Estonia – A Digital Society

Estonia is a small Baltic state with a population of 1.3 million. Despite its size it is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world and has been creating a digital society since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In Estonia, citizens are allowed to do most things online.  Every inhabitant has a unique ID card that they use for a number of purposes.They can file tax returns, get medical prescriptions  and manage their health records online. They can pay for a parking ticket via mobile phone and don’t have to go to a registration office when a child is born. Parents can check their children’s grades  and communicate with teachers. For many years Estonians have been able to vote online.

In 2014 the small Baltic country started a new digital initiative. It allows non-citizens to become digital residents for 100 euros. The government wants to bring qualified people to the country because the working population is steadily decreasing. The country desperately needs new programmers, web developers and media experts. Up to now 20 000 people from other countries have applied for digital citizenship.

Many countries, among them Finland and Japan are trying to copy Estonia’s digital society. However, authorities point out that the country’s smallness is an advantage. Such a system may not work very well in larger countries with millions of people.

Digital Summit in Estonia
Digital Summit in Estonia – Image: Anna Piperal

Words

  • advanced = very modern
  • advantage = here: something that helps you to be successful
  • apply = to make a request
  • authorities = the people who are in charge of a government organisation  or department
  • Baltic = region in the northeastern part of Europe
  • citizen = person who lives in a country and has rights there
  • collapse = breakdown , end
  • create = make
  • decrease = go down
  • desperately = very much
  • despite = even though
  • file tax returns = here: to send information  on how much you have earned to the local government; it then tells you how much tax you have to pay
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • health records = information about your health
  • however = but
  • ID card = small plastic card that has information about a person
  • inhabitant = a person who lives in a country
  • initiative = a new plan
  • point out = to show something that is important
  • population = the number of people living in a country
  • prescription = a piece of paper on which  the doctor writes down what medicine a sick person should take
  • purpose = what something is needed for
  • qualified = with special skills and talents
  • registration office = place where you have report to when a baby is born or someone dies
  • resident = a person who officially lives in a country
  • society = people in general and the way they live and work together
  • size =how large the country is
  • smallness = not large in size
  • Soviet Union = largest Communist country that existed between 1922 and 1991
  • steadily = slowly
  • unique = being only one of its kind
  • via = by way of , through

 

Outbreak of Plague in Madagascar

60 people have died so far due to an outbreak of plague in Madagascar. According to the World Health Organisation, Madagascar witnesses about 400 cases of plague every year. However, this year infections have started much earlier and are spreading from remote rural areas to cities  as well.

Most cases were pneumonic plague, a dangerous and severe infection of the lung. It is highly infectious and can be transmitted through air by coughing and sneezing. It invades the lungs and can lead to death within 24 hours.

156 cases were attributed to bubonic plague, an infection that is transmitted by rats and spreads to humans through flea bites. It can be very painful and causes fever, headache, chest pain as well as swollen lymph nodes.

While both forms of plague can be treated it is important to detect the illness at an early stage and get medical help to people as soon as possible. The WHO has helped with millions of doses of antibiotics. The International Red Cross has set up treatment centres  throughout the island. In addition the government has been supplying people with masks and has closed down schools.

Madagascar, with a population of 25 million,  has witnessed outbreaks of plague since the 1980s, usually during the rainy season between November and March.  Officials fear that this time the disease  might not be contained and could spread to many regions of the country.

The most deadly plague in history occurred in Europe in the 14th century.  About a third of the continent’s population when  killed as sailors brought the infectious disease from Asia.

