Search This Blog

Monday, October 17, 2011

Challenges loom as world population hits 7 billion

She's a 40-year-old mother of eight, with a ninth child due soon. The family homestead in a Burundi village is too small to provide enough food, and three of the children have quit school for lack of money to pay required fees.

"I regret to have made all those children," says Godelive Ndageramiwe. "If I were to start over, I would only make two or three."

At Ahmed Kasadha's prosperous farm in eastern Uganda, it's a different story.

"My father had 25 children — I have only 14 so far, and expect to produce more in the future," says Kasadha, who has two wives. He considers a large family a sign of success and a guarantee of support in his old age.

By the time Ndageramiwe's ninth child arrives, and any further members of the Kasadha clan, the world's population will have passed a momentous milestone. As of Oct. 31, according to the U.N. Population Fund, there will be 7 billion people sharing Earth's land and resources.

In Western Europe, Japan and Russia, it will be an ironic milestone amid worries about low birthrates and aging populations. In China and India, the two most populous nations, it's an occasion to reassess policies that have already slowed once-rapid growth.

But in Burundi, Uganda and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, the demographic news is mostly sobering as the region staggers under the double burden of the world's highest birthrates and deepest poverty. The regional population of nearly 900 million could reach 2 billion in 40 years at current rates, accounting for about half of the projected global population growth over that span.

"Most of that growth will be in Africa's cities, and in those cities it will almost all be in slums where living conditions are horrible," said John Bongaarts of the Population Council, a New York-based research organization.

Is catastrophe inevitable? Not necessarily. But experts say most of Africa — and other high-growth developing nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan — will be hard-pressed to furnish enough food, water and jobs for their people, especially without major new family-planning initiatives.

"Extreme poverty and large families tend to reinforce each other," says Lester Brown, the environmental analyst who heads the Earth Policy Institute in Washington. "The challenge is to intervene in that cycle and accelerate the shift to smaller families."

Without such intervention, Brown says, food and water shortages could fuel political destabilization in developing regions.

"There's quite a bit of land that could produce food if we had the water to go with it," he said. "It's water that's becoming the real constraint."

The International Water Management Institute shares these concerns, predicting that by 2025 about 1.8 billion people will live in places suffering from severe water scarcity.

According to demographers, the world's population didn't reach 1 billion until 1804, and it took 123 years to hit the 2 billion mark in 1927. Then the pace accelerated — 3 billion in 1959, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1998.

Looking ahead, the U.N. projects that the world population will reach 8 billion by 2025, 10 billion by 2083. But the numbers could be much higher or lower, depending on such factors as access to birth control, infant mortality rates and average life expectancy — which has risen from 48 years in 1950 to 69 years today.

"Overall, this is not a cause for alarm — the world has absorbed big gains since 1950," said Bongaarts, a vice president of the Population Council. But he cautioned that strains are intensifying: rising energy and food prices, environmental stresses, more than 900 million people undernourished.

"For the rich, it's totally manageable," Bongaarts said. "It's the poor, everywhere, who will be hurt the most."

The executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, former Nigerian health minister Babatunde Osotimehin, describes the 7 billion milestone as a call to action — especially in the realm of enabling adolescent girls to stay in school and empowering women to control the number of children they have.

"It's an opportunity to bring the issues of population, women's rights and family planning back to center stage," he said in an interview. "There are 215 million women worldwide who need family planning and don't get it. If we can change that, and these women can take charge of their lives, we'll have a better world."

But as Osotimehin noted, population-related challenges vary dramatically around the world. Associated Press reporters on four continents examined some of most distinctive examples:

___

THE ASIAN GIANTS

It's 6 p.m. in Mumbai, India's financial hub, and millions of workers swarm out of their offices, headed to railway stations for a ride home. Every few minutes, as a train enters the station, the crowd surges forward.

For nearly 7 million commuters who ride the overtaxed suburban rail network each work day, every ride is a scramble. Each car is jam-packed; sometimes, riders die when they lose their foothold while clinging to the doors.

Across India, the teeming slums, congested streets, and crowded trains and trams are testimony to the country's burgeoning population. Already the second most populous country, with 1.2 billion people, India is expected to overtake China around 2030 when its population soars to an estimated 1.6 billion.

