Job lots and jungles
TROPICAL rainforests touch everyone’s lives. Every high street sells products originating in the rainforest. Coffee, bananas and rubber are everyday items which connect those in the rich world with these irreplaceable jungles thousands of miles away. Now Friends of the Earth (FOE) have launched a major international campaign to save the world’s forests.
Despite 1985 being designated International Forestation Year by the UN, rainforests are currently being destroyed at a rate of over 200,000 sq. km a year according to the US National Academy of Sciences. This is an area larger than England, Scotland and Wales.
Tropical forests are the richest expression of life on earth. They contain up to half of all living creatures: perhaps five million species. Yet they are disappearing so fast that, according to established scientific authorities, at least one species a day becomes extinct. By 1990 it is estimated that this will rise to one species every hour; and by the turn of the century at least one quarter of all animals, birds and plants will have become extinct at present felling rates.
As rainforests are felled, severe flooding, droughts and soil erosion occurs. The rain-forests are critical for environmental and climatic stability. The food and water supplies for over one billion people in developing countries depend on soil systems directly affected by tropical forest watersheds.
Extraction techniques are so damaging that up to 55 per cent of the trees left behind are irreparably lost, according to the US Inter-Agency Task Force on Tropical Forests. The recent disaster in Bangladesh was made much worse by the felling in recent years of the country’s mangrove rainforests, which naturally act as a buffer against the destructive effects of tidal waves.
So far, less than one per cent of tropical forest species have been examined for their value to humans. Yet it is known that the plant and animal species contained within rainforests are an irreplaceable genetic resource, already supplying invaluable contributions in medicine, agriculture and industry. Over 1,400 plants from tropical rainforests across the world have potential as cures for cancer. One in four pharmaceuticals in Western drug stores owes its origin to plants or animals found in tropical rainforests; and this industry alone is worth $18 billion annually. The extinction of rainforests would mean the loss of the genetic basis on which further medical research could be undertaken.
FOE want Western Governments to act now to help protect the rainforests. They are lobbying for the setting up of aid programmes that will encourage renewable tropical forestry management; the introduction of trade incentives to favour sustainably-based tropical wood imports and prohibition of imports from clear-felling operations.
A NEW fad is gripping a section of teenagers in three of Nepal’s main towns. Just as they were inundated in the 1960s and 1970s by the drug culture and fashions of Western hippies, today Kathmandu, Pokhara and Dharan are going punk.
Although called by the same name, Nepalese punks are a different breed from their counterparts in the West. Their clothes may be startling and their hairstyles outlandish by local standards, but their gaudier, more aggressive Western cousins would consider them tame.
Nonetheless they have succeeded in offending the finer sensibilities of their more traditional elders. Having abandoned the traditional pressed-palm greeting - Namaste - in favour of a snatch of breakdancing, and preferring tinned and fast-food to the local fare, they are seen as symbols of social problems that go beyond simple fashion.
In a country where 84 per cent of people live in poverty, the punks come mainly from the upper class. Many are students. The landlocked kingdom faces severe economic, political and ecological problems and students have been particularly vocal in their criticisms of restrictions on free speech and political activity. Sociologists say punks are expressing political discontent.
Punk culture came to Nepal by way of Bangkok. The lifestyle, hairstyle, clothes and dance the punks copy were first seen on the streets of Bangkok.
Y. Ghimire, who has studied the fashion says ‘The movement is doubly displaced, as Thai youth had originally learned these conceptions from the West’. Punk rock is popular, as are Michael Jackson and the Beatles.
The earrings, bright clothing, violent music and disregard for custom have older Nepalese worried. Along with the style, many punks have ceased to have hope in the future. Referring to a round object dangling from his hair, one punk explained:
‘This is an indicator that the world is atop a live volcano because of the nuclear arms race. We are prepared to fritter away our lives to save ourselves from the nuclear menace’.
A J Singh, Gemini
The etiquette of extortion
The New Peoples Army (NPA), the guerilla wing of the banned Communist party of the Philippines, writes the politest of extortion letters. One to a mining company began; ‘Dear friends, revolutionary greetings to all concerned…’ The NPA then blew up eight logging engines and two generators when there was no response to its request for ‘taxation’
The NPA has now written to the Australian Government in similarly polite terms about an $A 59 million aid project in Catarman on Samar Island. Australia’s biggest single overseas aid effort, the project includes those the construction of roads and ridges, agricultural development and public health and community assistance.
While formally warning the Government of its opposition to the project, the NPA says: ‘We extend our open heart to those well-informed Australians in it and to the Australian peoples. In proof, we would like to let them know that we are open to dialogue in order to achieve a better understanding on this matter, because we know that the Filipino people’s aspirations are shared by many round the world’.
The Samar project has had its critics within Australia on the grounds that it is of little benefit to the poor of the area, merely bolstering a corrupt infrastructure and making it physically easier for the troops of President Marcos to exert control.
These are exactly the points the NPA made in its letter, saying: ‘unfortunately at this juncture of our country s history. this project is not for the benefit of the mass of the people. Rather it is one of the so-called development projects concocted to create a facade of "progress" behind a decaying economic system. Further, in a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country like ours, only the foreign capitalists and a handful of the elite who compose the local ruling class will become the main beneficiaries of the project, and with Australian Government assistance at that.’