International Red Cross  parcel arriving at a treatment centre
International Red Cross parcel arriving at a treatment centre

Words

  • according to = as reported by
  • antibiotic = medicine that is used to kill bacteria and cure infections
  • attribute = to believe that something is caused by …
  • century = a hundred years
  • chest = front part of your body between your neck and stomach
  • contain = to stop something from spreading
  • detect = discover, notice
  • dose = an amount of medicine that you should take
  • due to = because of
  • flea = very small insect without wings that bites animals and people and eats their blood
  • in addition = also
  • infectious = disease that can be passed on from person to person, mostly by air
  • invade = here: attack
  • lymph node = small round swelling in your body with liquid that helps fight off infections
  • occur = happen
  • official = person in a high position in the government
  • outbreak = when something suddenly starts
  • remote =  far away
  • rural = in the countryside
  • severe = very bad
  • spread = move from one place ot another
  • supply = give
  • swollen = larger than normal
  • throughout = all across
  • transmit = to pass on to another person
  • treat = cure an illness with medicine and other drugs
  • treatment centre = place where people can come to in order to get medicine
  • witness = experience ; see something happen
  • World Health Organisation (WHO) = international organisation which helps countries improve health care  by giving people medicine and providing information about diseases

New Airport Opens on Remote St. Helena

The first commercial flight landed on the British island of St. Helena a few days ago.  It was the first passenger flight ever to land on the remote island, located  in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. St. Helena’s authorities hope that the new air service from Johannesburg, South Africa  will help boost tourism on the island.

Up to now only a boat service every three weeks connected the island with the African continent. It took a ship about 6 days to travel from  South Africa. The small island relies heavily on British aid to survive. St. Helena’s tourism officials say that the new air link will bring 30,000 visitors to the island every year, compared to only 4,000 last year.

The airport cost  almost £ 300 m  and has been widely criticised  as being the most useless airport in the world. Only smaller airplanes can fly to the island because strong winds to not allow large jet planes to take off and land.

Saint Helena is mostly known as the island to which French emperor Napoleon was banned  and died after he had suffered a defeat at WaterlooThe British overseas territory is only 122 square kilometres large and lies 2000 km off the coast  of Africa. It has a population of 4,200 .

Development on the island has been slow. It got its first mobile phone service in 2015 and the first luxury hotel on the island  is opening soon. Wildlife and nature  on and around the island is why tourists find there way to St. Helena.  A Marine Protected Area was established there last year.

 

The New airport on St. Helena
The new airport on St. Helena – Image: Paul Tyson

Words

  • aid = financial help; money
  • air link = flights to and from a place
  • air service = company that arranges flights
  • authorities = the people who rule a place
  • ban = here: to bring someone to a faraway place so that he/she cannot escape
  • boost = improve; make better
  • coast = where land meets the sea
  • commercial = with passengers on board who pay for the flight
  • development = to increase business, trade and growth in a region
  • emperor = man who rules a group of countries
  • establish = create
  • heavily = very much; strongly
  • luxury hotel = very expensive hotel
  • Marine Protected Area = place in the ocean where animals and plants are protected
  • official = a person who is in a high position in an organisation
  • population = the number of people who live in an area
  • rely = depend on; need
  • remote = very far away
  • suffer a defeat = here: lose a battle in a war
  • survive = to continue to exist
  • useless = not needed
  • wildlife = animals and plants that grow under natural conditions
  • widely = very much

 

Where Did Easter Island Inhabitants Really Come From?

Easter Island , or Rapa Nui as the natives call themselves , belongs to the remotest  places on earth.  The Chilean island, famous for its carved statues,  is located in the middle of the southern Pacific Ocean.

For decades, scientists have been wondering how the natives got to the island before the first Europeans came in 1722. Most experts think that the first settlers came to Easter Island  at around 1200 A.D. , probably on small boats  crisscrossing the Pacific Ocean. 

Other anthropologists have been trying to find out if the natives have any connections to early South Americans, three thousand kilometres away. Latest research now claims that the Easter Islanders were, in fact, more isolated than previously thought.

Scientists have been examining the skeletons and  bones of five people that go back hundreds of years. However, they have found no evidence that suggests they have might have ancestors in South America.

The first theory of South American ancestry came up when Thor Heyerdahl saw  sweet potatoes when he arrived there in the 1950s. He also found people using fishing tools that South Americans also used.  Scientists at that time thought the people of the Easter Islands may have sailed to South America and back again some time before the Europeans came.

