Stop the babymilk pushers

Nestlé poster at a Honduras social security hospital; 1980.
Nestlé poster at a Honduras social security hospital; 1980.

IT was May, 1981. The world’s highest health authorities had gathered in Geneva for the World Health Assembly. Their purpose: to vote on an international code of ethics that would help regulate the aggressive marketing practices of the giant babymilk companies. Ten million babies suffer needlessly from malnutrition every year because their mothers have stopped breastfeeding, according to pediatrician Dr Jelliffe in UNICEF News. Hundreds of thousands die.

The debate around the Code centred on attempts to stop the misuse of infant formula. It was not about banning doctors from supplying babymilk where there was a medical need. It was not even about banning the sales of babymilk to the general public. The Code was an attempt to stop the companies publicising their dried milk powder, or subverting medical clinics into becoming unwitting sales promotion centres.

Since 1979, when the companies agreed to lower their profile, mass advertising has declined. Instead they have been concentrating on ‘point of delivery’ promotion, building up teams of ‘medical delegates’, as their sales representatives are coyly named, who visit clinics and hospitals. There, in the desperately understaffed and overworked health institutions of the Third World, they give talks to health workers and mothers, leaving behind a tempting array of free samples, free gifts, advertising posters and promotional literature. Reporting on findings in Yaounde, Cameroon ,N.R Garrett in the Journal of the National Medical Association (1981), noted that 41 per cent of mothers in his sample cited health personnel as the single most important source of information on babymilk brands: ‘It is not difficult to understand why the multinational companies agreed to restrict their publicity to furnishing “ethical information” to health personnel.’

For many countries the WHO Code would be too weak. Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka already had far tougher national codes. Yet even this 'minimum requirement’ was being contested. The major milk producing countries could not forget their commercial interests. What would their farmers say? And what about the lobbyists from the powerful food and drug companies that produced the artificial babymilk? Underlying all the backroom politicking was a fear that the regulation of this unacceptable face of capitalism might lead to constraints in other industries.

There was even some far-fetched blustering, mostly by the US, that a Code would contravene such ideals as ‘national sovereignty’ and ‘free speech’. Since each country was free to accept, reject or adapt the Code, the first argument was spurious. The second was equally suspect The United States accepts that ‘free enterprise’ doesn’t mean ‘freedom-from-responsibility-enterprise’, and regulates other misusable products like drugs, alcohol and pornography, especially when they might hurt children. The real threat, everyone knew, was to baby-milk profits.

The rich world market had nearly reached saturation. But the Third World market, which the Code was chiefly designed to protect, was too tasty to pass up. Between one and two billion dollars are generated from sales here annually, upped by 15 per cent every year.

The companies contend that their product is for the convenience of the better-off in the Third World. Colombo’s Cinnamon Gardens set, who glide to the 100-rupee-per-head restaurants in a Mercedes, probably would prefer to let their ayahs bottle-feed their babies. They can, in cash terms, afford to. But the poor world’s government cannot afford such behaviour. For it is precisely the image of bottle-feeding as ‘up-market chic’ that makes it so lethal. If buying artificial babymilk is one of the ‘perks’ of the rich, then obviously that is what the poor will aspire to. And although a Mercedes is an impossible dream, a poor family wanting to give the very best to its newborn can own a tin of dried milk.

But there is a terrible hook hidden in the powder. Unlike the occasional Coke, or cigarettes bought in ones and twos for a treat, this symbol of the good life cannot be indulged in sporadically. Once a mother embarks on bottle-feeding, her own milk starts to fail. The vicious circle has been set in motion. But can a malnourished mother breastfeed? The answer is yes — unless she is severely malnourished, like some refugee mothers. And even in refugee camps, the Red Cross pleads that bottle-feeding be avoided: the baby should be fed with cup and spoon and the mother well cared for so that lactation can be re-established. Money spent on inadequate quantities of expensive artificial milk is money wasted. The same amount could buy an adequate diet of local foods for the mother, so helping her to breastfeed successfully — two stomachs satisfyingly filled for the price of one half-filled.

It is not just a matter of quantity, for breastmilk is custom-made to suit each baby. It varies nutritionally from country to country. A thirsty baby in hot weather will find more thirst-quenching feed at his mother’s breast, if his mother drinks more liquid, than a baby in a wintry climate. It varies with the time of day and even during the course of the feed: a baby’s equivalent of soup to a rich dessert is available at one breast, while a drink to wash it down is waiting at the other. If the baby is extra hungry, and sucks more vigorously, the breast will obligingly produce larger helpings. A dainty eater’s delicate sucking will inform the breast to dish up less.

