New Internationalist

Updates

Issue 209

new internationalist
issue 209 - July 1990

Update

ENVIRONMENT

Gloom
Pollution is poisoning the future of Eastern Europe

Illustration: Korky Paul Two huge thermal power stations stand shoulder to shoulder on the edge of the charming university town of Pecs in southern Hungary. Both burn polluting brown coal to produce electricity for this energy-hungry part of the country. The main stack belches out clouds of black smoke. The other emits next to nothing - an efficient Swiss filter has been fitted which removes most particles and dust.

Behind the dramatic and sudden political, economic and social shifts sweeping through Middle Europe looms a grim legacy of 40 years of resource exploitation and environmental neglect. The region is scarred by ruined forests and watersheds eaten away by acid rain and other pollutants, rivers and lakes fouled almost beyond recovery, croplands contaminated with agricultural poisons - not to mention crumbling cities besieged by a virulent assortment of airborne chemicals.

'Where does the destruction of our natural environment end?' laments a member of Poland's Ecological Club. 'We are killing our heritage and pillaging our children's future.'

The evidence can be seen all over the region:

· The health of 2.6 million people in the Silesian Industrial Zone in south-west Poland is endangered by industrial filth. The Vistula is so full of pollutants that its waters are unfit even for industrial use along 80 per cent of its total length.

· In Hungary every 17th death and every 24th disability is attributed directly or indirectly to air pollution.

· In the Czechoslovakian town of Bratislava, cancers have risen by a third, heart complaints by 40 per cent, infant mortality by two-thirds and miscarriages by half since 1970, thanks to deadly air pollutants emitted from nearby industries.

· In just one year, l986, over 88,000 children and 63,000 adults in the Romanian town of Giurgiu were treated for lung diseases brought on by rampant air pollution.

Birth rates in Eastern Europe have stagnated for 30 years. Hungary's population is actually falling by 7,000 a year, according to this year's State of the World Population Report from the United Nations Population Fund. The low birth rates may be an expression of deep pessimism about the future, a pessimism brought on partly by polluted air and poisoned water, vanishing forests and crumbling towns.

With growing environmental problems and poor family-planning services, Eastern Europe's problems mirror those of the developing world. Unless the region can clean up its act, there will be little chance of balancing its future development with the needs of its people.

Don Hinrichsen

The State of World Population 1990, Report by Dr Nafis Sadik. Executive Director of The United Nations Population Fund.

 

INDONESIA

Backstreet becaks
Ban threatens livelihood of drivers

There was a time when the humble pedicab driver was the symbol of the hard-working migrant who left the village for the bright lights of Jakarta. Now this basic means of subsistence for between 50,000 and 100,000 urban migrants has been outlawed. The city government has decided to clear the streets of the unsightly pedicab in the interests of humanity and prestige. Drivers who continue trying to ply their trade are having their rickety three-wheeled becak's carried out to sea and dumped.

When times were bad the scrawny becak driver, in ragged shorts and felt cap, with his market gossip and homespun street philosophy, was often the first to express discontent. Now, as the year-end deadline for removing the becak's from Jakarta's streets approaches, the city government is facing some stiff resistance.

In many cases the becak drivers have put up a fight to prevent their livelihood from being caned off. Over 200 drivers took their protest to Parliament in mid-February. Many are taking their trade away from the main thoroughfares and into the back streets where they take people to market and bring children back from school.

Why exactly the authorities wish to deprive so many thousand people of their bread and butter when the becak is cheap, pollution-free and makes up for the deficiencies in mass transit, is a mystery. Jakarta's Governor Wiyogo Atmordarminto insists that to drive a becak is a degrading occupation, considering Indonesia's level of development. He suggests alternatives - buses, the motorized three-wheeled baja, passenger-carrying motor scooters called ojeks -or walking.

The options for former drivers are bleak. Neither returning to their villages nor joining the Government's resettlement scheme in the outer islands appeals. On a good day a driver could make over $2.75; if he has a month of good days he earns more than a civil servant. 'The majority of those who have had their becaks taken away have stayed here. They cannot return to their villages, there is nothing to do there,' says one driver.

Opposition to the ban has forced Governor Wiyogo to apologize publicly for the heavy-handed tactics of the authorities. He has also hinted that the order came from above. The phase-out has been brought forward, some believe to curb potential unrest prior to the 1992 elections. Thousands of street vendors have also been banned from Jakarta, sparking further protests.

Michael Vatikiotis / Far Eastern Economic Review

 

TRADE

Taming tigers
US pressure on Newly Industrializing Countries

The trade war between the US and Asia's 'Four Little Tigers' (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore) is hotting up. Doubts are being raised as to whether their formula of 'export-led' economic growth can be sustained.

Back in October 1987 a senior US Treasury official, David Mulford, quipped: 'Tigers live in the jungle, and by the law of the jungle.' Since then Washington has revoked the tariff-free entry of many goods from the Little Tigers and forced revaluations of both the South Korean and Taiwanese currencies. Both these countries have also been required to bring down their own protective barriers on a wide range of goods, from computer software to cigarettes.

