issue 140 October 1984
New information on subjects covered in previous issues of the New Internationalist
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Tubewells and handpumps are useless without education
DEVELOPMENT initiatives still rely all too often on expensive technology as the answer to problems and take too little account of local conditions.
A case in point is the UN World Water Decade, which spans 1981- 90. Millions of dollars have been spent providing villages with pumps, pipes and latrines, but little effort has been put into the health education which would help people use them.
In the small fishing village of Jalliapara, in Bangladesh, for instance, villagers have been supplied with new wells and latrines. They are flattered by the attention but don’t really see the point of the new technology. They point out that the money used could have bought them four fishing boats and nets, which could support 40 households. They also wonder how they will maintain the new pumps once the project stops - where will they get spare parts?
At the moment improved water and sanitation is not a priority for villagers - even now that most houses have latrines, many still prefer to use the river bank. The simple practice of washing hands would prevent disease-carrying germs from passing from faeces to food to mouth. Yet no one knows how best to teach people these basic techniques.
The myth is still that technology will produce results, but field research in the remote Teknaf area of Bangladesh indicates that the reverse is true: that Water Decade ‘software’ can be even more important than the ‘hardware'.
The International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research monitored two village clusters in Bangladesh over four years. One was given handpumps, pour-flush latrines and hygiene education while the other was given none of these. The first cluster showed no significant health improvements over the other group and, despite some education, behaviour was slow to change.
Project workers believe that changes in behaviour take time, and that when they do occur health will improve dramatically. What is clear is that technology alone is not enough.
Sumi Krishna Chauhan, Earthscan
Where water is most unsafe
Fact: 3 out of 5 people in developing countries have no easy access to safe drinking water.
Fact: 3 out of 4 have no sanitary facility.
Fact: In towns 75% have some safe drinking water. In the country the figure is 29%.
Fact: In towns 53% have sanitation. In the country only 13% are served.
Zambian President concerned about the environment
DEVELOPMENT and environment are two sides of the same coin. We in Africa must conserve our natural resource base. Africa’s fundamental environmental problems stem from poverty and its offshoots: hunger, ignorance, disease, crime, corruption and, above all, exploitation of Man by Man.
Among our most serious environmental problems are the lack of adequate sanitation and water supply, and desertification. Africa has had to exist with the Sahara in the north and the Kalahari in the South, but it cannot continue to coexist with an advancing Sahara and a spreading Kalahari.
For us in Africa, concern for the environment has two basic objectives. Firstly, we should recognise the need for promoting development in order to eliminate poverty. Our development activities must meet basic human needs.
Secondly, we should recognise the need for good management and rational use of our human and natural resources to ensure sustainable development. If unsound development is a major cause of environmental problems, it follows that development itself must be analysed in order to prevent any negative ‘side-effects’.
Policy makers and planners must adopt sounder methods in order not to over-exploit, misuse or abuse the natural resource base. The future of Africa and its peoples depends on it
Kenneth Kaunda, Earthscan
Ashok Mitra’s monthly column describes the controversy behind a recent flood tragedy.
A fierce controversy is raging in Calcutta. Nature is bountiful; it is however bountiful in random fashion. For the last couple of years, there was a severe drought. This year, in a bare 72 hours in June, the total rainfall exceeded the annual average. The city's facilities were built some seventy years ago; little replacement or ‘expansion has taken place since. If the years total quota of rain falls within a bare space of 72 hours, the inevitable happens. The city’s storm-water pipes and drains cannot cope. After the first couple of hours, water starts inching upwards. After the first six hours, the roads and lanes are under three feet of water. After the next 1 2 hours, the majority of the city’s arteries are choked: you have your choice of a regatta session or some freestyle swimming in the flooded thoroughfares. Roughly one hundred and fifty power-driven pumps are set to work round-the-clock, but you discover to your horror at the end of the first 24 hours that the water pumped out has started to flow back into the city.
In the process, a fierce controversy has begun. Following the early warning signals, the municipal authorities ask their men to scurry about and open the manhole covers in the streets so the water can find its way into the underground storm-water exit pipes. Since a deluge is on, the municipal workers are able to reach some manhole covers earlier than others. Where they are late, the water is so high that they have difficulty in locating the manhole covers; some of the manholes are left closed.
