New Internationalist

Update

Issue 137

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[image, unknown] DEBT[image, unknown]

Giving to the rich
Banks take more than the lend

SOME facts leap up and hit the observer in the face; they make you wonder at the collective lunacy of humankind. One such was the recent statement by the president of the World Bank, Tom Clausen, that Third World countries are paying more money back to the international banks than the banks are lending them.

Normally, the poorer countries borrow from the richer to finance their development: it seems logical enough. But in 1982 the transfer of medium and long-term private lending was a negative seven billion dollars. In other words, more money was going from the poor to the rich than from the rich to the poor.

Last year the negative net transfer - that’s bankspeak for the flow of money from those in need to those with a surplus - amounted to $21 billion. It conjures up an image of the wealthy passer-by stopping in the street as though to press coins into a poor man’s outstretched hat - and instead scooping up the money already in the hat.

It is true that money borrowed has to be repaid sooner or later. But in a world conscious of the disparities between rich and poor it is striking that funds are moving in the opposite direction to what would appear logical. In Clausen’s words: 1t is premature for developing countries, as a group, to be transferring resources to the high-income countries on this scale.’ That must surely rank as one of the understatements of the year.

The situation has arisen because developing countries which borrowed heavily to finance their development are having to repay the loans at the same time as banks are reducing new lending. The banks do not want to lend because the borrowers are less credit-worthy; the borrowing countries are a poor risk because they are having to pay so much to the banks in repayments and interest.

Most of the attention has been focussed on the potential threat to the banks - the damage which would be caused to the international banking system if developing countries defaulted on their loans. This misplaced emphasis is hampering the discussion of proposals aimed at achieving a major restructuring of debt and at finding ways of enabling Third World countries to speed up their development. As Clausen observed, the real problem is for the borrowers not the lenders: the financial system has weathered the storm quite well’ but ‘for heavily indebted countries, the dilemma is acute.’

Now that so many countries have burned their fingers by large-scale borrowing, perhaps the concept of development through foreign funds will be replaced by greater stress on mobilisation of domestic resources. Self-reliance may yet come into fashion.

Daniel Nelson, Gemini

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[image, unknown] AGRICULTURE[image, unknown]

Germ war on rats
Pesticides don’t protect food

THERE are as many rats as people on earth in this, the Chinese Year of the Rat. The difference is that the 4.7 billion rats are well-fed, while a large proportion of the 4.7 billion humans are undernourished.

The rats are mainly concentrated in Third World countries which can ill-afford them. In the Indian sub-continent and parts of Africa, rodents outnumber people by ten to one. This can seriously affect these areas’ chances of feeding themselves. In Bangladesh, for instance. 1.2 million tons of grain are eaten or spoiled by rats every year, which is the exact amount it has to import in order to feed its people.

The damage to Malaysia’s rice crop is estimated at 87,000 tons a year, while Sai Partoatmojo, director of food-crop protection in Indonesia, says that ‘Rats are an endemic pest, ranking first among our troubles.’ Food crops were devastated in his country in 1963, 1973 and 1974. Even in ‘normal’ years, some 10-20 per cent of the national crop is destroyed.

Alarmed at the rodent armies, India has allocated $1.5 million a year to state governments for rat-extermination programmes. Other Asian governments have mounted nationwide rat-hunts and employed weapons which include poisons, acid baths, electrocution chambers, germ warfare and even ultrasonic vibrations.

The number of rats has not been substantially reduced by the use of pesticides - in many cases they develop a resistance to the chemicals and become ‘super rats’.

Environmentalists and scientists have now come up with the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, which they believe will not only be harmless to people but will also overcome pesticide resistance.

IPM is based on the belief that nature’s checks and balances would do a good enough job in controlling pests if they were given a helpful nudge. The IPM practitioner can interfere with the pest’s biological needs by modifying its habitat, setting up traps or barriers, removing its food supply or introducing its natural enemies. Pesticides are a last resort.

But for millions of ordinary farmers the most potent weapon to use against rats remains the cat.

APPEN

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[image, unknown] RACISM[image, unknown]

Off-white Oz
Asian immigration opposed

HE immigration policies of Western countries show no sign of becoming more enlightened - and the White Australia policy, described as dead in 1974. is now stirring in its grave.

The policy was a reflection of two deep-running streams in Australian society: racism, so obvious within the country, in the oppression and repression of Aborigines; and fear that the large, mostly empty land would be a tempting prize to overcrowded Asian nations to the north.