 

Famous statues on Easter Island
Famous statues on Easter Island – Image: Horacio_Fernandez

Words

  • ancestor = a member of your family who lived a long time ago
  • anthropologist = a person who studies people , their cultures and where they come from
  • carved = to cut an object with a knife
  • claim = to say that something is true even if you cannot prove it
  • Chilean = from Chile
  • crisscross = to travel many times back and forth without a certain pattern ; zigzag
  • decade = ten years
  • evidence = facts that clearly show that something is true or exists
  • examine = to look very closely at an object
  • however = but
  • isolated = here: to be alone and far away from others
  • located = can be found
  • native = a person who was born in a country or place
  • previously = earlier
  • remote  = very far away from civilisation
  • research = the study of a subject  in order to find out new facts
  • sail =  the wind brings you somewhere on a boat
  • scientist = a person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • settler = a person who goes to live in a place where not many people have lived before
  • sweet potato = a vegetable that looks like a red potato ,is yellow inside and tastes sweet

 

Massive Hole Discovered in Antarctic Ice

Scientists have discovered a gigantic hole that has reappeared in the Antarctic ice. It is about the size of the Netherlands and is located around the Weddell Sea.

In the 1970s climatologists found a similar hole at almost the same spot. At that time  they didn’t have the observation equipment that they have now, so they couldn’t study the hole closely enough. After a few years it disappeared . Last year, the hole came up again.

Researchers cannot explain how the hole emerged.  One theory is  that warmer salt water from deep under the Antarctic ice sheet  may have come up and mixed with cold water near the surface, thus , melting the ice sheet above.  Normally a thick layer of ice covers Antarctica at the end of the  southern winter. Scientists also claim that it may be connected to climate change and global warming.

Such a hole in the ice is called a polynya.  Although not totally uncommon, it is strange that the hole in the Antarctic ice has appeared very far from its edge . Usually such holes are found in coastal regions.

Climatologists are not sure whether the hole will have an impact on the water temperature in the world’s oceans. If warmer water continues to surface to the top of the hole it may stay there for a longer period of time because it would then be difficult for ice layers to form.

Severe weather conditions during the Antarctic winter make it difficult to find holes in the ice . This is the second time in two years that such a hole has emerged , although last year’s was not that big.

 

Antarctic Ice Shelf
Antarctic Ice Shelf

Words

  • although = while
  • claim = to say that something is true even if you cannot prove it
  • climatologist = person who studies the weather and how it changes the climate on earth
  • coastal = where land meets the sea
  • disappear = go away
  • discover = to find something that has not been there before
  • edge = the part of an object that is furthest from the centre
  • emerge = come out  from somewhere
  • equipment = the tools or machines you need to do something
  • gigantic = huge; very big
  • global warming = the increase in the temperature of the atmosphere
  • ice sheet = area of thick ice that covers the North and South Poles
  • impact = influence, change
  • layer = material or substance between two other things
  • reappear = to come again, after it has gone away for some time
  • researcher = a person who studies a subject in order to find out more about it
  • scientist = a person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • severe = bad, extreme
  • similar = almost the same
  • size = how big something is
  • surface = the top layer of something
  • thus = therefore; that is why
  • uncommon = unusual, strange

Gold Found in Switzerland’s Sewers

Researchers have found that 3 million dollars worth of gold lands in Switzerland’s sewage system every year. After taking a close look at Swiss waste-water treatment plants, they claim that over a hundred pounds of gold and 6,000 pounds of silver  are washed away with waste. However,  it would be too expensive to remove the gold from the wasted water.

Switzerland is a country that processes and refines gold on a large scale.  About 70% of the world’s most precious metal passes through Switzerland in some way or other. Gold is used especially in the country’s watchmaking industry, which dominates the world market.

Other valuable metals pass through the country’ sewage system, but they do not pose an environmental threat.

Most of the refineries lie in the southern canton Ticino, only a short distance from the Italian border.

