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Bhutan kicks goals for well-being

When the world’s worst two soccer teams played off in the 2002 World Cup in ‘the other final’, Bhutan – ranked 202 – was there, with its Foreign Minister telling film-makers that Gross National Happiness, not winning finals, was his country’s main game. Despite globalization, development in Bhutan – Land of the Thunder Dragon – remains proudly and distinctively Bhutanese. As well as economic indicators, Bhutan uses non-quantifiable goals such as spiritual well-being and Gross National Happiness (assessed through economic self-reliance, environmental preservation, cultural promotion and good governance) to plan and execute development. The King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, has made these priorities clear: ‘Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product’. This is translating into laws such as the Forest Act whereby all trees – even those on private land – are owned and protected by the Government, as well as tourism restrictions: only 5,594 tourist visas were issued in 2002. The concept was introduced by the King in the late 1980s, but has evolved from a society that maintains the values of the world’s last Mahayana Buddhist kingdom.

Electromagnetic exposure: real risks or paranoia?

More and more studies are showing serious adverse health effects caused by electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Completed research now includes multiple studies that have linked power lines with childhood cancers; computer exposure with miscarriages; and EMF exposure of workers in high-exposure occupations (such as electrical workers) with cancer and congenital problems in their children. Over 90 studies have also concluded that mobile phones cause cancers and have cardiac, reproductive and neurological effects. Despite these findings, many insiders maintain the jury is still out. Failure to acknowledge a possible problem means that ways to prevent adverse health effects from EMF exposure are presently being ignored. According to Dr Neil Cherry, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Health at Lincoln University in Aotearoa/New Zealand: ‘Technology exists to make mobile and cordless phones 20 times safer, and patents have been taken out on this technology. But companies won’t change as that would mean admitting that mobiles are currently dangerous.’ Industry influence could also be having an impact. Cherry says that ‘80 per cent of research is financed by industry’ and that ‘certain independent advisers on committees have industry links’. This could explain recent changes to Italian legislation. The current Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, owns three TV stations. Since his election, the acceptable limit for EMF exposure in Italy has been raised.

Aid to the rich

Worth $3.3 billion, Australia’s richest man, Kerry Packer does not fit the picture of a person in need of aid. But while the public’s attention is on the high-profile media group Publishing & Broadcasting Limited, controlled by the Packers, another of their companies – GRM International – manages aid projects funded by the Australian Government and the Asian Development Bank. Like most companies delivering aid, GRM’s main expertise is management. Such companies have only minimal expertise in the services they are contracted to deliver: in GRM’s case this includes education, health and public-sector reform. An example is a $16-million Australian-funded project to improve English, science and maths teaching in the Philippines. Not only does GRM manage these projects but, like all private companies in the aid sector, it also profits from them. According to Aidwatch, a non-profit organization monitoring aid, almost all Australian aid is administered in this way, with only five per cent handled by Australian NGOs. As Australian aid is tied (donated on the condition that goods and services come from the donor country), 80 per cent of official aid is spent on Australian goods and services. This assists companies such as Packer’s, as well as those working on the projects – consultants routinely command tax-free salaries over $55,000, with short-termers receiving up to $810 per day. This policy is mirrored by other donors such as Canada and the US, despite the concern that it increases procurement costs to the South by between 15 and 30 per cent. Eyes are now turned to Britain, which untied its own aid in April 2001.

*Clare Doube* *More information*: Aidwatch: GRM International: