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new internationalist
issue 197 - July 1989



Broken taboos
AIDS threatens China

The Chinese are congratulating themselves over their relative success at keeping AIDS out of the country. Only two victims have been recorded as infected by the HIV virus according to the local press and both were overseas rather than on the mainland. Apparently no Chinese citizens have died of AIDS yet - a record that the authorities are keen to maintain.

The Government is so determined to keep the virus out that it has broken the silence over sexual matters - strictly taboo until recent years. Specialists are sent abroad to study and bring knowledge about the disease back to China. Meanwhile foreigners wishing to live and work in China have to provide evidence of a clean bill of health before being given official permission to stay.

Pessimists say that these measures will only give China a temporary reprieve. There have been alarming increases in venereal disease recently - particularly in the large cities which host foreign tourists and business people. The increases have prompted the opening of VD clinics - unheard of since the early days of Socialist China when massive campaigns were undertaken to clear the country of such diseases. Short-term visitors do not have to prove their good health, and sexual liaisons are unrestricted.

Prostitution has become a growing business in cities like Guangzhou (Canton) and Shanghai which in pre-liberation days were notorious for their brothels. And the medical arrangements to deal with AIDS are not as efficient as the authorities hope. Medical students in colleges find their expertise more rewarded in countries like the US than in their homeland, and often do not return. With ill-equipped hospitals, growing promiscuity in large cities and a vast population - many of whom have only a basic education - the ground seems ripe for an outbreak of AIDS.

Ruth Cherrington


Intimate contact
Computer viruses

Computer viruses originated in Pakistan and are moving around the world.
Photo: Julio Etchart

Computers are catching viruses. Symptoms range from silly messages flashing across the screen - to the contents of entire disks disappearing without trace. One virus manifests as crabs eating up screen information while you watch. Another shows pornographic images as it copies itself into files.

A virus is a programme that copies itself from one infected disk to another. Like a real virus, it can lie dormant for months before re-emerging unexpectedly to destroy files or cause other mischief.

Viruses come in many strains and are now surfacing in Third World countries. The most virulent kind is 'Brain' which has infected more than 100,000 disks in the US as well as others in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and the UK.

According to Time magazine the virus was invented by two Pakistani brothers - the Alvi boys - who ran a computer repair shop in Lahore, Pakistan. Anxious to prevent the bootlegging of their programmes, they planted a virus in their disks to force bootleggers to return to their shop for 'treatment'.

The venture escalated. Soon they were making bootlegs of their own and selling them cheap to unsuspecting American tourists. The tourists made copies for their friends and so the virus spread. Months later users found thousands of hours work stored on disk had turned to gibberish. When computer experts tried to unscramble the mess they discovered the Alvi brothers' 'calling card' - a statement that read 'Welcome to the dungeon contact us for vaccination'; it gave their phone number in Lahore. Explains one brother, Basti Alvi: 'American buyers are pirating software and must be punished'.

Lawrence Jofte / Gemini


Honey harvest
Banking on bees

Kenyan elders have passed down the art of bee-keeping from father to son. But now a woman's group has broken the tradition and made bee-keeping one of its key income-generating activities. The project has been initiated and run by Kibwezi Women's Group which has succeeded in entering the male preserve of bee-keeping without antagonizing the community.

Traditionally it is taboo for women to climb trees - an act associated with indecent exposure - so the women stand on the ground or climb a stool to harvest the honey. Nor do they collect the honey naked as was done in the past to prevent bees getting trapped in clothing. The Kibwezi women use modern protective overalls, gloves, gum-boots and a hat with a wire mesh veil.

One superstition had it that menstruating women would cause bees to desert their hives. 'We Kibwezi women harvest honey even during our monthly periods but the bees have not left the hives in protest,' says Regina Matiro. She points out that bee-keeping is ideal for the many Kenyan women subsistence farmers. 'One acre of land can take lots of hives; you can hang 20 hives on a single tree'. She estimates that the harvests from five hives pay for two terms schooling for each of her five children.

Another group member, Milka Kathou, says: 'Bees don't need constant attention like cows. You don't need to feed them - only provide them with water in the dry season and occasionally clear the bush around the hive'. The honey will keep for 10 years or more, unlike other agricultural produce which spoils quickly.

The women's honey is now so popular that they cannot cope with the demand from supermarkets in Nairobi. Nevertheless, they always save a little for their families to soothe troublesome coughs or to ease stomach-ache after birth. Honey is also served as a main dish whenever there is a shortage of vegetables.

