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new internationalist
issue 235 - September 1992



Battle over the Narmada mega-project

Narmada climb-down
World Bank finally admits project flawed

A new 400-page report on India's Narmada River dam project has called for a suspension of World Bank funding for the series of 3,000 dams, because the project is beset by problems. Based on the first ever independent review of a World-Bank-funded megaproject, the report says it is not possible to fairly resettle the 250,000 tribal people about to be displaced, and environmental issues are not being dealt with properly.

Following the report, Bank president Lewis Preston acknowledges that 'performance (of Narmada) has fallen short of ... Bank policies and guidelines.' But although Preston accepts that there are 'deficiencies in the Bank's appraisal of the project, the borrowers' implementation and the Bank's supervision', he still insists that the continued Bank support for the Narmada project is justified.

The Bank has already pumped $450 million into the programme which is scheduled to cost five and a half billion dollars in all and is the world's biggest-ever river project. It involves building a series of dams on the Narmada river. Forest and farmland roughly equivalent in space to 250,000 soccer pitches will be flooded. And up to one and a half million mainly tribal people will be forced to leave their traditional lands.

Proponents of the scheme portray it as a dream development project. According to the corporation set up to build the dams, they will provide 15 billion gallons of water daily, irrigate 11,000 square kilometres of land, protect 750,000 people from flooding and generate 1,450 megawatts of hydroelectric power.

But opponents say it will force 250,000 tribal people out of their fertile forests and devastate the environment. Local opposition to the dam has met with a violent response from the authorities.

The degree of controversy over the project in India and among many Western environmentalists led to Japan axing its funding for the dams last year and prompted the Bank to commission the review.

The report by leading environmentalist Bradford Morse and campaigner Tom Berger accuses the Bank of bending and even ignoring its own policy and Indian law concerning the resettlement of indigenous peoples and the environmental impacts of the project.

It concludes that the numbers of people facing resettlement has been grossly underestimated and that over half are being denied compensation. In addition irrigation potential has been exaggerated and damage to downstream fisheries has been ignored.

While not calling for the Narmada project to be scrapped they advise the Bank to completely reassess it, and add that little can be achieved while construction continues.

Both Morse and Berger are believed to have been under pressure to tone down the report. Both refused, but they did agree to withhold publication until after the Rio Earth Summit.

Damien Lewis / Gemini

rubbish Dutch Chip
Less rubbish is being thrown away by the residents of Hoofdorp, Holland, after using new dustbins implanted with a microchip. The 'smart' bins measure how much refuse is collected and allow the local authorities to give refunds to people who throw away least. An estimated two-thirds of local households who took part in the 26-week test qualified for a refund. Rubbish loads have been cut by 13 per cent. Heavily-populated Holland produces more household waste per head of population than any other European Community country, and is fast running out of space to dispose of it.

Consumer Currents, No 146, 1992

Child charities chasm
When it comes to looking after the children of their employees, the British children's charities are not the models you might expect.

A survey by the white-collar union, Manufacturing, Science and Finance, reveals that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Children's Home provide only the bare legal minimum of 40 weeks maternity leave. And the National Children's Home has no paternity leave at all.

None of the five charities surveyed, which included Save the Children Fund, Barnado's and The Children's Society, help their employees with childcare through vouchers or workplace nurseries. With women and children suffering the brunt of their meanness perhaps someone should remind them that charity begins at home.

New Statesman & Society, Vol 5, No 208 1992



The persistent threat

Cambodia's population holds the unenviable record of being the most disabled on earth. One in every 236 Cambodians has lost a limb, according to the recent Asia Watch report entitled Land Mines in Cambodia: The Coward's War. The number of mines laid in Cambodia is not known, but some indication was given by the US Agency for International Development which discovered 6,000 mines in a one kilometre stretch of ground while building a road in Thmar Puch.

Not surprisingly mines have accounted for over 50 per cent of war casualties in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge has used mine deployment to control population movements, effectively trapping people in its zones and restricting movement; the mines tend to be concentrated around villages and the majority of victims are civilians. A common tactic during the war was to bombard a village with artillery, thus flushing out the inhabitants to be blown up by surrounding minefields.

The Chinese T69 mine, widely used by the Khmer Rouge, is designed to maim rather than kill its victims. The injured thus drop out of the workforce and ever-increasing numbers of the able-bodied are needed to provide care.

In Cambodia there are only 500 doctors and 7,000 nurses for a population of over eight million. In some rural areas there is one doctor to 30,000 people. With an infant mortality rate of 133 in every 1,000, the country is only slowly creaking into action. Lack of funding has prevented major de-mining operations from even starting. Thai troops are helping to remove mines from Cambodian soil but this action is restricted to Route 5, the main trading route between Phnom Penh and the Thai border: the de-mining extends one metre on either side of the road.

If repatriation of refugees from Thai border camps is to take place as planned according to the UN peace agreement then a full de-mining operation will be needed to prevent greater numbers being disabled.

Paul Donovan

Sikh shoot-out
A gun battle near the Sikh holy city of Amritsar on 9 June, the latest in the long-standing Sikh campaign for an independent Khalistan, is causing red faces among Indian police and has turned Into a human rights case in New Delhi. A force of 300 police surrounded a house in Behia village, but were pinned down by heavy fire. So they used local villagers as human shields; seven villagers died in the crossfire. Then the police called for help. An army battalion and commando unit, about 1,200 soldiers in all, supported by helicopters, were rushed to extricate the trapped police. After the soldiers wiped out the house with anti-tank rockets they found the bodies of two 'Sikh militants, one rifle and one machine gun.

Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol 155, No 26 1992.



