New Internationalist

Updates

Issue 244

new internationalist
issue 244 - June 1993

Update

GULF WAR

Storm fallout
Radioactive dust from Coalition shells inhaled by Iraqi children

Licence to kill: evidence of the deadly trade. In a shocking new development it now emerges that the Coalition forces used uranium-tipped ammunition in Iraq during the Gulf War. Shells and bullets made in this way to improve performance produce carcinogenic dust on impact. Iraqi children have inhaled the dust – and are beginning to die from cancer as a result.

Mr Andy Munn, of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, confirms that when this kind of ammunition hits its target ‘it throws up dust which is toxic and carcinogenic... clearers-up, civilians, children playing in or even looking into burned-out vehicles could be affected.’ The uranium used was waste from the nuclear industry. There are thought to be some 40 tons of it in various parts of Iraq.

According to Dr Eric Hoskins of the International Harvard Study Team, childhood cancer and leukaemia rates are soaring. In Basra, he reports, children have been making ‘glove puppets’ out of used, cigar-sized, uranium-tipped bullets.

US officials are quoted as saying that the weaponry is only ‘very, very mildly’ radioactive. But when a director of the renowned Albert Schweitzer Institute returned from Iraq with one of the bullets – intended for analysis – in his pocket he was arrested at Berlin Airport and the bullet was placed in a lead-lined case. Two independent laboratories subsequently confirmed its radioactivity.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of radiation because, as they grow, their cells multiply fast. Nearly a quarter of the Iraqi population of 18 million are children. Ironically, in this irradiated land, nuclear medicine for treatment of cancers is banned under the terms of international sanctions against Iraq.

A recently returned observer, Dr Michael Viola of the oncology division, Stony Brook University, New York, says: ‘Uranium kills kids... It is quite clear that the functional embargo of medicines, vaccines, hospital and laboratory equipment has resulted in a complete collapse of the health delivery system... Thirty per cent of children in various parts of Iraq demonstrated clinical evidence of malnutrition... Sanctions could be reconstructed to allow “oil for medicine” and these transactions monitored by international relief agencies.’

Unless some such provision can be made for what UNICEF calls the ‘most traumatized child population in the world’ – of whom some 100,000 are likely to die this year alone – they will indeed vanish ‘not with a bang, but with a whimper’.

Felicity Arbuthnot

Tropical trouble
By the year 2010 four million people – twice as many as now – will die every year from the top five tropical diseases: malaria, leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, lymphatic filariasis and schistosomiasis. If you add leprosy, Chagas disease and river blindness (onchocerciasis) to the list more than half the world’s population lives in areas where they are at risk from tropical disease. According to the World Health Organization, the soaring death rate is the result of population movements, environmental change, economic upheavals and the growing resistance of the malaria parasite to existing drugs. For the past two decades many of the world’s pharmaceutical companies have ignored tropical diseases because they affect mostly poor countries and profit margins are too small.

World Health Organization Press Release 25 March 1993

World Bank out of Narmada
The Indian Government has asked the World Bank to cancel its remaining loans for a half-finished $3 billion scheme to dam the Narmada river in north-western India, following intense criticism of the project’s impact on the environment and on the villagers who will lose their land. Campaigners against the scheme are celebrating victory. But the Indian authorities are likely to press ahead. Officials told the World Bank that it was trampling on the country’s self-respect by imposing too many conditions – and that they are asking the giant brewers Heineken (slogan ‘Reaches the parts other beers cannot reach’) for sponsorship instead.

The Independent 14 March 1993

Mozambique moves Mozambique moves
The commander-in-chief of Renamo, the Mozambican guerilla opposition, has pledged never to take up arms again. The promise by Afonso Dhlakama was in response to a report on the BBC World Service in Portuguese that Renamo was preparing to resume war. Meanwhile in March the Limpopo railway corridor, crucial to the economy of both Mozambique and Zimbabwe, was officially reopened by President Joaquim Chissano after six years of reconstruction work by an international workforce. First closed by sanctions against Rhodesia in 1976, then sabotaged by Renamo during the conflict of the 1980s, the reopening of the railway is also a success for the Southern African Development Community, which helped to put together the huge technical and financial programme that made it possible.

Mozambique New Agency, AIM Reports, No 5 1993

 

THE DEVELOPMENT DEBATE

Cruel trees
Chipko ‘huggers’ oppose new plantations in India

Women lead the opposition to the 'timber-mine' view of forests.
photo: LES BAILEY

Throughout the 1970s a series of protests against tree-felling in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh captured the attention of the world’s media. The opposition movement, inspired by Gandhian activists, was called ‘chipko’ – which means ‘to hug’ or ‘to embrace’ – because they hugged trees earmarked for felling, braving the timber-cutters’ raised axes.