In theory, therefore, nearly all the babies in the world could have a perfect diet That’s not all. Dr Ebrahim of London’s Tropical Child Health Unit explains: 'A baby’s nutritional status depends not only on food intake but on the illnesses a baby has suffered. Every infective illness is equivalent to the erosion of the lean tissue mass of the baby. On recovery the baby must get enough protein and energy foods to replenish this lean tissue mass, just to get back to square one. This is a highly costly process.

'The commonsense approach therefore is to prevent illness. Calculate the amount of immunising substances present in breastmilk and then go to the chemist and see just how much you would have to pay for that!’

If the doors to ill-health are nudged open by bottle-feeding in the West, they are flung wide apart in the developing world. Here gastric and respiratory diseases maim and kill An estimated five million children die of diarrhoeal disease every year, according to UNICEF.

What then is the babymilk companies’ legitimate market? A company spokesman admitted that 95 per cent of women were physically able to breastfeed. But, he added, if a woman is not breastfeeding successfully within 24 hours it was ‘legitimate’ for the companies to step in.

And that was illuminating. The point is that breastfeeding is not just a matter of physical ability; a very delicate balance of the mind and body is at work. If a mother can be made to worry enough about her adequacy as a breastfeeder, she’s halfway to failing. Often women don’t know that for a few days the breasts may produce only a small amount of odd-looking milk called colostrum. Immensely valuable for developing the baby’s immune system, it bears little resemblance to the white and gushing stuff poured on cornflakes. Three days of colostrum and a nervous mother could be reaching weepily for the nearest bottle-feed.

It is this fear that the babymilk companies play on. ‘While everyone knows that breast-feeding is best for baby,’ begins a 1981 Wyeth brochure smoothly, ‘many mothers either need to supplement the breast with the bottle or choose bottle-feeding from the start’

So mothers believe it is quite likely that they won’t have enough milk.

Infant malnutrition through a decline in breastfeeding is not one of nature’s cruel tricks, but a man-made disaster. The catch is that manmade problems too often have to be unmade by women. The evidence is clear most women can breastfeed, and society says that it wants women to breastfeed. But few women are given the right support and advice (and the early days of breastfeeding can be difficult). And most women must work to help support the rest of the family, and the more desperate the necessity for the woman’s income, the less likely she is to be in a position to demand breastfeeding facilities from her (probably male) employer.

Migrant women in the rich world , factory workers in the newly industrialising countries, women from urban slums who scavenge a living selling bangles or betel leaves— to say that such women have a free choice about enjoying motherhood’ is to add insult to oppression. The tragic twist is that these are also the women whose babies are most at risk if bottle-fed.

One answer is for governments to take action. It may seem another national expense, but if government officials — usually men — come to understand the economies of breastfeeding, the powerful financial arguments could tip the scales in its favour.

First there is that ever-present irritant, the problem of foreign exchange. The billion plus dollars that the developing world hands over to the babyfood multinational companies every year for artificial milk could be far better employed to provide clean water, train health workers or provide vaccines. The biggest savings of all would come from the plummeting hospital admission rate as bottle-related disease declines.

In the Canadian North, research by Dr Schaeffer showed that bottle-fed children were hospitalised 4-7 times more often than those fed at the breast In 1973/4, five per cent of all Inuit (Eskimo) babies born in the Baffin zone had to be flown to Montreal for treatment of intractable diarrhoea and malnutrition. Not including the costs of the air evacuation, that cost between $8,885 and $25,953 an infant

There have been hopes that if babymilk companies came face to face with the misery that they helped cause, they would stop pushing their products. Paediatrician Elizabeth Hillman tells her story: ‘Two Nestlé representatives came to visit us (at the Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi). I mentioned to these two gentlemen that there was a child over in our emergency ward ... who was very near death.., the mother was bottlefeeding with the Nestlé product

‘I took the two representatives over to our emergency ward, and as we walked in the door, the baby collapsed and died. And after the baby had been pronounced dead, we all watched the mother turn away from the dead baby and put the can of Nestlé ‘s milk in her bag before she left the ward. .. It was a vivid demonstration of what bottle-feeding can do — because this mother was perfectly capable of breastfeeding. The two men left that room very pale, shaken and quiet, and there was no need to say anything more... ‘But that was in 1975 and in 1981 Nestlé were still resisting the Code.

Would the national delegates at the World Health Assembly listen to the companies or to their critics? On the day of the vote the Code was a resounding success. Every country that registered a definite vote said ‘Yes’, with the solitary exception of the US.

The dramatic 118-1 vote was a historic victory for the global family. For the first time the North-South divide had been bridged at an international forum. It was one in the eye for the cynics, and a morale booster for the idealists who believed that worldwide opinion could be harnessed to resist commercial greed.

The question now is whether Nestlé really will abide by the Code. In October 1979, a meeting between the formula companies and the international health authorities produced an amicable ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to stop the public promotion of infant formula in the Third World. Since then, more than a thousand violations of this agreement have been documented. Expecting companies to apply gentlemanly self-restraint was clearly not enough to protect baby health. That recognition must have been behind the extraordinary unanimity of feeling at the World Health Assembly when it voted on the Code in 1981.