And the champion of the policy was the Australian Labor Party. Gough Whitlam’s reforming Labor Government changed the philosophy underlying the immigration programme by putting the emphasis on family reunion. This of course would have helped keep Australia at least off-white as the mass-migration programme had drawn on European sources.

But the Vietnam refugee crisis saw Australia - for humanitarian reasons and in response to intense pressure from Asian neighbours swamped by fleets of ‘boat people’ - take in about 70,000 Asians.

While the refugees face serious problems in resettlement and while there have been some community tensions, criticisms of the immigration policy were until recently largely on economic grounds: the recession has increased unemployment and put added strain on welfare resources.

Professor Geoffrey Blainey changed that. One of the country’s most respected historians, Professor Blainey told a conference on multiculturalism that continued entry of Asians at the present rate could weaken or explode’ the tolerance shown to immigrants over the past 30 years.

The Labor Government (which has nothing to gain from the influx of right-wing Vietnamese) defended the policy and the Foreign Minister, Mr Hayden, spoke of an Australian future as a multi-racial nation of 50 million, including Polynesians and Asians. This pleasant prospect led to an outburst from Professor Blainey that the White Australia policy had become Surrender Australia.

At present, Asians make up only two per cent of the population and this is projected to rise to only four per cent by the end of the century. What is more, a survey before the Blainey statements in a working class area with a concentration of Asians showed that people were little concerned about Asian immigrants until prompted. Even then, 65 per cent were in favour of a non-discriminatory immigration policy.

Whatever his motives, Professor Blainey has caused wide community unrest and has provided a rallying point and a facade of respectability for racists in general and the far right in particular.

Cameron Forbes

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[image, unknown] MULTINATIONALS[image, unknown]

Deadly toothpaste
Excess of fluoride causes disease

THERE is a toothpaste debate going on in Africa. And it is not about cavities. While Europeans and North Americans enjoy the well-founded benefits of fluoride toothpaste, its vigorous promotion by foreign multinationals in East Africa may be creating a major health hazard.

People in many regions of East Africa get too much fluoride, mainly from natural sources such as water and food. Using fluoride toothpaste is like ‘adding fuel to fire’, warn concerned researchers at the University of Nairobi.

The presence of endemic fluorosis in eastern Africa is now well established. The condition is associated with the drinking of groundwater in regions with volcanic rock containing high levels of fluoride salts.

The countries that are most affected by endemic fluorosis lie within Africa’s Great Rift Valley. They include Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and parts of Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Even a slight excess of fluoride will lead to yellowing of the teeth. At higher levels, tell-tale grey patches appear and the enamel of the teeth fractures. And at higher levels yet - in the range of 40 milligrams a day - a person may become crippled or even die.

With a grant from Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the University of Nairobi and the Ministry of Water Development have collected data from over 29,000 people and 1200 samples of water from boreholes, and have documented the seriousness of endemic fluorosis in Kenya.

Research in Kenya so far shows that locally available materials such as clay, carbonized coffee husks and bone meal have good potential as defluoridation agents. The use of clay pots in the home may also help resolve this major public health issue.

Fibi Munene, IDRC

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[image, unknown] HEALTH[image, unknown]

Attacking the tumour
Cancer hits Third World too

CANCER is usually thought of as a disease of affluence, associated with the industrial and urban lifestyle of the rich world. But this is something of a myth - not only are more than half of all new cancer cases found in the Third World, but three of the four most common forms of cancer (those of the liver, mouth and cervix) chiefly affect people in developing countries.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched a new campaign against cancer aimed at helping to prevent, detect and cure the forms that are prevalent in the Third World.

Up to one third of cancers are preventable by changing lifestyles - mouth cancer, for instance, accounts for at least 25 per cent of cancer in South East Asia, almost all of it caused by betel chewing and smoking. And all but 50,0% of the quarter of a million annual cases of liver cancer found mainly in Africa, Asia and the West Pacific - could be prevented by immunisation.

Greater awareness of the disease in the developing world would also lead to earlier detection and save thousands of lives cervical cancer afflicts one woman in every thousand throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, but early diagnosis could raise the cure rate from 45 to 100 per cent.

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[image, unknown] AGRICULTURE[image, unknown]

Catching the rich
Fish workers call conference

THE Indian fisherpeople seen fighting back against illegal trawling in the June issue of the New Internationalist are at least not alone in their battle. An International Conference of Fishworkers and their Supporters (ICFWS) is due to take place in Rome from July 4 to 8. This is seen as an alternative to the official fishing conference hosted by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation in the same week.

