Geography: In the News

A few months back we wrote about Guantanamo Bay resettlement issues when President Barack Obama announced his plan to close the high-security prison by January 2010. We asked you, our readers, how a geographic perspective could help U.S. decision makers solve the problem of what to do with Guantánamo prisoners…and now it seems that a “geographic perspective” played a key role in the resettlement of a number of Uighur detainees currently being held at Guantánamo Bay.

palau.gifThe 17 prisoners are all members of the oppressed Uighur ethnic minority in western China and have been detained by the U.S. military for seven years. The Uighurs were captured after September 11th, but were determined not to be enemy combatants dangerous to the U.S. Finding a suitable destination to resettle the Uighurs proved difficult: the United States feared they would be tortured or executed at the hands of the Communist government if sent back to China.

However, last week, to the great relief of the Obama administration, the South Pacific island nation of Palau agreed to host the 17 Muslim Uighurs for temporary resettlement.

Geographically speaking …. Palau is an archipelago of eight main islands plus more than 250 islets located about 500 miles east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean. With a tiny population of about 20,000, it is best known as a tourism hot-spot.

The President of Palau, Johnson Toribiong, has said that Palau plans to accept the detainees “as a humanitarian gesture.” Palau is a former U.N. trust territory, administered by the U.S., that still maintains close ties with the United States since declaring independence in 1994. While independent, Palau relies heavily on U.S. aid and military support. President Toribiong hopes the initiative will serve as a small “thank you” to their close allies.

And so for now, the Uighur prisoners have found a place on the map where they will hopefully be out of danger. Although, the Turkic group may still have a tough time in Palau…the Uighers will remain a minority – as a muslim group in a predominantly Christian nation. The Uighers are also members of an ethnic group that falls into the small asian minority in Palau’s demographic (which is generally comprised of Melanesians, Micronesians and Malayan descent.) All in all, location can be important to all of us.  


In other news and in another part of the Pacific, the spread of the H1N1 virus into Australia pushed the World Health Organization to declare a swine flu pandemic this past Thursday. Infections have been cited throughout North America, South America, Europe, Oceania, and elsewhere, with the number of cases climbing to nearly 30,000. Just a few weeks ago, we blogged about the distinctions between terms like “outbreak,” “epidemic,” and “pandemic;” and their geographic implications. With the WHO’s most recent pronouncement of a global pandemic, the importance of applying spatial knowledge to understand dynamics of disease diffusion, and its relationship to geographic diffusion, is becoming ever more salient.

Take a look at the World Health Organization’s interactive map report of the H1N1 spread.

Kirsten of My Wonderful World

Images courtesy Howstuffworks, Cuban Youth 

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