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Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Issues > Winter 2003 > Around the World

Around the World

Local News from All Over

AFRICA

Forests of the Congo

Johannesburg — The world’s five richest countries, plus the World Bank, international conservation groups and mega-logging companies have pledged to spend up to $100 million to save the forests of the Congo Basin. Although the final figures have not yet been decided, the US government will be providing around $60 million over the next five years, with France committing up to $30 million. Logging in the Congo Basin has escalated sharply over the last 10 years; 20 percent of the forest could be gone in 15 years, with massive implications for climate change, flooding and species extinction. The logging companies are mostly European, and the wood is exported to Europe. The deal is a public-private partnership involving notoriously corrupt governments and logging companies that have been caught taking the trees illegally — and it excludes local NGOs. The US announcement was timed to coincide with the end of the Earth Summit as a face-saving exercise for its perceived intransigence with the formal negotiations.

The Guardian, August 27

Nigerian women protest ChevronTexaco

Escravos, Nigeria — A hundred women hijacked a ChevronTexaco ferry, took over the radio and ordered the driver to take them to the main oil terminal, where they trapped 700 employees inside the terminal and threatened to demonstrate naked. The action shut down four oil flow stations for 10 days, costing the company around $78 million. The women want material aid for their villages. “You can see for yourself. No clean drinking water, medical care for our people, in fact nothing to show for the years that Chevron has been drilling oil in our community,” said one of the protesters. Despite being the world’s sixth-largest oil exporter and fifth-largest supplier to the US, Nigeria is one of the poorest places on earth.

Associated Press, July 19; This Day (Nigeria), July 26

Angola levies fine for oil spills

Angola—The Angolan government has fined ChevronTexaco $2 million for environmental damage from oil spills in its offshore Cabinda oil field —the first such fine against an oil company operating in its waters. A company investigation claimed “obsolete tubing” was the cause of the spills that shut down a major pipeline for two weeks. Oil dirtied beaches and damaged the local fishing industry.

Reuters/Planet Ark, July 1

Parks for sale

Liberia—President Charles Taylor has been selling timber concessions inside Sapo National Park, one of West Africa’s main protected forest reserves. The Oriental Timber Co. of Hong Kong bought the rights for several million dollars. Sapo Park holds thousands of unique plant and animal species. Taylor gave the money to South African mercenaries to prop up his ailing regime, and kept some as well. Some of the Liberian wood—a species known as ekki or azobe—has found its way to the US and is being used in New York for subway track ties. To protest New York’s acquisition of this wood, contact Rainforest Relief, P.O. Box 150566, Brooklyn, NY 11215, (718) 398-3760, relief@igc.org.

Washington Post, June 4; Rainforest Relief Press Release May 30

Sahara creeps south

Niger—Sixty million people are expected to leave their villages in the Sahel, south of the Sahara, over the next 20 years because there is no more food. In land-locked Niger, households in some villages are down to one meal a day. Young children under five are increasingly malnourished, and more babies are being born weighing less than five pounds. Niger’s farmers have been hit by several severe droughts in recent decades. Scientists blame climate change; some point to air pollution by sulfate aerosol — generated in the northern hemisphere by burning fossil fuels and metal smelting — that has shifted climatic belts and increased desertification south of the Sahara.

Reuters/Planet Ark, June 14; Environmental News Service, June 17

Africans refuse GM food

Zambia, Zimbabwe—Two southern African countries facing a famine that threatens the lives of 13 million people are refusing US-sourced donations of maize because it is genetically modified. James Morris, executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN agency that distributes the food said: “We’ve essentially never had anyone turn us down over the 40-year history of WFP. But a country has the right to say ‘No, we don’t want that.’” Africans distrust GM foods because they believe they are not proven safe for human consumption, and that Africans may be guinea pigs in a US experiment. There is also concern that some farmers may plant the GM-grain, altering or exterminating centuries-old local varieties, and producing hybrids that cannot be exported to Europe—where strong anti-GM fervor prevails.

Reuters/Planet Ark, September 2 and 3; BBC News Talking Point http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/2149638.stm

ASIA

Killer haze

Southern Asia—A two-mile-thick toxic brown cloud of soot, fly ash and sulphuric acid over southern Asia has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people over the last decade, according to a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) study released in August. The amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface has been cut by 10-15 percent, and the monsoon has been affected. Haze covers Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In seven Indian cities alone, UNEP estimated that by the mid-1990s the air pollution had resulted in 37,000 premature deaths from respiratory disease. The pollution comes from forest fires, inefficient cookstoves, and dramatic increases in petroleum burning for transport, industry, and power. UNEP predicts the haze will only get worse over the next 30 years as southern Asia’s population increases.

ENS, August 19; CNN, August 12

War is not healthy etc.