But even as the numbers increase, the pace of the growth has slowed. Demographers say India's fertility rate — now 2.6 children per woman — should fall to 2.1 by 2025 and to 1.8 by 2035.

More than half of India's population is under 25, and some policy planners say this so-called "youth dividend" could fuel a productive surge over the next few decades. But population experts caution that the dividend could prove to be a liability without vast social investments.

"If the young population remains uneducated, unskilled and unemployable, then that dividend would be wasted," says Shereen Jejeebhoy, a Population Council demographer in New Delhi.

Population experts also worry about a growing gender gap, stemming largely from Indian families' preference for sons. A surge in sex-selection tests, resulting in abortion of female fetuses, has skewed the ratio, with the latest census showing 914 girls under age 6 for every 1,000 boys.

Family planning is a sensitive issue. In the 35 years since one government was toppled for pursuing an aggressive population control program, subsequent leaders have been reluctant to follow suit.

For now, China remains the most populous nation, with 1.34 billion people. In the past decade it added 73.9 million, more than the population of France or Thailand.

Nonetheless, its growth has slowed dramatically and the population is projected to start shrinking in 2027. By 2050, according to some demographers, it will be smaller than it is today.

"It's like a train on the track that's still moving but the engine is already off," says Gu Baochang, a professor of demography at Beijing's Renmin University.

In the 1970s, Chinese women had five to six children each on average. Today China has a fertility rate — the number of children the average woman is expected to have in her lifetime — of around 1.5, well below the 2.1 replacement rate that demographers say is needed to keep populations stable in developed countries.

Three decades of strict family planning rules that limit urban families to one child and rural families to two helped China achieve a rapid decline in fertility but the policy has brought problems as well.

Before long, there will be too few young Chinese people to easily support a massive elderly population.

Also, as with India, there's a gender gap. The United Nations says there are 43 million "missing girls" in China because parents restricted to small families often favored sons and aborted girls after learning their unborn babies' gender through sonograms.

"China is always so proud of how quickly we brought down fertility from high to low, and how many births were avoided but I think we did it too quickly and reduced it to too low a level," says Gu. "I wish that India can learn this: 'Don't make it too quick.'"

___

WESTERN EUROPE AND THE U.S.

Spain used to give parents 2,500 euros (more than $3,000) for every newborn child to encourage families to reverse the country's low birth rate. But the checks stopped coming with Spain's austerity measures, raising the question of who will pay the bills to support the elderly in the years ahead.

It's a question bedeviling many European countries which have grappled for years over how to cope with shrinking birth rates and aging populations — and are now faced with a financial crisis that has forced some to cut back on family-friendly government incentives.

Spain and Italy, both forced to enact painful austerity measures in a bid to narrow budget deficits, are battling common problems: Women have chosen to have their first child at a later age, and the difficulties of finding jobs and affordable housing are discouraging some couples from having any children at all.

In 2010, for the fourth consecutive year, more Italians died than were born, according to the national statistics agency. Italy's population nonetheless grew slightly to 60.6 million due to immigration, which is a highly charged issue across Europe.

Italy's youth minister Giorgia Meloni said earlier this year that measures to reverse the birth rate require "millions in investment" but that the resources aren't available.

Unlike many countries in Europe, France's population is growing slightly but steadily every year. It has one of the highest birth rates in the European Union with around 2 children per woman.

One reason is immigration to France by Africans with large-family traditions, but it's also due to family-friendly legislation. The government offers public preschools, subsidies to all families that have more than one child, generous maternity leave, and tax exemptions for employers of nannies.

Like France, the United States has one of the highest population growth rates among industrialized nations. Its fertility rate is just below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman, but its population has been increasing by almost 1 percent annually due to immigration. With 312 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country after China and India.

___

AFRICA

Lagos, Nigeria, is expected to overtake Cairo soon as Africa's largest city. Private water vendors there do a brisk business in the many neighborhoods that otherwise lack access to potable water.

The drone of generators is omnipresent, at offices and markets, in neighborhoods rich and poor, because the power grid doesn't produce enough power. Periodic blackouts extend for hours, days, sometimes weeks.

