New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 318

new internationalist
issue 318 - November 1999

Letters
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : ni@newint.org

Tragic topic
Cover of the NI Issue 316 Iraq has for a long time been a most tragic topic for me and I have written letters to papers – many unpublished – and politicians. I am also trying to express my views to friends and neighbours, finding it extremely difficult to accept that most will either smile benevolently or simply tolerate me as an incorrigible fool.

As a German-born I am well acquainted with the ‘bombing strategies’ of the Western Alliance. I find it cowardly and shameful. At the time, however, I took it on the nose, thinking that’s the way it is. But then I was only five years old and didn’t know any better. Since then I have become a close observer of world politics and I am appalled at the stranglehold the West exercises over the rest of the world.

I am also appalled at the destruction of a country which was the subject of some of my childhood’s favourite fairy stories. A country with an ancient civilization. A proud and wonderful people. And the children. Why should they suffer just to satisfy the political appetite of the West?

Where is our superiority? Our humanity?

Elizabeth Allen
Stanford-le-Hope, England

Rock solid
The September issue (NI 316) included a letter from Nestlé under the heading ‘Nestlé correction’ containing the allegation that when complaints are made about Nestlé’s baby-food marketing ‘often the product is not ours and is a locally manufactured item’. Nestlé referred to a picture-agency photo published in NI 313 showing the company’s Lactogen on a shelf in China alongside a local brand, but is that the extent of its case? We are rock-solid in our evidence against Nestlé, which is why we won our case against them before the Advertising Standards Authority.

Nestlé has just demonstrated how slick its PR is in attacking the credibility of its critics.

Mike Brady
Baby Milk Action,
Cambridge, England

Mealy-mouthed
I was surprised to see the attack on the Results organisation by Sarah Blackstock (‘Bandaid wagonNI 314). The substance of her attack – although substance rather overstates the content – is that microcredit schemes are not always properly evaluated and are ‘not all they’re cracked up to be’. The rest is nothing but faintly sneering innuendo. As for the links with Monsanto, I am sure there would be many within the Results organization who would welcome your arguments. But you imply some special and conspiratorial relationship when in fact Results has succeeded in lobbying and involving many large corporations, heads of government, and heads of UN agencies and the World Bank in its attempt to move the microcredit idea on to a larger scale. No doubt you would have preferred the idea of credit for the poorest to remain restricted to a few villages in one country – which is surely where it would be without all the ‘touting’?

No-one should claim that microcredit schemes are the answer to everything. But we are talking here about an idea that has reached out with practical support to many tens of millions of the world’s poorest people in their efforts to overcome the worst of poverty.

Results are the only large, serious and effective citizens’ group campaigning against world poverty in the world’s richest and most powerful country. They have thousands of committed and idealistic volunteers across the US who are just the kind of people that the NI should be serving and informing rather than attacking in this casual and mealy-mouthed way.

Finally may I say that I am glad to know that the NI never has and never would use seductive oratorical skills to advance an argument it passionately believed in.

Peter Adamson
Wallingford, England

Meaty disagreement
I totally disagree with my sausage-eating friend Anna Perceval (‘LettersNI 315) that there is a bias in favour of vegetarianism in the NI. In fact I don’t think enough is being said about the connection between meat production and our planet’s destruction and Third World hunger.

With three times as many farm animals in the world as people they are competing with us for land and water and causing major environmental damage. To give some examples, rainforests are being felled to graze hamburger cattle; methane from prolific farting and belching from animals ranks second in the causes of global warming; animal faeces are a major cause of acid rain and river pollution; livestock grazing is a major cause of desertification. On an area of land big enough to feed two people raising cattle, you could feed 60 people growing soya. And the water needed for one day’s food for a meat-eater is 15,000 litres, while for a vegetarian it is 5,000 litres and for a vegan 1,150 litres.

Grazing is often said to be the only use for some land but in many cases a more efficient and sustainable use would be to grow trees for timber, fuel and food. Trees also check soil erosion, maintain the water table and help prevent both flood and drought.

Finally leather is not environmentally friendly; tanneries produce a host of pollutants. Not to mention the cruelty to animals in farming...

M Harrison
Swindon, England

Illustration by VIV QUILLIN
Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Straight record
The article ‘Junkyard Dogs of Science’ (NI 314) by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber promulgates ineffective communication on health and science issues.

The reference to my affiliation and research on Mad Cow Disease amounts only to a personal attack which ignores the evidence. My edited volume, The Mad Cow Crisis: Health and the Public Good (1998) includes various experts, academics, journalists and government officials who offer a balanced approach to the crisis, as opposed to the vociferous opinions of Rampton and Stauber’s Mad Cow USA.

The Lancet review (15 August 1998) of my book concluded that it was an ‘informative, stimulating and enjoyable book that should be of interest not only to the medical, political and journalistic world, but also to anyone who ever mused about the mad, the bad and the ugly side of a crisis that is far from over and could be repeated any time in the future in a different context’.