In March 1982, ten months after the WHO Code was passed, Nestlé finally announced its intention to implement the Code. Nestlé say, for example, that they will re-write and re-design their product labels and educational materials to conform to Code principles,within the next 12 months. It’s a step in the right direction, if a decade late: ten years after the New Internationalist first disclosed the connection between baby-milk promotion and malnutrition. It must be asked why the company has been so slow to move and whether there will be as many violations as with the 1979 agreement.

Nestlé’s new guidelines for company personnel also include a requirement that a qualified medical professional must request those potentially dangerous free samples of infant formula for mothers. But company personnel making contact with medical staff will have conflicting interests: their commercial interest, to gain the maximum possible number of new customers, and their humanitarian interest, to gain the minimum. Who will ensure that the humanitarian interest will triumph?

The Nestlé guidelines also promise an ‘Infant Formula Marketing Ethics Audit Committee’ to review complaints against the company. But who will appoint the members of this committee — Nestlé? ‘By themselves the company guidelines are insufficient,’ says Dr McBeath of the American Public Health Association. The APHA’s Board of Directors, representing 50,000 health professionals, has just voted unanimously to join the international Nestlé Boycott committee.

According to the New York Times, Nestlé’s new response is apparently an attempt to end the five-year Boycott If this is so, then public pressure and vigilance has proved its efficacy. That degree of vigilance must be maintained, until we are sure that rhetoric becomes reality. If you would like to help, fill in the Code-watcher questionnaire in this magazine, and join the Nestlé Boycott now.

Homage to Catalonia

Of his boarding-school days Orwell wrote. The high-watermark of good favour was to be invited to serve at table on Sunday nights. One got a servile pleasure from standing behind the seated guests and darting deferentially forward when something was wanted... At the first smile one's hatred turned into a sort of cringing love.'

The oppressed schoolboy was soon to fill the role of oppressor and discover equally paradoxical emotions. As a young civil servant in Burma, he became suffocatingly aware of the mixture of hatred and submissiveness in the colonised. In Shooting an Elephant, a brief and poignant essay on how he sacrificed an elephant's life to save face and his pukka sahib image, he conveys more than his self-disgust the incident becomes a demonstration of the way power structures distort human values. In an unequal society, Orwell felt, self­preservation rules and no one can ultimately be trusted.

Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier record his most obvious attempts to divest himself of his privileged background - the 'land-less gentry'. Dressed in rags stiff with dirt, living among beggars, or working with the miners, he deliberately drank in poverty and the million subtle humiliations that accompany it.

But the watershed in Orwell's life, politically and personally, was the Spanish Civil War. 'Thereafter,' he said, 'I knew where I stood.' Homage to Catalonia is an account of his experiences during the early months of 1937 in the trenches at the Aragon front and in the Barcelona street-fighting. Written within months of the events, it has the immediacy of a fleshed-out diary.

But Orwell went further than the First World War writers who had already conveyed the miserable mixture of blood and boredom that characterise trench warfare. Wilfred Owen's young soldiers suffered and died while hardly knowing why. Orwell knew exactly why he was in Spain. In the tedious intervals that stretched between the dramatic episodes, Orwell tried to set the record straight about the international machinations behind the Spanish political scene. In his view, the anarchist group, the POUM, were the genuine revolutionaries fighting Franco's Fascists. Under Stalin's orders the Communists betrayed the POUM, accusing them of being Fascist agents while actually playing a right-wing, anti-revolutionary role themselves. Denounced as traitors by both Fascists and Communists, the POUM were cornered and suppressed. Orwell was full of bitterness towards the large powers, safely tucked away, that had used a small band of idealistic young men as cannon fodder, and was determined that the anarchists' version of 'the truth' should be publicised before it could be obliterated by the propaganda machines. The result is a stirring book that makes one care about a moment in history that took place more than 40 years ago as if it were happening now.

The problem of locating and preserving the truth was posed again in Orwell's last and best-known books, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. Although individual perceptions and memories can never be complete nor free from personal bias, they may be the only bulwark against the falsification of truth by authoritarian powers. Iliad the notice up in Animal Farm always read 'All animals are equal - but some are more equal than others'? Or was that last clause new?). Orwell, like Koestler in Darkness at Noon, comes down on the side of the individual conscience against the Party line that loops the loop and betrays the loyal revolutionary. Although Orwell's books are often used to support right-wing fears of Reds­under-the-bed, it was the distortion of Socialism by the Soviet totalitarian elite that Orwell found objectionable. Between egalitarian and healthy individual development he found no conflict.

That's why the Catalonian experience was crucial to Orwell. It was among the militiamen that he was happy, despite the physical conditions, because it was there that 'the word "comrade" stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality.'

