new internationalist
issue 204 - February 1990



The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich
as well as the poor to sleep under bridges,
to beg in the streets, & to steal bread.
Anatole France

Underneath the arches

Homelessness in London is assuming alarming proportions. Some facts:

  • About 2,000 people sleep rough nightly under arches and on park benches in central London
  • September 1987 saw 18,906 people living in temporary accommodation. By March 1989 there were 24,578, an increase of 30 per cent.
  • In 1975 local authorities started building 20,100 new homes. In 1986 the figure was 1,200
  • In 1988 30,000 people were squatting in the city.
  • London boroughs spent almost £88 million ($141 million) on bed and breakfast accommodation in 1988/9. In 1981 the figure was just £4.3 million ($6.9 million).

From City Limits, No. 422, statistics from Shelter, London Research Centre and Association of London Authorities


Voyage of death in the Gulf
Every year seven million sheep are exported live from Australia to the Middle East in a trade that earns Australia A$175 million. Half of them go to Saudi Arabia. The Australian Agricultural Health and Quarantine Service admits that more than a million have died in transit over the last five years. The survivors are destined for ritual slaughter.

Over 1989 six shiploads, totalling more than 400,000 sheep, have been refused entry into Saudi Arabia because of alleged disease. Some have orders to return to Australia but quarantine restrictions will not allow them re-entry. Generally they are hawked around other Gulf States in temperatures of 50ºC/120ºF. Sick, injured and dead sheep are thrown overboard to the sharks that follow in their wake.

Surely this is enough, argues Compassion in World Farming, to convince world leaders that the trade in live animals should be phased out and replaced by refrigerated sheepmeat?

From Agscene 97. Newsletter of Compassion in World Farming


Prison despair
Both criminal and political prisoners are being held in appalling conditions in Cameroon gaols, according to an Amnesty International report. There is overcrowding, the denial of basic rights of political prisoners and deaths of prisoners from malnutrition and lack of medical care. Nkondengui prison was singled out for its shocking record. According to Amnesty, ' many as four or five prisoners were dying every day during certain periods in 1987 and 1988 ... 44 prisoners had died in one month alone, December 1987, 42 of them from malnutrition.' Prison deaths are reported daily over the radio - this being the only way of telling the families, who are asked to collect the bodies.

The overcrowding partly results from harsh sentences for trivial crimes. Africa International reports one sentence of four years' imprisonment for a prisoner who stole a pair of shoes, and another of eight years for stealing three pastries, a mincer, a hot plate, and three kilos of meat.

From Committee for Human Rights in Cameroon, BM Box 551, London WCIN3XX, UK


Fostering Africans
The British Government has responded to pressure from the Save the Children Fund to tighten up the Children's Act, now in the legislative pipeline. Closer regulation is needed to safeguard the children, mainly from Nigeria, who are being fostered privately through magazine advertisements.

The number of West African children being advertised in Nursery World is increasing markedly, with nearly 1,000 a year on offer. And nearly twice as many children again are fostered by word-of-mouth contact. Save the Children found that in some cases children were being fostered by people with criminal convictions for violence and indecent assault on their own children. And all the West African children had been placed with white parents who had little or no knowledge about the children's cultural needs.

Now the proposed legislation will bring private fostering in line with that of local authorities, with preplacement checks on proposed foster homes and parents. The bad news is that the law will not be passed before 1992. That's another 3,000-4,000 African children going to unchecked families. Save the Children says this is not good enough and urgent action is needed now.

From Save the Children. 17 Grove Lane, London SES 8RD, UK


Heroin for the price of beer
The Golden Triangle has never had such a bumper crop of opium as that harvested towards the end of last year in Burma, Laos and Thailand. The record harvest means more heroin is leaving the countries for worldwide consumption, while on the streets of Thailand, a heroin 'fix' can be had for the price of a beer.

The record opium harvest stems from Myanma/Burma's internal troubles. Since mid-1988 when demonstrations in Rangoon and other towns led to a military crackdown, troops have been withdrawn from the remote northern and eastern parts of the country, traditionally the opium-growing regions. Their brutal crackdown on civil unrest led the US Government to cut off its $14 million aid budget which had included helicopters to police the anti-narcotics push.

Now opium warlords and ethnic insurgency groups are producing and refining with impunity; the 1989 harvest is estimated at 2,000 tons, compared with 1,200 tons the previous year.

From Far Eastern Economic Review, 23.11.89


Amazon flames dwindle
Brazilian scientists are claiming the Amazon rainforest suffered less damage in 1989 during the burning season, from June to October, than it did the previous year. By the end of August some 33,000 square kilometres - the size of the Netherlands - is said to have been burnt. This is less than one-third of the total area burnt last year.

The fires, lit to clear the ground for farming and to stake a claim, have been damped down by unseasonal heavy rainfall.

From Environment Digest, No. 29 1989

Monarchical delusions (or count the royal 'we's')

Interviewer: How are you? You have been under a lot of pressure this week.

Margaret Thatcher: We had pressure for much more than a week. Long journeys are quite pressuresome. We went across to Japan for an official visit and then for an International Democratic Union conference. We called in Moscow on the way back. We got back. We then had the whole run-up to the party conference. We went to Nottingham. We did several regional tours in that week and then we had the whole week for the party conference - which was very successful - and then we came back and we unpacked and we did the speeches and the briefing for the Commonwealth Conference, and on the Monday we took off for Malaysia and we went out via Bahrain, and stopped there, and then we came back via...

From the UK's Sunday Correspondent, 5.11.89

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