- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Eye in the sky

Brazilians used to think that God gave them special protection because the South American nation had so few hurricanes.

“We used to say, ‘God is a Brazilian.’ Now we’re not so sure,” said Gilberto Camara, a top Brazilian scientist, referring to an increase in killer tropical storms in recent years.

Mr. Camara, director of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute, yesterday said his country and all of Latin America now have a new tool to help them track hurricanes, floods, droughts, volcanic-ash clouds, fires and other natural disasters.

Speaking on a panel of scientists and diplomats at the Brazilian Embassy, Mr. Camara praised the United States for repositioning a weather satellite to monitor environmental and weather patterns. In the past, South American countries lost vital satellite links during severe storms and were left blind to the path of the destruction.

“Space technology is absolutely vital for our changing climate,” he added. “We salute this initiative.”

Brazilian Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota added, “This is an important event … that will benefit the entire region.”

Conrado Varotto of Argentina’s National Commission of Space Activities noted that the data will be shared by scientists throughout the region because “a problem is a problem of the planet, not a problem of only one country.”

Retired Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher Jr., undersecretary of commerce and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), explained that the United States late last year reprogrammed the GOES-10 satellite to a new orbit to cover South America. The satellite is part of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), a U.S. initiative in partnership with 60 countries to collect and share data on weather systems around the world.

The satellite arrived in its new position on Dec. 4 and has already begun to save lives. On March 8, it transmitted data to Argentina about a heavy rain system that allowed authorities to warn about flooding in Buenos Aires and other urban areas, Adm. Lautenbacher said. The satellite is helping Brazil better track fires in the Amazon rain forest.

“Repositioning [the satellite] provides a constant vigil over atmospheric conditions that trigger severe weather, and I am pleased that the United States can strengthen the quality and quantity of data available to our Latin American partners,” he said.

South America is covered nearly to the South Pole, and scientists are receiving satellite images every 15 minutes.

In the 1990s, South America was hit by natural disasters that killed more than 70,000 people. More than half of the deaths were from floods.

Iraqi lobby

Iraq’s largest Sunni Muslim political party is planning to open a lobbying organization in Washington to improve the sagging public support in the United States for the war in Iraq.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, led by Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, is looking for office space for seven employees, according to CQ Weekly, a publication of the Congressional Quarterly.

The party has already hired Muthanna al-Hanooti, an Iraqi lobbyist based in Michigan, on a one-year contract for $100,000. Mr. al-Hanooti told the magazine that he plans to travel to Baghdad for final consultations before flying to Washington to continue preparations to open the lobbying firm.

The U.S. “government and administration are very misinformed about Iraq,” he told the magazine. “You’ve seen a lot of blunders just because of misinformation.”

The party, which holds only 44 seats in the 275-member parliament, advocates mandatory military service to reduce the Shi’ite domination of the army; the disbanding of all militias, especially the Mahdi’s Army led by extremist Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al Sadr; speedy trials for prisoners who have been detained but not charge because the majority are Sunnis; and parliamentary review of appointments to prevent discrimination against Sunnis.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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