Afghanistan—Kabul is under attack — by water-borne disease. Diarrhea kills an estimated 85,000 children a year in Afghanistan. There have also been sporadic outbreaks of cholera. The World Health Organization is working with public health officials to chlorinate a water supply system just beginning to be rebuilt after many years of war.

ENS, July 25

Anti-poaching general murdered

Russia—A top Russian general was murdered by fishing interests in the Pacific island of Sakahlin. General Vitaly Gamov had tried to stop fish and crab poaching in the rich waters around Sakahlin and neighboring Japan. Fishermen — angered by Russian quotas and high taxes — had instead gone straight to the Japanese buyers. The general had asked prosecutors in Sakhalin to investigate fishing vessels that a Japanese audit had deemed suspicious. Fish stocks are declining: one Sakhalin crab poacher caught enough to make three deliveries a week to Japan in the early 1990s. Last year he made the trip barely once a week.

New York Times, June 27

Spice mines?

Cambodia — The central Cardamom Mountains may soon become the centerpiece of a 2.44-million-acre chain of protected areas. The area is inhabited by threatened species such as Siamese crocodiles, tigers and pileated gibbons. The area is undeveloped and largely free of poaching, as it was a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge who planted landmines and kidnapped invaders. With the Khmer Rouge gone, logging roads have started to encroach on the area, as have refugees seeking land. Conservation International is helping organize and equip forest patrols. “You can’t just create these areas and say ‘thanks’ and take off,” said CI’s Russ Mittermeier. “If you’re not in there with patrols, in five years it’ll be sucked dry of wildlife and chopped in pieces like the rest of Indochina.”

New York Times, June 18

Local opposition diverts Thai pipeline

Thailand—A deal between the Thai and Malaysian governments to build a 230-mile gas pipeline is going ahead despite an extra $5 million required to divert the pipeline away from fishing villages that oppose its construction. The pipeline runs from the Thai-Malaysia Joint Development Area in the Gulf of Thailand onshore to southern Thailand and Kedah state in northern Malaysia. Instead of running ashore at the village of Songkhla, the pipeline now crosses land owned by the Thai navy.

Reuters/Planet Ark, July 9

Chinese pipeline won’t benefit locals

China—A gas pipeline from the west Chinese province of Xinjiang — also known as East Turkestan — will benefit energy-hungry Shanghai and the Chinese government, but not the people whose land it crosses, says the London-based Free Tibet Campaign. Xinjiang is a predominantly Muslim region next to Tibet, home to Turkic-speaking ethnic Uighurs. Three foreign companies, Shell, ExxonMobil Corp and Russia’s Gazprom, hold 15 percent stakes each and will build the system. Petrochina owns another 50 percent with the refiner Sinopec Corp. owning the remaining five percent. A spokesman for Shell responded to Free Tibet’s accusations by saying that the project would bring jobs and cash to some of China’s poorest areas and help clean up smoggy coastal cities.

Reuters/Planet Ark, July 9

Economic scheme saves snow leopard

Mongolia—The snow leopard now stands a better chance of survival in Mongolia, thanks to a scheme that rewards local people financially for keeping it alive. A Mongolian organization, Irbis Enterprises (“irbis” being the Mongolian name for the creature), signs contracts with herders requiring them to keep the snow leopard and its main food source, the ibex (a wild goat), alive. In return local people are taught to make handicrafts such as cashmere socks or felt chair-mats that are sold to tourists over the Internet and in American zoo stores. If no snow leopards are killed, everyone is paid a 20 percent bonus for the products. Monitoring of the area has shown that cat’s numbers may be increasing.

Wall Street Journal, June 17

Australia: Continent in reverse

Australia—A report commissioned by environmental and conservation groups to counter an official account released to the Johannesburg Earth Summit describes Australia as “a continent in reverse.” The report claims that emissions of greenhouse gases have risen 17.4 percent since 1990 and will rise by 30 percent by 2012 — the government claims a rise of only 11 percent by 2012. “Per capita, Australians generate more greenhouse gases and clear more land than the people of any other wealthy nation,” the report states. It says that the number of extinct or vulnerable bird and animal species in Australia rose from 118 in 1993 to 160 in 2001 and that Australia is now ranked fifth in the world for the amount of land cleared annually.

BBC News, August 19

Clean up the world

Sydney—In 1989, yachtsman Ian Kiernan decided he’d seen enough trash on his ocean travels and wanted to do something about it. With the help of a few mates (40,000 of them), he organized the first “Clean up Sydney Harbor Day.” One day became a weekend, then several weekends, and what was a local organization went national and then global. In the last 10 years Clean up Australia has restored spotless windswept beaches and sparkling cities.      Clean up the World, an international organization affiliated with the UN, has partners in 120 countries. Brigitte von Bulow coordinates groups in the US. A volunteer with Clean up Australia, she found her calling on a trip to Disney World in Orlando. “I could almost have cried from the dirt and garbage on the road, so much paper and cardboard boxes,” she said. She plans to have Clean up the World-USA act as a coordinating organization for smaller groups. Brigitte explains her inspiration: “We want the new generation to see the beauty of the world, not just the materialistic aspect.”

