issue 236 - October 1992
Parched soil and empty stomachs
photo by MICHEL SZULC-KRYZANOWSKI
Millions of people in Southern Africa are affected by the worst drought in living memory. Crops have burnt up and 18 million people are facing starvation. Traditionally Zimbabwe and South Africa are the bread baskets for the region, exporting large quantities of maize. Now they are importers. In Zimbabwe some 40 per cent of the people who live from subsistence fanning have lost their crops. Countrywide, about five million people are affected, and the country will need to import 1.7 million tons of grain in 1992/3.
In Southern Africa as a whole over 11 million tons of food will be needed between now and April 1993. Although most of this will come from normal commercial imports, the international community will need to provide four million tons of cereals. Of this 1.6 million tons will be used for free emergency distribution to the most severely affected regions.
The international community has not adequately responded to the UN/Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference appeal launched on 1 June Particularly worrying is that pledges for emergency aid for the people most at risk are less than half of what was requested. Furthermore, almost none of the food aid pledged has arrived in Africa and pledges need to be turned into deliveries now.
From Zambia & Zimbabwe Report, (29 June 1992) by Oxfam Director, David Bryer and Liberal Democrat MP, Simon Hughes. Available from Oxfam House, 274 Banbury Road, Oxford 0X2 7DZ, UK.
Readers may remember the happy picture (above left) that we used on the front cover of our Almanac, a couple of years ago. It was of Lambert Nyawere, a Zimbabwean farmer, welcoming the rains to his field in 1989. Recently the same photographer returned to Lambert's village, to see how he was faring in the drought. The other two pictures give some idea. He is a defeated man. 'Last year the harvest was disappointing,' according to Lambert, 'there was not enough rain. But this year the skies have given us nothing. I have waited for the rains. Regularly dark clouds have formed; I hoped and prayed and received just a few spots. What I have sown: maize, tobacco, pepper and tomatoes, they have shrivelled up when scarcely knee-high. Now my cattle are suffering. This morning one of my cows was unable to stand up any longer. Never have we experienced such a drought. Even the old people in the village cannot remember such a disaster.'
Sign of the Cross
On 12 October this year Pope John Paul II is planning to bless a lighthouse in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. It has been built to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival, bringing with him christianity to Latin America.
The Far a Colon (Columbus Lighthouse) is located on the outskirts of Santo Domingo. It lies, as if on its back, measuring 800 feet long by 150 feet high. It hasn't been built higher because of the hurricane risk. The lighthouse produces a light show high into the Caribbean sky, projecting a huge cross onto the clouds. The snag is that the evening has to be cloudy for the cross to be reflected.
The light will be seen, so the builders claim, from Jamaica. Costing almost $250 million, it is an expensive son et lumière show, with the powerful lights having to be imported from Disneyland in the US. Unfortunately most Santo Domingo citizens, as well as those from the rest of the country, go without electricity.
CHARLES PAYNTER / CAMERA PRESS
Too young to vote, old enough to die
Around the world tens of thousands of children under 18 years of age have no choice but to put life and limb at risk when they are forced by adults to go to war, according to a recently published report by Quaker Peace and Service. In Afghanistan children no more than nine years old are used to fight on both sides of the conflict. In Sri Lanka national human-rights workers are now campaigning to protect the rights of children after some as young as ten years old have been forced to enrol in the armed militias. And during the Iran-Iraq war, the International Herald Tribune described groups of 20 children, tied together to prevent escapes, hurling themselves onto barbed wire and walking into Iraqi minefields so as to make the way safe for Iranian tanks.
UNICEF Intercom reported in April 1990 that six-year-olds have been captured by the Mozambique guerilla group RENAMO and ordered to 'sack villages, shoot townspeople and even burn their own homes and kill their own relatives'. Their report confirms an earlier account which asserts that children are systematically used by RENAMO because it is easier to control them than adults, who tend to run away.
Deep in the jungle of Peru in the 'liberated zone' of the upper Huallaga Valley, the Sendero Luminoso or 'Shining Path' guerrilla movement has also been training children between 10 and 15 years old for its military units, according to Alain Layout in his book Gosses de Guerre. The Peruvian Government has itself been accused of sending armed forces to raid villages and steal children for the army.
These are just some of many cases cited in the report which catalogues the tragic part played by children in war. With evidence from 21 countries including the UK, Burma, the Philippines and Israel, the report recommends that an optional protocol should be added to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, whereby ratifying states would agree not to recruit youngsters aged under 18 into their armed forces.
Child Soldiers: The recruitment of children into armed forces and their participation in hostilities, ed Martin Macpherson. From Quaker Peace and Service, Friends House, Euston Road, London NWI 2BJ, UK, or Quaker United Nations Office, Avenue du Mervelet 13, 1209 Geneva, Switzerland
Boozers and the donkey treatment
Women vigilantes in India's north-east state of Manipur have discovered a tough way to cure men's alcohol addiction. Any man caught drinking by one of a mushrooming number of female temperance patrols is tied naked on a donkey and paraded through the streets.
