issue 238 - December 1992
CHRISTINE PFUND / CAMERA PRESS
Big cat bites back.
Since Project Tiger was launched in 1973 to save India's tigers, thousands of people have died - killed by the flourishing tiger population. In the Sundarbans tiger sanctuary, covering the mangrove swamps on the delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers between India and Bangladesh, some 600 people have been mauled to death. Understandably local opposition to Project Tiger is mounting.
A strange order of priorities is shown in the fine for killing a tiger being three times higher than the compensation paid to the dependants of a tiger's victim. 'The law says a tiger is worth more than a person. But tigers are a menace,' says a local inhabitant.
In the mid-1980s the village of Arampur, where more than 150 women had lost their husbands, became known as 'the village of widows'. In 1981 the Reserve authorities deployed clay dummies of fishermen wired to give a 300-volt shock to a tiger pouncing on them. But these deterrents have proved ineffective.
The Sundarbans sanctuary is the habitat of the Royal Bengal tiger, India's prize animal. Once there were only 120 tigers in the sanctuary. Today there are 300 adults and 50 cubs, the highest concentration anywhere in the world.
Prithiviraj Sengupta, field director of Project Tiger, claims that tigers only rarely stray into human settlements and kill people. The danger lies in the sanctuary 'buffer zone' which should be abolished. People are officially allowed into this area twice a year to collect honey and wood. Fishing is allowed all the year. 'Why should we go on stealing honey and fish, both of which the tiger relishes, from its own home, right under its nose?' asks Sengupta.
He believes people who go into the sanctuary should be taught alternative skills. Dangerous individual animals could be culled, thereby reducing the numbers of tigers and allowing people to get on with their lives.
But if tigers were eliminated altogether from Sundarbans the forests and mangrove swamps would almost certainly be cleared - and a denuded Sundarbans, no longer shielded from cyclones, would pose a climatic hazard to the entire coast of West Bengal. And the world would lose a magnificent animal.
Cambodia's 100,000th returnee
The 100,000th Cambodian refugee was repatriated and arrived back in Phnom Penh on 28 August. Most of those repatriated so far have come from Thai border camps, where 93,600 refugees from a total of 370,000 had returned home. Other returnees have come from Malaysia and Indonesia.
From Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol 155, No 35, 1992
Lake Victoria needs air
Pollution, overfishing and the introduction of foreign species of fish are seriously endangering Lake Victoria, the world's second largest freshwater lake and source of food and livelihood to a million people in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
In the late 1980s massive schools of dead fish were found floating on the surface. The deaths occurred when strong winds pushed deeper waters to the surface. Studies found the bottom half of the lake to be a vast dead zone bereft of dissolved oxygen. So fish died from lack of oxygen.
On the lake surface algae thrive on nutrients from sewage, farm pesticide runoff and factory wastes. The dead algae drift to the bottom and, as they decompose, consume the available oxygen. Water hyacinths clog the shallows, reducing the light and oxygen reaching an area where many of the small native fish live. In the past, more than 400 of these fish species kept the algae in check but now half the species have disappeared.
'This is the first time we've seen an ecological collapse of this magnitude in so short a period,' says Les Kaufman, chief scientist at the New England Aquarium and head of an international research team, funded by the US Government, which is trying to save the lake. One culprit, in Kaufman's view, is the Nile Perch, a predator that grows to 200 kilograms. It was introduced to the lake in the 1960s and has since taken over the lake, eating lots of the smaller species.
Yet not all agree on the role of the Nile Perch in the lake's decline. It lives in other African lakes such as the Turkana and Tanganyika without destroying the food chain. One thing all agree, however, is that the effluents that are feeding the algae and sapping the lake of its life must be curbed.
From New Scientist, Vol 135, No 1840, 1992
End of the Path?
Euphoria greets capture of legendary guerilla leader
The capture of Abimael Guzman, founder and ideologue of Sendero Luminoso - the Shining Path - has been greeted ecstatically by many Peruvians sickened by 12 years of a civil war that has killed 25,000 people and cost $22 billion. But the unanswered question on everyone's mind is what difference Guzman's capture will really make.
In a bid to destroy 'Comandante Gonzalo's' image and myth of invincibility Peruvian Government television has repeatedly shown the former Professor of Philosophy in his police cell. He cuts a sorry figure: flabby, shambling, with a wispy grey beard.
But there are fears that President Fujimori's euphoria at the capture of his arch-enemy may prove premature. The violence of poverty - and the culture of violence produced by more than a decade of civil war between the insurgents and Government forces - remains.
Lima now lives as Beirut once did, each day bringing more car bombs and shootings. Outside the capital the situation is worse. Cocaine fiefdoms proliferate across the slopes of the Andes and more than half the country is under emergency rule. Sendero guerillas control about one-third of the country. They rule with brutality, crushing all opposition. The human rights record of the Government forces is little better.
Clearly Guzman's arrest has dealt the guerillas a severe blow. He never designated a successor - rivals were betrayed to the authorities or killed - and apparently he alone controlled an estimated $30-million-a-year cash flow derived from the cocaine trade. Observers predict there will now be a period of damaging infighting between the political and military wings of the movement.
But given the polarization of Peruvian society and the disintegration caused by the war, it seems unlikely that the capture of Sendero's ideologue will bring peace.
Susie Morgan / Gemini
The loneliness of the long-living Japanese
The lonely, the insecure and those frustrated by the frantic pace of modern life are a newly discovered market in Japan. Elderly Japanese isolated from their children can now rent a 'family' for lunch and a few hours' conversation. They just dial a Tokyo number and ask for, say, a daughter, a son-in-law and a couple of grandchildren. The family then shows up at your door and greets you emotionally, as if they haven't seen you for years. Three hours with them would cost $1,130 plus transport. The phone number belongs to Nippon Kokasei Honbu (Japan Effectiveness Headquarters) which also provides 'staff' for timid business executives to bawl out, 'sweethearts' for those unlucky in love and 'maids' to make people feel rich.