To get involved, contact Brigitte von Bulow, PO Box 1110, 1314 East Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, 33301, phone (202) 321-7888, contessa@royal.net

EUROPE

Toxic rivers

Central Europe—Flood waters surged down the rivers Elbe, Danube and Vltava in central Europe, the result of 10 days of torrential rain in August, claiming at least 91 lives in Germany, Russia, Austria and the Czech Republic. Twelve thousand people were evacuated from Dresden, which saw its worst devastation since the Allied firebombing in 1945. In Bitterfeld, chemical plants were threatened by a burst dam. In the Czech Republic, 200,000 people were forced from their homes. The Vltava spilled over into Prague, flooding the mercury-contaminated Spolana chemical plant, which released a cloud of chlorine gas into the atmosphere. The Spolana plant, a relic of Communist-era operations, has been a focus of Greenpeace concerns for several years.

ENS, July 8, August 14-15; Reuters/Planet Ark, August 19

Post-Soviet clean up

Baltic States—Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were left with outdated factories and toxic military sites at the end of the Soviet era. To join the European Union, the nations must modernize aging refineries, reduce air pollution and meet standards for drinking water and forest management. Lithuania is relocating a massive old landfill on the Latvian border and building another one in a safer location. Latvia is modernizing sewage treatment works to reduce pollution of the Baltic. Estonia is burdened with the “secret” Paldiski nuclear submarine facility, abandoned by the Russians in 1995. Estonians were shocked to find abandoned nuclear material and liquid radioactive waste at Paldiski. As neighboring Russia lets environmental issues slide still further and looks only towards economic prosperity, the Baltic states have modernized their outlook and are becoming thoroughly European.

Toronto Globe and Mail, August 14

Glacial landscape to be dammed

Iceland—Eastern Iceland’s glacial wilderness is about to be despoiled by a large aluminum smelter. US industrial giant Alcoa signed an agreement with the Icelandic government in July to allow the $3 billion project to go ahead this summer. A 295,000-tonne- (325,000-ton-) per-year smelter will be fed by a 500-megawatt hydropower plant. The dams’ 16.6-square-mile reservoir would flood regions frequented by reindeer and pink-footed geese, and drown parts of the breathtaking Dimmugljúfur Canyon. The project will create jobs in a remote area hit hard by the declining fishing industry. An additional benefit to Alcoa is that Iceland, an essentially pollution-free country, negotiated an exception to the Kyoto accord on greenhouse gases and Alcoa will not have to pay penalties for carbon dioxide releases from its smelter.

New York Times, July 16; Reuters/Planet Ark, July 25

Return to sender

UK—Two lightly armed ships left Japan in July on an undisclosed route across the Pacific. Their final destination: the point of origin of their waste, the UK. The ships carried their cargo of MOX —mixed uranium and plutonium oxides — rejected by Japan in 1999 because the company involved, British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), had falsified documentation. New Zealand said its airforce would be tracking the ships to ensure they did not enter its territorial waters. Pacific Island nations met to discuss the creation of exclusive economic zones that would prevent ships with nuclear cargoes from passing near them.

Reuters/Planet Ark, July 9; Fiji Sun, August 13

UK military messes with Cyprus

Cyprus—Journal correspondent Patricia Radnor Kyriacou reports local opposition to the British army’s plans to expand their antennae array on the Akrotiri Peninsula over a protected wetland. The peninsula is of strategic importance — not just to the British, whose radar system monitors the Middle East and beyond, but also to wildlife. Birds migrating between Europe, Africa, and Asia rest on the Akrotiri peninsula’s famous salt lake but are trapped in the antennae curtains. Local residents claim the environmental report is a “complete joke.”

Some young British environmental scientists gave an environmental course on the UK base and described the cocktail of environmental hazards. These included the military vehicles training on sensitive tiny lagoons with rare species, and contamination of ground and seawater by oil.

Patricia Radnor Kyriacou, Limassol Cyprus, patricia.radnor@moodys.com

NORTH AMERICA

Corporations must pay for global warming

US—The German insurance company Munich Re has estimated that the bill from weather damage, pollution, industrial and agricultural expenses, among others due to climate change could amount to $300 billion annually by 2050. The price tag for two of the climate-induced events we are reporting this quarter, the Asian brown cloud and eastern European floods alone, will be massive. Law firms and insurance companies are now expanding their businesses to deal with corporations’ climate-related risks. Lawsuits could come from any aggrieved party including governments and investors — the latter increasingly wary of “off-balance sheet” landmines that could blow holes in an otherwise prosperous corporate performance. In July, World Resources Institute reported that leading oil and gas companies could lose six percent or more of their investments because of regulatory and other efforts to curb climate change. Shareholder resolutions are one way to bring this home to companies. An ExxonMobil resolution this year that received a cheering 20 percent vote sought to reduce the power and influence of Chair and CEO Lee Raymond because of Mr. Raymond’s stance that global warming was not something the company should be worried about.

