Wednesday, 26 September 2007

August 28th

More than 2 years since Hurricane Katrina, the US senate has only now passed a Water Projects Bill which, among other things, authorizes money for the long term strengthening/securing of the levees in New Orleans.

The day before reading about that bill I found myself listening to a lecture by political strategist James Carville on the topic of Katrina, other storms, and preparedness issues. He said something in his opening remarks that struck me as a remarkable coincidence - that the two most destructive hurricanes in the history of the USA, Andrew (1992) & Katrina (2005), both made landfall on the 28th of August in their respective years. The significance of this concidence stems from the fact that storms only get named when they reach a certain level of intensity and potential for destructive capability, with names following the order of the alphabet. As climate scientists have long warned that rising water levels and warmer oceanic temperatures would result in a greater frequency and magnitude of severe storms - that 2005 saw the 11th named hurricane by the time in the season that we had our first in 1992, lends support to the inconvient truth that it isn't some distant future they prophesize about.

And its not just about the frequency of bad weather. At the time Katrina hit, it was the 4th most severe Atlantic hurricane in recorded history - a short lived ranking as it was eclipsed by both Hurricane's Rita and Wilma later that year. Some relevant observations from this current 2007 season include:

- When the Atlantic Hurricane Felix hit the Nicaragua-Honduras border, it signalled the first time time in recorded history that two hurricanes made landfall at Category 5 status in the same season
- The intensity with which Felix moved was also unprecedented in that it grew from a Category 2 to a Category 5 storm in just 15 hours
- Felix hit Nicaragua on 04 September. Just a few hours earlier, the Pacific Hurricane Henriette made landfall in Mexico, marking the first time that Atlantic and Pacific hurricanes have made landfall on the same day.

Severe weather patterns in the Americas are more unpredictable than ever, and greater numbers of people are and will continue to be affected.

So what are policymakers doing about it? Katrina might have kickstarted a new wave of thinking about how we respond to disasters when they occur - but when it comes to prevention, however, and preparing at risk populations against future events - it's much more talking than action. I understand that the political process is slow and deliberate, and I am pleased that the Water Projects Bill passed with such a healthy majority. But a full two years after New Orleans was under water, this really is just a first step in that this Bill only authorizes the amount of money that is allowed to be spent on these projects - it does not committ anyone to implement anything or set a timeframe for when they might do so. Because of this, the Louisiana levees, for example, could remain inappropriately secure for sometime - and for those of us wanting greater action on this soon, we've gotta keep talking about it, keeping the agenda public, and not get complacent in thinking that the situation is resolved because a vote has passed.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Street Health Report 2007

Last week Streethealth launched the Street Health Report 2007 – a community based research study that interviewed 360 homeless individuals & reviewed extensive literature to assess the health status of the homeless population in Toronto, the root factors impacting on their physical/mental health, and the barriers preventing them from accessing needed health services which (in theory) are available to them. The report is available for free at

I had a chance to review it over the weekend and the changes in the health profiles of this community have shifted remarkably in the past 15yrs. While some of the recommendations they promote aren’t necessarily realistic – the survey results in the body are highly informative and is a good read for any of you working or involved with homelessness or at-risk low income earners in Toronto.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Quebec to eliminate junk food in schools

Here's a piece from the Canadian Press from the other day. Let's hope the rest of the country can follow the lead of Quebec, BC and Nova Scotia ...

Quebec to eliminate junk food in schools

MONTREAL -- French fries, soft drinks and other types of junk food will soon be gone from Quebec schools as the province joins other jurisdictions in Canada taking aim at childhood obesity.

Premier Jean Charest announced Friday that food with little nutritional value will stop being offered in pre-, elementary and high schools starting in January 2008.
The policy is already being implemented in many school across the province, which Charest acknowledged will help the policy gain traction.

"Many schools and school boards have preceded us in this policy,'' he said while announcing the policy at a local school. "We're not starting from zero today.''

School vending machines will have their sugary sweets replaced by healthier fare, such as yogurt, fruits and juice. Quebec's education minister said the government's policy should have an impact on students' performance.

"A child who is well fed, that has a balanced diet, increases their capacity to concentrate, increases their intellectual capacity to absorb information and certainly improves their memory,'' said Michelle Courchesne.

But Charest also pointed out that the policy has its limits, given that 80 per cent of students bring a lunch from home. Charest said in order to attack what he called an obesity problem, schools not only have to offer healthy food and exercise but parents need information to make the right choices for their children. The premier also moved to correct the perception that cutting junk food from the province's schools will come at a cost.

"It's not true that it costs more,'' Charest said.

However, officials with Quebec's Education Department admitted that the healthier options may cost slightly more in certain cases, parents have expressed their willingness to take the hit for the sake of their child's diet. The Liberal government will add $11 million to an existing $5-million program to allow schools to develop programs for exercise and healthy food choices.

Schools in British Columbia and Nova Scotia are among those to have already instituted similar policies.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Cool Runnings, v2

The Reggae Marathon in Jamaica is still a go and I can't wait! The training's coming along and I've surrounded myself with some pretty strong runners who have been pushing me well. Ran the Midsummer Night's Run a couple weeks back and had a lot of fun with it at sunset on the waterfront (highly recommended to all you runners in TO next Aug!) … placed 35 th (of about 300), but more importantly I beat the goal I was shooting for and set a personal best of 15Km in 1hr, 12min. Next up for me is a much tougher test on 30September with the Scotiabank TO Waterfront Half-Marathon … that'll be an important benchmark to get a sense of what kind of time I'll be able to shoot for at the full 42. I'm definitely thinking about trying to post a decent time as opposed to simply surviving the 01Dec race … while I'm enjoying the workouts, the real hard part in making that a reality is to come around better on the nutrition – my food intake is actually pretty decent, but for me that might mean laying off the booze for a while … darn summer patio season being such a temptress … we'll see how that one goes! Thnx for all the support everyone – I'll keep the updates coming at every benchmark I can =)

YOUTHLINK & Toronto's Local Health Committee

New Committee/Job info ...

Hey good people – So for all of you who've been on me bout apparently having 3 jobs and school, below is a bit of an update on the newer part time ones ... while I might be balancing a few different things - none of them ('cept school!) demand ridiculous amounts of time so I promise I'll still be able to have a life and come out and play these next few months!! For all ya'll heading back to school - let's enjoy our final few days of summer freedom;-)

Ok here goes ...

1. As of September, for the next 3-4 years (through the next municipal elections) I will serve on the Local Health Committee (LHC) for downtown Toronto & East York. The essence of this committee is to debate and provide advice to the Toronto Board of Health on policies, priorities and programs to address local and emerging health needs in the City of Toronto. Issues vary greatly and may range from water quality, food and beverage concerns, access to dental/healthcare services, programs for vulnerable seniors and immigrants, communicable diseases, and on the strategic plan for Toronto Public Health. SO – for any of you TO folks out there – if you've got any ideas or concerns about public health or safety issues that isn't on the city's agenda that you feel should be – please feel free to bring it to me and we'll talk about how to get it moving!

2. The other part time gig I've recently begun is with YOUTHLINK – a Toronto based NGO serving inner city youth. While most of my portfolio will be in the areas of information reporting and conducting program evaluations – I will be in a position to make recommendations to leadership on potential new research or programming initiatives. I know several of you are actively engaged with or have an interest in poverty/violence/substance abuse/homelessness/reproductive health and other issues affecting disadvantaged youth. SO – as above with the LHC stuff - if you have relevant insights, ideas or new angles that you feel deserve more attention, I'd love to hear about it!