Unlike the official occasion the ICEWS will involve representatives from small fishing communities throughout the world and will be devoted to considering their problems. The term ‘fishworkers’ includes all children, women and men engaged as crew members, small fishers, processing workers and sellers.

Fisheries development has taken off in a big way in recent years, especially in Asia. But as the big corporations and multinational interests have moved in, the small fishing communities have suffered. In Thailand, for instance, large commercial fisheries have taken over 65 per cent of the country’s catch, while in the Philippines the small independent fisherpeople who make up 98 per cent of all fishworkers only pull in half the total catch.

The ICFWS will seek ways of responding to demands like those expressed in the South Asian Small Fisherpeople’s Manifesto. This asked for a ban on foreign trawlers, a ten-kilometre offshore strip from which mechanised boats would be barred, and an end to destructive fishing techniques which are detrimental to marine ecology.

It is doubtful these will be among the priorities at the main conference.

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[image, unknown] TAKING ISSUE

Ashok Mitra

Ashok Mitra puts you in charge of an Asian clinic when dysentery strikes.

News from a health centre

Bleaching powder, oral rehydration packets, halogen tablets, ionzol, oral hydrate powder. It is a simple list of medicines and preventive accessories. If you happen to be in charge of a primary health centre or clinic in an area suddenly visited by bacillary dysentery, you know what your responsibilities are. You want adequate stocks to be sent to you, pronto.

But suppose the supplies do not arrive, or do not arrive in time. Transport is bad, communications are difficult; it takes you a full week to inform the nearest district centre of the outbreak of the virus. The district centre in its turn will take perhaps another three to four days to let the State headquarters know. It is a highly centralised arrangement and you are not always left with enough funds for a contingency such as the present one.

Meanwhile the epidemic spreads. In the course of a single week there are nearly two thousand cases of attack, of which as many as fifteen hundred concern children below the age of three. Your clinic can accommodate only six patients at a time. The district hospital is some twenty-five miles away; its capacity does not exceed sixty and the demand on its facilities comes not just from your area.

So what do you do as you wait for an ample supply of drugs and medicines and preventive detergents? You have one pharmacist and one nurse to assist you and a bicycle to pedal on. As the patients begin to come in, you pile two to each bed. Often you arrange for three kids to lie next to each other sidewise along the narrow hospital cot. But however much you stretch your facilities, you cannot accomodate at any given time more than fifteen. In the course of the week, five of them die.

The area has been affected by drought for three successive years. As a result, the water level has gone down precariously. The tubewells have run dry. Whatever little water there was in the early part of the season has been used up to irrigate the parched lands, for the cultivators wanted to take in a second crop. With the tubewells running dry, the villagers cannot afford to be choosey. They drink water from the ponds, which also serve as lavatory and laundry. This is the story more or less every year. But this year the bacillus Shegilla has butted in, dysentery has assumed a virulent form and contamination has spread rapidly.

Even as you wait desperately for the bleaching powder and the rehydration and halogen tablets to arrive, you drop by on the villagers. You advise them to wash their hands and cleanse their face before meals. You advise them to boil the water they drink. Sound advice, impeccable advice. But you know and the folksy villagers know the futility of such advice. You want them to boil water, you want them to wash their hands and face with soap. Soap is a luxury in this neighbourhood. Not one in a hundred households can afford to use either toilet or washing soaps. And, pray, how are they supposed to boil the water? They need fuel. Fuel is scarcer than food grains. Extensive deforestation has taken place. Unscrupulous contractors from nearby townships have cut down the trees and trucked away the wood. For fuel villagers mostly make do with dry leaves and grass. But with the drought persisting for the third successive year, there is little foliage. Whatever is left has to be used to boil the rice or cook the vegetables; boiling the water is yet another luxury the villagers cannot afford.

This defines the human condition for millions of South Asians, spread over perhaps a dozen countries. The doctor at the primary health centre is at a non-philosophical bent of mind. He cannot arrange for the boiling of the water. He himself boils inside. He knows it will take another four or five days for the bleaching powder and rehydration tablets to arrive. He pushes out the cots from the health centre, piles them in a corner, creates extra space and makes his patients, whose number now exceed thirty, occupy the makeshift beds on the floor itself. Even as another patient dies, he leafs through the worn-out glossy American magazine and reads of the donation of a further 500 million dollars foundation grant for medical research to a New York hospital. The news excites him no end.

Ashok Mitra is Finance Minister in the state government of West Bengal, India


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