In 1980 the government of Indira Gandhi recommended a 15-year ban on felling in the region. Chipko was hailed as a success-story and the camera crews and journalists packed up and went home.

Over a decade later, however, the villagers’ struggle continues. The focus has now shifted to new pine and eucalyptus ‘social forestry’ plantations being promoted by development agencies.

Villagers, who see the forest as a living resource on which they depend for their basic necessities and from which they take only according to need, directly confront the view of logging concerns who see the forest as a timbermine to be converted into cash.

In Tehri, a busy market town in a deep tributary valley of the Ganges, Chipko activist Sunderlal Bahugana, explains the objections:

‘Cruel trees like pine and eucalyptus take up a lot of water from the soil and give nothing back. The ground in a pine plantation is barren like a desert. What the villagers need are deciduous trees such as walnut and oak that supply what I call the five Fs – food in the form of nuts and berries, firewood, fodder from leaves, fibre to make rope or baskets and rich soil from fertilizer.’

Bahugana sees ‘social forestry’ – often funded through agencies like the World Bank – as just another aspect of the prevailing development model whose real agenda, he believes, is to turn the planet’s resources into commodities for the market.

‘The World Bank is trying to turn the land into raw material,’ he says, ‘but this approach is misguided. Planting species that produce little soil, water and fresh air undermines our real capital base – the environment... The villagers know the best way to manage the forest and we encourage them to use this knowledge and not to depend on aid agencies or the Government to advise them.’

In the Ashram at Silyara he and his wife Vimala have set up an ‘empowering centre’ for village women. Set among trees and flowering bushes on a steep hillside it provides education for 120 girls from neighbouring villages. Vimala describes how the women’s enhanced confidence recently enabled them to fight a scheme to plant 20,000 pine trees in the valley.

‘When the men hired to plant the trees came,’ she says, ‘the women sent them away and refused to plant conifers. They are now demanding that women are appointed as forest guards so that only useful species such as oak are planted.’

In the Henwell Valley Chipko activist Dhum Singh Negi helped to set up the ‘Greening the Himalaya’ project. He explains that Bijana Devi was chosen as the forest guard in Kumali village because as a widow she had no other source of income. She protects a patch of 400 walnut and 1,200 sweet chestnut saplings in a steep gully by a stream. ‘Our knowledge of trees that no longer grow in the region has to some extent been lost,’ she says, ‘but through the project the villagers are rediscovering some of this traditional knowledge.’

The first recorded instance of tree-hugging in India took place in 1730 in the desert state of Rajastan; 363 women of the Bishnoi people were killed when they tried to save a grove of kejari trees. The Bishnoi worship the kejari as it brings life to the desert and provides animal fodder in even the harshest drought.

This story should, Dhum Singh Negi believes, remind the World Bank and others funding social-forestry plantations that replacing indigenous tree-cover with new species disregards the human factor in the ecological equation. Such programmes must consider people to whom the natural environment is not just an object of curiosity, a set of statistics or a collection of commodities – it is a part of themselves.

Les Bailey

Last rest-in-space
Sunray, a major Japanese mortician, has launched plans for an egg-like tower with capacity for 10,000 bodies – on the moon. A rapidly ageing population and scarcity of land in Japan have created a serious undertaking problem. Sunray expects to spend up to $40 million on rocket-related expenses and has chosen a construction company for work on the moon. The company is not yet ready for customers, but says hundreds of people have called for details.

Sunday Morning Star Malaysia

Landmine auction
An international scramble has begun by foreign firms and governments for the massive contracts involved in clearing Angola of an estimated 20 million land mines – more than two for each of the country’s nine million citizens. The majority of the mines are attributed to the rebel Unita forces and are of US origin. A report by Africa Watch entitled Landmines in Angola says that commercial companies may be inflating the size of the problem in their own interests. Royal Ordnance in the UK, the Lonrho conglomerate and the US Equator Bank are all bidding for the work. Germany’s Cap Anamur humanitarian organization wanted to ship in a number of decommissioned Soviet tanks for mine clearance – but Africa Watch says it makes no sense to bring more unwanted tanks into a country that already has a surfeit of them.

