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As a surveyor I spent many years in the Sudan, and also worked on the major Niger and Blue Nile dams. Your article ‘Delta Blues’ Rivers (NI 273) on the effects of the High Aswan Dam is unfair to its Egyptian owners, with only one paragraph out of 13 on their ‘story’ of the seven dry years in the 1980s. Without the High Dam’s over-year storage, millions of Egyptians would have died then – unless we and others had fed them.
You also failed to mention why the dam was built. Egypt foresaw that with the end of peaceful and efficient British administration in Sudan and Uganda, they could not rely on the operation of their comprehensive control plan of 1948 for storage in Lakes Victoria and Albert, and the transport of this water via the Jonglei canal. The Sudanese civil war caused the abandonment of this canal before completion.
Dr Hurst, the main author of this plan, foresaw sequences of high and low Blue Nile floods. So of course did Joseph in Pharaoh’s dream.
West Wittering, Sussex, England
Nowhere to turn
I read with much interest your issue on Medicine (NI 272) and particularly appreciated Zafa Mirza’s contribution about people’s attitude towards pills and medicines in Pakistan. These attitudes are not so very different here in Italy. People’s disappointment about allopathic medicine is so great that between two and five million have turned to what are termed ‘alternative’ medicines. They then find that a lot of these doctors are taking advantage of the lack of state control over what they do to make money quick. The average bill for a one-hour visit to one of these doctors (no home visits) is around $1,500 – tax-free of course, and no written bill is ever handed to the patient.
The end of the story is that you do not know where to turn when looking for help in curing an illness.
Your magazine on Medicine (NI 272) highlighted some of the gross inconsistencies that occur in healthcare worldwide and correctly reported that antacids such as Zantac represent an enormous chunk of total drug sales.
What you did not report was that over the last ten years research started in Australia has shown that 90 per cent of patients with stomach ulcers have a bacteria, Helico-bacter Pylori, thriving in the stomach. The body’s response is to increase the acid secretion to kill off the bacteria. They survive this onslaught and the patient is prescribed antacids as the increased acidity begins to erode the stomach itself.
Helico-bacter Pylori can be eradicated by a short course of specific, off-patent, cheap antibiotics. Most new forms of disease treatment are promoted and pushed by drug companies to doctors. It does not take a genius to work out why this remarkable cure for stomach ulcers is not standard treatment.
There are two assumptions implicit in the letter: 1) Welfare monies are spent on the needy majority, overlooking abuse of a minority that often shrouds the welfare needs of the majority, and 2) Charity is given from the goodness of the donor’s heart, rather than to redress an unjust distribution of the world’s resources.
Donors should look for an agency working in partnership at the grassroots acting to change the conditions giving rise to the abuses.
Changing the world
World Vision decries the way some non-governmental organizations challenge ‘big businessmen and politicians’
(Letters NI 271).
Trade Aid, on the other hand, believes that many of the problems of world poverty and underdevelopment have their roots in unjust and exploitative trading patterns.
It is through campaigns and lobbying that we seek to inform and change people’s opinions – including politicians and big business. If we do not, we accept the status quo and endorse the very systems that perpetuate poverty.
Protest action and radicals can and have injected ideas into the public arena which eventually become mainstream. We only have to look at Civil Rights campaigns by black Americans in the 1950s, the nuclear-free issue and the anti-apartheid movement for examples of ‘fringe’ ideas becoming accepted by the majority.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: ‘Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’
Sylvia Huxtable & Carolyn Davies for the Trade Aid movement
Christchurch, Aotearoa/New Zealand
While people such as Mr Morley leap so defensively for pen and paper, issues relating to gender inequalities can never be truly addressed. I am glad to note that in Leominster at least all ‘ladies’ receive equal pay for equal work, occupy 50 per cent of senior management positions and are no more likely than men to be the victims of sexual assault or domestic violence.
Unfortunately this is clearly not the case elsewhere in this country or in the world that New Internationalist seeks to inform us of.
The review of Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom (NI 272) is way off beam. Writing as one ‘who made the journey to Spain’ to join the International Brigade, I can assure your readers that Loach’s hero is far from typical. That applies to his journey to Spain and even more to his keeping quiet about his experiences on returning home. Returning members of the British Battalion formed the International Brigade Association to carry on the struggle against Fascism. As we said at the time, the fronts have changed but the battle continues.
The Spanish Civil War was fought between the elected Republican Government and the Franco-led rebel Generals backed by the resources of Hitler and Mussolini plus the Non-Intervention policy of the Western democracies. That is not what Ken Loach’s film is about.