Such is daily life in Nigeria's commercial capital, where the population is estimated at 15 million and growing at 6 percent or more each year. Problems with traffic congestion, sanitation and water supplies are staggering; a recent article in UN-Habitat said two-thirds of the residents live in poverty.

The rest of Nigeria isn't growing as fast — estimates of its growth rate range from 2 percent to 3.2 percent. But it's already Africa's most populous country with more than 160 million people.

Ndyanabangi Bannet, the U.N. Population Fund's deputy representative in Nigeria, notes that 60 percent of the population is under 30 and needs to be accommodated with education, training and health care.

"It is a plus if it is taken advantage of," he said of Nigeria's youth. "But if it is not harnessed, it can be a challenge, because imagine what hordes of unemployed young people can do."

In Uganda, another fast-growing country, President Yoweri Museveni used to be disdainful of population control and urged Ugandans, especially in rural areas, to continue having large families.

Recently, the government has conceded that its 3.2 population growth rate must be curbed because the economy can't keep pace. Earlier this year, anti-government protests by unemployed youths and other aggrieved Ugandans flared in several communities, and nine marchers were killed in confrontations with police.

"The government has been convinced that unless it invests in reproductive health, Uganda is destined to a crisis," says Hannington Burunde of the Uganda Population Secretariat.

Among those who are struggling is John Baliruno, 45, of Mpigi in central Uganda, a father of nine.

"I never intended to have such a big number," he said. "I with my wife had no knowledge of family planning and ended up producing one child after another. Now I cannot properly feed them."

Looking ahead, he's pessimistic.

"The environment is being destroyed by the growing population. Trees are being cut down in big numbers and even now we can't get enough firewood to cook food," he said. "In the near future, we will starve."

Another of the fastest-growing countries is Burundi. With roughly 8.6 million people, it's the second most densely populated African country after neighboring Rwanda.

Omer Ndayishimiye, head of Burundi's Population Department, said continued high growth coincides with dwindling natural resources. Land suitable for farming will decline, and poverty will be rampant, he said, noting that 90 percent of the population live in rural areas and rely on farming to survive.

The government has been trying to raise awareness about the demographic challenges among the clergy, civic leaders and the general public.

"We are suggesting couples to go to health clinics to get taught different birth control methods," Ndayishimiye said. "But we are facing some barriers ... Many Burundians still see children as source of wealth."

At her modest house in Gishubi, Godelive Ndageramiwe ponders the changes that have made her regret her large family.

"Children were a good labor force in the past when there was enough space to cultivate," she said. "Today I can't even feed my family properly. My kids just spend days doing nothing."

After her fourth child, she began to worry how her family could be cared for.

"But my husband was against birth control and wanted as many children as possible," she said. "It was delicate because he could marry another wife.

"My friends advised me to go to a nearby clinic, but I was told I must come with my husband. Now I have laid the issue in the hands of God."

Steve Jobs and the 7 Rules of Success

Steve Jobs' impact on your life cannot be underestimated. His innovations have likely touched nearly every aspect -- computers, movies, music and mobile. As a communications coach, I learned from Jobs that a presentation can, indeed, inspire. For entrepreneurs, Jobs' greatest legacy is the set of principles that drove his success.

Over the years, I've become a student of sorts of Jobs' career and life. Here's my take on the rules and values underpinning his success. Any of us can adopt them to unleash our "inner Steve Jobs."

1. Do what you love. Jobs once said, "People with passion can change the world for the better." Asked about the advice he would offer would-be entrepreneurs, he said, "I'd get a job as a busboy or something until I figured out what I was really passionate about." That's how much it meant to him. Passion is everything.

2. Put a dent in the universe. Jobs believed in the power of vision. He once asked then-Pepsi President, John Sculley, "Do you want to spend your life selling sugar water or do you want to change the world?" Don't lose sight of the big vision.

3. Make connections. Jobs once said creativity is connecting things. He meant that people with a broad set of life experiences can often see things that others miss. He took calligraphy classes that didn't have any practical use in his life -- until he built the Macintosh. Jobs traveled to India and Asia. He studied design and hospitality. Don't live in a bubble. Connect ideas from different fields.

