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Issue 138

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[image, unknown] POPULATION[image, unknown]

Pills and power
Overpopulation is both cause and effect of poverty

WORLD population will finally stabilise at around 10.2 billion people. It will stop growing, according to the latest estimates from the United Nations, around the year 2100 when the number dying will finally match those being born.

This 10.2 billion might seem a daunting figure - two and a quarter times the present world population - but it’s one that might be greeted with some relief, even optimism, by those who went to the first World Population Conference hack in 1974.

In 1974 there were two opposed views of population growth. On one side was the nervous inspection of population graphs which showed population soaring and the world’s resources buckling under the strain.

Family planning was thought to be the most effective remedy.

This view was energetically countered by others. Several developing countries argued that large families were a result of poverty rather than a cause of it. Parents needed children to help them in their daily work and to provide their only security in old age. Eliminate poverty, they argued, and you would eliminate the need for large families.

The developed countries of Europe and North America, they pointed out, had been through this very process themselves. They found that higher family income meant fewer children were born. Surely the Third World should be allowed to do the same? Nowadays the arguments seem to have fused and become two sides of the coin. Rapid population growth is now accepted as both a cause and an effect of poverty.

It is experience gained over the last ten years that has moved the two sides together. Those keen on family planning as the only solution to world poverty, for example, found it to be of limited use unless It was related to action on other issues such as delivery of basic health services, literacy, reductions in child and maternal mortality and the status of women.

The other camp argued that development was the best contraceptive. But they found that, though giving parents more financial security certainly helped pave the svay to smaller families, this was not enough on its own. Vigorous family planning campaigns were still needed to make information and services acceptable and available to those who did decide to limit their families.

This month another world population conference takes place in Mexico City. Most Asian governments attending it have set precise targets which involve bringing birth rates down from around 37 per thousand women to something closer to 22 by the year 2000. And governments all over the world now say that they would not hesitate to take action if they were worried about population trends.

This is a remarkable turnaround. At the beginning of the 1950s almost every government in the world saw more people as a national asset - more workers, more tax-payers, more soldiers. Nowadays the welfare of individual human beings has become much more of a priority.

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[image, unknown] RACISM[image, unknown]

Oppressed penguins
How schools are biased against minorities

[image, unknown] IMAGINE a country inhabited by dogs, with a minority population of penguins, present because of a former colonial connection. Discrimination against penguins is supposed to be illegal, and most canine teachers in the schools think of themselves as liberal and above ‘speciesism’. But take a closer look at one of the schools…

All the teachers are dogs - penguins just don’t seem to apply.

Leather collars must be worn during exams.

All images of Dog (God) are canine.

Some of the penguin pupils are especially well liked - they can bark very well, they worship Dog, and one even goes out with a bitch. They’re really well integrated.

The school is proud that some of its former penguin pupils (but only the very bright ones) have gone on to take Dog religion back to the benighted birds in Antarctica.

The geography syllabus looks at the problem of the sea - overpopulation in places, no proper kennels, no tinned food: and also at how the sea is eroding the land.

A teacher who likes swimming has been asked to make sure there are some books about penguins in the library.

The games and sports taught are: running and catching the stick, catching a tennis ball in the mouth, running races, jumping over fences.

None of the teachers dislike penguins personally - some have even been to see the sea. A few refer to penguins as ‘squackers’ but no insult is intended.

Chris Game/Multicultural Teaching

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[image, unknown] DROUGHT[image, unknown]

Going hungry
Brazilian poor suffer

AFRICA is not the only area now suffering from chronic drought - the five-year drought in Brazil is its most severe for 200 years, according to a new Oxfam report. And, as in Africa, its effects are all the more disastrous because of national and international development policies that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.

As Brazil staggers under the weight of its huge foreign debt, millions of its people face hunger because they cannot afford enough to eat. In the underdeveloped north-east of the country many poor people have been brought to the edge of survival.

Margarida Nascimento is one example. A 37-year old mother of five - her two other children have died - she has supported the family alone since her husband set off for the south in search of work and never returned. She has to lock the young children in the house during the day while she walks nine kilometres to work heaving rocks to strengthen a dam on an Emergency Work Front.

‘When I leave home,’ she said. ‘I have a bit of coffee with maniac flour. That’s all. Hunger pangs begin by about 10 am, but you have to put up with them. The ones who can’t, collapse. We earn next to nothing but the Front is the only thing between us and death.’

Food production is down by half and food prices soar in the towns - official inflation runs at 150 per cent. The price of beans, the staple food of the poor, has risen by 700 per cent in the last year. And only half of the working population in the northeast has any fixed income at all.