New York Times, August 18

Wildlife strikes back

US—A mischievous raccoon was blamed by Entergy Corporation for inconveniently shorting out the 1,173 megawatt Grand Gulf nuclear power unit in Mississippi in June. The unit was offline for over 48 hours.

Reuters/Planet Ark, June 25

Toxic waste returns

US—It left Philadelphia 16 years ago aboard the Khian Sea, sailed to the Bahamas, was refused entry and for the next two years roamed the seven seas in search of a home: 14,000 tons of incinerated household garbage. Rejected by at least 11 countries on four continents, 4,000 tons of it finally made it to Haiti, slated for use as a fertilizer. The rest was dumped illegally in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans — for which two shipping company officials received prison terms. After it was deported from Haiti to a temporary home in Florida, the waste’s guardians finally agreed on Philly as the best resting place. Philadelphia’s burned trash is finally coming home—as is the idea of taking responsibility for your own mess.

Washington Post, July 17

Just java

US—Berkeley, California, leading the nation again, has a measure on the November ballot to delight advocates of fair trade. The initiative calls for all cups of coffee sold in the city to be “Fair Trade” or “shade grown.” The law would not apply to beans or ground coffee sold in bags. Violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could face fines of $100 and six months jail time. Although supportive of the idea, Mayor Shirley Dean concluded it would be difficult to enforce.

Rick Young, the young attorney responsible for this initiative, has a web site devoted to the issue: www.geocities.com/coffeelawinfo/

New Mexico nearly nuked

US—A tractor-trailer truck transporting nuclear waste from Idaho to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico was hit by a pickup truck early Sunday morning, August 25. The pickup truck burst into flames. The pickup truck’s 19-year old Texan driver was jailed for drunk driving and driving without a license.

KRQE News 13/AP, August 27

SOUTH AMERICA

Just java #2

Peru—Sales of Fair Trade coffee are continuing to rise, despite a slump in world coffee prices. Coffee producers allowed to use the “fair trade” label are currently selling their beans for at least $1.26 per pound—more than twice the September New York coffee price of $0.47. Of that minimum $1.26, farmers will take home $0.90-$1.00. Farmers receive just $0.18-0.25/lb under the unrestrained market system: it costs $0.50-0.80/lb. to produce the coffee. Alfredo Rumaldo, member of a small coffee producers’ association in El Salvador sees fair trade as small coffee farmers’ only hope for the future. “That price gives us a better lifestyle and more income. We can send our kids to school, see a doctor, pay for medicine.”

Reuters/Planet Ark, August 7

Peru debt for nature

Peru; US—The US cancelled $14 million of Peru’s debt repayments over the next 16 years in a debt-for-nature swap under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. Of the $14 million, Peru will spend $10.6 million on conservation over the next 12 years. Much of the money will be channeled to Peruvian conservation groups for park management, training of environmental professionals, development and support of local communities that depend on the forest, or research into the medicinal properties of forest species.

ENS, June 26

Spying on the rainforest

Brazil—A new $1.4 million detection system of radar, control towers and aircraft is being launched in the Amazon. The system could be used to gather invaluable data on plant and animal life, deforestation, water quality, and weather patterns, but environmental groups claim the system is an intelligence gathering operation with political aims. Designed by US defense contractor Raytheon Co., the System for Vigilance of the Amazon (SIVAM) scans 1.9 million square miles, locating people and tracking their movements. Peruvian opposition politicians have accused their government of allowing the US access to SIVAM data in return for helping secure funding for the project. The US government wants to be able to track the movement of drug smugglers near the Colombian border.

Reuters/Planet Ark, July 26

Raised standards for coca spraying

Colombia—A US law enacted in January will thwart US herbicide spraying in Colombia. The coca eradication program must now meet the same health and safety standards as spraying in the US. “Colombia is far away, but we are making decisions that can directly affect the health of thousands of people there,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), who sponsored the new law. The herbicide used in Colombia is a stronger, more toxic version of the household weedkiller Roundup™. In a statement to the UN Commission on Human Rights, advocates for Colombians exposed to the fumigants said the spraying caused “gastrointestinal disorders (e.g. severe bleeding, nausea and vomiting), testicular inflammation, high fevers, dizziness, respiratory ailments, skin rashes and severe eye irritation.” In 2001, four Colombian governors visited the US to ask for a halt to the spraying.

New York Times, July 11

   

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