new internationalist
issue 185 - July 1988



Hunger alert
Poor paying more

Every grain counts when global food production falls. Rice is down 30%, grain 13% this year.
Photo: ILO

With the supermarket shelves of the North filled to capacity it is difficult to believe that the world is heading for a food shortage. But stocks of grain are down by 13 per cent this year, and rice has plummeted by 30 per cent. The outlook for the poor in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia is especially grim.

If monsoons fail again (as they did in India last year), locusts take their toll in Africa and the farmers of the US continue producing less, there could be serious trouble, warns the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

In 1987/88 cereal production in the poorest, food-importing countries was down by five per cent on the previous year. And at the same time as donor governments reduced their food aid, commercial imports of grain cost one third more than in 1986/87.

Part of the reason why food imports from the West are costing poor countries more is the cut in subsidies to US farmers, for the North American Prairies are still the world's grain store.

In theory the world has enough grain stored to feed all the hungry people twice over. But in practice much of the grain is earmarked for animal feed and most of the rest, in crisis, will simply go to the highest bidder.

John Tanner


High on their own supply
Third World drug addiction

[image, unknown] Heroin addiction is escalating in Third World countries which have few resources and little experience in dealing with the problems of widespread drug dependency.

In Nepal, for example, there are now 15,000-20,000 drug abusers and the majority of them are on heroin. Until about seven years ago heroin was not part of the Nepalese drug scene, but now Nepalese nationals are getting more and more involved in illegal international trafficking of drugs.

The picture is mirrored in Sri Lanka. The Colombo Plan, a group of 20 Asian and Pacific countries, estimates that Sri Lanka has 30,000 to 35,000 heroin addicts, against none seven to eight years ago.

Most addicts are aged between 16 and 20. Sri Lankans have also entered the international drug mafia - 198 were arrested abroad in 1986 for trafficking. Revised estimates for Pakistan put the number of heroin abusers there at more than 657,000 - a 31 percent rise over earlier estimates. A decade ago drug addicts in Pakistan were counted in hundreds. Today, including opium and cannabis users, the official estimates total almost two million addicts.

India has an estimated 200,000-300,000 heroin addicts. One estimate suggests over 100,000 in Bombay alone. Thailand now has more than half a million drug abusers, with 70-80 per cent on heroin.

Iran is a rare exception to the trend. The number of addicts is down from one million to 800,000 since a compulsory treatment programme was initiated in the early 1980s.

As the quantity of drugs produced in the world increases so does the number of addicts. But drug-supplying countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Turkey and Iran insist that their efforts are increasingly effective. Some even say that they have eradicated opium poppy growing entirely. Indeed, anti-drug squads in the Third World have still managed to make large seizures. The biggest in the world (615 kilograms) took place in the Indian state of Rajasthan in January 1986. The second biggest (472 kilograms) was seized in Bombay the same year.

Eve Kouidri Kuhn / Gemini


Run by sun
Bhutan's newspaper

Bhutan's first national newspaper - The Enlightener - is no ordinary tabloid. Its launch date was decided by Buddhist monks using almanacs. Its most prolific correspondent is a blind man whose face was savaged by a bear. And its editor is planning to produce the tiny Himalayan kingdom's paper by solar power.

Editor Kinley Dorji first became aware that Bhutan could do with a national newspaper when he returned from his studies in Australia in 1983.

Simplicity and accessibility in presentation were his priorities. 'For the Bhutanese, literacy is new and reading is work unless it's light,' he explains. Each 12-page issue is printed in the three languages used in Bhutan - Dzongkha, Nepali and English - and contains national and international news, features, sport, comic strips, puzzles and readers' letters.

Technical advice with production came from The Straits Times of Singapore while computers and a laser printer were bought with $93,000 provided by the United Nations Development Programme.

But how does all this high-tech combine with a deeply religious and tradition-bound culture? With considerable ease - if the country's monks are anything to go by. It is a common sight to see them wandering around listening to religious chants on their Sony Walkmans.

Less sophisticated technology does present problems however. It was electric power cuts that sparked off Dorji's interest in solar energy. The editorial board is now looking into the possibility of installing solar panels in the roof of The Enlightener's office so that the paper can be run entirely on sun.

Ruth Massey / Gemini


Let them eat garbage
Saba Bank scheme

The chances are you have never heard of Saba. Forbidding cliffs rising 3,000 ft from the sea have guaranteed a quiet life for the 1,000 people who live on this tiny, fertile, volcanic island - part of the Dutch West Indies. Up to recently travel between the island's four villages was only possible by climbing stone steps carved into the volcano.

A North American corporation aptly named Waste Central Inc. plans to change all that. It wants to turn the island into a dustbin for the world's waste - and to do that it proposes building the largest ever human-made 'barrier reel' around the tranquil island's shores. This would serve as a gigantic landfill and incinerator.

But the company does not want to be troubled with any environmental problems that arise - such as leakage of hazardous waste into surrounding waters. That, it makes plain, would be the responsibility of the Dutch West Indies.

And what is the company offering in return for the irrevocable and unrestrained right to dump waste onto the Saba bank? One US dollar - split evenly between the Dutch West Indies and Saba - per ton of rubbish. This compares with the $80 to $126 per ton that municipalities in the north-east United States have to pay for the removal of garbage. And hazardous waste is even more costly to move.

Waste Central's proposal is likely to be an environmental disaster not only for Saba but other islands whose shores are washed by the Caribbean. Almost certainly it would violate international treaties on environmental control, such as the London Dumping Convention and the Caribbean Seas Convention.

But the Philadelphia-based company glosses over such minor details. In fact it manages to deal with the potential environmental impact of its project in just 11 lines of the proposal enigmatically entitled Development on Saba Bank.

Similarly the massive scale of the project is buried in a footnote which seeks to detail the benefits of the operation. 'In excess of 70 nautical miles of barrier reef will be created. The implications of this huge addition, no doubt the longest man-made (sic) reef construction ever, will be most positive to fisheries on Saba Bank.' No reasons are given for such a positive' assessment.

Randall Weiner
New York Public Interest Research Group Inc,
9 Murray Street, New York NY10007.

Women in the landscape
Women as fetchers of water, collectors of firewood, tillers of the land and as mothers are usually the first to feel the effects of environmental degradation in the developing world. They are also in the best position to manage the environment but their role is frequently ignored by policy makers and planners.

In Africa, women are responsible for 75% of all subsistence agriculture and 95% of domestic work.

[image, unknown]

[image, unknown]

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