Arthur Gavshon / Gemini

No help without orders
Early in the morning of 10 March the Cambodian police alerted the UN peacekeepers in Siem Reap that the Khmer Rouge had attacked a nearby village and killed several Vietnamese villagers. When the peacekeepers reached the site they discovered 34 men, women and children were dead. Some 33 injured people were moved to an overcrowded hospital where they lay on the floor waiting for attention. Doctors at a nearby well-equipped and virtually empty UN military hospital did not offer help because, one of them said, they had no orders to do so.

Far Eastern Economic Review vol 156 no 14

 

SOUTH AFRICA

Unsightly site
Squatters segregated from tourist trap

Guilty of compassion: Jeff Warren-Smith, convicted for refusing to evict squatters.
photo: PATRICK GOODENOUGH

A South African hotel owner, Jeff Warren-Smith, faces a fine or six months’ imprisonment for allowing squatting on his land. He says he cannot bring himself to demolish the homes as the court has ordered, and so he has become the first landowner in Cape Province to be convicted under the Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act.

Mr Warren-Smith runs the Morgan’s Bay Hotel on the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, a prime tourist destination. Three years ago he bought a piece of land on which to house his employees. Workers evicted from nearby farms swelled the numbers who already lived there. Some were born on the land, like Wally Xolo, who returned two years ago when the pineapple farm he worked on closed down. Now more than one hundred people live there, mostly in traditional houses of wood, thatch and mud.

Although only a few of the residents worked for Mr Warren-Smith he refused to evict them. They have nowhere else to go. ‘I didn’t give them permission to live there,’ he says, ‘but I will not let them be kicked out. These people stayed on this property long before I came.’

The Regional Council prosecuted him on the grounds that the buildings did not meet health-and-safety standards. But in practice the Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act is being used to enforce racial segregation, particularly around towns where squatter areas grow as people flee the poverty of rural areas. The Council insists that the Morgan’s Bay squatters must move to the Kei Mouth township about five miles away, which is already overcrowded.

Mr Warren-Smith points out that the tourist industry needs black workers for the hotels and holiday homes but keeps their homes at a distance for fear of confronting tourists with the poverty in which they live. He argues that the real issue is the Council’s failure to provide adequate housing for blacks where they work. ‘The only person to complain about squatters did not want black people to reside in Morgan’s Bay,’ he told the court.

Three years after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and with South Africa on the threshold of a political settlement, the case is an ironic reminder that some apartheid laws are still in force – and are being used. The ‘squatters’ of Morgan’s Bay have joined others in the continuing campaign for land rights.

Matthew Sherrington

 

MALAYSIA

Sultans of sleaze
Royal excesses lead to constitutional change

The subjects of the Malaysian monarchy are, it seems – not unlike their UK counterparts – beginning to tire of their royals. Criticism of the nine royal sultans (who appoint the King from among their number) was triggered by the alleged beating last November of a field-hockey coach by one of the most flamboyant of the rulers, the 61-year-old Sultan of Johor.

Parliament, unused to tackling the royals, unanimously condemned the beatings and concluded that the Sultan had abused his traditional immunity from prosecution when he assaulted coach Douglas Gomez. Malaysia’s no-nonsense Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, moved to change the constitution and make the royals accountable. This precipitated a constitutional crisis.

During the confrontation word went out from the government that the press, usually restrained in its coverage of royal stories, was now free to report as it wished. The floodgates opened. English, Malay, Chinese and Indian language newspapers had a field-day reporting past ‘indiscretions’ – murders, beatings, lavish lifestyles and extravagant behaviour.

The public learned that the royals had been beneficiaries of millions of dollars of profits through unpublicized allocations of shares in publicly listed companies. The sale of timber concessions had, for one sultan alone, produced $103 million. Public money had been spent on building lavish new palaces and constantly remodelling old ones. One sultan kept 200 polo ponies in air-conditioned stables and ran his own Boeing 727 jet. Business debts were uncollectable because sultans were beyond the law. Rolls Royce cars had been imported illegally. Large sums of money had been spent on gambling and drinking.

Initially the King refused the royal assent for a constitutional amendment bill to make the royals accountable to the law. But after a stand-off the sultans backed down. In a closed-door session with leaders of Mahathir’s ruling party they reached a face-saving compromise. The original bill would be amended, but the sultans would still become subject to the law.

Abdul Razak Abdullah / Gemini

Quote

‘No, I won’t lend them my money.
They wouldn’t be able to pay it back.’

President Mobutu Sese Seko Koko Ngbendu Waza Banga of Zaire,
on being asked if he would consider making some of his personal fortune,
estimated at $5 billion, available for his impoverished country.

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