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new internationalist
issue 180 - February 1988



Filth findings
[image, unknown] The first global report on air and water pollution, food contamination and their effects on health has just been prepared by the United Nations Environment Programme. Findings include:

· Some 600 million people live in urban areas where the average level of sulphur dioxide pollution endangers their lives.

· Another 1,000 million people are exposed to high levels of suspended particles from coal, wood and oil combustion and traffic dust.

· Because of chemical pollution of rivers, the cost of producing safe, palatable drinking water has risen dramatically. Due to population increases and the deterioration in water quality, the per capita availability of water for human consumption is decreasing. In the Third World it will decline by almost 50 per cent by the year 2000.

· The lowest concentration of lead in the blood of city dwellers was found in Tokyo; the highest in Mexico City. Interestingly, petrol has been lead-free in Tokyo since 1976, while Mexican petrol has nearly the highest lead content in the world.

From Third World Network Features, 197/87


Pay, race and gender
No less a person than the Director of the US Civil Rights Commission has called equal pay for work of equal value 'the looniest idea since Looney Tunes'. The voters of San Francisco disagree. On 2nd November 1986 they said 'yes' to their City Government paying its employees according to the principle of' comparable worth'. It is the first time the North American public has been asked to vote on such an issue.

Ten states have begun to implement comparable worth principles and there are law suits pending against another thirteen.

Some large private companies are also quietly adjusting their pay structure to remove race and gender discrimination. So in spite of Reaganite sneers and the activities of hostile employers' organizations such as the Equal Employment Advisory Committee, progress for North American women and minority people is being made.

From International Labour Reports, Issue 24. 1987.
Available from P0 Box 45, Stainborough, Barnsley, Yorkshire S75 3EA. UK


Computer mayhem
For underdeveloped countries the computer makes it possible to leapfrog certain stages of development by slashing paper bureaucracy, streamlining production and improving health care. But the computer explosion in the Third World is producing a lot of fallout As one international expert put it:

'Computers don't clothe, don't cure, don't feed. Their power begins and ends with information'.

Many governments are rushing into computers without carefully examining their needs. Take China: in 1984 it imported $300 million worth of components to make 120,000 computers. By 1985 at least half of them were lying idle, stored in warehouses because of shortages of skills and software programmes. The Chinese currently spend 10 to 20 percent over and above their capital outlay on servicing their new computers over three years compared with just three per cent in the US. This alone may cost China $80 million between 1985 and 1988.

Difficulties may be more fundamental in countries where even pencils and paper have to be imported. In some African francophone countries it is not unusual for government data-processing offices to close down for lack of paper.

From Media Development, Journal of the World Association for Christian Communication Vol. XXXIV


Clingfilm cloys
When local environmental officers in Birmingham, UK, reported last year that surprising amounts of chemicals were migrating into food from some types of Clingfilm, they were attacked by the packaging industry. A Government Minister announced there was 'no cause for concern'.

Now the British Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is backtracking. They admit that some people are eating too much of the chemical plasticizer (DEHA) found in PVC clingfilm. Plasticizers are the molecules that give dinginess to clingfilm and make other plastic wrappers soft and flexible. About 5,000 tonnes of plasticizers are used annually in 24,075 tonnes of plasticized food wrapping in the country. about plasticizers migrating from such wrappers to fatty foods like pork, cheese, cakes, buns, pastries, sandwiches and chocolate. A new report by the British Government recommends that overall dietary intakes of DEHA should be reduced and that it is unsuitable for cooking in microwave ovens.

But as the London Food Commission points out 'The problem for consumers at the moment is that they do not know which are the PVC clingfilms. We need clear labelling. More importantly we urgently need a limit on the amount of packaging chemicals that can migrate into food. The EEC's proposed limit should be halved to protect the public.'

From London Food News, No 7, Autumn 1987


Global update
The number of countries reporting the incidence of AIDS and the total number of sufferers have continued to increase. As of 11 November 1987, 64,488 AIDS cases were officially reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) from 127 countries. However total AIDS cases are estimated to be between 100,000 and 150,000.

· WHO estimates between five and ten million people may be currently infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) - the virus that causes AlDS. By 1991 at least one million new cases of AIDS could develop in people already infected with HIV.

· The largest number of cases, 43,533, has been reported in the US, where the disease was first recognized in 1981.

· In the Americas, Europe and Australia, most AIDS cases occur among 20 to 49 year-old homosexual or bisexual men and intravenous drug users. However cases of AIDS acquired through heterosexual contact have increased from one per cent to four per cent of all sufferers.

· Europe, with 7,512 cases, is considered to be facing an epidemic. WHO estimates that between a half and one million Europeans are infected with the AIDS virus. Highest per capita incidences are found in Switzerland, Denmark, France and Belgium.

· Africa reports 6,298 cases. The major factors here in the transmission of HlV are heterosexual intercourse, transfusions of contaminated blood, use of unsterilized needles and mother-to-baby transmission. This last is a significant source of infection in those areas where five to ten per cent of pregnant women have been recorded as HIV positive.

From In point of fact, No.50/1987. World Health Organization


DIY demolition
The latest tactic in the South African authorities' battle with black squatters is to arrest the shack dwellers for trespassing and then offer to drop the charges provided they demolish their own homes. A recent police swoop in and around Durban brought 45 arrests and 15 had to appear in court for failing to dismantle their homes in accordance with the deadline.

One of the accused, 67 year-old Jabulelwe Majolo, has lived in the Durban area since before the Second World War. He spent two days in the top security Westville prison on trespassing charges.

While the police made their arrests, dozens of rats from the nearby city dump - where the squatters scavenge to survive - ran in and out of the shacks, and the community sang Nkosi Sikelele i'Afrika and waved placards against the Group Areas Act.

From Southscan: A bulletin of Southern African affairs, Vol. 2, No. 10

'War and rape are two activities not widely engaged in by women.'

Margaret Atwood, Canadian author


'You do not know who is your friend or who is your enemy until the ice breaks.'

Anonymous Inuit (Eskimo)

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New Internationalist issue 180 magazine cover This article is from the February 1988 issue of New Internationalist.
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