Wona Akute / Panos


Choked victims
Bhopal settlement

Thousands of angry Indians have staged sit-ins and demonstrations protesting at the Indian Supreme Courts' judgement directing Union Carbide to pay $470 million to the Indian Government as compensation to the Bhopal gas victims. Five years ago the disaster killed 3,000 people, caused 20,000 injuries, social disruption and economic devastation. If the accident had happened in the US, the court compensation would have run into billions of dollars pushing the company into instant bankruptcy, said one American jurist.

Out of the $470 million, $250 million will come from insurance firms and $200 million from a reserve fund already set up by the company. This means that Carbide only has to come up with $20 million. The Court did not reveal how the figure of $470 million had been arrived at. And it was not clear how much would be paid to the families of the dead and seriously injured.

People in Bhopal are shocked that the Indian Government has accepted such nominal compensation after originally claiming $3.3 billion. Many suspect that politicians and bureaucrats deliberately withheld documentation from the Supreme Court on the extent of the victims' medical problems.

Nearly 600,000 Bhopal citizens continue to suffer from the after-effects of methyl iso-cyanide (MIC) poisoning. Thousands of men are too ill to work. Abortions, still births, excessive bleeding and related gynecological disorders affect thousands of women in the city. Reduced immunity has rendered gas victims vulnerable to infections. Common complaints from patients include breathlessness, coughs, abdominal pains, anxiety, lack of appetite, blurred vision and numbness in limbs.

The Government's rehabilitation efforts have been sharply criticized by the victims and social workers. Shortages of drugs, equipment and hospital wards have added to people's suffering and at least one gas victim dies every day.

Meanwhile, Union Carbide's storage plant still holds 20 tons of MIC despite Government claims that all dangerous chemicals in the factory have been neutralized. And Union Carbide is conducting unauthorized field studies in the north-eastern region of India, using new chemical agents on crops. A spokesman for the defence ministry said it was 'concerned'.

Radhakrishna Rao / Third World Network Features


Giraffe steak
Wildlife conservation

A few years ago conservationists would have been horrified at the idea of finding a giraffe steak served at a restaurant. But today some seriously consider that eating wildlife is the best way to save it. Wildlife ranching is increasing in Africa because it is proving a better way of maintaining animal stocks than keeping them in game parks.

Dr David Hopcraft is spearheading Kenya's wildlife ranching movement on the Arthi River ranch, 40 kilometres outside Nairobi. His exotic menagerie includes giraffe, Thomson's gazelle, ostrich and zebra. His stock has increased by 40 per cent since 1981 - from 1,400 to 2,000 - despite culling 15 animals a week to sell to local tourist restaurants like 'The Carnivore'.

There was no market for African venison before Hoperaft's project began. But today eight of Nairobi's best hotels and restaurants are buying the meat - and the list is expanding. This year the ranch plans to market its products throughout the European Community. Hoperaft is also helping to set up a similar venture in Mexico with indigenous animals like elk, mule and deer.

Exploiting animals for profit is the most feasible route to wildlife conservation, argues ranch manager, Phil Tilby. 'There are too many farmers who complain that their crops are being destroyed by game and that they're losing their land to national parks. If you convince those farmers that their game can become a source of income, they'll start looking after it.' At present national parks look like a luxury to farmers hungry for fertile land and food.

Wildlife ranching is also more efficient than cattle ranching, argues Hopcraft. One acre of land can yield 14.6 pounds of gazelle compared to only one pound of beef. And game can withstand drought better than cattle and other livestock. Game meat is also leaner than most traditional meats - and therefore a better source of protein.

Those who advocate the ranching method of conservation see Zimbabwe as a model. Populations of wild animals have increased by several hundred per cent since Zimbabwe allowed private ownership 15 years ago. While Kenya struggles with a poaching problem that has reduced its rhino population from 20,000 to 500 in the last 20 years, Zimbabwe's commercial firms can afford to hire anti-poaching units to protect their game. Poachers in Zimbabwe have difficulty in marketing illegal skins because ranchers can legally sell products of much higher quality.

With a lower fat content than beef or pork and a price that equates with chicken, ranchers boast that wildlife will soon be a hit in every modern household.

Diana Brady / Gemini

[image, unknown]

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New Internationalist issue 197 magazine cover This article is from the July 1989 issue of New Internationalist.
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