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new internationalist
issue 231 - May 1992



Desert Storm spillout
Legacy of damage remains

With the last burning oil well capped in Kuwait, the environmental damage is far from over.

Sprawling oil lakes and rivers - about 100-150 million barrels of oil-cover 60 per cent of Kuwait's land area, emitting toxic, highly volatile gases which could cause cancer and birth defects.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted a 10 per cent rise in Kuwaiti death rates as a result of the war's environmental effects.

Along 700 kilometres of the fragile Saudi Gulf coastline, bays and mudflats are still clogged with oil, killing sea life vital to the marine ecosystem's survival.

The spawning and nursery grounds of commercial and non-commercial fish species have been destroyed, threatening Iran's fishing industry. Between 15,000 and 30,000 birds are believed to have died as a result of the oil slicks, and breeding grounds for an estimated 200,000 wading birds are also thought to be ruined.

It is feared that many of the one million migratory birds which travel through the area en route between Europe and Africa will not live once they have touched down. Fish have been spotted with blemishes and ulcers attributable to the oil spills. The humpback dolphin and the finless porpoise are endangered.

The brief burst of life, when the desert becomes covered with flowers during the spring, did not occur last year. Camels have been killed in minefields; birds, frogs and lizards in oil lakes. Bombs have pulverised topsoil. Soils and drinking water have been contaminated.

'Black rain' filled with toxins carried with smoke from the burning wells has fallen as far away as Oman, Turkey, Iran and the south of the former Soviet Union. Black snow has fallen in the Himalayas which could cause premature melting leading to flooding, acidity and fish deaths.

And some people think the war is over.

Alexander Norris/Gemini

Chilean guns for Yugoslavia
[image, unknown] Top Chilean army officers have been involved in gun-running to Yugoslavia. An 11-ton shipment, labelled 'humanitarian aid' recently discovered in Hungary, consisted of armaments - flouting both the Chilean constitution and the UN arms embargo.

With papers signed by two Chilean generals, the heads of the army's armaments and mobilization divisions, the shipment left the country without any inspection. It was part of a larger shipment valued at more than $6 million.

The Chilean army chief, General Augusto Pinochet has denied the smuggling charges and refused to punish the officers involved.

World Press Review, Vol. 39 No 2, 1992



When the dirt hits the fan
New scheme to blow Mexico City out of the smog


Some of Mexico City's 20 million inhabitants; a bulldozer adds to the air pollution.

Everyone agrees desperate efforts are needed to solve Mexico City's infamous pollution problem. But few are convinced by the latest eccentric anti-pollution measure - a giant fan system to blow smog out of the valley.

The scheme was announced by Mexico City's mayor Manuel Camacho on a day when pollution levels were three times higher than the widely accepted international safety limit.

'This will not be a miracle cure for our problems, but one which we can use as an additional tool for the benefit of the inhabitants of the city,' said Camacho with cautious optimism.

Working under increasing pressure scientists are building two prototype fans to test the viability of the project.

The idea is to heat air in badly polluted parts of the city with an incinerator in the middle of huge circles of fans. This should push the smog-filled air upwards, where it will be blown over the city and the surrounding mountains by the stronger winds that exist at higher altitudes.

One of the scheme's chief architects Herberto Castillo said: 'The idea consists of creating a column of hot air which would then need to be moved like a whirlwind. If it works, then the pollution level will drop, but we don't know by how much.'

Even if the fan scheme is successful, the root of the problem Mexico City's three million cars and 36,000 industries - will not go away.

The Government currently operates an emergency plan to shut down what are commonly regarded as the city's biggest polluters, halt public transport and keep children indoors when pollution levels are 'highly dangerous'.

The pollution is known to cause long and short-term health problems for many of Mexico City's 20 million inhabitants.

Andy Cawthorne

Coffee dregs
By mid-August 1991, the world price of coffee had fallen to $900 a ton, little more than its price in July 1975 and well below the cost of production for most of the 50 plus coffee-growing countries. The $15 billion a year world coffee market is dogged by over-supply. World-wide coffee production in 1989,90 was around 93 million 63-kilo bags, but only 83 million bags were bought.

Attempts are being made to resuscitate the International Coffee Agreement which, until it collapsed in 1989, supported prices by regulating the supply of coffee beans coming onto the world market. The agreement collapsed partly because Brazil, which had a quota under the CA amounting to 30 per cent of world trade, would not agree to a quota reduction enabling other coffee-growing countries to increase their much smaller quotas. The subsequent free-for-all saw countries dumping on the international markets all their stock which had previously built up.

International Agricultural Development Vol 71 No 5 1991

Read my lips - Nigerian style
[image, unknown] The March 1992 NI carried a Endquote of startling forthrightness from General Babangida, President of Nigeria. He was, he said, concerned to reinvest sovereignty and power in African peoples. He went on to tell the assembled African heads of state at the 1991 Organization of African Unity Conference that 'democracy is not only an attractive option but a rational and inevitable one'.

Meanwhile, back home in Nigeria, he was muzzling the press. Angered by an embarrassing article in the daily Lagos News the Government ordered the arrest and detention of its editor and news editor. On March 13th the two men were released after three days on $11,000 bail each. The following day 13 journalists on the paper were arrested and the newspaper offices closed down.