Anuradha Vittachi

Homage to Catalonia
by George Orwell (1938) Penguin Books
UK: £1.25 Aus: $3.95 Can: $2.95

Only One Earth

Only One Earth : The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet
by Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos (1972)
Penguin (paperback)
UK: £1.50
Aus: $5.25

*ONLY One Earth* is for those who wonder if it is really worth worrying about the survival of the whale when millions of babies sleep hungry every night. Or whether society's growing car dependence really matters, beyond making grubby cities a little grubbier. However, 'it takes only the smallest movement at its fulcrum,' the authors point out, 'to swing a seesaw out of the horizontal'. So what appears to be a minor insult by man to one aspect of life may have undreamt of repercussions elsewhere. For example, just a 2°C rise in the earth's surface temperature would be enough to melt the polar ice caps, submerge some inhabited landmasses and scorch others. But how do humans contribute to warming up the surface? The authors explain: carbon dioxide in the atmosphere makes heat that would otherwise escape into space bounce back to earth. In 1972 alone, people burning fossil fuels increased the CO*2* content of the air by an alarming 0.2 per cent. At that rate of use, 'the earth's temperature would rise by 0.5° C by the year 2000'. But rates have risen sharply in the developed world since 1972, and estimatesof ThirdWorld power demands since then are even bigger. In addition, deforestation reduces the natural disposal of carbon dioxide through leaves. Together, burning fossil fuels and deforestation could bring about the longterm warming up of the planet. Barbara Ward, the celebrated economist and writer, whose death earlier this year will be a loss to all those who work in world development, collaborated with Dr Rene Dubos to write *Only One Earth*. To the authors' own encyclopaedic knowledge was added that of some 150 other experts from 58 countries participating in the UN Conference on the Human Environment at Stockholm in 1972. It lacks the sparkle of Barbara Ward's usual style, not surprisingly since it was at least partly written by committee. But the end product does demonstrate unequivocally, if stolidly, that to look at the world as a single, vulnerable life-support system for all mankind is not just an attractive moral stance. It is reaffirmed by each advance in scientific knowledge. Showing how 'there exists a single unified system from one end of the cosmos to the other', the authors guide us from the orderly macrocosm of the universe to the equally orderly microcosm of the atom and the gene, Rene Dubos and Barbara Ward are our guides through time as well as space. Whisking us through the aeons, they show us how the vast cosmic forces interacted to give birth to life. Disturbing the subtle balances of the biosphere, evolved over millennia, comes man with his 'technosphere', like a heedless and greedy infant. As a kind of pocket 'integrated studies' course, the book is a prodigious achievement. Volumes of information about physics, chemistry, metereology, biology, geography, astronomy and history seem to have been concentrated into a few literate chapters. The authors assume a good deal of intelligence and perseverence on the part of the reader but little knowledge. How an atom is structured, how the Green Revolution works, how nature's self-repairing cycles fail - all these mysteries are quickly explained. Most important of all, Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos point to solutions for the world's biggest problems: poverty, hunger, and the destruction of natural resources. They outline strategies for developing both rich and poor worlds that will make life more bearable for its inhabitants while restoring the earth to the 'health, beauty, and variety' that Dr Schumacher later called for in *Small is Beautiful* (see N.I. Jan '80). In the end, *Only One Earth* is an optimistic book. The authors feel that science could be used for its true purpose - to clarify reality, rather than to help people escape from it. If we were made to understand what grave danger threatened our planet, our shared home, our loyalty to her wellbeing might overcome our narrower loyalties to 'the idols of the market and the idols of the tribe', profitmaking and nationalism. The alternative, quoted by Barbara Ward in *The Home of Man*, was described 4,000 years ago at the fall of Ur, man's earliest city. Then, an ancient elegy lamented:

Verily all my birds and winged creatures have flown away
'Alas! for my city,' I will say.
'Alas! for my men,' I will say.
0 my city which exists no longer.

Food First

Food First: The Myth of Scarcity
by Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins (1977)
UK: Souvenir Press (hardback) £8.95 US: Ballantine Books (paperback) $2.75
* See N.l. No.55 - Special cartoon adaptation of the book.

