Around the World
Local News from All Over
Become a Journal International Correspondent
Earth Island Journal is building a worldwide network of correspondents to report local environmental news from their area and verify breaking news reports received from others. If you're an environmental professional or activist who can tell us what's happening in your country and how it is perceived by local people, we'd like to hear from you. Send us firsthand accounts, or articles from local newspapers, or links to them. You will need to be in regular email contact.
We encourage readers with international organizations to pass on this request to their contacts abroad.
Please email Nicola Swinburne, International Editor, Earth Island Journal, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Southern and Eastern Africa - Millions of people in eastern and southern Africa are facing starvation unless international aid agencies can intervene. The food shortage is a consequence of a poor maize harvest caused by drought and floods. Adequate nutrition is especially important for those suffering from HIV/AIDS and will shorten many lifespans as a result of the famine. Women and children are especially affected. Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland have all reported significant food deficits. The shortage in Zimbabwe is in part due to the government's hurried redistribution of land from white commercial farmers to landless black peasants. In southern Sudan and Somalia, civil wars have greatly compounded the problem.
UNICEF press release, May 16 and IRIN, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, May 1
Tusk, tusk, tusk
Southern Africa - Four southern African countries are asking the UN to lift the ban on trade in ivory at a meeting in November, 2002 of the 158 signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). CITES, passed in 1989, is thought responsible for halting the large-scale slaughter of Africa and Asia's elephants. South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe would like to sell their existing stocks of ivory (77 tons or 70 metric tonnes in total) and continue to sell ivory through an annual quota system. Zambia would like a one-time sale of its 19-ton stock.
Other countries such as Kenya oppose lifting the ban. In South Africa, although the government is voting to lift it, several environmental groups are campaigning to change their country's position before November. International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) distributed thousands of postcards, requesting supporters to sign them and return them to IFAW. The group will present the 18,000 signed postcards together with an audited statement referring to an additional 900,000 email cards, to South Africa's Environment and Tourism minister Valli Moosa.
Reuters in Yahoo News, Canada, May 8; Environmental News Service, June 6; Reuters News Service in Planet Ark, June 17
Third time's the charm
Kenya - Environmental activists have won a court order to prevent the government from disposing of 170,000 acres of the country's remaining forests - at least for now. The court order also stops the government from surveying the area, issuing further land titles or carrying out other development in the forests until the dispute has been settled. The action is the third attempt to stop the government changing the designation of the land from "gazetted," or under government control and official protected, to "de-gazetted." The government announced the plans to transfer the land's status back in October 2001 as part of a program to resettle landless people. Environmental groups such as the East African Wildlife Society have charged that the real reason behind the move is to allow the land to be sold to private individuals and companies in exchange for political patronage.
IRIN, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, April 24
Wildlife decline logged
Ethiopia - Ethiopia's national Institute of Biodiversity Conservation and Research (ICBR) has warned the country is losing much of its unique wildlife. At least four mammal and two bird species are facing extinction. Only 514 Walia ibex, fewer than 2,000 mountain nyala, and 800 Grevy's zebras are left. Experts say that each needs a population of 2,500 to survive. Massive decline in forest cover from around 35 percent at the turn of the century to around 3 percent today is blamed for the loss of species; deforestation deprives wildlife of habitat and increases aridity.
IRIN, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, May 29
South Africa - Exelon Corporation, the world's third largest private nuclear utility has decided to pull out of the "pebble-bed modular reactor" (PBMR) development consortium. The remaining partners aim to continue the development. Exelon's move is a victory for activists in South Africa and the US in the two-year campaign to halt the project. In one of the most successful tactics, the director of one environmental group, WISE (World Information Service on Energy), brought up the matter at a shareholder meeting, warning that unless the company was forthcoming with PBMR development information to shareholders, it risked a shareholder lawsuit if the project failed. Exelon's stated reasons for terminating its involvement in the project were that the project was not part of its core business strategy, nor would it bring an immediate shareholder return on its $20 million investment.
Nuclear Monitor, Publication of World Information Service on Energy (WISE) and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service (NIRS), May 3
Mines or mangoes?
