushing conflicts of interest inside the UN.”

A spokesperson for UN Women said it “understands the concerns of its civil society partners”, which “merit consideration”. They said the partnership had been “put on hold”.

BlackRock said the money it managed belonged to its clients, many of whom made their own investment decisions. It added: “We highly value UN Women’s leadership in advancing women’s empowerment around the world and respect their decision to put the agreement on hold while they review their strategy for private sector partnerships.”

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