On May 29, security agents arrested four journalists working for the African Guardian, an independent Lagos newspaper. The reporters, accused of reporting the killing of two students in clashes with the armed forces, were released after 24 days.

On June 29, the Government deperted William Keeling, Nigerian correspendent of the Financial Times of London, alleging that his reports could 'sabotage the security' of Nigeria. The Nigerian Information Minister Alex Akinyele said that foreign journalists were picking up nagative information from Nigerian newspapers. 'I don't censor,' he said. 'Let them write what they want to write. But if anybody does anything that is against the national interest that person will have to answer questions. To criticize Nigeria is to criticize God.'

World Press Review Vol 39 No 2 1992

Car recycling
Buyers of new cars in Holland will be charged a recycling fee of up to $150 by car dealers next year. The charge will fund the collection and recycling of scrapped cars.

A special company, Auto-recycling BV, will be established to collect and recycle the old car frames. Its running costs will be met largely from the proceeds of the recycling levy. Those car-owners who hand in the used vehicles at specified scrap yards will be entitled to rebates of the levy.

New Scientist, Vol 133 No 1810 1992



Tyranny of silence
Human rights abuses

In October 1990 King Fahd of Saudi Arabia declared that he would implement the major political reforms which prominent citizens including religious leaders had. repeatedly petitioned for. Nothing has come through so far.

The Shi'ite minority is particularly discriminated against, and believers in religions other than Islam are allowed neither to worship nor to possess religious symbols.

Many academics have been harassed, interrogated and suspended from their posts for expressing their opinions. In November 1990, 47 Saudi women protested against the unwritten ban on female driving by organizing a convoy of 15 cars in Riyadh. They were subsequently banned from their professions.

Not content with muzzling its own press - the Saudi media could only report the invasion of Kuwait two days after the event - the Saudi Government tries to influence foreign newspapers and magazines by financial means. Saudi Arabia has the most lucrative government advertising contracts in the Arab world.

Dissenting voices are brutally silenced. Nada Al-Yusuf, a poet, was tortured until she was paralysed following her arrest in 1985 for supporting an opposition political group. Zahra Al-Nasser, a Shi'ite woman, was tortured to death for possessing a prayer book and a photograph of Ayatollah Khomeini. Four alleged members of the illegal Party of God in Hijaz were sentenced to between 7 and 15 years in 1989-90. Their trials, held in camera, lasted only a few minutes. Defence lawyers were not allowed.

Article 19 Bulletin, 13.



Fishing fouls
Lobsters lead to clashes


When Honduras became home to the infamous and illegal Contras, relations between many Hondurans and Nicaraguans soured. From their bases in Honduras the Contras could make deadly raids into Nicaragua and then retreat across the border to safety.

Today the hostility still exists - though the cause is lobsters rather than land mines. Honduran fisherfolk are increasingly straying into Nicaraguan waters in search of lobster to export to the US, and the stock is becoming depleted by over-fishing.

Clashes have been deadly - so has the overriding of safety precautions to avoid them. For example, a Honduran fishing boat anchored in Nicaraguan waters at night with all the lights off was accidentally rammed by a large cargo boat, killing most of the men on board.

When Honduran boats are spotted by coast guards in Nicaraguan waters, they are likely to come under fire. The usual response is to flee without delay. If any divers happen to be in the water gathering lobster at the time, tough. They are left behind.

'What's the point,' a captain asked us, 'in putting my crew and boat in danger for the sake of a few men?' He might as well have said 'for the sake of a few Waika', the local name for Misquito Indians, for it is they who are the divers. When we asked the same captain whether he ever worked as a diver, he laughed. 'No way would you get me down there,' he said.

Even in Honduran or international waters, the boats are vulnerable targets to pirates who steal the expensive equipment, then blow up the boat. In face of these threats Honduran fishing boats rarely set out without machine guns.

Ceri Sheppard

To catch a thief
[image, unknown] The idea was to put the high-tech efficiency of the private sector to work on the ponderous welfare state. So last June the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services introduced an expensive computer system to unmask welfare cheaters.

The system managed within five minutes to match any current fingerprint with that of any other already in the system, preventing recipients from receiving more than one check. The $9.5 million expenditure was approved on the assumption that it would quickly pay for itself. And while the county is already claiming huge savings from what it calls 'the deterrent factor' - hundreds of welfare recipients have had their benefits terminated after declining to be fingerprinted - the computer has so far netted less than $60,000 in direct savings. That is lees than 0.5 per cent of its cost. This is because, of the nearly 100,000 people on LA County welfare rolls, the number exposed as frauds by the computer totals...12.

Mother Jones Vol 17 No 2 1992


'No-one speaks out for the protection of the environment with greater moral authority
than women. Only those who have fought to protect their own bodies from abuse can
truly understand the rape and plunder of our forests, our rivers and our soils.'

Margarita Arias of Costa Rica: It's Time for Women to Mother Earth,
a keynote address delivered at the five day World Women's Congress
for a Healthy Planet held in Miami, Florida.

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New Internationalist issue 231 magazine cover This article is from the May 1992 issue of New Internationalist.
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