New Internationalist

Update

Issue 120

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[image, unknown] ENVIRONMENT[image, unknown]

Citizens’ censure
A new look at industrialised India

THE population of India is expected to touch a billion by the end of the century. That will mean producing 240 million tons of food grains each year as against 130 million at present. Can India produce that much food and - just as important - can it feed this new population without destroying the land?

This kind of concern, the critical link between human need and environmental resources, is at the heart of a pioneering new report from the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi. Their State of India’s Environment is subtitled A Citizens Report. and with good reason, for its aim is not just to give facts and figures on such things as levels of pollution and rates of soil loss, but also to spell out just what this kind of environmental degradation means for ordinary Indians.

What it often means is poor health. The report cites the case of the Nagarjunasagar dam where water seepage in the land around the reservoir has altered the salt content of the soil such that the concentration of the trace element molybdenum has shot up. This metal has been passed on through the sorghum plant to the local people with tragic results.

The victims suffer from knock-knees, genu valgum. In the most extreme cases the legs are so distorted that the knee joints cross over and the sufferers find themselves the victims not just of disability but of ridicule. The disease strikes at sorghum-eaters much more than rice-eaters and so hits precisely at the poorer members of society. It also makes them poorer still: skilled men who have contracted it find they can only manage poorly-paid labouring work.

Environmental issues more familiar in the West - like air pollution - also find a home in India. As one of the world’s leading industrial producers India has also grown into one of its worst polluters. You see this most clearly in the largest cities; the Chembur district of Bombay, which has one of the country’s highest concentrations of chemical industries, is now called ‘Gas Chembur’ by the locals. But smaller cities, and particularly those with thermal power stations, are also feeling the effect The power plant at Bhahinda in the Punjab throws out about 1,200 tons of ’fly ash’ per day, about one kilogramme per resident. ‘Today the city lies under a permanent blanket of smoke, fly ash coats every surface, and a good deep breath is likely to wind up a racking cough

But few citizens of India have suffered as much from environmental degradation as the tribal people, who have seen the forests where they lived cut down to meet the needs of a rapidly industrialising society. The report points this out, but also adds that their loss is everyone else’s too since when tribals move to the slums of the major cities their culture disappears and along with it goes an encyclopaedia of knowledge, particularly of herbal medicines.

The Murai girls of Madhya Pradesh, for example, freely indulge in premarital sex - but they also know the combination of naturally occurring drugs that will prevent pregnancy. And when the Kurichean tribals of North Kerala have urinary disorders they know they can rely on the seeds of a wild banana to cure them. ‘All this vital information,’ says the report, ‘is disappearing while the scientific community continues to treat the subject with indifference and disdain.’

The State of India’s Environment is available from CSE,
807 Vishal Bhawan, 95 Nehru Place, New Delhi 110019, India.
Price $25 airmail to readers outside India.

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[image, unknown] SOUTH AFRICA
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Pigment politics
Bizarre reclassification of races

SOME of the most vicious and humiliating aspects of apartheid come out each year when the government discloses the number of people it is reclassifying from one racial group to another.

In the year 1981/82 around 800 people were reclassified. This included Cape coloured to white 558, white to Cape coloured 15. Indian to Cape coloured 40, Cape coloured to Indian 20, black to Cape coloured 79, Cape coloured to black 8 and various other manoeuvres between black, white, Indian, Cape coloured and Malay.

Though to most people this kind of classification might seem bizarre, to the National Party these are distinctions that have to be upheld, central as they are to the two acts that cover miscegenation: the Immorality Act and the Mixed Marriages Act ‘If we scrap them,’ the government says. ‘people from different race groups will be able to court each other. If they court each other they can marry. If they marry they need somewhere to live and then we have to scrap the Group Areas Act. . . and then there will be no apartheid.’

Organisations such as the South African Council of Churches have repeatedly castigated the government for continuing such policies and pointed to the heartache and humiliation that forcible reclassification can cause.

