New Internationalist

Updates

Issue 234

new internationalist
issue 234 - August 1992

Updates

PESTICIDES

Eat brown bananas
Costa Rica's poisoned plantations

The price of perfection: banana workers all over Central America must pay for our tastes.
PETER STALKER

Next time you buy blemish-free bananas, spare a thought for the sweat and suffering that brought you the chemically engineered fruit.

Around 100 people die and 10,000 are severely poisoned by the 55 million dollars worth of pesticides drenched over Costa Rican vegetables and fruits every year, according to Dr Catharine Wesseling from the National University of Heredia's Pesticide Programme in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica produces more bananas per hectare than anywhere else in the world - but at a price. A recent survey reveals that, at a conservative estimate, Costa Rican bananas are sprayed with 30 kilograms of pesticides per hectare every year compared with the 3 kilograms used on most crops in industrialized nations.

Besides severe intoxications, other reported problems include chemical bums, eye irritations and sterilizations. And Dr Wesseling is now investigating the incidence of cancer among workers who live inside the plantations.

Half of the pesticide deaths in Costa Rica are caused by Paraquat, which remains in the soil for up to 25 years after application. Recent research by chemist Lilliana Abarca of the Technology Institute in Cartago revealed a horrifying concoction of toxic chemicals in the River Estrella including the cancer-inducing chemical chlorothalonyl which was found in drinking water in such quantities as to be fatal to fish.

Abarca's findings were presented to the Second International Water Tribune in Holland in March. The jury found the US-owned Standard Fruit Company, which operates large plantations in the Atlantic region, guilty of contaminating the River Estrella. But the responsibility for change belongs not only with producers and multinational companies, but with consumers too.

According to Dr Ronald Vargas, Research Director of CORBANA: 'If people were willing to eat bananas with brown bits, banana companies could cut out a third of the amount of chemicals they use now.'

Nicola Solloway / San José

 

NUTRITION

Mexico bubbles up the cola ladder
Soda-pop success worries nutritionists

[image, unknown] A string of donkeys climb the jungle trail into the tiny squatter settlement of Nuevas Maravillas, straining under their load - cases of Coca Cola, Fanta and Orange Crush, beverages that daily slake the thirsts of 70 million people in Mexico.

Mexicans consume more soft drinks than any other developing nation. Indeed, they drink more pop - commonly known as refrescos or chescos - than any people outside the US. The Mexican soft-drink industry registered $33 million in 1990 sales with consumption at 390 bottles a person - more than one a day.

Homegrown sodapop in Mexico accounts for only one per cent of all sales. The rest is controlled by Coca Cola and Pepsi. In Mexico City, the world's largest soft-drink market, where 18 million thirsty throats cry for relief day and night, Coke holds more than half the sales.

And even though Pepsi is a newcomer to the Mexican market, its 45 per cent share in the capital is far greater than it has achieved elsewhere in the developing world. Pepsico is now flooding the nation with plastic, recyclable 'family-sized' servings.

Mexico's surging chesco consumption causes the nation's nutritionists considerable concern. In a country where 40 per cent of the population has no access to milk, a breakfast of a Coke and a 'Ganso' chocolate bar is normal for many poor people. In fact many Mexicans drink refrescos with all three meals, for soda pop with its high sugar and caffeine content produces quick energy for poverty-stricken schoolchildren, day labourers and market women.

An annual survey conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition places soft drinks among the top 10 foods consumed in each of the Institute's 19 survey regions, indicating that chesco consumption is far ahead of meat and milk everywhere in the country. The disparity is greatest in the impoverished and largely Indian south.

'In many places, refrescos are the only source of potable fluid,' says the Institute's Hector Borges, 'Particularly in tropical zones where people doing hard labour need to continually replace their liquid intake.'

John Ross / Mexico City / Gemini

 

HONG KONG

Boiling point
Chinese takeover

With five years left before the colony of Hong Kong reverts to Chinese rule, the pressures on both China and Hong Kong are mounting. The Chinese economy is floundering on the brink of chaos following years of corruption and mismanagement, and control of Hong Kong is seen as the 'golden egg' which will alleviate some of the problems.