The strategy has evolved from a decades-long campaign by the Women's War Association to ban alcohol consumption. Dubbed 'The Torchbearers' because of the paraffin torches they carry, the women wait at street corners, and whistle up reinforcements when they detect a clutch of drunken men. First they force their victims to tell them the whereabouts of the local still, which they destroy. Then they start the donkey treatment.
The All Manipur Prohibition Association began after male alcoholism became endemic in the state in the 1970s and led to wife-beating, the break-up of homes and unemployment. By the mid-1980s the movement's membership had risen to over 300,000 women, and they started to patrol the city streets looking for drinking dens and their patrons.
'Anyone caught by the patrols never wants a repeat experience and is usually cured of drinking,' says a Manipur Government official who asked that his name not be used.
Rahul Bedi, New Delhi / Pacific News Service
Pretoria's Berlin Wall
It slithers across the barren rocky soil between Mozambique and South Africa like a sinister electric eel. It is a cruel and lethal 40-foot wide barrier consisting of six coils of razor wire on each side of an eight-strand electrified fence, built by South Africa in 1985 to keep refugees out. It has killed at least 900 people in six years - more than the victims at the Berlin Wall - and thousands more have been slashed by the razor wire and burnt from the near-lethal levels of electricity in the fence. Pretoria says it has now turned down the voltage to below-lethal levels, and refugees are more often caught in the all-entangling coils of razor wire from which it is nearly impossible to escape. Bodies sprawl across the high-voltage fence, showing just how desperate is the desire of Mozambicans to live away from the marauding bands of the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO).
The fence runs about 40 miles from the Swazi border to the edge of Kruger National Park at the South African border town of Komatipoort, cutting off escape routes into the KaNgwane homeland of the Eastern Transvaal.
From Horizon, Harare (reprinted in World Press Review, Vol.39 No.7).
Patrões and pistoleiros
Brazil's land barons refine tactics
MARK EDWARDS / STILL PICTURES
My nephew is a gunman,' says 56-year-old union activist, Antonio Arruda during an interview near the edge of the Amazon rainforest. 'He works for the big patrões (landowners) and he's a professional. But when they asked him to kill me, family loyalty won out. He tipped me off.'
The landowner rumoured to have offered $1,500 for Arruda's head had reason to want him killed. Arruda had already helped organize a peasants' occupation of privately-owned land near the landowners' estate. Now he feared the land-hungry peasants might move on to his property too. Arruda's death could intimidate them into staying put.
Killings are common in this part of the world. In the little town of Ze Doca, three rural leaders have been murdered in the past five years. The pattern is repeated all over Brazil. The Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), a group affiliated to the Roman Catholic Church, reports that more than 1,684 Brazilian rural workers have been assassinated since 1964.
Of these, only 25 cases have been brought to trial and only 14 trials have ended in convictions - a record of impunity that has led some to carry out their own revenge killings.
In only one case - the widely publicized 1988 murder of union leader Chico Mendes - has any landowner who ordered such a killing been brought to justice. Even in that celebrated case, the judgement against the man convicted of ordering the assassination was recently overturned.
These days, according to a just-published report by the CPT, Arruda typifies the kind of worker who is increasingly being singled out by the landowners' pistoleiros. Instead of financing indiscriminate killings to scare peasants off disputed lands, Brazil's big landowners are targeting the church and union leaders who are central to the organization of peasant resistance. They aim to maximize the impact of the murders while reducing the number of people killed, undermining the morale of peasant struggles with the least amount of fuss.
As some 60 per cent of farmland is controlled by two per cent of the population, this means Brazil has one of the most highly concentrated patterns of hind ownership in the world. The tiny elite that rules the countryside want to keep things that way.
Meanwhile popular organizations have become better organized and peasant-led land occupations are increasingly common. Last year alone, according to the Commission, 13,844 families took part in such occupations.
As the landowners refine their response, the number of rural assassinations appears to be dropping. Last year 54 workers are known to have died - down from 79 in 1990. And behind it all activists like Antonio Arruda continue their struggle.
Alexander Norris / Gemini
A GREGORY / CAMERA PRESS
Top of the world
If the top of Mount Everest sounds like a quiet and tranquil place, think again. On 12 May this year, so many climbers were waiting to reach the summit, they had to queue. By the end of the short day 32 people had stood on the top of the world. More climbers reached the top from January to June this year than in the first 25 years after Hilary and Tenzing's first ascent in 1953.
Base camp at the foot of the mountain is particularly squalid, with unseemly fights breaking out between mountaineers from different countries. Even halfway up the mountain, the squabbling has continued. Teams from Aotearoa/NZ and the US have complained that they were carved up by a group of Russians who strayed from their designated route and cut in front of them.
Now the usual laws of rationing are going to apply and bring some exclusivity back to Everest. Prices are going up. At the moment the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism charges any group wanting to climb Everest $10,000. From autumn 1993 this will rise to $50,000 for groups of up to five and $70,000 for a group of seven. Better news is that all expeditions must in future bring their rubbish down the mountain and take it out of the country.
From The Economist, (Vol. 324, No. 7770, 1992).
A human being is part of the whole called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. She or he can experience herself or himself, and their personal thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of separation-delusion of her or his conscious. This delusion can be a kind of for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in all its beauty.