issue 155 | January 1986
ONE of the most depressing chapters in history was provided by colonising Europeans who used superior technology to massacre native peoples 'from the Americas to the Pacific. But the chapter is by no means closed. Nowadays the treatment of what remains of indigenous peoples and their cultures usually stops short of murder, but it is still brutal.
One of the prime areas for confrontation is Latin America, where Indian interests are threatened throughout the continent, and where there are tribes in the Amazonian rain forests still unaware of modern civilisation.
This map was produced by Survival International, which was originally set up to defend the Amazon Indians of Brazil, but which now campaigns on behalf of threatened native people all over the world. It shows some of the key areas of conflict in South America to which it has drawn attention in recent years. Survival International can be reached at 29 Craven Street, London WC2N 5NT, UK.
NOW that the UN has passed its 40th birthday, the US is continuing to serve notice to the world body that it had better shape up or suffer the consequences. Washington is threatening to reduce or cut off its financial support.
Yet at the same time, President Reagan is using the UN for his own domestic and international political gain. Bashing the UN appeals to the American political Right. The Reverend Robert F Drinan, a former member of Congress and now professor of international law at Georgetown University, said recently: 'This Administration uses the UN strictly for propaganda, and in 40 years I've never seen more neglect of the UN's principles than these people show.'
In late September, the US redirected $10 million in funds originally allocated for the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) on the grounds that one of its programmes in China allegedly supported coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation. The funds will now be given to other population programmes and to American organisations that provide family planning services.
Gone are the days of US dominance when it enjoyed comfortable majorities in the General Assembly. Today it finds itself increasingly isolated at the world body, and sometimes the specific target of criticism in UN resolutions.
Third World support for the US dropped substantially in 1984. In 1983, African votes coincided with the US 18.6 per cent of the time; in 1984 the figure fell to 12.8 per cent. The same fall in support was repeated with the Arabs (from 17.5 per cent in 1983 to 10 per cent in 1984).
As a result the US now asks 'why should we give our money to countries and institutions that don't support our interests or, worse yet, turn around and criticise us?' It has established a system by which UN members' votes in the General Assembly and the Security Council are rated according to how often they coincide with US votes on the ten specific issues considered most important.
The scores then become a factor used by Congress to determine the level of US aid to particular countries.
Monique Rubens, Gemini
WHEN the Europe an Community recently faced the possibility of receiving hazardous products that had been banned in the US, it was angry. It said firmly that 'any country participating in international trade shall ensure that products which may cause an immediate hazard to users or consumers are not allowed to be exported'. Yet European countries do little to control exports by their own multinational corporations of pharmaceuticals and pesticides that are banned or severely restricted at home.
West European companies are responsible for 20 per cent of world drug sales - worth $100 billion - and nearly half of the world export market.
A hormone preparation derided in Europe as being of 'no value' was marketed in East Africa with the claim that it 'improves the quality and quantity of erections'. The Dutch firm, Organon, promoted its anabolic steroids in 1982 for the treatment of malnutrition, poor appetite and slow growth in children in Malaysia, India, Indonesia and the Philippines. Known side-effects of steroids include stunted growth, infertility, masculinisation of young girls and premature sexual development in young boys. Yet, in the Philippines, one of Organon's products notified buyers that it was safe for children.
Exported drugs are often not even needed. The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists some 200 drugs as essential for the treatment of most illness, yet more than 50,000 preparations are on the market worldwide. In Bangladesh, a committee found nearly one-third of drug expenditure was for 'unnecessary and useless medicines'.
Exports mean big profits to the drug giants. In Southeast Asia, where 30 per cent of the import market belongs to Western Europe, retail prices are marked up by as much as 300 per cent. In Bangladesh in 1981, British manufacturers ICI, Wellcome, and May & Baker charged their subsidiaries five times the world market price for the raw materials to produce specific drugs.
Pharmaceutical companies claim high profits are necessary to finance the development of new drugs. But the US Food and Drug Administration found that only 2.4 per cent of new drugs in 1980 represented 'important therapeutic gain' over products already on the market. And Britain's Department of Health and Social Security concluded in the 1970s that most drug research was 'directed toward commercial returns rather than therapeutic need'.
Andrew Chetley, Gemini
A RIVER whose purifying qualities have been not only revered for thousands of years but also proven by modern science has been turned into a major health hazard by modem waste. All over India, educated urbanites and illiterate villagers alike share the traditional belief that the waters of the River Ganga (or Ganges) are purifying. Around 70,000 pilgrims a day come to Varanasi, the Hindu sacred city, for a cleansing dip. A bottle of water from Mother Ganga can be found in millions of Indian homes.