Swiss watch
Swiss watch – Image: Joe Haupt

 

Words

  • border = line between two countries
  • canton = province of Switzerland
  • claim = to say that something is true
  • dominate = to be number one
  • environmental threat = danger to the world around us
  • especially = above all
  • pose = cause a problem
  • precious = very valuable
  • on a large scale = here: large factories refine large amounts
  • refine = here: to make gold purer
  • remove = take something away
  • researcher = person who studies a subject in order to find out more about it
  • sewage system = a place where waste water  from households is collected; the water is cleaned and returned into rivers or the sea
  • valuable = expensive
  • waste-water treatment plants = place where waste water from households is cleaned from unusable material
  • waste = unwanted material that we do not need

Thailand Bans Smoking on Beaches

The government of Thailand has announced that smoking on tourist beaches will not be allowed any more. Those who do not obey the new law must pay a fine of up to $3850 or risk going to prison for a year.

The ban will affect 20 tourist beaches.  Authorities in Thailand have been coping with the problem of cigarette butts being thrown away and polluting the country’s wonderful beaches.

Tourism officials say, however, that there will be places further inland where tourists  will be allowed to smoke.

The ban was proclaimed  after authorities collected over 140,000 cigarette butts  on a 2.5 km long stretch of beach on Phuket Island – 30% of all the total waste found near the coast.

Tourism makes up about 10% of the Thailand’s income. About 35 million people visit the country’s beaches every year.

Phuket Beach
Phuket Beach

Words

  • affect = here: where the new law is put into effect
  • announce = to say in public
  • authorities = organisation or government department that has the power to make decisions
  • ban = law that forbids something
  • cigarette butt = part of a cigarette that remains when someone has finished smoking
  • cope = deal with
  • income = the money a country gets for services and products
  • inland = farther away from the beaches
  • obey = follow, respect
  • official = person who is in a high position
  • pollute = to make dirty
  • prison = building where you keep people as a punishment because they have done something wrong
  • proclaim = to say officially that something exists
  • stretch = area of land
  • waste = unwanted materials that are left over

Che Guevara Died 50 Years Ago

Che Guevara was a Marxist revolutionary who was a close aide of Fidel Castro during the Cuban Revolution. He was killed in Bolivia 50 years ago.

Che was born into a middle class Argentinian family   in 1928  and studied medicine in his youth. From the beginning he was influenced by left-wing ideas and strongly opposed the government of Argentine leader Juan Peron.

Instead of finishing his studies, the young rebel decided to travel around South America, where he witnessed widespread poverty  and oppression among the population. In the 1950s he travelled to Guatemala where he saw how the CIA helped overthrow a leftist government.

In Mexico, Che Guevara met Fidel Castro and his brother Raul.  Together , they planned to overthrow the pro-western government in Cuba. After Castro took power in 1959 , Che Guevara held some top posts in his government and also became Castro’s military adviser.  He strongly opposed the United States and its policies. Instead he tried to strengthen ties with the Soviet Union and spread socialism to Central America.

The Marxist revolutionary was sent to developing countries  in order to show  them how Cuban socialism worked. In Congo, he trained rebels to fight against government soldiers. Che Guevara was finally captured in Bolivia where he was  he was executed in 1967.

 

Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara
Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara

Words

  • adviser = person who gives you advice because they know a lot about a topic
  • aide = person who helps a politician or leader
  • capture = to catch a person and keep them as a prisoner
  • developing country = poor country in Africa, Asia or America
  • execute = to kill someone as a from of being punished
  • influence = to affect or change the way someone behaves or thinks
  • instead = in something’s place
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • Marxist = person who supports the ideas of Karl Marx.  He explained changes in history as a result of the struggle between social classes
  • oppose = to be against
  • oppression = when you treat a group of people in an unfair way and do not give them the same rights that others have
  • overthrow = remove a leader or a government
  • policy = the way a government plans to handle a topic or problem
  • poverty= the situation of being poor
  • revolutionary = person who joins or supports a revolution
  • socialism = system in which many industries are owned by the state  and rich people pay more taxes than poorer ones
  • strengthen = make stronger
  • take power = here: become a leader or the head of a government
  • ties = relationship with another country
  • widespread = all over the place
  • witness = to see something because you are there

Africa’s Great Green Wall

Africa’s Great Green Wall is a project to create a natural wall of trees across Africa. The wall will stretch across Africa south of the Sahara desert  from the Atlantic Ocean to the Horn of Africa. When finished the 8,000 km long and 15 km wide Great Green Wall will be the largest man-made structure  on earth.

