Indian village gets ‘world’s cheapest bottled water’

MADHUSUDANKATI (AFP): Charity workers have teamed with an impoverished village in eastern India to develop what they say is the world’s cheapest bottle of drinking water - costing less than one US cent. After years of suffering illnesses from drinking polluted ground water, residents of Madusudankati are now receiving clean bottled supplies thanks to a new purification plant.  ‘I saw a ray of hope when I heard that a water purifying plant would be installed in our village,’ local farmer Pralay Mallick said.  ‘I thought that our children would be safe.’ Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Indian charity Sulabh International, said the plant started operating several months ago with the capacity to produce 8,000 litres of potable water per day. ‘

And the water costs 50 paise (less than one cent) per litre, which makes it the cheapest purified, bottled water in the world,’ Pathak told AFP. ‘The village cooperative has been entrusted to supply the water in 20 litre bottles to households, shops and markets in the area,’ he said, adding that more than 10,000 people were benefiting from the project. ‘The water is also supplied free to schools.’ For residents of Madusudankati, close to the border with Bangladesh, the plant has proved a saviour after years of suffering from skin and other diseases blamed on arsenic in ground water pumped from wells. ‘It sounded to us like escape from arsenic poisoning,’ said community leader Haladhar Sarkar whose residents are unsure how toxins found their way into the water. India has a long history of abuse of water supplies, including from pesticides, industrial pollution and runoff from untreated sewage, to over-exploitation, especially for irrigation. The new plant, which treats water collected in a deep, man-made pond at the village, has been developed by Sulabh and French NGO 1001 fountains. 

Journalists start royal baby countdown in Britain

LONDON (AFP): The world’s media started counting down Thursday to the arrival of Britain’s royal baby when a press pen was erected outside the hospital where Prince William’s wife Kate is due to give birth. William and Kate are expected to welcome their second child this month at the Lindo Wing, a private section of St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, central London. The hospital is where their first child, Prince George, was delivered in 2013 and the press area was being put up opposite the entrance where the future king and queen posed for their first photo with George.

Patients are charged more than £5,000 pounds (6,900 euros, $7,400) for the first 24 hours of a delivery with an extra £1,000 for each additional night.

While Kate’s due date has not been made public, parking in the area has been suspended until April 30 for a ‘special event’, giving a clue to the likely timing.  As TV crews laid cables from satellite trucks and photographers arrived to claim their spots, fans of the royal family also came to look at the hospital and pose for photographs in front of the entrance. Layla Peter, 16, had come from Frauenfeld in eastern Switzerland with her father, aunt and cousin for a holiday in London, with the Lindo Wing top of her list of sights to see. ‘I want it to be a girl. A girl and a boy, it’s a good mix. A girl can wear dresses and it will be very pretty,’ she said. ‘I would like it to be called Victoria - it will be a traditional name.’ It is thought that the royal couple still do not know if the baby will be a boy or a girl. The birth will be announced when royal officials place a formal document with news of the delivery on an easel outside Buckingham Palace - as well as on the official Kensington Palace Twitter account. William, who is training for a new job as an air ambulance helicopter pilot, will take two weeks of paternity leave to help care for the baby. Local businesses near the hospital were hoping to profit from the tourists, journalists and police in the area for the new arrival. ‘Definitely we expect extra business - chocolate, drinks, cigarettes,’ said Joshi, who was manning the till at a souvenir shop selling royal postcards and Union Jack flipflops nearby. ‘People are always excited to see any kind of royal family member.’

Jawbone banks on smart fashion trend beyond watches

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP): On the one hand, or wrist, there may be an eye-catching Apple Watch, while the other will sport with more discreet jewelry packed with Internet Age smarts. Jawbone had that vision of the wearable computing trend in mind late Wednesday when it ramped its UP family of lifestyle-tracking bands and teased a coming model that enables American Express users to tap and pay at shop checkout counters. ‘People often wear a watch at the same time they are wearing bracelets,’ Jawbone vice president of product management and strategy Travis Bogard told AFP at the company’s San Francisco headquarters.

 ‘We can now put technology into those situations in a way that doesn’t disrupt how you would wear it. Then you can collect that information and do interesting things with it.’