Yet each day, 120 million litres of city sewage, chemical effluents from the silk industry, and hundreds of human and animal corpses are dumped into the river near the ritual bathing sites. Pilgrims and migrant workers regularly defecate along the river banks. Herders use the river as a bath for their buffaloes and cows.
Varanasi (formerly Benares) is a major pollution point. All the city's sewage is dumped into the Ganges untreated. It used to be pumped on to farms, but the pumps broke down five years ago. Downstream at Patna, two huge sewage treatment plants are broken and unrepaired.
Infant mortality in villages around Varanasi is 44 per cent greater than the national average, according to Dr. D.K. Aggarwal of Benares Hindu University. Despite the growing threats of disease - which could spread on an unprecendented scale as pilgrims take home Ganga water in phials - no systematic studies of the risks have been carried out.
But the local belief in the river's magical purity did have a basis in fact - so long as contamination is kept below a certain point, it seems that the waters do naturally purify themselves. They contain the radioactive element radon, perhaps picked up from radioactive rocks near the Ganges' Homalayan source, which may help neutralise pollutants. But unless waste is controlled soon, the Ganges' 'water of life' may become a focus of lethal infection.
K Gopaakrishnan, Earthscan
IT was more than 100 years ago that Sri Lanka contributed a new word to the English language: beriberi, derived from the Sinhalese word beri, meaning weakness or inability. The disease, characterised by muscular weakness and degeneration of the nerves and digestive system, resulted from a deficiency of Vitamin B1, and was widespread in Britain's Asian colonies. Now beriberi may be making a comeback. Recently, the features of early beriberi were recognised in a group of otherwise healthy American children by doctors working at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. After treatment with appropriate supplements of the missing vitamin they soon recovered. The physicians suggested the lack of Vitamin B1 in their patients was due to their high consumption of 'junk food'.
Health problems related to junk food could be called the malnutrition of affluence, since in developing countries they affect the relatively small portion of the population with disposable income. In most cases, one of the main aims of newly-affluent people in the Third World is to appear as Westernised as possible, whether by way of the latest designer jeans, an intimate knowledge of Western pop idols or assimilation of a diet based on french fries and Coke.
Nauru is held up as an example of what to expect. The tiny Pacific island of 8,000 found itself with a unexpected fortune on its hands from its heavy phosphate deposits. The sudden boost in annual income to an average of $30,000 per person brought with it rapid Westernisation, including the Western diet. Partly as a result, islanders now suffer a serious problem with obesity, heart problems and other health difficulties typical of junk food.
Dr Sanjiva Wijesinha, Gemini
From the heart
IT is all too rare that people make real contact with each other across the divide between rich and poor worlds. But when it genuinely happens it can be very moving. Jacques Danois of UNICEF visited a school in drought-ravaged Mali and wrote afterwards of his experience.
'Lost in the sand somewhere between Dire and Timbuktu in Mali is a school that must be the poorest, the dryest and the most courageous on the planet. Tindiera school. The village is nothing more than a cluster of mud houses. It was born hundreds of years ago when herders and cropgrowers lived side by side exchanging milk and meat for grain and vegetables. Now there is nothing but desert. It has not rained for years. In the sandstorms village and dunes merge into one.
'But in the school the children work and learn. My eyes are drawn to a sentence on the blackboard. Essay assignment: "Write a letter to friends or relatives on the subject of drought". I cannot help asking the teacher if I can read one of the essays. He gives me one by Ahmadou Toure.
'I am sending you this letter to tell you my news. There is a lack of food in the whole village because it has not rained. Two years of drought and not a single drop of water has fallen on the village. One night, sometimes two and even three without eating. If it is possible send us some grain. I inform you that my little sister has died. My father with whom I live really looks after me. I am well. I greet all the relatives without exception, as well as friends and acquaintances. The whole family is well and sends its regards.'
Through the activities of the Japanese National Committee for UNICEF, Jacques Danois' story was seen by a Japanese schoolchild. Yuko Kasuga wrote to Ahmadou Toure:
Are things really so bad in your village? Are you really so poor? The first time I actually realIsed it was when we watched a video film about the poor people in Africa. You are so poor. It seems that many children are dying. I was very sorry for them. When people die in your village you cannot even dress up for the funeral. We live such a selfish life...
I'd like to say on behalf of everyone 'forgive us for the extravagant life we lead, we will try never again to be so extravagant'. Thank you for your letter, Toure.
The 4th year pupils of Yachata Primary School have collected 3,071 Yen. We hope this money will help you. I beg you not to die, Toure; eat the food we have sent you. Take good care of yourself and we wish you a long life.