Veneration gap
India's 'now kids'

Millions of India's urban teenagers are currently in the sway of a Western lifestyle cult. Youths in India's big cities are listening to pop music, wearing American Wrangler jeans, eating fast food, drinking beer, visiting discotheques and watching Hollywood films.

Nick-named the 'now kids', they are discarding age-old inhibitions and openly displaying rebellious attitudes towards traditionally-held middle class social values. 'They want to look and act differently,' says Watan Singh, a college teacher in Delhi. 'Even their parents have difficulty understanding them and their lingo.

Coming from India's burgeoning middle class - estimated to be around 150 million strong - this 'mod' generation is the product of the English medium school system which mushroomed in every city and town in the 1960s offering English language education - the key to better job opportunities. For even after 45 years of independence, English is still the dominant language.

The new generation have shed traditional constraints. Today young men and women mingle in mixed sex groups, and dating is becoming acceptable. Innocent affairs among teenagers - holding hands, sitting close in restaurants under dim lights - are now familiar urban sights.

There are as many theories about teenagers becoming Westernised as there are experts. 'I'm only certain of one thing,' says one teenager. We are the most 'named' generation. We have been called the 'pop generation', 'now generation', 'gyrating generation' and the 'lost generation' to name but a few. Perhaps we are all rolled into one - 'the confused generation'.

Atiya Singh / Gemini



Multinational manipulation
The price of Guatemala's exports

Shirt manufacturers Phillips Van Heusen is among companies named as violating labour rights in a petition issued against Guatemalan businesses by campaigning groups concerned with human rights and labour relations. If successful the petition could result in the removal of duty free status for Guatemalan exports to the US which would mean a 60 per cent loss of value to exporters.

Clothing workers are paid less than one dollar a day in the factories of Guatemala, which employ 45,000 workers, 80 per cent of whom are women. Export earnings from clothing have grown from less than one million dollars six years ago to over $100 million in 1991, making it Guatemala's second leading export to the US.

The development of export industries reflects the new international division of labour. The skilled work is done in the North before products are transferred to the South for labour-intensive completion. As one US Agency for International Development (AID) official stated, the maquila is 'the exportation of labour without having to send the workers abroad'.

The Guatemalan Government (advised by AID) has effectively made each maquila factory a free-trade zone in which the factory owner receives tax incentives, is free to repatriate capital to North America and can treat workers with impunity.

Around 87 per cent of Guatemalans live in dire poverty and the maquila industry provides the poorest with an alternative to harvesting - but sometimes the cost is high. Reports of sexual and physical abuse are frequent. Researcher Cindy Forster writes, 'In the maquila industry, line chiefs daily coerce women to render sexual favours in factory offices and storage rooms. The Lucasan clothing factory employs 900 people, most of them women. Every fifteen days the women are lined up and the managers beat their stomachs to make sure they are not pregnant. Anyone found pregnant is immediately fired.'

Yet between 1985 and 1990 just one business was fined for breaking health and safety regulations. When unions attempt to organize, companies typically close down, fire the workers and then reopen nearby with non-unionised labour. Aura Marina Rodriguez, union organiser at Phillips Van Heusen, was recently shot; management still oppose the organization of a union.

You can put pressure on the company to investigate this incident and its general conditions of labour in Guatemala by writing to Larry S Phillips, Chief Executive Officer of Phillips Van Heusen. He is great grandson of the company's founder, considers himself a human rights advocate and served on the board of Oxfam America before founding the American Jewish World Service as a counterpart development agency. His address is: Phillips Van Heusen Corporation, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104. Tel. 0101 212 468 7100.

Paul Donovan

Drugs award from Diana
The NI has won a Media Award from London's Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence (ISDD). It was given for 'objective reporting on drugs' In our October 1991 Issue The Needle and the Damage Done: The Crazy War on Drug. David Ransom, editor of the issue, received the award on behalf of the Co-operative and the contributors, from Princess Diana, Patron of ISDD, on June 22. The NI won the magazine section. The award for television went to Granada TV, for Radio to the BBC and for newspapers to the 'eG' section of The Guardian.

These were the first such awards to be made by ISDD, with the aim of promoting high standards of media coverage on drug-related issues. Lord Deeds, from The Daily Telegraph and chair of the judges' panel, said that the panel had been anxious to set the standard for future awards. The NI makes a habit of intruding into 'specialist' areas of reporting with what we hope is a radical cutting edge, and we don't usually expect to receive plaudits for doing so.

dollars Big brother, bigger stick
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a threat to the US, the question is what is 'reasonable' for the White House to spend on its military and intelligence activities? In the 1980s, the US increased defence spending by 50 per cent, even though the rest of the world did not keep pace. So the US share of world military spending rose from 22 per cent to 28 per cent. In the 1990, if military cuts remain as medeat as those proposed by President Bush and the Pentagon, their defence and intelligence budget can be expected to make up half of all global military spending.

When the US pays up its United Nations bills, it limits its contribution to 25 per cent of the UN budget, on the sound principle that it would be unhealthy for any one country to dominate such world institutions. Yet its military spending was already three per cent higher than this ceiling in 1989 and is rising rapidly. Why do the rules change?

The Nation, Vol 254, No.22 1992


Words of wisdom from the Vice President of the US, Dan Quayle:

'Hawaii has always been a very pivotal role in the Pacific. It is in the Pacific.
It is part of the United States that is an island that is right there.'
Speaking with reporters in Hawaii, May1989

'We offer the party as a big tent. How we do that within the platform, the preamble to the platform, or whatnot, that remains to be seen. But that message will be articulated with great clarity.'
Interview with the Washington Post. December 1989

'I believe we are on an irreversible trend towards more
freedom and democracy, but that could change.'
Address to Newspaper Society forum, London April 1990


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New Internationalist issue 235 magazine cover This article is from the September 1992 issue of New Internationalist.
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