Good News: Life-Saving Drones, Books for War-Torn Syria, India's Thriving Rhinos and more
Positive news from around the world that shows humanity at its best
These Drones can Save Lives
Every year, around 2,63,000 people drown worldwide. And while we may think that a drowning person thrashes and waves for help, real-life drownings often happen quickly and silently. Adrián Plazas of Spain, a former lifeguard, knows this. Several years ago, he and his business partner, Enrique Fernández, witnessed a wo-man drowning, and despite the fact that they acted fast, they couldn’t save her. The experience changed Plazas’ life. Now an industrial engineer, Plazas is CEO of General Drones, a company that he founded with Fernández, who works in drone manufacturing. The two combined their knowledge to create a search-and-rescue drone that can help prevent drowning.
Here’s how it works: If a lifeguard notices a person in distress, they can notify a drone pilot, who is also at the beach and can send the drone out to the victim. The pilot locates the victim with the help of a camera on the drone, which can reach them in just a few seconds. This is important, says Plazas, because “the lifeguards have more time to get there.” The drone then drops a life vest (which automatically inflates when it touches the water) to the victim. By hovering over the victim, the drone helps the lifeguard locate the person struggling in the water. Though the project started in 2015, Plazas says it took time to progress from a prototype to a finished product. “It was important to design something specifically for the beach because it’s a tough environment—humidity, the sun, the high wind,” he says. To date, their drones have attended more than 60 emergencies, and have been deployed at 22 beaches in Spain. He’s hoping that more investments and attention will help them expand their services to other countries.
Poachers: 0; Rhinos: 2,900
For the first time in more than four decades, India saw zero incidents of rhino poaching in 2022, according to an announcement by Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on 1 January this year. Assam is currently home to 2,900 greater one-horned rhinoceroses, the largest in the world. Prized by poachers for its horns and once hunted for sport, Indian rhinos had dwindled to a mere 12 members by 1908. Dedicated efforts by forest authorities and wildlife protection forces have now resulted in what is being hailed as a major win for global conservation efforts.
Indian Rhinos at Kaziranga Forest in Assam; Photo by: Nilotpal Baruah
The Power of Design
In Tel Aviv, summer temperatures reach the low 30s, and the city gets about 11 hours of sun a day. So its residents are no strangers to hot weather. And with global temperatures projected to keep rising, it won’t get any easier to find respite. In 2019, industrial and product designer Anai Green saw an opportunity. She had the idea to combine her city’s need for shade during the day with the chance to harness the sun for lighting at night. She created Lumiweave, a fabric embedded with solar panels that catches up to 99.5 percent of sunlight radiation. It stores the power the panels generate, which is used to light the streets in the evening. The fabric can be customized for any city’s needs, whether fitted on a frame, like an umbrella, or hooked between buildings. When asked about the motivation behind her design, Green says she wanted to change the way people experience their environment. “I took very basic issues and combined them.”
Hiking Through History
Mexico’s first long-distance hiking and cycling trail has just opened in the Yucatán Peninsula. It passes through former Spanish estates (now reclaimed to tell Maya history), sacred freshwater sinkholes and various archeological sites, taking you on a tour of where the first Maya cities were built almost 3,000 years ago. The Camino del Mayab is a little more than 100 kilometres long. It takes about five days to walk, and passes through 14 Maya communities. The people who live in those communities helped to develop the trail. Local wildlife includes the turquoise-coloured motmot bird and several types of iguanas. Visitors can also stop in at restaurants offering Maya cuisine or stay in a thatched-roof cabana.
She Helps Make Childbirth Safer
Women giving birth in a public hospital in Liberia are required to bring with them essential items—including bleach, diapers and menstrual pads—to help make the delivery safer for themselves, their baby and the staff. Why? The heavily strained Liberian health-care system remains severely underfunded following more than a decade of civil wars and an Ebola outbreak. But the policy of not admitting women who don’t have their own supplies only increases the country’s already-high death rates among newborns and new mothers. Yassah Lavelah, a nurse and researcher from Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, decided to investigate the issue further while completing graduate studies in global health delivery at Harvard. Women told her that, despite the risk, a home birth was their preference—with one of the main reasons being that they couldn’t afford to buy the required items for a hospital birth. So, in 2021, Lavelah created Comfort Closet, a project to supply pregnant women with everything they need to be admitted to hospital. She’s now working with a collaborator to raise money for two more Comfort Closets in other Liberian communities. “Giving birth shouldn’t be a death sentence for women only because they can’t afford it.”
Reigniting a Love of Reading
Education In the Mediterranean city of Tartus, Syria, Mohamed Zaher spends his time manning a kiosk called Wisdom Seller, which invites passers-by to stop and read from the more than 2,000 books that line its walls. To encourage visitors to stay longer, anyone who reads at least 15 pages of a book gets a free coffee. The 32-year-old veteran is helping fellow Syrians to get back into reading after the war made luxuries, including printed books, unaffordable for many citizens. Zaher says reading was “therapeutic” for him during his time in battle. To keep the kiosk going, Zaher depends on funding from affluent citizens. He estimates that more than 20,000 visitors of all ages have visited his stall since its opening.