Food First is the classic debunker of myths about world hunger. Men like Garrett Hardin had compared the earth to a lifeboat where there isn't enough food to go around. ‘What happens if you share space in a lifeboat?' asked Dr Hardin. ‘The boat is swamped, and everyone drowns. Complete justice, complete catastrophe.' Frances Moore LappE, author of the bestselling Diet For A Small Planet and Joseph Collins, who cooperated on Global Reach - The Power of the Multinational Corporation proved, point by point, that the ‘lifeboat ethic' was not just a moral obscenity but factually upside down. To begin with, there is no shortage of food. The most absurd tragedy in the world is that there should be so many malnourished when there is more than enough food for everyone. Europe's major food headaches relate to her well-known topographical features, the ‘butter mountains', ‘powdered milk mountains', ‘olive oil lakes' and ‘wine lakes'. At this Mad Hatter's tea party, legislation is passed to force farmers to feed back dried milk to their cows, and across the Atlantic President Carter pays Prairie farmers not to farm a fifth of their land, to keep up grain prices. The clue to this Alice in Wonderland world lies in that word: prices. Having enough air to breathe is a basic human right. Unfortunately, having enough food to eat is not. But both are essential life-supports. People's hunger is seen as a business opportunity - not an obligation to be met. For food, unlike air, is only available if you can buy it or grow it. It seems self-evident that hunger will not be cured until more people have more money or more land. But wealth and land distribution are anathema to the rich. They prefer to look for solutions through highyeilding ‘miracle seeds' or pesticides or mechanisation that doubles production. But the poorer farmers cannot afford the new technology. Only the richer farmers benefit - making the competition even tougher for those who are hungry. It's left to Lappe and Collins to point out the irrelevance of producing more food when it's the money to buy it with that's lacking. Perhaps it's land that is scarce? ‘In most countries where people are hungry,' say the authors, ‘large land holders own most of the land. A study of 83 countries showed that slightly more than 3 per cent of all landholders control a staggering 79 per cent of all land.'And landowners with 70 per cent of the land in Colombia farmed only 6 per cent of it: the rest was held for prestige or as an investment. The usual justification for large farms is that efficiency increases with size. Food First blows away this myth too. World Bank analyses show that small farms, acre for acre, are three to fourteen times more productive. So inequality, not ‘justice', invites ‘catastrophe'. The most pernicious myth of all is that land scarcity is caused by too many poor. LappE and Collins respond that France has as many people per cultivated acrea as India, and one doesn't associate France with a lack of food. Some family planners point to soil-erosion on marginal land farmed by the poor. But who farms vulnerable soil by choice? The poor were often forced onto hillsides not by their children, but by local elites or multinationals hogging the best land for luxury export crops - like cut flowers for the US. An increase in cotton production in the Sahel prompted a French nutritionalist to observe: ‘If people are starving it's not for want of cotton.' The lesson is clear: it's not bounty that the poor need from the rich, but a change in the balance of power so that they have a fighting chance to grow themselves enough to eat. Food First is probably the best starting point available for any newcomer to development issues. But it's more than a basic,text: as a cornucopia of facts, examples, anecdotes and ideas on how to help, it's invaluable for any activist. And - a rare virtue in this field - it's so well-written that you may not want to put it down, except to join in the campaign for justice.

The Aspiration Bomb

The Punch Line

A third of a million babies were born today. Ten out every eleven of those babies saw the light of their first day in a village or town in the poor world. Only the eleventh was born in an industrialised country.

Yet that eleventh baby will have a far greater impact on the earth’s finite resources and fragile ecosystems than all the other ten put together. For each person in the rich world will consume 20 to 40 times as much during his or her lifetime, as a person born in Africa, Asia or Latin America.

Commenting on these figures in his 1980 ‘State of World Population’ Report, Rafael Salas, Executive Director of the UN Fund for Population Activities, concludes that ‘while the so-called population bomb may have been defused, the aspiration bomb has not.’ ‘Every one of the 125 million babies born each year is a bundle of aspirations,’ says the Report, ‘and the desire to fulfill these aspirations will become the most dynamic and unpredictable force in world affairs in the year ahead’. It is a force which will take its toll not only on the environment but on the chances of improving the quality of life for the world’s poor majority.

Tomesh Thapar, India’s representative to the Club of Rome, has also warned against more and more consumption: ‘Rising expectations,’ he says, ‘should be interpreted in terms which raise the dignity of the world’s many millions who cannot possibly become the inheritors of even the minimum standards decreed by present day affluent societies.’

But back in the rich world, it seems that marketing men can take ‘wants’ above ,needs’ so much for granted that they have now moved on to the next state -- playing off one want against another. A recent advertisement, for example, shows a tanned thigh emerging from a black slit skirt, pinned by a cluster of South African diamonds. The caption reads: ‘Now doesn’t that look better than a new bedroom carpet?’

The complaint is not new. ‘Civilisation,’ mocked Mark Twain, ‘is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessaries.’ The United Kingdom alone spends a billion pounds a year on advertising to increase consumption. The United States spends ten times that figure. Without any increase, the rich world already consumes 70 per cent of the world’s food grains. And most of that grain is used to feed animals, not people. ‘Less than one tenth of the grains fed to Northern beef cattle,’ said the UN Development Programme in 1974, ‘equals this year’s food grain deficit in the Third World’.