Thereby a controversy ensues. In those neighbourhoods where the manholes could not be opened or could be opened only with a time-lag of, say, a couple of hours the flash floods drown shops and houses. Thousands are marooned and have to be rescued; one or two ramshackle slums collapse; an old woman is washed away. The justified anger of the citizens knows no bounds.
The controversy rages elsewhere too. In another neighbourhood five kilometres away, Mani Muhuri is missing. Mani Muhuri is one of the more than four hundred thousand people of the city who are without shelter; they live under the open sky because they cannot afford any rent. By profession Mani Muhuri is a scrounger. He lives by his wits, occasionally begs, occasionally borrows, just stops short of stealing.
But since the floods, Mani Muhuri is missing. He was wont to sleep on the pavement abutting the local park. Some neighbours report that they saw Mani, perched on the top on the iron rails which guard the park, at eleven at night when the rains came. They watched him from a distance; they tried to shout warning him to wade to safety. Soon they lost sight of him. A couple of hours later another neighbour saw a body floating downstream along the road. It could have been Mani, perhaps already dead, perhaps still alive. Since then however nobody has seen Mani, dead or alive. And the neighbours have reached their own conclusion. Mani’s body must have got stuck inside the storm water drain.
The neighbourhood is full of remorse; the neighbourhood is scandalised. If only the manholes were not so cynically kept open, Mani could have been saved.
The controversy keeps raging. Everyone is agreed that the municipal workers are a lazy, wretched, uncivic lot. Fie upon the municipal workers, fie upon the municipality, fie upon the government which tolerates the existence of such a nincompoop municipality. The controversy however rages over a specific issue. Of course the municipal workers and the municipality and the government have to be condemned: but must they be condemned because the manholes were opened, or should they be condemned because some manholes were either not opened or not opened on time, or because they did not care to fix warning lights to the open manholes?
It is in such dialectics that poor people in poor lands find their means for survival.
Ashok Mitra is Finance Minister in the State government of West Bengal, India.
Tapioca for pigs
Cassava pests blight Africa
IMPORTS of cassava into Europe have increased dramatically over the last decade and the trend is likely to continue. Lovers of tapioca pudding will be saddened to learn that most of this cassava, from which tapioca originates, is destined more for the pig trough than the pudding plate.
Cassava (also known as manioc) was first discovered and cultivated by settlers when they landed in the Americas. Today it is found throughout the tropics and has become the seventh most cultivated crop in the world with 1983 production exceeding 120 million tons.
In the past, human consumption has accounted for 90 per cent of world production and over 600 million people have become dependent on it as their main source of food. It is only recently that cassava has shot to prominence as a commodity crop, imported by the EEC as animal feed.
Little more than ten years ago two South American insects were inadvertently introduced into Zaire and Uganda. The two species in question, the cassava mealybug and the green spider mite, were able to expand unchecked across the countryside and as there was a complete lack of natural predators their numbers increased swiftly. By 1983, 14 countries had been infested with another 17 likely to be invaded.
The decimation caused by this combination of pests has not only ruled out the possibility of export earnings; it has also brought about the more critical threat of starvation for many of the 200 million Africans who depend on cassava as their main food source. The area devastated by these pests is now in excess of the size of the United States, and the enormity of the problem has precluded any easy method of chemical control.
After a lengthy search in the normal tropical South American habitat of the pests, natural predators of both species have now been located, A wasp from Paraguay and a mite from Colombia are now being mass-reared in a fully automated plant in Nigeria. The rearing process is producing 12 million insects per day for release over the crisis areas.
The effects of this loss of cassava on countries like Nigeria has been enormous. The marked reduction in crop yields caused by the pests has already resulted in a dietary change amongst the local population. People who previously ate cassava products now consume increasing amounts of bread. The bread has to be produced from imported grains which, thanks partly to EEC policies, have increased in price. The final outcome of all this is a slow but steady drain on foreign exchange reserves.
Premature babies saved
UNDERWEIGHT babies who die in developing countries for want of expensive incubators could be saved if the ‘kangaroo’ technique pioneered in Colombia were adopted.
For years half of the babies born weighing between 500 and 2000 grammes at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Bogota, Colombia, died. Today almost 95 per cent of them survive. Not a single baby of under 1000 grammes used to survive, but three out of four of these now live.