The Emergency Work Fronts have been established by the Government to recruit labourers on irrigation schemes. Though these are an essential source of income to poor families, there are fears that the long-term benefits will go to the rich landowners rather than to the landless and tenant farmers.

The lessons from Brazil are the same as from all other countries ravaged by drought. As the report points out, drought only exacerbates the problems of poverty and hunger which are already there - it doesn’t create them itself.

The answer lies in appropriate development policies rather than in a succession of disaster relief projects. The livelihoods of the rural poor need to be protected and employment in the urban areas generated on a massive scale if the long-term suffering is to end. Only a fundamental change in priorities will make much difference to the lives of the millions of Brazilians now facing a bleak future.

An Unnatural Disaster - Drought in North East Brazil is available from Oxfam’s Public Affairs Unit.

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[image, unknown] WOMEN[image, unknown]

Becoming invisible
Indian women are worse off

THE already low status of women in India is deteriorating dramatically, a new book claims. As the UN Decade for Women nears its close, Indian women die struggling for survival rather than equality.

Since independence in 1947 the female mortality rate has risen sharply so that men now outnumber women and tend to live longer. In most countries the reverse is true. The book suggests one reason may be that female children are neglected because they are seen to be of no value; a high infant mortality rate for girls compared with boys bears this out.

Women are relegated to an inferior role by religious traditions and culture which form the basis for a primarily male-dominated society. According to an ancient Indian saying, ‘A woman must never be independent. In childhood she must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband and when her lord is dead to her sons.’

Women’s lowly status is reinforced by traditions such as arranged marriages and the dowry system which gives a woman the status of a possession to be handed from father to groom. Dowry payments, which are forbidden by law, have risen dramatically in the last 60 years and family conflicts over the issue have led to a spate of dowry deaths made to look like suicides. The low value placed on women is thought to be the main cause for increased payments - in many men’s eyes women contribute little to the household and are a liability for which they must be compensated.

Yet in addition to their back-breaking domestic chores women constitute a vast invisible labour force often working a day up to 19 hours long. Usually weakened by excessive child bearing, women carry out 50 per cent of the agricultural work in a country with a primarily rural economy. If their contribution is acknowledged at all, it is only as being part of an unpaid family labour force. Most men when asked what their womenfolk do, will answer, ‘nothing’.

Attempts by government policy to address women’s problems have largely failed because programme planners see women primarily as home-makers. This is simply not the reality for the majority who are poor and have to work in order to survive.

In the past this gap might have been filled by independent aid agencies, who have a better record of addressing women’s problems. While some of these organisations continue to be effective, the majority have become distinctly paternalistic in approach, favouring the delivery of community services which on its own merely serves to reinforce women s traditional role.

Unless people are educated about the real deteriorating status of women in India. the visibility of a few upper-class women in public life will sustain the common illusion that all is well.

Silver Shackles: Women and Development in India, by Maitrayee Mukhopadyay, is published by Oxfam.

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[image, unknown] FOOD[image, unknown]

Skyscraper salad
Cities grow their own food

WHAT do the shambas of Nairobi, the kebele of Addis Ababa, the volkstuinjes of Amsterdam and the allotments of Boston and London have in common? The residents of each of these cities are growing their own food in city gardens of the various different names. The practice offers hope for the 360 million undernourished urban poor.

Cities are thought of as non-productive and vulnerable systems dependent on the countryside for food, fuel and raw materials. Yet Shanghai, population 11 million, produces 100 per cent of its fresh vegetables. Hong Kong, with very little land, produces 42 per cent of its greens.

Over two dozen major Third World cities have already launched urban agricultural programmes. In Addis Ababa community-administered kebele lands are divided into plots and allocated to the poor and unemployed for cultivation. The city of Lae in Papua New Guinea started a programme for urban food self-sufficiency in 1977. Vegetable gardens, tree planting and nutritional education programmes were established. Over 1,500 gardens of up to 200 square metres are under cultivation.

Since 1978, owners of unused land in Manila are obliged to cultivate it or they forfeit it. As a result a number of community gardens have been established. One of these, in the Matalahib district, supplied 800 squatter families with 80 per cent of their vegetables from an area of 1,500 square metres.

Many cities contain vast tracts of potentially productive derelict land. There are estimated to be 40,000 hectares of such land in London, and over 70,000 in New York. Most cities are built on fertile ground, often on plains or in river valleys with rich alluvial soil. Guaranteeing access to the soil for the urban poor and unemployed is the first step toward food-producing cities.