The rich world also consumes 86 per cent of the world’s energy. It gets through nearly twice as much now as it did twenty years ago, although, as Aurelio Peccei, editor of ‘Beyond the Age of Waste’ points out: ‘Life in 1960 was not exactly unbearable.’ He adds that the US now consumes three times as much energy per head as does France, and concludes: ‘It is clear that a high quality of life does not depend on every increasing consumption.’

On the other hand, indigence and the perception of gross inequality do undermine the quality of life. And inequalities are worsening. In 1900 the average person in the rich world had four times as much as a person in the poor world. By 1970 the ratio was 40 to 1.

It is because the world is so obviously working on the principle ‘to him who hath shall be given’ that the developing nations are pressing their demands for a New Economic Order. The present order, they claim, is geared to meeting the wants of the few, not the needs of the many.

But what the Third World is asking for now is not so much a transfer of present wealth from rich to poor countries but a redistribution of opportunities for future economic progress. At present the average American can expect a pay rise next year which is greater than the average Indian can expect in the next hundred years.

So far, high unemployment and inflation rates have kept the Third World’s concerns very much on theperiphery. But there are whispers of change in the wind.

Potentially the most important of them is the debate which was heard in Sweden in the 1970s. Today it remains a whisper. But if it were to become a roar, then the direction of the industrialised world could be changed and the aspiration bomb defused.

The debate began when Swedish futurologists Goran Backstrand and Lars Ingelstam pointed out that by the end of the century Sweden would be producing and consuming three times as much paper, six times as many chemicals, twice as much food, and four times as many industrial products. Sweden’s population is not expected to increase, they argued, so what is all this production for?

For some time therehadbeen a growing recognition that greatly increased prosperity was no longer bringing about a commensurate increase in happiness. At the same time, there was also a growing awareness of the environmental consequences of accelerating production and consumption.

At this time, too, Third World voices were beginning to make themselves heard - and there was a new note of warning in the call forjustice. ‘It is no longer possible,’ wrote Romesh Thapar, ‘to talk patronisingly to undernourished peoples about minimum standards of living. It will not be tolerated. The new theme will have to be the maxima - a standard beyond which consumption is criminal waste.’

Backstrand and Ingelstam put these arguments together and suggested that Sweden should become the first rich country to cry ‘Enough is enough!’ and change direction - for the sake of the environment, for the sake of world peace, for the sake of the needs of the majority of mankind and for the sake of the quality of life in Sweden itself.

They translated rhetoric into precise examples of ways in which Sweden could cut down on wasteful consumption whilst maintaining a high standard of living. For example, they suggested realistic maximum consumption levels for meat, energy, living space and private transport.

Their Report ‘How Much is Enough?’ has so far generated more words than action. But it is perhaps the nearest that the rich world has yet come to taking seriously Mahatma Gandhi’s famous dictum: ‘The world has enough for every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.’

Altruism apart, there are other good reasons for moving away from consumption-craziness. Leading simpler lives - even to a small degree - saves the planet for the children and grandchildren of the rich as well as of the poor. And a pause in the rush to buy the Good Life may create the time and space needed to ask crucial questions about the quality rather than the standard of life.

Robert Heilbroner, American philosopher, put into words the alienation increasingly experienced among the affluent; ‘Observers have wondered why their contemporaries,who are three or five or ten times richer than their grandparents, did not seem to be three or five or ten times happier or more content or more richly developed as human beings.’

Perhaps the world can no longer afford to see economic realism and humanitarian philosophy as separate and opposing forces.

Where the third World is First

Does development and modernisation mean that this must be traded for anxiety which, in West Germany alone, now sees fourteen thousand attempted suicides every year by children under the age of fifteen and one child in five under professional psychiatric care?

Those children who are malnourished, who are not sheltered, who cannot read, they at least have that single positive element of being brought up in a society where human relationships are still viable, where human beings consider themselves as brothers and sisters, and where these ties still pull them together in times of need.

Photo: Lesley Adamson

When Mother Teresa last visited Britain, those who flocked to listen to the 'Saint of the Slums' were shocked to hear her say that the industrialised world has 'a different kind of poverty, a poverty of loneliness, of being unwanted, a poverty of spirit'.

At about the same time, five thousand miles away, Dr. Mostafa Kamal Tolba, Head of the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi, was making a statement about the International Year of the Child in which he said: 'Overdevelopment has led to a rupture of human relationships. The pressure on time caused by earning money to buy what are perceived as needs but which are really wants converted into needs by advertising, means that a man cannot spend half an hour to check up on a friend who is sick. Eventually he cannot even spend half a hour to check up on a father or a sister or a son who needs him. I consider this inhuman.'

'Fortunately these ties are still strong in the "under-developed" world' he continued. 'The children who are undernourished, who are not sheltered, who are not clothed, who cannot read, they at least have that single positive element of having been brought up in a society where human relationships are still, viable, where human-beings consider themselves as brothers and sisters, and where these ties still pull them together in times of need. My hope is that in the process of development, these values will not be lost as they have been almost lost in the industrialised nations today.'