The NPA’s letter did not spell out what action would be taken if the Australian Government did not withdraw from the project. But it will clearly have caused great concern in Canberra, particularly as it follows an incident last April when three Australian aid workers and 13 Filipino assistants were detained and, according to the Australian Foreign Minister, Mr Hayden. harangued and castigated.
The project is now under official review and the uproar over Samar will certainly increase pressure on the Labor Government to examine carefully the human rights implications of all Australian aid programs.
FIRST world women are not alone in attempts to challenge media sexism. Third World women are also fighting it, as shown by the appearance of the book Women in the media edited by Kenyans Isobel Mbugwa and Andrea Tapper.
‘A lot of women still do not understand the power of the media’, says Isobel Mbugwa, co-editor of the new book. ‘We are not born with ready-made ideas; we learn them, develop them, adapt them. But some ideas are around a lot more than others; we hear them frequently - we look at images of them more often - and ideas are catching.’
Letters pages and journals are often openly sexist. One letter titled ‘Of Business Women’ printed in the Daily Standard accused women of draining men’s money before leaving them ‘just as a tick leaves a dead cow to stick on a living one’. Another letter on rape in Men Only was entitled ‘Blame women’ and stated that whilst rape ‘might be blamed on sick men, women are also contributing generously. And how generous they are’.
Men Only is a magazine that causes particular concern. Questioning women’s claim to be equal to men, one of its promotional advertisements listed male achievements to evidence female inferiority. Speaking in defence of Men Only, Editor-in-Chief Rashid Maghal says ‘All around men want to dominate women. In most cases women are on the receiving end. In our opinion there are certain factors that made women submissive in the first place. Men cannot escape their genetic programming to not accept women as equals.’
Mughal says of Viva, a leading Kenyan women’s magazine that he has edited for the past three years, ‘It was the voice of whining women. I introduced a positive brand of journalism ... The first thing I chucked out of Viva was the politics’.
The launching of this book - although not likely to make any impression on a man like Mughal - will make an important contribution to the work of the Kenyan Media Association, to which both Mbugwa and Tapper belong. It will assist the Association’s struggle to develop the awareness of negative images of women in the media, and to help to change these.
POLICYMAKERS in Washington must spend sleepless nights at the thought of Fidel Castro leading a revolt of Latin America’s debt-ridden countries. The Cuban Head of State has made the $360m owed to Western banks by Latin America a hot issue recently, and in doing so he has struck a welcome chord in capitals across the continent.
It is no accident that people are looking outside the existing framework for answers. No less a body than the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean said in a recent report:
‘Since the system of international economic relations operates on the basis of power, it was felt that it would be necessary for the region to take essential steps to organise and jointly exert its bargaining power at the international level with a view to defending its sovereignty and interests more effectively’.
Looking at the statistics one can see why any grouping of debtor nations would be dominated by Latin Americans, even if it was drawn from the whole globe. In 1984’s year-end figures, the league table for amounts owed to banks in billions is: Brazil $104.41, Mexico $96.3, Argentina $48.6 South Korea $43.1, Venezuela $34.9, Indonesia $32.5, Philippines $25.5, Chile $19.9 and Peru $13.4.
What sort of demands could the group make of the international financial community? The World Development Report proposes: increased lending from the World Bank and its affiliates, more aid and higher private sector investment, also more sophisticated use of the latest financial techniques to hedge against fluctuations in interest rates and prices. It is possible that this could make life easier in the future.
The developing countries themselves need to take the initiative in making a deal with the banks. Their power lies in the threat to default on their debt repayments, while their Achilles heel - not to forgotten - is the need for continued trade links with the North, which may involve substantial bank credits. The formation of the debtors’ cartel would probably be greeted with the same hostility as was OPEC when it began being effective, but without such a group it is hard to see how the balance can be redressed.
THERE are few non-acute physical conditions that cause as much emotional distress as infertility. As many as one couple in ten in the United States and Britain may experience difficulties in becoming parents. And in the developing countries the figures are probably much higher. According to the World Health Organization up to 40 per cent of couples in some African countries may be infertile. The full extent of the problem is, however, difficult to estimate. There is something of a social stigma attached to infertility and the couple are less likely to admit to this than to other medical conditions.
The causes of infertility often differ in rich and poor countries. A large proportion of infertility in the West is caused by hormonal disorders or by the misplaced growth of womb tissue on vital reproductive organs. Both of these are relatively easy to treat with the use of drugs.
Far more common in developing countries, and far more difficult to treat, is infertility as the aftermath of infections. including those which are sexually transmitted. Infections can lead to tubal blockage and inflammation. These disrupt the transport of both sperm and eggs, making fertilization impossible.
Prevention of infertility is likely to be more effective than cure. Some forms cannot be prevented but public health programmes can do much to eradicate sexually-transmitted diseases. And improving obstetric care and stamping out illegal and aseptic abortion would help prevent some of the problems which occur in childbirth.
They might not have such a glamorous appeal, nor be as politically popular. But in the long run they would bring benefits to the whole community as well as help to reduce individual suffering.
Kai’ Wellings, UNFPA