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Indigenous Peoples

new internationalist
issue 181 - March 1988



Bank's dam schemes
India's Narmada project

[image, unknown] Under fire from ecological groups, the World Bank has been trying to present a 'green face' to the world. Six months ago it was beating its breast and saying it would change its ways. It would be less secretive about the projects it funded. It would pay greater attention to their environmental impact. And it would listen to the opinion of the local, often indigenous, people most affected by its policies in the Third World.

The rhetoric was fine. The reality, however, remains unchanged - as the Bank's continued funding of the Narmada dams project in India, clearly shows. Few projects can promise to be as socially and environmentally damaging as this. It will displace over one million people, flood irreplaceable forest and farming land and could trigger an earthquake. Large-scale dam projects are also notorious for encouraging water-borne diseases such as bilharzia.

So why do it? The official line is that the benefits from irrigation and power for industry will outweigh the social and environmental costs. But closer examination shows the figures used to support this argument have been 'massaged' to serve the interests of big farmers and bureaucrats.

The powerful landed elites of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, both states controlled by the ruling Congress Party, have pushed for the project since its inception. And it is the government representatives of such elites that World Bank officials generally work with.

The people the World Bank has not dealt with are the one million tribal inhabitants of the Narmada Valley who will lose their land, home and livelihood as 200,000 hectares of cultivated land and 350,000 hectares of forest are flooded. What is more they are not being compensated for their loss. The World Bank itself calmly concludes: 'The odds are high that the majority of the oustees will be worse off following their removal'. Since it was given the government go-ahead in April 1987 the scheme has become quite surreal. Engineers and bureaucrats in the three states affected are competing to build the most and the biggest dams. At present the combined number of dams deemed necessary stands at around 3,200.

You can urge the World Bank to stop funding socially and environmentally destructive projects by writing to:
Mr Barber Conable,
President, World Bank,
1818 H Street NW,
Washington DC
20433, USA

Claude Alvarez and Ramesh Billorey/Third World Network.


Asbestos exports
Canada helps a killer industry

Canada is the world's biggest exporter of asbestos, but its $300-million industry faces collapse unless it can find new markets. So officials from the Montreal-based Asbestos Institute have been campaigning in Third World countries to rehabilitate the reputation of asbestos - although it is known to cause lung cancer and the disease asbestosis.

They have been depressingly successful. While countries like the US are considering a total ban on asbestos, Third World nations such as Malaysia, Thailand and Chile are actually buying more of the stuff. However hazardous it may be, asbestos remains a cheap and convenient building material that can be easily mixed with cement.

The Canadian asbestos push is being funded both by the Federal and Quebec governments, and the industry. More than half of its C$6 million budget is used to challenge the public perception that asbestos equals cancer.

The Institute claims that its role is to teach people in the Third World how to use asbestos more safely. This hardly squares with the fact that Canada exports the material in its most dangerous form - as loose fibre. The dumping of such a dangerous product appears to be too lucrative a trade for Western industry to give up - even if it has been forced to shows little concern for the health of its own people.

Rick Boychuck / Gemini


Policing a continent
US forces foothold

Leaked documents from the Southern Command reveal plans to establish a permanent US military base in Bolivia. This would make it easier for the US to intervene in the political future of South America. The question now being asked is whether Bolivia is to become the 'Honduras of the 1990s'.

In the past two years, US troops have come to Bolivia three times. First there were joint exercises near Cochabamba in May 1986. This was followed two months later by 'Operation Blast Furnace' - ostensibly an anti-drugs exercise. The US forces' arrival in a Galaxy transport plane six stories high gave traffickers ample warning and, not surprisingly, no drug dealers were arrested. US officials admit that within six months cocaine production had been fully resumed.

Then, in May 1987, 300 US troops joined Bolivian counterparts in counter-insurgency military exercises close to the Peruvian border. This allowed the US to test its readiness for direct intervention in the Andean region. Since then 14 US military advisors, rumoured to be Green Berets, have remained. And the US has planned a five-year programme of war exercises which, among other things, will accustom Bolivians to the idea of a permanent US military presence.