Normally underweight premature babies are placed in costly incubators for warmth and fed through gastric tubes. But the Colombian doctors pack the baby close to its mother’s breast under her blouse or sweater. There the baby finds the warmth and natural food it needs. They stay packed together 24 hours a day.
When the baby is breast-fed, it has the immunological protection of the mother through her milk. This also eliminates the infection dangers a baby is exposed to when it is suddenly taken out of the incubator’s ‘protective’ environment and placed in the generally unhygienic surroundings of a poor home.
One major weakness of premature infants is their inability to maintain a constant body temperature. The Colombians overcome this by looking upon the mother as the best incubator. They advise the mother to place her child directly on her breast so as to warm the infant — like a baby kangaroo dependent on its mother’s pouch. They also encourage free feeding, appropriate affection and stimulation through the mother’s singing, talking, her very heartbeat.
Another result of the programme has been a sharp drop in the number of babies abandoned at the hospital. Before the ‘kangaroo’ system was developed, as many as 34 underweight babies were abandoned by their mothers each year — mothers who had been separated too long from their incubator babies to form any emotional attachment. Today only ten children a year are left behind.
The approach has meant a substantial economy in bottled milk consumption (down from 300 jars to 30 a month), in the use of antibiotics, in fewer transfusions and tests. Even more importantly, it has reduced the need for incubators, which can cost as much as 12,000 dollars.
Dr Karin Edstrom, a Swedish obstetrician with the World Health Organization, remarks that ‘the Bogota experience is clearly relevant to the developing world, since it points the way to improving the care of their premature babies without the need to invest in expensive equipment.
‘But the approach is also meaningful for the industrial world, where the care of premature babies is becoming dehumanized and overly technocratic at the expense of a healthy mother-child relationship.’ The cost of saving a low birth-weight baby by ‘high tech’ in a developed country can be as high as 100,000 dollars.
Paul Evan Ress, UNICEF
Tea bags profit
Asian tea pickers lose out
PROFITS made by multinational companies are all too rarely passed on to their Third World employees. International tea companies have brewed up huge profits from the recent rise in tea prices. In the supermarket a packet of tea now costs about half as much again as it did in 1983. Yet tea-pickers on the plantations are still paid poverty wages.
Brooke Bond are expected to announce substantial profits this year; even higher than their 37 per cent rise in 1983. Liptons, the Unilever subsidiary, are anticipating a major profits boost and James Finlay, who grow tea in Kenya and Bangladesh, have trebled their estate profits.
Overall the company’s profits went up by no less than 79 per cent. ‘The prime reason for this good result has been the dramatic improvement in tea prices,’ explained Finlay's chairman, Sir Colin Campbell. He told shareholders that charges by a British television programme of poor conditions on the firm’s Bangladesh estates were unfounded.
‘We were unable positively to establish that the heart-rending scenes included in that film were actually photographed on our estates, apart from the pictures of the estate signposts,’ Sir Colin said. The T.V. programme accused Finlays of paying poverty wages and reported higher levels of malnutrition and leprosy than in surrounding villages.
This year the tea pickers union in Bangladesh has negotiated a significant rise in the basic daily wage from 36 cents to 50 cents. Although this increase is welcome, the current rates are still way below wages paid to tea pickers in other parts of the world.
The spectacular winners, however, have been the companies who grow, trade and market tea around the globe. Higher auction prices have simply been passed on to the customer. Finlays made over 1.3 million dollars on trading in tea last year. Brooke Bond and Unilever did even better.
Eating the world
Recession caused by depletion of natural resources
THE world is living beyond its means. Unlike the Great Depression of the Thirties, which stemmed from a boom which went out of control, today’s recession is caused by the depletion of natural resources, according to a new report ‘State of the World 1984’ produced by the Worldwatch Institute in the US.
Oil prices rose partly due to overuse of dwindling reserves. The rise has slowed growth in grain production, weakened the car industry and depressed the demand for steel, rubber and glass. Many countries have not yet managed to reduce their oil consumption.
Intensified farming has doubled world food supplies over the past 20 years, but this has produced soil erosion ‘of epidemic proportions’. Semi-arid northern China is losing so much soil that scientists in a Hawaii observatory can tell when spring ploughing starts by measuring the dust in the atmosphere.
Renewable resource bases, such as forests and fisheries, are being whittled away. Worldwatch warns that ‘in economic terms, the world is beginning to consume its capital along with the interest’.