From Xinhua News Agency, reported in World Press Review, Vol 39, No 8, 1992
RENATE FLOTTAU / CAMERA PRESS
President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo has won a dubious distinction: he is the first old-style African leader to survive a democratic knockout and stage a comeback. Eight opposition parties together with Togo's exhausted Prime Minister, Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, have signed a deal with Togo's army returning to Mr Eyadema most of the power they had taken from him at the country's national conference last year. The democratic leaders changed their minds after a year-long terror campaign, conducted by the Army on behalf of the President who is, of course, commander-in-chief. For the past year soldiers have shelled Mr Koffigoh's beachfront home, nearly assassinated one opposition leader, successfully murdered another and destroyed computerized electoral lists. Hundreds of people have died in political violence, a heavy toll in a population of barely four million. Fears are growing that an army coup might precipitate a disastrous civil war: West Africa can do without a second Liberia.
From The Economist, Vol 324, No 7775, 1992
Where there is no condom
Russia is running out of condoms. No contraceptives have been imported from the West for two years because of the shortage of hard currency. The two domestic condom factories, operating until recently under an Italian licence, have stopped production because they cannot afford to import latex. The country's only IUD factory, at Kazan, was closed down after the Health Ministry complained about the poor quality of its products.
This leaves abortion as the major form of contraception. Every year some four million abortions are registered in the country, twice the number of live births. Many more women have illegal abortions, often in unhygienic conditions. In the current economic crisis, family planning is low on the Government's list of priorities.
From New Scientist. No 1832, 1992
Desert thirst quenched
The 400 inhabitants of Chungungo, 500 kilometres north of Santiago, Chile, are the only people on earth drinking fog. Despite a 20-year drought the tiny desert town has a constant supply of fresh water for the first time in its history.
For a brief period after 1914 Chungungo was supplied with water and electricity by the US Bethlehem Steel Company, operating what was then the largest iron-ore mine in the world. When the company pulled out Chungungo had to rely on twice-weekly water deliveries by truck.
The new system is in fact an ancient one used by the Incas. The thick fog that forms along the coast changes into a fine mist of raindrops when it rises over inland hills and comes into contact with trees, forming 'interior rain within forests.
A few kilometres east of the town is a eucalyptus forest on El Tofo hill. Some 50 huge nets, or 'fog catchers', supported by eucalyptus pillars with water containers at their base, have been installed on the top of the hill. About 7,200 litres of water are collected daily and brought into the town along a pipe seven kilometres long. The total cost of the project was just $140,000.
Last May the inhabitants of Chungungo opened their water taps and watched in astonishment as clear, crystalline liquid flowed out.
'We were quite sceptical at first,' says an elderly, radiant woman. 'Once we used to joke... only fog or smoke will come out of the taps, we said.'
Now the people of the town are more optimistic about their future. They know that the fog, unlike Bethlehem Steel, will never leave them. They know too that an ancient legend - that the original inhabitants of the region worshipped trees because a perpetual flow of water sprang from their leaves - is based on fact.
RICHARD OPEN / CAMERA PRESS
Drug users defy stereotypes
The presumption is this: drugs lead to addiction. Addiction leads to desperation. Desperation leads to crime. People who use drugs are doomed to failure. These are the messages behind the official anti-drugs campaigns. Yet there is growing evidence that such campaigns don't work because they are not true.
Most startling is the relationship between drugs and wages. Young cocaine and marijuana users actually earn higher salaries than non-users, according to a long-term study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research in New York. The drug-use habits of 5,000 young adults were compared across the US. The survey was first done in 1984 and repeated in 1989 to the same group of people, with an average age of 23 and then 27. It shows drug users do not drop out of the workforce quicker than drug-free employees. In fact they are often the most inquisitive and talented people at the workplace.
From Pacific News Service, August 1992
A quick buck
More than 10,000 Indian men recently besieged Iraq's embassy in New Delhi with testimonials to their character and virility. They were responding to a newspaper advert offering them $1,000 to marry Iraqi women whose husbands had been killed in the Gulf War. But the advert was phoney, placed by crooks who charged about $4 per 'application'. The Iraqi ambassador expressed sympathy for the applicants but said: 'How can they think we have nothing better to do in Iraq than give away money and our women?'
From The Independent, London, August 1992
Malaysia has apologized to Indonesia over the public airing of a foreign news report showing film footage of Indonesian soldiers firing on mourners in East Timor in November 1991. The report was shown in a news programme by Radio Television Malaysia (RTM), a Government channel widely received by satellite dish users in Indonesia. An Indonesian youth group claimed the report was an insult to the country. The Malaysian Information Minister apologized saying that RTM had made an editorial mistake, and went to Jakarta for urgent talks on the matter. Establishing the truth of the report, and why troops should be massacring East Timorese mourners, seems not to have been on his agenda.
From Far Eastem Economic Review. Vol 155, No 49, 1992
The British popular press has never been famous for feelings of friendship
and solidarity to other nations, even European Community partners.
Here are two quotes from a daily, The Star (circulation 800,000):
28 September "The Jerries are getting too big for their jackboots.
They torpedoed the pound, launched and now they plan a sick
knees-up to celebrate the V2 rocket which killed thousands here.
They need to be reminded of the debt they owe the British for
rebuilding their shattered nation after conflicts THEY started."
29 September: The V2 celebrations were cancelled. The Star takes the credit.
"No sooner had we raised rifle at the Germans than they scuttled back into their trenches."