Whatever star rating the film merits for Entertainment, for Politics it deserves only a zero.
I am researching and compiling a book about the experience of motherhood and would love to hear from readers. I am interested in material on all aspects of motherhood from pregnancy and childbirth, to being a working mother and feelings about your own mothers. Please write to me at 4 St Albans Down, Nonington, Dover, Kent CT15 4HN.
Goose with bite
The ‘Quote’ in NI 271 is one of my favourites, but yours is a very watered-down version, lacking the 18th-century ‘bite’ of the one I always cherished. My grandfather taught it to me and he was born in about 1870. It should say: ‘They hang the man and flog the woman that steals the goose from off the Common but let the greater felon loose that steals the Common from the goose.’
|The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist|
The Long and Winding Road
Olivia Ward meets two lovers whose fates have been as
star-crossed as those of their beloved country.
When the french writer Colette talked about the courage of ordinary women, she had never seen the collapsed beauty of this tiny republic. But as I sat in Nino’s dark kitchen her words seemed very close.
The tiny oil stove sent a warmly fragrant aura around my companion, turning her rotund figure into a tableau of plenty. But it was an illusion. For Nino, nine months pregnant and 40 years old, was if anything a symbol of threadbare determination in the face of adversity.
‘We didn’t want to get married when the country was in upheaval.’ she said. ‘So we waited a year. Then we waited another two years. Finally we realized time had run out for us.’
Nino and Georgy’s story had a Mills-and-Boon plot that plummeted into stark contemporary realism. Childhood sweethearts in the picturesque West Georgian town of Kutaisi, they came from two different Soviet households. Hers, the intelligentsia; his, a solid blue-collar home.
Squinting into the candlelight over a simmering pot of eggplant, Nino told me about the years of plenty that came with a lush farmland location and a bit more than enough money to go round.
When she and Georgy fell in love as teenagers, her parents, local intellectuals, turned up their noses at the good-humoured young mechanic with the soft brown eyes. And he was determined to better himself through education and win the family’s respect.
Georgy won a place at a provincial Russian engineering college. And when Nino left for Moscow to take a mathematics degree they drifted inexorably away from each other.
After graduation, settled in a prestigious academy post in Moscow, Nino begged Georgy to join her. He refused with the pride of a Caucasian man who could not live with a higher-earning wife. He went to the wastes of Siberia, saving his premium salary for his future home and family.
When the Soviet Union collapsed the political caught up with the personal. Georgia declared independence and they both realized it was time to go home.
‘When we met after so many years it was overwhelming,’ said Nino, her face flushed in spite of the cold. ‘We felt like fools for wasting so much time.’
But in Kutaisi Nino drew the tiny salary of a rural mathematics professor. Georgy, chief engineer at a local factory, was paid every few months if at all. Then the plant folded along with the economy.
Within three years Georgia was torn apart by war, famine and lawlessness. A separatist army briefly seized the town, terrorizing the residents. Looters swept through the countryside and most people barricaded themselves behind their gates with guns. In a beautiful 18th-century chapel lit only with candles, Nino and Georgy were married.
‘It was not a romantic wedding,’ Nino smiled. ‘By this time we had almost no electricity and the heat was off for months.’
Now she faced a much bigger challenge – childbirth in a freezing hospital where she must bring her own blankets, painkillers, medicines and food: an event I found hard to imagine without rising panic. But Nino merely shrugged. ‘At first I lay awake at night shaking. People told me I was too old for a first child under these conditions. But if we’re going to survive we all have to be strong, even the baby.’
Fear aside, the insurmountable problem was money. The emergency supplies Nino needed cost more than a year’s wages, even if she were being paid regularly.
With a wallet full of travel money, I was in a dilemma. Relatives of a friend in Tbilisi, Georgy and Nino were feeding and sheltering me out of generosity and a lively interest in the outside world that I represented. But they waved away any hint of remuneration. How could I help my hosts without insulting them? On the other hand, could I leave Nino to her grim fate without at least making the attempt?
We walked up the stairs of the big study house that Georgy had built in better days. In one room was a tiny ornate crib with lace sheets. As Nino showed me these proud family heirlooms, a neighbour called to her and she left me for a moment.
The hesitation was momentary. Tucking a crisp new banknote under the sheet I said, only to myself, ‘For the future.’ I was sure that Nino would know what I meant.
Olivia Ward is bureau chief for the Toronto Star in Moscow.
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996