IBM, the US computer giant, is demanding royalties from South Korean and Taiwanese clone-makers. Since the US is the main market for their goods, they have little choice but to pay up. Two other US giants, Intel and Texas Instruments, have successfully sued Korean chipmakers Hyundai and Samsung respectively. Exports to the US from both South Korea and Taiwan have slowed, while their imports from the US have grown sharply.

On top of this, the environmental time bomb that has been ticking away for years now seems ready to explode. Dr Edgar Lin, Taiwan's leading environmentalist, estimates that at least 30 per cent of the annual rice crop is dangerously contaminated by heavy metals like mercury and cadmium. The atmosphere of Seoul, the South Korean capital, has one of the highest concentrations of sulphur dioxide anywhere in the world.

One former senior official of the Korea Development Institute recently admitted: 'Old formulas for keeping the economy on track, usually technocratic solutions developed in a political vacuum, are no longer appropriate.' The Four Little Tigers have often beaten the odds in the past, but new ingredients will be needed to keep the formula working.

Walden Bello and Stephanie Rosenfeld / Third World Network.

 

BRAZIL

Invasion
Threat of extinction faces Yanomami people

For several years now the Yanomami Indians of Brazil have been threatened with extinction. Marauding gold miners (garimpeiros) sweep through their lands causing destruction and spreading diseases against which they have no resistance. Time and again local politicians and those with business interests have used their influence to overturn or ignore court decrees to evacuate the 45,000 garimpeiros once and for all.

The miners were originally to be moved on 8 January 1990. But the celebrations were short-lived. The very next day the Justice Minister Saulos Ramos called the operation off, breaking a Federal Court decree. The Government had capitulated to vested interests - the army, the garimpeiros and the Governor of Roraima who wanted to keep the miners' vote.

Instead the Government designated three areas of 'National Forest as temporary bases to which the miners could be evacuated. These were still within the larger Yanomami Park as defined by a 1985 decree, but outside the minimal 19 separate pockets ruled as Indian land in 1989.

It now appears that the Government is moving them to only one area, on the Uraricaa River, probably to avoid further confrontation with the courts. The Government claims that 10,000 miners have already been put on buses to their place of origin. Observers confirm, however, that evacuation is progressing at a snail's pace.

The removals have been hampered by a serious lack of aeroplanes and helicopters. The few craft of the disposal of the Government Indian Agency FUNAI have frequently broken down. Some miners - the destitute or ill - are glad to leave and accept the free lift. Others have resisted with a show of arms. Some have gone on foot to Catroimani, in the heart of the Indian land.

Meanwhile the area of Roraima, where most of the Yanomami's territory is situated, remains in a state of confusion. The police chief Tuma was taken to court by one judge for breaking an October 1989 decree to remove the miners, only to be let off by another a few weeks later.

What is certain is that the Yanomami are in a critical state. with imported diseases spreading to epidemic proportions in communities close to the miners. Efforts to help them have been hampered by a crippling shortage of transport and medicine. Up to 1,500 Indians may have died over the last two years as a result of the gold miners' presence on their land.

Survival international

 

AGRICULTURE

Small fry
Disaster à Ia carte as shrimp farms grow

Honduran fishermen: 'NO to the development of the Tagumes.'
Photo: Denise Stanley

A rather tasty crustacean is at the bottom of turmoil in two geographically distant areas of the world. Shrimp farming is creating unemployment and environmental havoc in both Bangladesh and Honduras.

Last year shrimps earned Bangladesh nearly $150 million in hard cash. Shrimp farmers dig canals to bring salt water to enclosed areas where shrimps are cultured. This salinates the surrounding land, reducing its fertility and rendering it completely unfit for rice cultivation in a couple of years.

A survey conducted by Chittagong University's Economics Department showed that the Satkhira region, which produced 40,000 tonnes of rice in 1976, yielded only 360 tonnes ten years later. About 40 per cent of the 300,000 inhabitants have been driven off the land by the shrimp firms mainly in the direction of the overcrowded cities.

In Honduras powerful members of the Honduran military and the ruling Nationalist party are large investors along with Ecuadorian and US multinational interests. The US Agency for International Development has financed seven large shrimp-farm loans for over S6.5 million in the last three years.

Shrimp farming currently takes up 5,500 hectares and is projected to take up 15,000 hectares by 1995. The mangrove forest in the region has already been reduced by half. Red and black mangrove trees constitute the primary forest of barren southern Honduras. They nurture organic matter, protect sea lands against erosion, provide habitat and food for marine life, and serve as a cattle forage crop.

Local fisherpeople are not only being hustled out from what they consider to be community lands, but also being denied access to estuaries closed off by shrimp companies. In addition the companies are being accused of fishing out shrimp larvae from the sea, creating an acute shortage for fisherpeople.

However public protests are gathering momentum as people realize that shrimp farming is a recipe for disaster.

Tabibul lslam / Third World Network Features and Denise Stanley.

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