Library thrives in a Pakistan gun town; and the olfactory superpower of AI


1. United States

U.S. military veterans in crisis can now receive free emergency mental health care. The new policy provides acute suicide care even to those who are not already enrolled for health care with the Department of Veterans Affairs. They can seek help at any facility, for up to 30 days of inpatient and 90 days of outpatient treatment. Afterward, the policy directs veterans to other VA services and benefits.

More than 6,000 U.S. veterans died by suicide in 2020, down from a high in 2006. Veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 have a suicide rate three times as high as non-veterans of the same age range. One study found that up to 35% of military health care recipients don’t have access to adequate psychiatric care, despite government insurance.

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In our progress roundup, things that don’t seem to belong together yield dynamic results – including books inspiring readers in a village best known for its black-market weapons.

The new measure, which also provides support for service members who survive sexual assault, battery, or harassment during their time in the military, attempts to help fill the gap.
“This expansion of care will save veterans’ lives, and there’s nothing more important than that,” said Secretary for Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough. The emergency care provision is part of the 10-year National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide.

Charles Dharapak/AP/File
The Veterans Health Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, serves 9 million veterans each year and is easing the path for those who are not already enrolled for health care benefits by extending some crisis care.

Sources: CNN, The Washington Post

2. Brazil

As Brazil’s first minister for Indigenous peoples, Sônia Guajajara is also the country’s first Indigenous cabinet member. She leads an organization representing some 300 Indigenous groups across the country and is a member of the Amazon Guajajara. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who returned to the presidency at the start of the year, fulfilled a campaign promise to create the new ministry.

Andre Penner/AP/File
Sônia Guajajara took part in demonstrations Sept. 4, 2022, for more government protection of Indigenous reserves in São Paulo, Brazil.

Ms. Guajajara is also a well-known environmentalist and Indigenous rights activist, named by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people in 2022. For supporters, the commitment to Indigenous affairs is about more than just one group of people. “The Ministry of Indigenous Peoples could also be – and is also – the ministry of the forest, of the land. [It] could be called ... the ministry of life. This is the size of the responsibility,” said activist Celia Xakriabá.
Sources: AP, Globo

3. United Kingdom

Renewables generated a higher share of electricity than gas in the U.K. between October and February. Energy sources like wind, hydro, and solar provided 40 terawatt-hours of electricity, while gas generated 39 TWh. Other sources, such as nuclear and biomass, produced another 24 TWh.  

Renewables and nuclear together generated 82.5% of Britain’s electricity between Dec. 29 and Jan. 9. In comparison, about 20% of utility-scale electricity generation in the United States in 2021 was from renewables. Wind power alone hit a record 50.4% of the U.K.’s energy mix on Jan. 10. Observers note there is still progress to be made in terms of prices and updates to the grid to accommodate the increase in renewable energy. “Research and investment are urgently needed into ways to store renewables, as well as viable exchange between us and mainland Europe and the island of Ireland,” writes Zoe Williams in an op-ed for The Guardian.

Frank Augstein/AP/File
A wind farm is visible from the beach in Hartlepool, England, November 2019.

Source: Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit

4. Israel

A new biological sensor identifies odors with a level of sensitivity that is 10,000 times higher than other devices. Unlike visual and auditory systems, the sense of smell has long proved difficult for scientists to replicate using technology. Researchers developed the biohybrid sensor by combining the desert locust’s antennae, electroantennogram technology, and artificial intelligence to detect odors imperceptible to humans.

“Nature is much more advanced than we are, so we should use it,” said Ben Maoz, one member of the Tel Aviv University team, which expects the technology to be used in detecting explosives, drugs, and other threats. “Compared to other bio-hybrid sensors available today, it can be easily operated by an unskilled individual,” write the researchers in a study describing the findings published this month. Researchers in other places, such as the Biohybrid Systems Laboratory at the University of Tokyo, are also working on similar solutions.
Source: The Jerusalem Post, Biosensors and Bioelectronics Journal

5. Pakistan

A library is thriving in a town known for its guns. Darra Adam Khel, which lies 85 miles west of Islamabad, is infamous for its sprawling black-market weapons bazaar. In rural areas, literacy rates are low and community members doubted whether Darra Adam Khel Library could succeed when the project took root in 2018. Today it is home to some 4,000 books, ranging from history to fiction, and is frequented by 500 members who pay 150 rupees ($0.55) a year.

“There was once a time when our young men adorned themselves with weapons like a kind of jewelry,” said Irfanullah Khan, who donated the plot of land where the library was built. “But men look beautiful with the jewel of knowledge. Beauty lies not in arms but in education.”

Limited educational opportunities, poverty, and sporadic violence remain obstacles for the town. Volunteer librarian Shafiullah Afridi struggles to maintain a “no weapons” policy in the space, and so far, the majority of the library’s visitors are men. But he holds out hope, noting that more young people today are “interested in education instead of weapons.”
Sources: VOA News, The New York Times

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