The project started in 2007 in an attempt to fight desertification, permanent drought  and food shortages in countries of the Sahel zone, one of the poorest regions in the world.

However, the building of the wall is not moving forward fast enough. Up to now, only 15% of the trees have already been planted, mainly in Senegal.  The ambitious project will cost over $4 billion. 21 African countries, the World Bank, the FAO and the French government have committed themselves to financing the natural wall.

The Great Green Wall will run through an area, in which the dry season can last up to 10 months a year. Experts claim that by 2025 a large part of the  fertile land in the region could be lost if nothing is done to save it. In addition, the wall is expected to provide food for 20 million Africans and  also bind millions of tons of carbon dioxide.

 

The Sahel Zone
The Sahel Zone

 

Words

  • ambitious =  good but difficult to do
  • bind = here: to make it stay in the ground and not let it escape into the atmosphere
  • carbon dioxide = gas that is produced when animals breathe out  or when carbon is burned in the air
  • claim = to say that something is true, even if you cannot prove it
  • commit = here: to say that you will do something
  • desert = land where it is always dry and where there are few plants and a lot of rocks and sand
  • desertification = when farmland changes into desert
  • drought = long period of dry weather when there is not enough water for plants and animals to live
  • FAO = Food and Agriculture Organisation = organisation in the United Nations that helps produce food and gives it to poor people around the world
  • fertile = here: land that is good enough to produce food
  • mainly = mostly
  • move forward = to make progress; here: to continue building
  • permanent = existing for a long time
  • provide = give
  • Sahel zone = dry area of land between the Sahara desert and tropical Africa
  • shortage = not enough of something
  • stretch = reach from one place to another
  • structure = object that has been built

 

Japanese Woman Dies After Working Too Hard

Miwa Sado is a Japanese journalist who died in 2013 after working too hard. Her case became public this week after labour inspectors published a detailed report

The journalist worked 160 hours of overtime  a month and then died of heart failure.  She was working for Japan’s public broadcaster NHK and at the time of her death was gathering information on a Tokyo election

The death of Sado is expected to make the Japanese government more aware of the health risks involved in working too much. According to a survey, about one in five workers risk a critical health condition because of too much work . Now the government wants to limit overtime to a maximum of 100 hours a month and fine companies that do not comply.

In another case that became known, 24-year old Matsuri Takahashi, killed herself in 2015 after suffering from stress and working long hours for a a Japanese advertising agency.

Japanese employees , on average, work more hours than anywhere else in the western world. They also consume only a third of the holidays they are entitled to. Many Japanese work hard in order to show that they are loyal to their company.

In 2016, two thousand Japanese workers killed themselves  due to  stress and overwork. Many other died from stress-related diseases, suffering from heart attacks and high blood pressure.  The Japanese refer to such work-related deaths as karoshi

 

Too much work causes stress and illnesses
Too much work causes stress and illnesses

Words

  • according to = as reported by
  • advertising agency = company that designs ads for other companies
  • aware = when you know that a situation exists
  • blood pressure = the power with which blood flows through your body
  • case = here: what happened to her
  • comply = follow the rules and laws
  • consume = use up ; spend
  • critical = dangerous
  • due to = because of
  • election = when people vote to  choose someone for an official position
  • employee = person who works for a company
  • entitled = the right to have something
  • fine = money that you have to pay as punishment
  • gather = collect
  • government = the people who rule the country
  • heart failure = when your heart stops beating
  • labour inspector = a person who checks to see if companies obey the rules and the law
  • limit = here: not allow more than a certain number
  • loyal = here: to show that you are connected to a company
  • overtime = time that you spend working in addition to your normal working hours
  • public = known about by everyone
  • public broadcaster = TV company that belongs to the state
  • publish = to print something so that everyone can read it
  • refer = call
  • stress-related = coming from stress
  • survey = set of questions that you ask many people in order to find out what they think about a topic