Peru - Residents of the small agricultural town of Tambogrande went to the polls June 2 in a referendum to choose their economic future. The choice lies between a town resplendent with groves of lemons, papayas and mangoes or one in which houses are demolished to make way for a large open pit in the town center. A Canadian multinational, Manhattan Minerals, is pushing for the mine with the support of the Peruvian government. Local people are strongly opposed to the project because it could displace more than half of them from their homes, destroy prime agricultural lands and generate significant pollution. More than 75 percent of the district's 37,000 voters signed a petition to block the mine, and when the referendum's results were tabulated, 98 percent of the voters opposed the project. Oxfam America and the Global Mining Campaign are organizing a worldwide campaign to support the wishes of the residents of Tambogrande to determine the future of their community and block the mine development. To support their campaign and send an email to Manhattan Mining, click on: http://ga0.org/campaign/tambogrande?source=ftof
Oxfam America Press Release, May 23
Rain in Ecuador
Ecuador - More than two months of torrential downpours in coastal Ecuador have killed 28 people and destroyed over 9,000 homes. Rice, coffee, and cocoa crops have been battered and washed away. Flooding and landslides buried roads and destroyed bridges and retaining walls, causing damage estimated in the millions of dollars. Though many commentators are blaming a developing El Niño for the disaster, others say it is too soon to be sure. The 1997-8 El Niño killed around 200 people and caused financial losses of around $3 billion.
Environmental News Service, April 30
US (Florida) - The Florida Senate voted unanimously to approve a bill that forces anyone convicted of intentionally killing or torturing an animal to attend anger management classes. The measure attempts to address the tendency of teenage animal killers to commit violent crimes against people. Governor Jeb Bush signed the bill April 18.
Bradenton Herald, March 23
Canada's domestic climate
Canada - The battle continues between Canadian provinces and the federal government over ratification of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change. The government of Alberta the largest energy-producing province, withdrew from the discussions and refused to sign a joint communiqué. Alberta had offered its own program of energy-efficiency and other greenhouse gas reduction measures, but other provinces found it unacceptable as targets would not be reached until 2020 rather than 2012. As Alberta is responsible for one third of Canada's greenhouse emissions, without the province the national plan seems doomed. If the treaty is ratified anyway, and Alberta forced to comply, it may go to court. Canadian readers are urged to lobby their representatives to ensure Canada is a part of global efforts to prevent climate change. See www.ecoaction.ca/ea/newsroom.htm for more information.
Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 21 and 22
Pass on bass
US (California) - More than 90 restaurants in Los Angeles and Orange Counties in Southern California have pledged to take Chilean sea bass off the menu to save it from overfishing and possible extinction. The action is part of a campaign called "Take a pass on Chilean Sea Bass" that begin in Northern California, Chicago, and Houston and is expected to spread to the East Coast by summer 2002. Chilean sea bass is just one of many fish whose
populations are declining from overfishing. Join the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch campaign and receive a card that lists which fish are being harvested sustainably and which are in decline. Monterey Bay Aquarium, 886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940, (831) 648-4800, www.mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp.
Grist Magazine, May 20
One man's fish
Mexico (Baja California) & US (southern California) - The San-Diego-based conservation organization Wildcoast has written to Pope John Paul II asking him to formally declare that sea turtles are meat, not fish - a kind of Catholic eco-labelling perhaps? This would put them off limits to observant Roman Catholics who eat fish instead of meat during lent. Poaching, selling and eating sea turtle meat is illegal in Mexico and the US with penalties of up to 12 years in jail. Conservationists estimate that in the two weeks before Easter, 5,000-7,000 turtles are illegally slaughtered to feed black market demand in Tijuana, San Diego and Los Angeles. So far there has been no response from the Vatican, but conservationists hope the Pope might speak out during a visit to Mexico City in June.
National Public Radio, March 27
Hawai'i - Every July 4 is Turtle Independence Day at the Mauna Lani Resort on Hawai'i's Big Island. At 9:30 a.m. tens of Hawaiian green turtles, or honu, will be paraded down from their nursery pools to the ocean accompanied by flag-waving children and dancers performing a special honu hula. Reared by the resort, the turtles are released to the wild when they have achieved a certain size and weight and passed a veterinary inspection. They were supplied to the resort by Oahu's Sea Life Park, which each year hatches anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred sea turtle eggs from the 16 adult green turtles that have lived at the park from the early 1970s. Most hatchlings are released immediately to the wild, but the few that are kept are sent to places where they can be part of an campaign to educate the public about the threatened Hawaiian green turtle and what can be done to help preserve it. To see live images of Mauna Lani, log on to www.maunalani.com.