China's ills have been compounded by a succession of natural disasters which have left its central province of Anhui in crisis and other northern provinces in a state of flux. Not surprisingly the southern provinces have seen a large influx of migrants from northern China - at one point this year, 10,000 people a day were entering Guangdong province - and some have made it further south across the border into Hong Kong. If caught they are repatriated, but even so Hong Kong's official population of 5.5 million is swollen by around half a million illegal immigrants.

Hong Kong police have little power to control the situation. They are deplorably understaffed and ill-equipped technically to combat professional smuggling rackets that use the Territory as a staging post for the flow of lucrative drug and other operations between mainland China and the US. High-powered speedboats, recently outlawed, often outrun the police launches and there is a brisk trade in electrical appliances (especially televisions) and stolen cars destined for the mainland, while firearms increasingly find their way back to Hong Kong.

Nor can the Hong Kong police cope with the increase in violent crime. Use of firearms has escalated alarmingly, with automatic weapons and grenades used almost weekly. In the first quarter of 1992, there were 18 armed robberies, twice the number recorded in the same period of 1991.

Unfortunately the Hong Kong Government fails to understand the corruption in China and stipulates that co-operation with the Chinese Government has to be one of the main means of dealing with the problems. Meanwhile Chinese leaders have shown increasing interest in controlling Hong Kong policy making, inviting some of Hong Kong's top business people to Beijing.

Who knows? With increasing violence on the streets, and inflation causing money-conscious citizens to chase after the all-powerful US dollar, Hong Kong people may even be reduced to begging the Chinese Government to come in early to restore peace and order.

Ann Wietz / Hong Kong

Death be not proud
Dead people in China are robbing the living of resources, money and even food, according to Farmers Daily, a Chinese official newspaper. The money spent on funerals for the seven million people who die in China each year could build 14,000 schools, the wood used for coffins could build 1.7 million houses, and land used for burial could, if planted with crops, feed four million people for a year. 'Why do the dead loot the living like this?' the paper asked. Meanwhile, China Daily reported that a record 30.7 per cent of the people who died in China last year were cremated, as a pro-cremation campaign continues to make progress against tradition.

Consumer Currents, May 1992

New hope for black Australians
A High Court judgment in June has been hailed as a great victory for Australian blacks. The judgment may finally overturn the legal concept of terra nullius, which states that Australia and its islands belonged to no-one before European colonization.

The High Court's six-to-one majority decision declared that the Meriam people in Torres Strait (between Australia and Papua New Guinea) are entitled to 'possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of the lands of the Murray Islands'. The judgement is believed to have direct implications for many land-rights claims by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout Australia - and for negotiations between them and mining groups.

Two of the judges were overtly critical of the continuing process of dispossession, degradation and devastation of the Aboriginal people, and of the national legacy of 'unutterable shame'. 'The nation as a whole must remain diminished unless and until there is an acknowledgement of and retreat from those injustices,' said one judge.

NI Australia

Space-shuttle hazard
Just 300 flights of the US space shuttle could destroy the ozone layer, according to Russian scientists Valery Bundakov and Vyacheslaw Film. They warn that rocket exhausts and supersonic aircraft which use both liquid and solid propellants are causing serious damage to stratospheric ozone.

Bundakov and Filin helped design the Energiya heavy-lift rocket which uses only liquid fuel even though this complicated the whole endeavour considerably.

New Renaissance. Vol 2 No 3

[image, unknown]

Trickle-up theory
The diagram shows the global distribution of income. The richest 20 per cent of the world's population receives 82.7 per cent of the total world income while the poorest 20 per cent receive only 1.4 per cent. Global economic growth rarely filters down.

UNDP'S Human Development Report 1992

 

HUMAN RIGHTS


Stockbrokers to shanty towns
Two determined women bridge the world

On 15 July 1984 a 78-year-old man was taken to the military barracks in Huanta, Peru, and was never seen alive again. He had been about to leave for Lima with evidence showing that two cousins had 'disappeared' after being taken away in a military helicopter.