John McCormick, Earthscan
Most Asian countries now enjoy substantially longer life expectancy than they did 30 years ago, said Dr Harol Hansluwka, chief WHO statistician, at a population symposium. Babies born in Japan, Singapore. Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and China can now expect to live past 65. Countries that have done less well include Burma, Indochina, Indonesia and most of the Indian subcontinent, where male life expectancy is below 55 years.
From Impact, 19/4.
As late as the 1960s, the control of smallpox was viewed within an adversarial context between nations, says Dr Peter Bourne, in his review of Princes and Peasants, Donald Hopkins’ history of smallpox. Privileged nations kept smallpox at bay by confining it within the boundaries of the poorer countries.
The inadequacy of this strategy, he claims, is the main reason why smallpox took so long to conquer— ‘for the disease treated humanity with total equality, respecting no national boundary, ethnic origin, sex, age, or socioeconomic level. Eradication came only when we took the conceptual leap to fight the disease on its own terms; not within a framework of national interest but on a global basis: by putting the interest of humanity as a whole above all others'.
Better with Coke
Coca Cola workers in Guatemala City have become folk heroes for the 14-week occupation of their bottling plant. The occupation ended in June with a climbdown by the company, the re-opening of the factory and the re-employment of the 400 workers.
The occupation was a success not only for the local trade union but also for the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) and international trade unionism. Coca Cola agreed to reopen the factory after two days of negotiations with the IUF in Costa Rica, 500 miles to the south.
There were about 200 workers inside the plant at any one time during the strike, including the leaders who stayed there permanently for fear of being assassinated as their predecessors had been.
From Spur, July/August ‘84
Did you know. . .
- Between 1960 and 1970, three-quarters of the money invested in Latin America by US companies came from the ‘receiving’ country. Yet over three-quarters of the profits were sent ‘back’ to the US. So more money flowed from Latin America to the US than did the reverse trip.
- In order to increase profits worldwide, big companies often fix artificial prices to their subsidiaries. Valium supplied to Colombia, for instance, was found to be overpriced by 82 per cent. But the Colombian subsidiary appears to make little profit, because the additional profit is declared in a country with lower taxes.
- If you rank countries and commercial companies in order of their economic power, most of the top 100 turn out to be companies.
From Traid-In Extra, No. 49.
All right, so ‘Third World’ is a dodgy term. It gives rise to a number of misconceptions - like the idea that the ‘Third World’ is approximately one-third of the world; that it is ‘third class’, somehow subservient to the first and second worlds.
Some leaders from the Third ... er, the underdeveloped ... sorry, the less developed ... the developing nations, therefore, have advocated the use of a new term: the ‘Two-Thirds World’, in order to identify the overwhelmingly larger portion of the globe that is fixed in economic dependency upon the industrialised powers of the North. Together, World Vision International’s newsletter, opts for this term, even though it admits it could be considered mere gimmickry - and may grow out of date as the Two-Thirds World grows into the Three-Fourths World.
Can’t see it catching on. What do NI readers think?
DDT official ban
UK’s Ministry of Agriculture is to ban the sale and use of DDT from October 1 1984, following the discovery of significant levels of the pesticide in samples of apples, mushrooms, lettuce, cabbage and Brussels sprouts surveyed last year. The survey, carried out by the Association of Public Analysts, proved that the voluntary restrictions on the use of DDT had not been effective.
From Daily Consumer News, 17.4.84.
First babyfoods - now drugs. Delegates to the 37th World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva in May voted 100:1 in favour of a resolution to convene a WHO meeting on drug marketing and information in 1985.
This meeting will directly parallel the 1979 WHO-UNICEF meeting on infant feeding - the seed-bed from which grew the now-famous babyfoods Code (the International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes) adopted in 1981 by the WHA. The resolution to convene a similar meeting on the drug marketing issue was spearheaded by the Nordic bloc. Sponsors from the developing world included Algeria, Botswana, Ghana, Kuwait, Mexico, Nigeria and Panama and the developed world, Australia. New Zealand and Belgium. In a surprise move towards the end of the drugs debate, Switzerland - one of the world’s top three pharmaceuticals exporters - added itself to the list of co-sponsors. This further isolated the US, who now alone opposed the resolution. Japan and West Germany abstained.
From IOCU Newsletter No. 134
'Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.’
John Maynard Keynes