Indeed Bolivia could provide the US with an attractive southern base. Located at the heart of the continent, it shares virtually unmonitored borders with Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile. From Bolivia, American troops could address such problems as Sendero Luminoso, Peru's guerrilla movement, a possible armed uprising in Chile as Pinochet resists a return to democracy, or the uncertainty of Paraguay's future when its ageing dictator General Stroessner dies.

Bolivia Bulletin Vol 3 No 5

And again in 1988?
14 million young children have died in 1987. Almost as many -
a quarter of a million every week - will die in 1988. Today, most
of those deaths are unnecessary. New knowledge and new
communications capacity make it possible to inform and
support all parents in using today's inexpensive methods
of protecting children's lives and growth: -

[image, unknown] Diarrhoeal diseases
5 million deaths.
70% of diarrhoeal deaths are caused by dehydration. Bat dehydration can now be prevented by oral rehydration therapy (ORT) - a technique so simple and cheap that it can be administered and afforded by all parents - it they know how.

1.9 million deaths
Almost all measles deaths could be prevented by single injection - if vaccination is available and if all parents know the importance of bringing a child for the immunization as soon as the child is nine months old.

0.8 million deaths
Almost all tetanus deaths occur in the first week of life - and can be prevented by informing mothers-to-be about the importance of anti-tetanus injections during pregnancy - and by making sure that vaccination is available as part of basic ante-natal care.

Respiratory infections
2.9 million deaths
Over halt a million whooping cough deaths could be prevented by immunization. Most other respiratory deaths could be prevented at low cost if parents know how to recognise the danger signs and it community health workers are allowed to use simple antibiotics.

1 million deaths
Can be drastically reduced at low cost if parents know the symptoms and can get help from a community health worker.

Other causes 2.4 million deaths
In practice, death is usually a revolt of several causes, often including malnutrition. Most malnutrition can also be prevented by birth spacing, care in pregnancy breast-feeding, immunization, improved weaning, home hygiene, special feeding during and after illness, and regularly checking a child's weight gain.

Less deaths, less births
Would the Steep reduction in Child deaths that is now possible add to the problems of population growth? Paradoxically, the answer is 'No'. When parents become confident that their children will survive, they tend to have only the number of children they actually want. So average family size falls and population growth slows. That is one reason why there has never been a steep fall in child births which has not been preceded by a steep fall in child deaths.

UNICEF - State of the World's Children Report. 1988.


Bloody birthday
Selective memory

The Government's multi-million advertising campaign has implanted the concept of 'celebration' firmly in the minds of most Australians. But this year's bicentennial anniversary of the country's colonization makes it a birthday most Aborigines would prefer to forget. For them it is tantamount to celebrating the violent and often subhuman killing of their ancestors.

Opinion is divided amongst Aborigines as to whether there should be violent protests to drive home their side of the story. Black activist Gary Foley says violence is unnecessary: 'Our very existence in the country in 1988 is the greatest embarrassment that we can create. All we have to do is be there, be dignified, solemn and silent.'

Also acutely embarrassing for the authorities is the widespread publicity being given to the Royal Commission into black deaths in custody, which is likely to carry on well into the Celebration year. Already it has revealed that Australian black deaths in custody during the past eight years probably exceed black deaths in custody in South Africa.

The chair of the Commission, Mr Justice Muirhead, told an Adelaide seminar that although only 44 deaths were involved at the outset of investigations, 'the true dimension of the situation is emerging - and it is a dreary background. Probably no fewer than 100 black people have died in custody in the past eight years. Something is terribly wrong'.

The suggestion that the cell deaths are symptomatic of a much wider problem is gaining support. Suicide, violent death, alcoholism and psychiatric illness are being found in Aborigines at a rate far above that of most Australians, including white prisoners.

At the end of last year Dr Neil Thomson from the Australian Institute of Health reported that the rate of Aboriginal death from injuries is at least 300 per cent higher than the rest of the population.

Road accidents were the most common form of death for Aboriginal males, while for women injury inflicted by others was the main cause. Dr Thomson considered these figures to be the mere tip of the iceberg as many injuries sustained by Aborigines are not reported.

George Fisher

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New Internationalist issue 181 magazine cover This article is from the March 1988 issue of New Internationalist.
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