A typical case is that of an immigrant woman who arrived 25 years ago and at that time was issued with an identity document which classified her as white. She had four children and all of them were brought up as whites, looked white, had white boyfriends or girlfriends and the sons did compulsory military training.

Five years ago, however, she lost her identity document and applied for another. She was given one which stated that she was now coloured and that her children would therefore be reclassified accordingly. Since then she and her husband, who is still classified as white, have been fighting for her to be reclassified again - but to no avail.

Meanwhile, since they are now of differing racial groups, their marriage is now regarded as illegal by the Mixed Marriage Act and according to the Immorality Act they are breaking the law even by living together.

Press Trust of South Africa

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[image, unknown] PHARMACEUTICALS
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Travelling sickness
Drug companies resist Bangladesh laws

SOME 236 drugs considered potentially harmful by the government of Bangladesh are now destined for other poor countries. In line with that country’s new policy of only permitting the sale of basic useful drugs the stocks of these dubious preparations were due to be destroyed.

But following applications from three of the pharmaceutical giants the government relented and granted export licenses. ICI wanted to send Imperacin, a tetracycline syrup which has potentially harmful side effects when given to children, back to the UK for relabelling and then on to markets in Saudi Arabia. May and Baker intended sending banned drugs via West Germany to markets in West Africa

Since the tough new policy came into effect in June 1982 (See NI 116) the companies have been trying to sidestep its requirements. One tactic has been to argue that they need to import just a little more of one key ingredient so they can use up other raw materials already in the country. The Organon company, for example, says it has around $100,000 of capsules for decadurabolin, an anabolic steroid, and wants to import a few kilogrammes more of the hormone to put in them. So far, however, such requests have fallen on deaf ears.

Another approach that has had more success has been to argue that a particular product fills a special need. Pfizer has used this technique with Heptuna Plus - an iron and vitamin preparation. This was supported by gynaecologist Professor Feroza Begun, who said it was necessary for the treatment of anaemia in pregnant women. Professor Begun, it should be said, is also a director of Pfizer in Bangladesh.

Overall, however, the new policy is having a significant impact Professor Nurul Islam, who was Chairman of the Committee which drew up the policy, says:

‘Now when people are given prescriptions they are asking doctors if any of the drugs are on the banned list. And some of my patients have stopped using cough syrups because they realise that they are of no use.’

Andy Chetley

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[image, unknown] MEDIA
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Clerical fakery
False newspapers undermine Brazilian bishops

An extraordinary series of forgeries has appear in Brazil - but not fake banknotes or passports. The products of the counterfeiters’ skill are newspapers and the target of the exercises is the Catholic Church - according to the latest issue of Action from the World Association for Christian Communication

The first case was a fraudulent issue of the archdiocesan newspaper Sao Paulo. It carried a photograph of Archbishop Paulo Evaristo Arns under the headline ‘Mea Culpa’, and in the accompanying article he supposedly recanted some of his past decisions and condemned the marxist influence in the Church.

Another article has Cardinal Sales of Rio de Janeiro arguing, uncharacteristically, that: We should co-operate with the government in its efforts to solve national problems, whatever they are, in order to facilitate the government’s task’.

Similar publications, including fake versions of pamphlets on Catholic social teaching by the National Council of Brazilian Bishops, have cropped up elsewhere.

According to Cardinal Arns those responsible for the materials must have a good deal of support, ample funds and journalistic talent. The apparent difference between the fakes and the real thing is negligible and to maximise the confusion the fake copies are mixed with genuine ones

Bishop Luciano Mendez Almedia, General Secretary of the National Council, has emphasised that the church is anxious to have a dialogue with its opponents - but face to face, not anonymously.

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[image, unknown] HEALTH
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Red reassurance
Promising development for measles vaccine

A SIMPLE new device could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in the developing world. It’s a little red sticker that turns brown and then black when it gets hot.

This is an elegant solution to a problem that limits the effectiveness of immunisation programmes in the tropics. Vaccines are extremely sensitive to heat, so a measles vaccine that would be good for 54 days when the temperature is 25 degrees centigrade could have its life reduced to 12 days if the temperature went up significantly.