Meanwhile, Rafael Salas, Head of the UN Fund for Population Activities, was speaking on the same topic in New York. 'The developed countries' he said 'have a lot to learn from the developing countries about values - especially values about children. There is less human feeling among and for the children of the developed countries than in the developing countries.'

Back in the United Kingdom, former Prime Minister James Callaghan recently made a speech in which he lamented the 'loss of fraternity' which seems to come with increasing prosperity.

The Good Life

The idea that something has been lost, as well as gained, by the process of development and modernisation should not be allowed to sentimentalise the grim statistics of poverty and deprivation. But statistics, like newspapers, find it difficult to record what is good.

The 'facts' about the positive aspects of life in the developing world are not to be found in government documents. But they can perhaps be glimpsed in the work of the Third World writers who have recalled their own experiences: in Camara Laye's 'The African Child'; in Sahle Selassie's 'The Afersata'; in Cheikh Hamidou Kane's 'Ambiguous Adventure'; in George Lamming's 'In the Castle of my Skin'; and in the work of Carlos . Fuentes and many other African, Asian and Latin American writers and autobiographers.

Perhaps the most obvious strand which runs through all these writings is the close and constant contact between children and their parents. The child in the rural areas is usually, surrounded and supported not only by mother and father but often by grandparents, aunts, uncles and neighbours.

By contrast, figures recently released in the United States show that there are now one million latch-key children who go home every day to an empty house, and that divorce rates have risen to a point where one child in every three born in the United States in the 1970s will spend at least some part of his or her childhood in a single-parent family.

It is not normal, for example, in most villages of the Third World for mother and father to go miles away each day to do incomprehensibly abstract work in offices, shuffling papers to make money mysteriously bloom in banks (telling the child that he or she will understand 'when you are older'). Instead, the child sees mother and father, relatives and neighbours, working nearby - and often shares in that work, growing into it as his or her strength grows. Camara Laye writes about his role in the rice harvest: 'My young uncle was wonderful at rice-cutting, the very best. I followed him proudly, step by step, he handing me the bundles of stalks as he cut them. I tore off the leaves, trimmed the stalks, and piled them. Since rice is always harvested when it is very ripe, and, if handled roughly the grains drop off, I had to be very careful. Tying the bundles into sheaves was man's work, but, when they had been tied, I was allowed to put them on the pile in the middle of the field.'

A child growing up in such an environment learns and defines his or her role through real participation in the community's work: helping to dig or build, plant or water, tend to animals or look after babies, rather than through playing with water and sand in kindergarten, collecting for nature trays, building with construction toys, keeping pets or playing with dolls.

No Wrist-watches

Another 'fact' which seeps through such writings is that children who live in the villages of the developing world often grow up with a less oppressive sense of space and time than their brothers and sisters in the industrialised world. Set days and times are few and self-explanatory, dicated most often by the rhythm of the seasons and the different jobs they bring. A child in the rich world, on the other hand, is presented with a wrist-watch as one of the earliest symbols of growing up, so that he or she can worry along with their parents about being late for school-times, meal-times, clinic-times, bath-times, bedtimes, the times of T.V. shows . . . A family from an 'under-developed' village wouldn't descend into angry confusion if the alarm didn't go off one morning. This lack of time-tabling means that children do have 'time to stop and stare'. When Camara Laye remembers walking to the next village with his uncle, he writes 'he would take me by the hand, and I would walk beside him. He, out of consideration for my extreme youth, would take much smaller steps, so that instead of taking two hours to reach Tindican it would often take at least four. But I scarcely used to notice how long we were on the road, for there were all kinds of wonderful things to entertain us on the way'.

Small children are not usually cooped up indoors, still less in high-rise apartments, and are not nagged about littering the 'non-child' areas of the house with toys. Instead of fenced-off play areas and dangerous roads and 'keep off the grass' signs and 'don't speak to stangers' there is often a sense of freedom to wander and play. Parents can see their children rather than observe them anxiously from twenty floors up. Other adults in the community can usually be counted on to be caring and helpful, rather than indifferent or threatening. Throughout George Lamming's book he expressed the sense of security he had as a child, from the awareness that the villagers treated each other with dignity. He contrasts his deeply ingrained certainty with new anxieties introduced into the village from the west. 'They live really splendid together. Everybody says there never know in all the village from top to bottom a set of people who live in love an' harmony like them. Then like a kind of nightmare, a white woman comes to live in the village. Some say she wus a German who wus comin' to take some notes 'bout people. Some kind of notes 'bout the way they live, but nobody believed that, 'cos nobody don't take notes about human beings. You may take notes 'bout pigeons and rabbits an' that kind of creature but we never hear in all we born days 'bout people comin' to take notes 'bout other people who was like themselves.'