4. Say no to 1,000 things. Jobs was as proud of what Apple chose not to do as he was of what Apple did. When he returned in Apple in 1997, he took a company with 350 products and reduced them to 10 products in a two-year period. Why? So he could put the "A-Team" on each product. What are you saying "no" to?

5. Create insanely different experiences. Jobs also sought innovation in the customer-service experience. When he first came up with the concept for the Apple Stores, he said they would be different because instead of just moving boxes, the stores would enrich lives. Everything about the experience you have when you walk into an Apple store is intended to enrich your life and to create an emotional connection between you and the Apple brand. What are you doing to enrich the lives of your customers?

6. Master the message. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can't communicate your ideas, it doesn't matter. Jobs was the world's greatest corporate storyteller. Instead of simply delivering a presentation like most people do, he informed, he educated, he inspired and he entertained, all in one presentation.

7. Sell dreams, not products. Jobs captured our imagination because he really understood his customer. He knew that tablets would not capture our imaginations if they were too complicated. The result? One button on the front of an iPad. It's so simple, a 2-year-old can use it. Your customers don't care about your product. They care about themselves, their hopes, their ambitions. Jobs taught us that if you help your customers reach their dreams, you'll win them over.

There's one story that I think sums up Jobs' career at Apple. An executive who had the job of reinventing the Disney Store once called up Jobs and asked for advice. His counsel? Dream bigger. I think that's the best advice he could leave us with. See genius in your craziness, believe in yourself, believe in your vision, and be constantly prepared to defend those ideas.

Carmine Gallo is a communications coach, a popular keynote speaker and author of several books including The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs. His latest is The Power of Foursquare (McGraw-Hill, 2011).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

When the Customer Is Wrong: Restaurants

It's one of the oldest adages of the retail world: "The customer is always right."

Of course, very often the customer is wrong. Every day customers behave in ways that make the lives of waiters, cashiers, customer service reps and other retail workers miserable. And in many cases, these customers don't even realize how annoying they're being.


To rectify this, we've decided to talk to the people on the other side of the cash register to find out what sort of customer behavior gets on their nerves. To kick things off, we got some veterans of the restaurant industry to dish on their secret pet peeves and give some advice to diners.

Great Expectations

Think about the last time you cooked dinner. How long did it take? Forty-five minutes? An hour? More?

We're guessing the answer wasn't "15 minutes." Yet that's about how long most restaurant patrons expect their dinner to take, and they get irked when it takes any longer. Sometimes diners need to tone down their expectations, says Michael Gordon, a restaurant industry veteran who has spent about a decade as a cook and waiter.

"A steak needs time to cook, and fish needs time to be brought up to temperature," says Gordon. "There's a lot of prep work."

And if you're in a big party, expect it to take even longer.

"The bigger the party, the longer it's going to take," he says. "I can't give one person a plate and not give everyone else theirs." In other words, the table will only be served once all the meals are finished, so if one dish takes 25 minutes to cook, that's how long it will take before anyone sees their food.


Trust the Chef

Gordon says cooks don't mind people sending their food back if it isn't cooked as requested. But he estimates that nine times out of 10 the dish was cooked just fine -- the customer just doesn't know what constitutes "medium rare" or understand how a dish is supposed to be cooked.

"Everybody has a degree in something or other, but when they get to a restaurant, everyone thinks they have a doctorate in cooking," he says.

If you really think the people in the kitchen screwed up your steak, by all means send it back. But consider for a moment that the professionals know better than you do how to prepare a meal. (And if you're not sure whether you're on the same page with the kitchen, you might clarify beforehand how they define the varying degrees of doneness.)

This Isn't 'Top Chef'

Of course, just because they're professionals doesn't mean that cooks are capable of producing any dish on Earth. While some substitutions and special requests will be fine with the kitchen, you can only expect so much improvisation from a kitchen with limited time and ingredients.

"We get people walking into a restaurant and asking for a vegetarian or vegan plate, and unless we've specifically got a menu for that population, you're out of luck," says Steve Dublanica, author of the Waiter Rant blog. "You're asking the chef to make something they're not used to."

Dublanica, who's also authored two books based on his experience as a waiter, recounts the story of a woman who came into a Northern Italian restaurant and asked for sushi; when she was informed that the kitchen was incapable of producing sushi dishes, she retorted that it should be possible given that the restaurant had tuna on the menu.