Zenaida Fernández, his daughter, went looking for him and found his body in a mass grave with 50 others. She contacted the local magistrate, called the press, then went to buy a coffin. On her return, her father's body was gone.

So began Zenaida's long search for justice in Peru, a country which becomes daily more engulfed in violent and chaotic confrontation between the military and the Maoist fundamentalist guerilla organization Sendero Luminoso ('Shining Path'). At least 28,000 people have been killed and some 6,000 have 'disappeared'.

Zenaida's own 10-year-old niece - who happened to be in the house when her grandfather was taken away - has vanished; a woman friend has been shot and her body dynamited; a sympathetic lawyer's arms blown off by a letter bomb.

Civil war in Peru has now added a new weapon to the letter bomb and the car bomb; the 'child bomb'. Children are paid to deliver, in ignorance, packages containing bombs. Frequently these bombs explode in the hands of the children who carry them.

Despite the threats against Zenaida she has not been subdued. She carried her protest to the Plaza de Armas, the central square of Lima, where she chained herself to the railings in front of the presidential palace. Scars remain on her arms where she was brutally cut loose.

In Huanta she set up the first Peruvian branch of Fedefam, the Latin American umbrella group for friends and relatives of disappeared people. Threats forced her to move from house to house until she finally left for Lima, where she now runs a safe haven for people like her who come to the capital in search of information about their 'disappeared' relatives. The project, Zapallal, is being constructed entirely by its own members.

Zenaida refuses to indulge in false optimism. 'Neither the military nor Sendero can win,' she says. 'I don't think there's a way out for the country. I think it will finish in total war... For me it may all end in their killing me. Well, let them do what they will. I fear no-one but God.'

Carole Hudson is a teacher in Guildford, better known as the heart of the wealthy 'stockbroker belt' to the south of London. She spent several years in Peru and met Zenaida during her first visit to England in search of support for Fedefam. They have remained friends ever since.

Working with the Guildford branch of Fedefam UK - unusual because it is the UK branch of a Latin American organization, rather than the other way round - Carole has helped send more than 600 boxes of clothes, tools and household utensils to Lima during the past year.

The friendship between Zenaida and Carole may seem unlikely, but it works. Says Carole, 'We phone each other every Monday. Very important to keep in touch, isn't it? For her safety, and also to respond to her demands.'

David Ransom

To contact Project Peru, the UK branch of Fedefam,
write to 1 St Catherine's Hill, Guildford, Surrey GU2 5EF, UK. Tel: (483) 576093 or (483) 579517.

The pace of AIDS
AIDS and HIV infection are tightening their hold on Africa. More than seven million people have become HIV-positive in sub-Saharan Africa alone since the pandemic started. In some central African capitals, according to the World Bank, over half all hospital admissions are AIDS-related.

Malawi now has the second highest total of reported cases of HIV in Southern Africa. And health experts estimate that out of a population of eight million, over 300,000 - 20 per cent of urban adults and eight per cent of rural adults - are infected with the HIV virus.

Zimbabwe too, has infection rates estimated at between 18 and 20 per cent in mid-1991. And in Namibia the number of reported cases of HIV infection leaped from four in 1986 to 1,825 by the end of November 1991, with the number of infected people doubling almost every six months.

Southern African Economist. Vol 5 No 2

Dirty business
'I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable,' wrote Lawrence Summers, Chief economist of the World Bank, in an internal memo (Endquote, NI 230). He went on to state that 'under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted,' and that 'only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit-transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste'.

The memo, which Summers contends was written as 'sardonic counterpoint' has now led to calls for his resignation. The Bank is still denying that his views represent institutional policy.

Bankcheck Quarterly, Winter 1992

Quote

'I slept and dreamt that life was pleasure, I woke and saw that life was
service, I served and discovered that service was pleasure.'

Rabindranath Tagore

'Looking at the Earth from afar you realize it is too small
for conflict and just big enough for co-operation.'

Yuri Gagarin: first human in space.

previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page next page


This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7

Comments on Updates

Leave your comment