Contact with the environment can also be more direct and exhilerating than that experienced by most children in the industrialised world. George Lamming and Sahle Selassie describe how they and the children of their villages roamed freely in fields and woods, swam in rivers and seas, 'slipping down wet muddy hillsides on bare buttocks' instead of down metal slides into concrete playgrounds and swimming in the glory of the Caribbean sea which no swimming pool can match.

Most elusive of all but crucial to the quality of life was an impression of a 'weightlessness' about childhood as decribed by these autobiographers. Despite major physical hardship or possibly because of them, they seemed less burdened by petty irritations and by oppressive dread that comes from half-knowing a great deal about a frightening world.

Does development and modernisation mean that this must be traded for anxiety which, in West Germany alone, now sees fourteen thousand attempted suicides every year by children under the age of fifteen and one child in five under professional psychiatric care?

The Palestinian Case

Palestinian women in a refugee camp in the Gaza strip.

A popular misconception in the West is that Arabs and Jews have been daggers drawn for centuries. The Palestinian problem is seen as only the latest manifestation of an age-old antipathy. But the Arabs have lived in peace with the Jews for generations, as Semitic peoples of the same 'father Abraham'. The persecution has come from Christian Europe.

As far back as the Crusades, the Abbe of Cluny observed: 'What is the good of going to the end of the world, at great loss in men and money, to fight the Saracens, when we tolerate among us other infidels a thousand times more guilty towards Christ than the Mohammedans?'The other infidels he meant were, of course, the Jews.

Noam Chomsky, himself a Jew, has written a stinging introduction to Rosemary Sayigh's book, saying: 'It is difficult not to be appalled when Western politicians and intellectuals explain their backing for Israel's policies in terms of 'moral obligation', as if the sins of the Nazis and their predecessors, or of the Americans who closed the doors to refugees from Hitler's horrors, require the sacrifice of the Palestinians ... Somehow the Palestinian peasants were never able to appreciate their moral responsibility to expiate the sins of the Christian Europe.'

What Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries does is to show how the Zionist movement succeeded in transferring Jewish statelessness onto the Arabs of Palestine without the absurdity of the situation outraging the world. It points out some of the semantic tricks by which politicians made the Palestinians mysteriously and conveniently 'disappear' - for example, Nordau's slogan, 'A land without a people, for a people without a land', or the British recognition of the indigenous Palestinians only as 'the non-Jewish communities'.

Rosemary Sayigh also recreates through detailed example and interview the complex community life of the peasants, rich in human contact although materially poor; for instance, through an ancient form of collective tenure land held by village families was reapportioned at regular intervals, so that all qualities of land were equally re-distributed. Rights to grazing, wood and water were also communally organised. So, though all were poor, no-one was destitute.

Sayigh argues that the self-sufficiency of each village, with its cluster of long-established families, meant that there was no habit of large-scale interdependent organisation, no political consciousness. They were easy targets for what she sees as the 'organised violence' of the Zionists, backed by Western military strength. Their rootedness in their land (they touch it, smell it, know it piece by piece, stone by stone) added to their incredulity at the idea that the Zionists intended not to share but to take over their land. Even when they fled in terror across the borders, it was never meant to be forever. 'We locked our door and kept the key, expecting to return.' It is this determination to regroup their dispersed families and return to their land that has kept them fuelled, 'a fire under ashes', all these years.

In contrast she presents the diary of Joseph Waits, an officer in charge of Zionist colonization: 'Between ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country ... There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here ... not one village, not one tribe, should be left.'

The new Zionists' own origins were Western; they were 'white settlers' forming an outpost of Western Civilisation among the 'backward' Arabs. Less and less were they Jews forming a religious state - their initial justification for claiming territory They were Israelis forming a nation state.

Sayigh does not conceal her anger at what she sees as imperialist arrogance. Nor does she apologise for the sympathy she feels for the Palestinian peasant, betrayed, she feels, by other Arab regimes and even by his own intelligentsia. Indeed, subjectivity is partly the point, for the book is directed at readers who know the Palestinian problem as an issue, but not as a concrete situation that three million people live daily. She assumes a knowledge of the political history of the period and liberally peppers her text with Arabic terminology. Looking up the copious notes and glossaries can be distracting and the general points she makes are sometimes blurred by detail.

But it is intended to be a people's history and it does give a taste of what it must be like to flee across the desert land in high summer, to be despised camp refugees, to become politicised the hard way, eventually seeing armed struggle as the only way left to regain self-respect and hope of return. One brief, chilling quotation is all there is space for: 'About 14,000 destitutes are ranged on terrace upon terrace under the olive trees - a tree to a family - and are forced to consume the bark and bum the living wood that has meant a livelihood for generations.'

*Anuradha Vittachi.*

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