Scott C Ratzan
Washington DC , US

Building bridges
I’d like to thank the NI readers who helped raise the voice of sanity in Britain during the bombing of Yugoslavia and to let you know about a new organization, Building Bridges to the People of Yugoslavia. We will be campaigning for humanitarian aid for all the people of Yugoslavia and for Western governments to provide funds to assist with cleaning up the poisoned environment and the reconstruction of the civilian infrastructure of the whole country.

Far from preventing a humanitarian catastrophe, NATO bombardment created one. As the United Nations Inter-Agency Needs Assessment Mission recently reported, the air raids ‘created a new type of complex humanitarian emergency’. The UN team said the raids had a ‘devastating impact’ on the environment, industry, employment, essential services and agriculture.

Many innocent civilians, Albanian and Serb alike, are liable to perish in the months ahead. Hundreds of thousands more face severe privation – a freezing winter without adequate shelter, electricity, heat, water or food. And the most vulnerable will be hardest hit – children, sick, elderly and disabled people as well as refugees and those who are internally displaced.

If you’d like to know more, write to me at the House of Commons, London SW1A OAA or phone +44 171 275 0164.

Alice Mahon MP
London, England

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from Lebanon

Bring back the hashish
Reem Haddad meets the farmers who want to grow dope.

Hearing the approach of our jeep, Kreida Awad, 75, glanced up from her seat outside her simple hut. Visitors in this rural area of Hermel in the Beka’a valley are rare but welcome. Kreida’s daughter, Fatima, ran into the hut to prepare coffee for us while the other members of the family gathered outside and waited for our arrival. Their expression of pleasure immediately turned to frustration when they recognized the United Nations employees who jumped down from the jeep.

‘Can you bring back the days of the hashish?’ yelled Kreida. ‘Can you bring back the days when we were alive?’

‘Kreida, you know that planting hashish is illegal now,’ explained one of the officials who sounded as if he had repeated the sentiment a million times. ‘We want to help you cultivate other crops.’

‘Here, look at the “other crops” we are planting,’ said Fatima, pointing to a small patch of wheat. ‘It’s not enough. It costs a lot of money to buy water for the crop.’

Turning to me she asked: ‘Are you here to help us?’

‘Well, no,’ I said rather awkwardly. ‘I’m a journalist.’

Thinking this over, she came up to me. ‘Then you tell people what is happening to us,’ she said. ‘Look. We are half dead. Our children are out of school. We had everything, now we have nothing.’

‘Nothing’ was an understatement, I thought, as I stared at the tiny one-room hut which housed all seven members of the family. It was constructed from piled stones daubed with white clay. The roof was made of tree branches and black bush leaves. Inside an oil lamp – the only source of light – was placed carefully in an indentation in the clay wall.

The blinding glare of the white clay contrasted with the green of the vast Jibeib al-Houmor valley overlooked by towering snow-covered mountains.

Only nine years ago, Kreida’s family was living well – thanks to the cultivation of cannabis and opium. The practically non-existent government during the 16 years of civil war meant farmers were free to plant the illegal crops over most of the Beka’a Valley. Needing little water and care, the weeds even thrived on the edges of public roads. I remember as a child contemplating the thousands of opium poppies across acres and acres of fields during some rare trips to the Beka’a.

In 1991, however, bending to an international outcry, the Lebanese Government eradicated the narcotics – earning the country a clean bill of health from the United Nations. The farmers were promised alternative crops and irrigation systems. At least those were the promises made to the Government by donor countries. When very little funding came their way, the Government could do nothing to help the 54,000 farmers forced out of work.

The extreme poverty of the area finally led the United Nations Development Programme to set up micro-loans and irrigation systems for some of the farmers. But again, with the few funds available from donor countries, not much could be done.

The reason I was invited on this tour of Beka’a was to write an article which it was hoped would highlight the plight of the impoverished farmers and possibly re-awaken the conscience of the donor countries.

I felt helpless, however, as farmer after farmer recounted the same story. Abu Hassan was only one of thousands who can no longer afford his children’s tuition fees and has had to pull all six out of school. Unable to purchase a plough, Abu Hassan and his family are forced to dig furrows by hand.

‘I don’t care if I plant hashish, apples, or potatoes,’ he said. ‘Just give us water.’

Much of the water in the Beka’a valley remains untapped. But creating the necessary irrigation systems would be expensive.

Mention the word ‘hashish’ and all eyes light up. Even though few farmers became rich from growing the narcotics, it nevertheless provided them with a steady income as traders clamoured to purchase their crops.

The only thing left to do, confided the farmers, is simply to return to growing the crop – a move which promises to create a mini-war between them and the Government which is eager to retain its untarnished, hashish-free image.

Reem Haddad is a reporter for the Daily Star in Beirut.

 

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