New Internationalist

Briefly

Issue 147

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[image, unknown] BRIEFLY...

[image, unknown] CONSUMPTION[image, unknown]

A day in the life

Newly published statistics on the most voracious, high consumption society the world has ever known are lifted here from In One Day: The Things Americans Do in a Day by Tom Parker (Houghton Muffin).

Did you know that in one day:

. Dogs bite 20 mail carriers.

. Americans buy 50,000 new TV sets.

. They throw out 200,000 tons of perfectly edible food.

. And in the food eaten, there is an average of one teaspoonful of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.

. 13 or fourteen human bodies turn up which cannot be identified.

. Almost 6,000 teenagers have sexual intercourse for the first time.

. Tours and merchandise associated with Elvis Presley gross $125,000.

. More than 80,000 pieces of clothes and accessories with little alligators embroidered on them are sold.

. Some 2,200 Americans discover they have cancer.

. Two hundred Americans have their breasts enlarged, 90 have their breasts reduced, and 35 have theirs lifted or aimed in some other direction.

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[image, unknown] ENVIRONMENT[image, unknown]

Winnowing away

‘You don’t have to be a nature lover to worry about disappearing species of seed; you just have to want to eat,’ says Canadian activist Pat Mooney. For in the last 30 years he has established that we have become dangerously overdependent on a few high-yielding varieties of plant. Yet these species are particularly vulnerable to pests, lack resistance to drought and need lots of fertilizer and irrigation. But the most worrying consequence is ‘genetic erosion’ - other strains of seed disappearing. At least 85 per cent of the crop variety of the US in 1900 can no longer be found. India is becoming dependent on 10 rice varieties, where there were 30,000 strains 50 years ago. Today only 95 per cent of global food is provided by only 30 plants; eight plants form 75 per cent of the staples we eat. All this makes for dangerous living. Any one of the major food crops being blighted would wipe out a large percentage of the world’s food. What can be done? Read the Ecoforum special issue for more details.

Information from: Ecoforum. Nov. 1984.
Journal of the Environment Liaison Centre, P0 Box 72461, Nairobi, Kenya.

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[image, unknown] NATIVE PEOPLES[image, unknown]

Are you listening, Mr President?

The in-tray of President Belisario Betancur of Colombia earlier this year included the following letter:

We wrote to you last February out of concern about the killings which took place when a detachment of Columbian police opened fire in Indians peacefully occupying their territory at the Lopez Adentro ranch, Caloto, Cauca. We are now dismayed to learn thet, in November, police forces violently evicted some 150 Indian families from this area. They set fire to the Indians’ houses and crops and distroyed a health post and bilingual school. This constitutes a direct violation of Indian peoples’ human and legal rights to their land and livelihood. Under both Colombian and international laws the Indian peoples in Colombia have a right to their homelands. The day following this incident, Father Alvaro Ulcue, an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic church and a Paez Indian, was brutally murdered, apparently by people backed by local landowners. Three days later, the Indian spokesman, Ermides Ceballos, was murdered in similar circumstances. We urge you to give this matter your most serious attention…

The communication came from Survival International.
More about this and other work for the rights of threatened tribal peoples available
from the organisation at 29 Craven Street, London WC2N 5NT United Kingdom.

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[image, unknown] APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY[image, unknown]

We plough the fields and scatter

Massey Ferguson, John Deere and Canada’s prairie farmers please note: a simple device that helps farmers sow seeds evenly while using a hand plough has been developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi. A hose connects a shoulder bag containing seeds to the plough. Finger pressure on a knob on the hose releases seeds in a set flow.

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[image, unknown] HUMAN RIGHTS[image, unknown]

Turkey’s pirate

One of the nastier partners harnessed to the NATO alliance against the red menace is Turkey. In the military coup of September 1980 General Evren jackbooted to power. Amnesty International reports of his subsequent administration that ‘there is widespread and systematic torture of political and criminal suspects, and consistent use of the death penalty’. In July 1983, with probably a severe underestimate, the government admitted to holding 21,000 political prisoners. Since then the elections of November 1983 changed General Evren’s title to ‘President’. But the military remain omnipresent.

This didn’t stop gutsy opponents of the regime managing to sneak in a commercial on peak-hour television news on January 31. Two million viewers in Istanbul saw an 8-10 minute broadcast by Workers Voice, denouncing torture and urging a struggle for democracy within the country. Troops stormed the television station to find the urban guerillas had disappeared.

Some time later Britain’s Foreign Secretary arrived. After being feted by the government. the responded warmly by congratulating them on their democracy.

Further information from Committee for the Defence of Democratic Rights
in Turkey, 129 Newington Road, London N1, United Kingdom.

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[image, unknown] FOOD AID[image, unknown]

Canada’s perk

The outspoken French agronomist Rene Dumont talked on a recent visit to Ottawa of his findings in Bangladesh. Of the $141 million Canada gave in food aid in 1982/3, Bangladesh received $58 millions worth - by far the biggest single recipient. Where did the food go? It’s unconditionally handed over to the government, whose distribution gives priority to the police and armed forces, over a hundred thousand of them. The forces pay a tenth of the market price for grain and receive three or four times more than they need. The result: a useful perk, as they resell at a profit and effectively double their salaries. Also a priority in the food allocation are the six largest cities in the country, where rationed food is available at two-thirds of the market rate. Those excluded from the ration are the hungriest, the squatters and shanty-town dwellers.

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[image, unknown] WOMEN[image, unknown]

Burning brides

More than 1,000 Indian women have been burned alive over the past three years in ‘dowry deaths, the Indian Parliament was told in March. Despite dowries being illegal in India, families are having to pay more to husbands-to-be to marry their daughters. The return of migrant workers from the oil-rich Gulf states has fuelled the dowry spiral. For migrant savings allow their families to give more for their daughter or sister’s wedding. Often the dowry (which can be over $1,000) is not all paid prior to the wedding. The bride’s family pay it off over years, and sometimes can default. Then the bride can be threatened and pestered into suicide or murdered. This allows the husband freedom to marry again. Generally death is by kerosene burning; most kitchens have kerosene stoves and there are many accidents from flowing saris anyway. And the official statistics of deaths are underestimated. Most burnings don’t even get reported - they’re only ‘accidents’ after all.

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Endquote

Comment about the South African police shooting of black mourners at Uitenhage, on the 25th anniversary of Sharpeville - casualties this crime officially put at 18 dead, unofficially 45 dead.

'I tend to see the events of yesterday as
part of the process of reform.'

Dr Dennis Worrall, South African
Ambassador to the United Kingdom.


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