There's nothing wrong with asking if the kitchen can make something that's not on the menu, but don't get all worked up when the answer is no.

Don't Snap at the Waiters

Everyone knows it can be frustrating to try to get your waiter's attention during a busy dinner shift, but there's a right way and a wrong way to flag down your server.

"Raise your hand or make eye contact; don't snap [your fingers] and don't wave," says Dublanica. And don't even think about physically grabbing a waiter as they walk by, especially if they're carrying something.

If it's a special night and you want truly exceptional service, he says you can try slipping your server some cash at the beginning of the meal and requesting special attention. But there's generally one surefire way to ensure the server keeps coming back to your table, and it doesn't require you to pay out a bribe.

"The best thing is to be polite, be nice, and say 'please' and 'thank you'," he says.


Proper Groupon Etiquette

Groupon, the popular group deals site, can be a boon for restaurants looking to attract new customers, but it can also be a pain in the neck for the waitstaff, says Dublanica.

"A party of twelve will come in with their Groupons and they'll request separate checks [so they can each use their Groupon]," he says. "You can't do that."

Indeed, many Groupons for restaurants will stipulate that you can only use one per table, but that apparently doesn't stop thrifty diners from trying to game the system.

And while we're on the topic of Groupon, Dublanica also observes that some diners are guilty of tipping only on the after-coupon price.

"When you come in with a $50 Groupon or gift certificate and run up a $100 tab, tip on the whole check, not just the $50," he says.

They're Waiters, Not Accountants

If there's one thing people hate about going out to dinner with friends, it's figuring out how to split up the check fairly. But that doesn't mean you should force your server to do the math for you.

"When you have two, three, or four people all paying with credit cards, that's a no-brainer," says Dublanica. That's especially true if you just split it evenly -- if someone bought a more expensive entree than everyone else or ordered more drinks, you can square up later.

But asking your server to itemize meals and drinks by requesting separate checks is a very different story.

"When you all want separate checks, that's a pain," says Dublanica. "If you're going to torture your waiter that way, you have to tell him at the beginning." Waiting until the end of the meal and then asking the server to go through the check and calculate each diner's individual price isn't fair, especially on a busy night.

Just Show Your ID

When a bouncer, bartender or waiter asks to see your ID, they're not trying to give you a hard time. A single underage drinker can be devastating for a restaurant, so it's important for establishments to be diligent about who they let drink.

"The big driver of any establishment's ability to make money is their liquor license, and that can get pulled or sanctioned very easily," says Drew Trombly, who has worked as both a bartender and general manager of a large restaurant. "It's essential that these places protect themselves."



So if you're 40 years old and get carded at the door, don't roll your eyes -- just take it as a compliment.

Closing Time

"Don't come in five minutes before closing," pleads Dublanica. "The guys in the back have been there for 12 hours."

Likewise, Trombly singles out patrons who "stay really late when they're clearly the last people there."

While you may love the idea of having a restaurant all to yourself with that special someone, consider that your midnight meal is preventing the staff from getting home to their families. If you must show up right before closing, at least be considerate enough to finish your meal quickly.

After all, waiters and cooks are people, too. Treat them with the same respect you would like to be shown yourself.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The incredible legacy of Steve Jobs: From the mouse to the iPad

Apple's former CEO made furthering technology his passion

Steve Jobs died Wednesday at the age of 56. The former Apple CEO was a visionary in the world of computing and is largely responsible for the level at which computers are integrated with our everyday lives. There's a very good chance that you're reading this story on a computer, tablet, or smartphone that Jobs either invented or inspired, and that's something that is unique to his legacy.

The original Macintosh mouse

How it all started
Jobs — along with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne — founded Apple in 1976. The first computers were simplistic but revolutionary for their time. Then in 1984, the company introduced the Macintosh 128K, the first computer that abandoned text-only commands in favor of a graphical user interface. Along with it came the mouse, a device which is so crucial to modern computing that it hasn't changed in nearly three decades.

In 1986, during a brief hiatus from the company he helps created, Jobs snatched up a little-known division of film studio Lucasfilm. He renamed this computer animation company Pixar, after the expensive computer imaging technology that his team created. Shortly thereafter, he negotiated a deal with Disney to produce Pixar's first full-length feature, Toy Story. After a string of record-breaking films, he sold the company to Disney for approximately $7.4 billion.