In rich countries this is not so much of a problem since vaccines can go through an efficient cold chain’ of refrigeration. But in rural areas of developing countries the health worker can often spend days away from the health centre by which time the vaccine could become ineffective.

Between 10 and 16 million children receive useless measles vaccinations each year. Assuming that 30 per cent of unprotected children contract the disease and that the mortality rate is 10 per cent this means that there are at least 300,000 potential child deaths annually.

The sticker will not make the vaccines effective but it will at least show whether a child has been protected or not It’s called a ‘time-temperature indicator’ and contains a chemical whose molecular structure and colour change as the temperature goes up. It was devised by the Allied Corporation in the US but they said that it would cost up to $5 million to develop it for mass production - and reckoned they would not be able to recover their investment

The idea was taken up, however, by the small US organisation, PATH, the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health and they managed to get enough funders together to keep the project alive. These included Canada’s International Development Research Centre, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation of New York and Oxfam in the UK.

Extensive field testing is now being carried out II countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America There are still considerable problems to overcome, including developing the chemical into an ink suitable for printing presses - and finalizing the royalties with the Allied Corporation who hold the patent on the invention until the early 1 990s. But if all continues to go well, mass-production could begin as early as 1983 and health workers around the world will recognise that little red sticker that tells them that this vaccination will give a child protection.

Bob Stanley, IDRC

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[image, unknown] THE PHILIPPINES
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Front- line Christianity
Catholic Church stands up to President Marcos

THE battle between Church and state is becoming fiercer in the Philippines, with the recent killing of one priest and the arrest of two others.

It seems an unequal struggle: on one side the authoritarian regime of President Marcos who, by patronage, manipulation and ruthlessness, has consolidated his hold on political power and near quadrupled the size of his armed forces over ten years. On the other side are the priests and layworkers of the Catholic Church, most of them living among the poor in the provinces.

Some of the richest businessmen met recently to ponder the faltering economy, mounting poverty and increasing communist insurgency.

They concluded: ‘The red wave of marxism has already reached out to offer our more unsophisticated, illiterate, if not naive brothers in the hills a chance for a dramatic change in their economic status.

If the businessmen’s rhetoric was lurid, their reference to the ‘misfortune’ of the ‘brothers in the hills’ was an understatement Exploited by overseers and absentee landowners and oppressed by the military, many face lives of total misery.

Eighty per cent of the Filipino population are Catholic and while the communist New People’s Army is gaining strength, Church workers and clergy have emerged as champions of the poor, helping to organise them, speaking on their behalf and attempting to protect them from the authorities.

There is some evidence that a very small minority of priests may have been driven to throw in their lot with the guerrillas. The Marcos regime appears to be using this both as an excuse for a general crackdown and as a weapon to cause a split between moderates and conservatives in the Church.

The leading figure in the Church, rural areas of developing countries the health worker can often spend days away from the health centre by which time the vaccine could become ineffective.

Between 10 and 16 million children receive useless measles vaccinations each year. Assuming that 30 per cent of unprotected children contract the disease and that the mortality rate is 10 per cent this means that there are at least 300,000 potential child deaths annually.

Cardinal Sin, says it is possible, though not probable, that some priests have embraced communism. But he has defended the latest priest to be arrested, Australian Father Brian Gore, and praised his heroism.

Father Gore says he has been framed on charges of illegal possession of ammunition and explosives and inciting rebellion. He has the clear support, however, of thousands of desperately poor villages in the province of Negros Occidental He has organised them into a christian community - Kristianong Katilingban - which, he says, has taught them to stand up for their rights. What we stand for is a breaking away from the unjust, corrupt system.

Cardinal Sin said in October 1982: ‘No layman is ready to speak out now. If you are a layman you will land in the stockade. So the priest takes over. If nobody releases the feelings of the people there will be a revolution’.

The clear message to President Marcos is that if he wins the battle against the Church it will be to his own cost.

Cameron Forbes

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