Mauna Lani Resort, June 5
Finland number one
Finland - Finland was judged the world's most environmentally healthy country, in a recent study by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University for the World Economic Forum held in New York in February. The study is intended to help countries become more rigorous in making environmental decisions. Finland was closely followed by two more Scandinavian countries, Norway and Sweden, then Canada and Switzerland.
Overall economic wealth had little to do with a healthy environment - although the level of corruption in government was a significant correlate.
The ranking took into account 68 variables, such as the national response to water and air pollution, land protection, and how seriously each country takes global climate change - considered a strong indicator of the likely environmental quality of life for the next generation. The latter was a strong factor in the low US ranking (51).
New York Times, February 1
Or is it?
Finland - Finland's future environmental health is another matter. A decision in May by the Finnish parliament to build a new nuclear reactor has caused dismay in a country where many recall the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. Finnish Environment Minister Satu Hassi resigned in protest at the decision and her Green Party quit the coalition government. The reactor will be the first in western Europe for more than a decade and its construction bucks the current trend in western Europe, led by Germany and Sweden, to phase out nuclear power altogether. Maintaining economic growth, meeting Kyoto-protocol targets for greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing reliance on neighboring Russia were named as the main reasons behind the decision. Finland currently imports around two thirds of its energy, most of it from Russia at an annual cost of around US$4.1 billion.
Reuters, Agence France-Presse in International Herald Tribune, May 25 & Environmental News Service, May 27
German animals given rights
Germany - Animals now have rights guaranteed by the German constitution following a 543 to 19 vote (with 15 abstentions) by the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The victory came after 10 years of parliamentary debate and three failed attempts to alter the constitution pursued by the Green Party. Seemingly so simple, the insertion of three words "und die Tiere" ("and the animals") has compelled the state to protect the "natural foundations of life" for animals as well as humans. In practice, this could mean tighter restrictions on the use of animals in testing cosmetics or non-prescription drugs and implications for freedom of religion including a review of a recent decision to allow butchers to practice ritual Muslim slaughter of animals.
The Guardian (London), May 18
Her Majesty's Egret Service
UK - The Gurkhas, a Nepalese regiment and an elite fighting unit of the British army are to train members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in surveillance techniques perfected behind enemy lines. RSPB officials want to surreptitiously photograph thieves taking eggs of endangered species such as the marsh harrier.
New York Times, May 29
Topsoil in flight
East Asia - NASA satellite images picked up an "airborne ocean of dust" at its point of origin, the edge of the Gobi desert, northern China, only a few hundred miles west of China's capital Beijing. Whipped up by high winds, thick dust forced Beijing residents to use masks to shield themselves. Traffic slowed due to poor visibility and people with bronchial ailments were advised to stay indoors. In Seoul, South Korea primary schools were closed as a precaution and internal flights cancelled. Reports from the Russian seaport of Vladivostok, said the city was shrouded in clouds of sand and yellow rain. Although sandstorms happen every year, they have been especially bad for the past three years. Last summer's severe drought in northern China is blamed for exacerbating a situation caused by extensive deforestation and plowing of pasture land for agriculture.
BBC News, March 20 & 22; Jet Propulsion Laboratory, March 2002 news release
Taiwan's toxic tech
Taiwan - Chemicals involved in the manufacture of TVs and semiconductors at the former RCA facility in the county of Taoyuan, northern Taiwan leaked into soil and groundwater around the plant. Former plant workers are now blaming the pollution for 1,000 cases of cancer including 20 deaths, and numerous stillborn children in the area around the plant. The workers told their tale to a gathering in San Jose, California in May in an attempt to educate US companies about some of their actions abroad, and to force the polluters to make restitution.