Laurie Wayburn, Earthscan

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[image, unknown] CHILDREN[image, unknown]

Sugar and rice
New treatment for diarrhoea

THE lives of children all over the Third World have been saved by treating diarrhoea with oral rehydration therapy (ORT) - giving them a simple mixture of water, sugar and salts. But now researchers in Bangladesh have proved that cereal-based solutions work better.

ORT is simple and cheap. A village mother can give it in her home, either from a pre-packaged powder mixed with water or from solution she mixes herself.

The newer cereal-based ORT replaces the sugar with rice powder. A danger with using sugar is that too much, given too quickly, can make diarrhoea worse. The digestive process releases the glucose in rice slowly, so no such danger exists. Rice powder also makes the rehydration drink more nutritious, provides more energy, and cuts down the volume of the diarrhoea.

The traditional treatment for diarrhoea in many parts of Asia is a drink made from the drained-off water in which rice has been cooked, to which is added a pinch of salt.

Rice-based ORT has a few minor disadvantages. It requires boiling, and if the solution is left to stand for more than 12 hours it will ferment. The glucose solution keeps for 24 hours.

Sumi Krishna Chauhan, Earthscan

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[image, unknown] TAKING ISSUE

Ashok Mitra

Ashok Mitra looks at children’s work in India’s match-making and firework factories.

The firework kids

From feudalism to merchant capital, from mercantile capitalism to industrial capitalism. For Sivaswamy, a landless agricultural worker, the choice was clear; one must keep in step with the march of history. His eldest offspring Balan, barely fourteen years of age, dropped out of the village elementary school some three years ago. The schooling was free, but Sivaswamy could not afford it.

Sivaswamys total monthly earnings, averaging six rupees a day, do not stretch beyond one hundred and thirty rupees, the pristine equivalent of roughly thirteen American dollars. So the eldest child has to earn a living for the family. The village where they live is only 1 5 kilometres from Sivakasi - where the countrvs maior match and firework factories are located. Feudal agriculture is being beckoned at by industrial capitalism. Those who have set up the match factories were moneylenders par excellence. They used to lend in the village bordering the small town. Sooner or later those who borrowed fell down on their payments.

Such a situation could not be allowed; the entire structure of trust was threatened by such defaults. Money-lenders as leading social thinkers hit upon an alternative. If you cannot pay back what you have borrowed, what about payment in kind? They set up workshops for the manufacture of match-boxes and fireworks. Those unable to repay were made to work in these cottage shops; if they would not come, they would have to send their children.

Thus dawned the new industrial civilisation in and around Sivakasi. It became the hub of match-manufacturing. What started as a compulsion became an opportunity. For the new generation of children from agrarian families the town opened up a new horizon. There are about 20 major establishments dominating the Sivakasi complex, with an annual turnover of something like 300 million American dollars. All told, fifty thousand children below the age of fourteen are employed. The majority are transported each morning from a cluster of villages within a radius of 15 to 20 kilometres. They travel very early, little kids still trying to wipe the sleep from their anaemic eyes. A little morsel of dried food has been thrust into their mouths by their mothers. They have to arrive at the factory by seven o’clock; travel from the villages sometimes takes as much as one to one-and-a-half hours on the ramshackle buses. It is an eleven-hour shift with a half-hour’s break for lunch at noon. Their income is determined by piece-rate. They work on box-making, frame-filling, box-filling, labelling and glueing. In some establishments, there is an assembly line arrangement whereby each child specialises in one activity. In the humbler units all the half-a-dozen activities are rolled into one. The standard rate for a child is two rupees a day; that is, 20 American cents. An impressive surplus is being squeezed out of these children. For rough calculations indicate their daily produce has a market value of nearly fifteen rupees.

The cottages where they work are jampacked. Conditions of work are unhygienic, claustrophobic and hazardous. Fire breaks out every now and then, gutting the huts arid gutting the kids. There is no insurance, nor any medical attention. The children are not entitled to any sick leave. But it is a funny situation since nearly every one is satisfied. The children are pleased because they are earning forthe family. The family is too because their children go to town and fill the proud role of first generation industrial quasi-migrants. And of course the mercantile-capitalists-turned-industrial-capitalists could not be happier: they make a clean sweep of some 200 million dollars annually.

Mind you, there is a national constitution which prohibits the employment of children below the age of fourteen in factories, mines or any other hazardous employment. There is a National Policy on children and a National Childrens Board. There is also the Rights of the Children declared twenty years ago by the United Nations. Butfor Sivaswamy Nadar and his son Balan, lifes reality speaks with a persuasive eloquence.

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


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