The iMac changed everything

Return to Apple
When Jobs eventually returned to Apple, the company was in shambles. Competing manufacturers held Apple software licenses and were making clones of the company's hardware, undermining the brand. Jobs immediately cancelled the program and brought all Apple development back under one roof.

From there he slowly built up Apple's credibility amongst computer users and eventually oversaw the launch of the iMac and iBook, two of the most iconic Apple products in the company's history. The somewhat unusual look and candy-colored combinations of Apple's hardware began to give the company an edgy appeal, and consumers ate it up. Apple's stock seemed to have no ceiling, as each new product brought new customers into the company's dedicated fan base.

Jobs revolutionized mobile computing

iPod, iPhone, and iPad
Apple launched the iPod in 2001, and along with the iTunes software, Jobs' company revolutionized the way we listen to music. Digital music players can be found in every corner of the globe, and the iPod line is by far the most popular of them all. Apple made purchasing and listening to music so affordable and easy that over 220 million iPod devices have been sold since its introduction.

In 2007 Jobs launched what is undoubtedly the best-selling Apple product to date: the iPhone. His vision of a smartphone was far different than what most wireless consumers were used to, but now it's hard to imagine a world without it. As competitors did their best to catch up, Jobs stayed the course, always standing by his promise to create useful products on Apple's terms, and without influence from the rest of the tech world.

Once the iPhone was firmly a market leader, Jobs took his dream of mobile computing one step further by introducing the iPad — a tablet that didn't try to be a computer. Both the iPhone and iPad product lines have seen massive success and after 4 versions of Apple's smartphone and two iPads, the company is the most valuable brand name in consumer electronics, and has flirted with being the most profitable company on earth.

We'll never forget
Through it all, Steve Jobs gained millions of fans. His relaxed appearance and style during the frequent Apple keynotes is legendary, and even as new CEO Tim Cook takes over, we can't help but miss the black shirts and blue jeans we were used to seeing for so many years.

Wednesday, pancreatic cancer claimed his life, a disease which he first announced to the public 2004. Through various treatments, Jobs continued to perform his duties at Apple, promising only to step down when he felt the time was right. Just a few short months ago, on August 24, Steve Jobs officially walked away from his post as CEO, and today he is no longer with us.

As the face of Apple for so many years, Jobs became part of the very fabric of the company's products. His legacy will live on with every iPod, iPhone, Mac, and iPad that graces a desk or coffee table around the globe. The next time you power on your smartphone, tablet, or computer, spare a moment for Steve Jobs, one man who made advancing technology his life's work.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fed Govt to build three new refineries

President Jonathan President Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan says his administration is building three new refineries and revamping the existing ones to transform the country from an importer of petroleum products.
The President made this known on Saturday in his address to the nation on the occasion of its 51st independence anniversary.
He said his administration was committed to transforming Nigeria to the hub for exportation of value-added petroleum and petrochemical products, the News Agency of Nigeria reports.
The President also said his administration was partnering with the private sector in the construction of world-scale petrochemical and fertiliser plants.
He said such would lead to effective utilisation of the nation’s abundant natural gas resources and boost employment generation.
In the efforts aimed at diversifying the economy, Jonathan said his administration had set out agricultural transformation action plans and policy measures to achieve self-sufficiency in the production of rice, cassava, maize, sorghum and other staple foods.
He said the agricultural transformation plan would generate 3.5 million jobs and produce 20 million tonnes of food.
In achieving all these, the President appealed to Nigerians to take pride in farming and consume locally produced agricultural products.
``We should eat what we produce. The increasing popularity of local products, like ‘Ofada rice’, ‘Badegi rice’, and ‘Abakaliki rice’, attest to the fact that the populace will readily embrace locally-grown produce.
``We must also take pride in our scientists. This week, Nigeria released eight new high yielding cocoa varieties.
``This will help to transform cocoa production across the 14 cocoa-producing states in the nation,’’ he remarked.
The President also emphasised his administration’s determination to ensure that Nigerians have reliable electricity to grow the economy.