A UP3 bracelet that tracks heart rate along with activity and sleep is shipping after a delayed release while technicians improved water resistance. Jawbone introduced another new Up band with an overhauled design and almost half the mass of its predecessor. Bogard showed off a coming flagship UP4 model with sensors capable of measuring heart rate and other biometrics, and which could be used at checkouts that have American Express contactless payment systems. ‘We have created a seamless payment experience all in the tap of a wrist,’ said Leslie Berland, executive vice president of digital partnerships and development at American Express. UP4 will be priced at $199 when it is released in the middle of this year, according to Bogard. The lowest priced UP model is $49. Bogard was undaunted by the pending arrival next week of Apple Watch, which unofficial estimates indicate has about a million pre-orders and could ignite the smar watch market. ‘Those are really daytime wear,’ he said of smartwatches.

E-cigs popular with teens, but few are regular users

PARIS (AFP): In the biggest survey of its kind, British researchers reported Wednesday that e-cigarettes are popular with young adolescents, but few who try them become regular users. Of those who do use them regularly, most are also tobacco smokers, they added. Just 1.5 percent of schoolchildren aged 11-16 said they used e-cigarettes regularly, a term defined as at least once a month, according to their study, published in the journal BMJ Open. The probe touches on one of the most contested areas of e-cigarettes, whose rise has spurred a verbal battle between defenders and promoters. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that heat up a liquid containing nicotine and artificial flavouring.

The vapour is inhaled - ‘vaped’ - much like a cigarette.

In the last few years, health watchdogs have been embroiled in debate as to whether the gadgets are safe or addictive. The study did not focus on the safety issue, but pointed to evidence that, so far, addiction did not seem to be a problem. Nor, according to the replies recorded in the survey, do e-cigarettes seem to be a gateway to smoking. ‘E-cigarettes are unlikely to make a major direct contribution to adolescent nicotine addiction at present,’ the paper said. The findings are based on two ‘nationally representative’ surveys in Wales, in which two batches of children - 1,601 aged 10 to 11 and 9,055 aged 11 to 16 - were questioned about their use of e-cigarettes. Use of e-cigarettes at least once was more common than having smoked an ordinary cigarette in every age group except the oldest category, the 15- to 16-year-olds. Among the 10- to 11-year-olds, 5.8 percent said they had tried e-cigs, several times more than those (1.6 percent) who had tried tobacco. Among the 11- to 16-year-olds, 12.3 percent said they had tried the device.

Japan tops China as biggest foreign holder of US bonds

WASHINGTON (AFP): Japan eclipsed China as the largest holder of US bonds in February, the Treasury Department reported Wednesday, the first time that has happened since August 2008. Japan edged ahead of China even as both countries reduced their holdings of Treasury securities from January. But China took a bigger cut. Japan ended February with $1,224.4 billion in US government debt, while China, excluding Hong Kong, held $1,223.7 billion. Trailing far behind in third place were Caribbean banking centers with $350.6 billion, followed by Belgium at $345.3 billion. US government borrowing has declined sharply with a shrinking budget deficit over the past three years, after expanding rapidly to support the economy in the Great Recession. The federal deficit fell to $483 billion in 2014, its lowest level in six years and below 3.0 percent of economic output for the first time since 2007. In February, the balance of US capital flows remained in the red but was lower than in January, according to the Treasury International Capital data report. Overall net foreign sales of long-term securities in February were estimated at $10.6 billion, well below the $67.3 billion in January.

Parasite treatment kills many fish at Texas aquarium

Texas (Reuters): Up to 100 fish died at an aquarium in Texas that houses stingrays, barracuda and sharks after their tanks were treated with a compound designed to kill a parasite infestation, officials and media reports said on Wednesday. Staff at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi administered the treatment, which caused many of the fish to fall ill despite having been used successfully at other aquariums. Workers struggled through the night to save as many of the fish as they could, but ‘considerable losses were sustained,’ the aquarium said in a statement. Water samples had been sent to laboratories for testing, the aquarium said. Its Chief Marketing Officer Richard Glover told the Los Angeles Times newspaper that as many as 100 fish in four affected tanks had died. According to its website, the aquarium’s tanks house green moray eels, cownose stingrays, barracuda and nurse sharks, among other species.