RCA's parent company General Electric and present site owner Thomson Multimedia of France later spent millions of dollars cleaning up the site, removing soil and installing treatment wells to clean up the groundwater. Thomson has denied any responsibility for the illnesses. A 1999 study by the Taiwan government failed to prove the connection and a 1999 lawsuit filed in Taiwan by former workers was dismissed.
When the first factory opened in 1970 it was warmly welcomed by the local people as it brought jobs and high incomes of around $50 a month - which could give better lives to thousands of Taiwanese. Only later is the damage being felt.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 24
Japan - Concentrations of mercury nearly 5,000 times the Japanese government's limit were found in samples of liver from small-toothed whales and dolphins on sale at Japanese markets. Researchers from Hokkaido University found more than 1,970 micrograms of mercury per gram of liver in two of the 26 liver samples. Average concentrations in liver were 370 micrograms per gram. All of the samples from liver, kidneys and lungs had mercury concentrations above the Japanese government limit. Many Japanese people remember all too well the episode of mercury poisoning in Minamata Bay in the 1950s and 60s when hundreds of children were born with horrific birth defects after their mothers ate seafood contaminated with mercury. Whales and dolphins ingest the mercury through their diet of fish and squid and concentrate the metals in the internal organs. Catches of small-toothed whales and dolphins are not restricted by the International Whaling Commission. For more news on the recent IWC meeting in Japan and Japan's efforts to remove the current world ban on commercial hunting of other whale species, see next issue of EIJ.
New Scientist, June 2
Australia - The Australian Museum in Sydney has announced a breakthrough in its attempts to clone the extinct Thylacine. A team of scientists has successfully replicated genes from material taken from three preserved pups. The last Thylacine (also known as the Tasmanian tiger, or Tasmanian wolf, though it was neither tiger nor wolf) died in captivity in 1936, a sad end to an animal that once roamed Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Tasmania. A large carnivorous marsupial, the sandy yellow-brown to grey creature bore 15 to 20 dark stripes across its back from shoulders to tail. Thylacines differed from other marsupials in the orientation of the pouches in which they carried their young. Thylacines' pouches opened toward the animals' tails.
Environmental News Service, May 28
Coral reefs bleached
Australia and Oceania - Coral reefs around Australia and Pacific islands are suffering one of the worst episodes of bleaching on record. The Australian Institute of Marine Science, CRC Reef, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority surveyed more than 640 reefs along the west coast of Australia with light aircraft and found that nearly 60 percent of the reef area inside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was affected. There have also been reports of bleached, dead coral across much of the South Pacific, including Tahiti, the Cook Islands, New Caledonia and Fiji.
Bleaching, a response to heat stress in the coral, causes the coral polyps to expel their symbiotic algae, which provide them with nutrients and give them their color. Some corals can recover by recapturing the algae, but others cannot. Of the most severely bleached reefs surveyed, 50 to 90 percent of the corals were dead.
The bleaching is an expected response to the record high sea temperatures recorded during early 2002. According to Thomas Goreau, president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance in Chappaqua, New York and adviser to the United Nations Environment Programme, almost all the Great Barrier Reef's surface water was 2°C or more above normal for more than two months from early January to mid-March. This was hotter and longer than the bleaching episode that wiped out corals in the Maldives, Seychelles, and western Australia in 1998.
The higher surface sea temperatures are attributed to a new El Niño, although it is widely believed that global warming is the key underlying factor and the El Niño event the final coup de grâce.
New Scientist, April 2; Environmental News Service, May 23
Native forest saved
New Zealand - Jubilant environmentalists applauded the New Zealand government's announcement in May, 2002, that there would be an end to logging of native rainforest on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. A total of 130,000 hectares (321,100 acres) in 29 forests previously under the control of the state-owned company Timberlands West Coast Ltd. will be managed by New Zealand's Department of Conservation and added to existing national parks or ecological areas, linking some to create larger contiguous units. The move puts to an end the controversial "sustainable" beech logging scheme proposed by the company. The land holds remnants of once extensive lowland indigenous forest, including wetlands, streams, rivers, lakes, and some alpine scrub and tussock grassland. Rare and threatened species that inhabit the forest include the great spotted kiwi, kaka, kereru, karearea, kea, weka, and land snails.
Native Forest Network, January 31; New Zealand Government media statement May 30