1 Ukraine and a likely Russian recession (Straits Times) Russia looks increasingly likely to sink into recession in 2014 as the knock-on effects of its standoff with the West over Ukraine hurt an economy already beset by structural problems. Data released over the last week showed that Russian is beginning to suffer the effects of the worst East-West political crisis since the Cold War.
The threat of economic sanctions from the European Union and the US has already prompted a massive capital outflow from Russia in the first three months of the year. But even before the crisis erupted, Russian growth was starting to slow due to internal problems, such as slowing consumer spending, sagging investment and weakening demand for its energy exports.
2 One fifth of China soil contaminated (BBC) Almost a fifth of China’s soil is contaminated, an official study released by the government has shown. Conducted between 2005-2013, it found that 16.1% of China’s soil and 19.4% of its arable land showed contamination. The report, by the Environmental Protection Ministry, named cadmium, nickel and arsenic as top pollutants. There is growing concern, both from the government and the public, that China’s rapid industrialisation is causing irreparable damage to its environment.
“The survey showed that it is hard to be optimistic about the state of soil nationwide,” the ministry said. “Due to long periods of extensive industrial development and high pollutant emissions, some regions have suffered deteriorating land quality and serious soil pollution.” About 82.8% of the polluted land was contaminated by inorganic materials, with levels noticeably higher than the previous survey between 1986 and 1990, Xinhua news agency quoted the report as saying.
“Pollution is severe in three major industrial zones, the Yangtze River Delta in east China, the Pearl River Delta in south China and the northeast corner that used to be a heavy industrial hub,” the agency said. The report had previously been classified as a state secret because of its sensitivity. There is growing fear in China over the effect that modernisation has had on the country’s air, water and soil.
3 When every home is a takeaway restaurant (Johannesburg Times) A Danish website is turning private homes into take-away restaurants by letting users advertise what they are cooking, when and for what price. The website, Dinnersurfer.dk, is sometimes described as a restaurant version of the popular lodging site Airbnb, on which homeowners make their spare rooms or unoccupied dwellings available to paying lodgers for a fee.
And just like on Airbnb, the cost to consumers is often considerably less than if they had used a professional service — with the added benefit that many of the homemade dishes may be healthier than the greasy fare typically available at take-out counters. Since being launched in February, the website has attracted 2,900 members, of whom 460 are registered as cooks, meaning they sell food.
Nearly all of them live in Denmark, where the website is especially popular in the trendy Copenhagen neighbourhoods of Noerrebro and Vesterbro, but the site’s founders are hoping it will go global after recently launching an English-language version. Earlier this month, another Danish take-away website, Just-eat.com, which allows users to order food from 36,000 restaurants in 13 countries, was valued at $2.47 billion when it was floated on the London Stock Exchange 13 years after being founded.
But not everyone is convinced that ordering food from strangers online is a good idea. While the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries regularly publishes inspection reports from the country’s restaurants, Dinnersurfer’s cooks operate without any supervision. On one Danish Internet forum, users questioned how buyers could know whether hygiene standards were being upheld and how the origin of the food could be verified.