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Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Issues > Winter 2007 > Around the World

Around the World

Local News from All Over

AFRICA

Strategies to stop Sahel starvation

Last year the world rocked to Live Aid concerts, and the Make Poverty History Movement celebrated developed countries’ fresh commitments to alleviate the plight of the world’s poor. Nevertheless, chronic hunger continues to strike some 852 million people, killing nearly 6.5 million children each year. The UN estimates 300,000 children under the age of five risk death from malnutrition every year in Sahel alone – this includes Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso. A new report, Sahel: A Prisoner of Starvation? examines the 2005 food crisis in Niger to explain the cause of this chronic emergency and recommends strategies to end hunger in Sahel.

photo of a stick-thin starving childReutersFurther starvation in the Sahel can be avoided.

In 2005, Niger’s poverty and widespread hunger hit the world news. Some 230,000 children under the age of five were treated by NGOs – surpassing past records of relief intervention. Hundreds of thousands of children require this type of intervention every year in a country where the mortality rate for children under five is the second highest in the world.

What is the cause of this chronic emergency? Sahel: A Prisoner of Starvation? is a publication of the Oakland Institute, a think tank for research, analysis, and action whose mission is to increase public participation and promote fair debate on critical social, economic, and environmental issues.

In a departure from the economic liberalization promoted by international financial institutions as a solution to poverty and hunger, Sahel: A Prisoner of Starvation? finds the region reeling from a free market famine. "Niger’s experience shows that relying on the market to solve food shortages leaves the poorest people hungrier and drives small farmers into further poverty while large food traders gain monopoly power," said Frederic Mousseau, the Oakland Institute’s Senior Fellow and co-author of the report. "While there was food in the markets and Niger continued food exports in 2005, domestic food prices skyrocketed almost 150-200 percent. While 63 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day, in July 2005 a Nigerian farmer paid more for a kilogram of millet at the local market than a European or an American consumer paid for a kilogram of rice in the supermarket," he continued.

"The design of development policies has silently accepted the sacrifice of a whole segment of region’s population – primarily young children from the poorest families," said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute and co-author of the report. "Sahel: A Prisoner of Starvation? is a reminder that there is more than enough food on the planet to feed every human being and to meet the standards set in international human rights law. It is time to apply these standards rigorously and relentlessly until all are free from hunger."

Oakland Institute, 10/31

Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa

Community groups all over the world participated in an international day of action against Shell on Friday, November 10.

photo of protestorsReuters New Delhi protestors demonstrate solidarity with Ken Saro-Wiwa before his execution in 1995.

The groups took part in actions to commemorate the lives and deaths of the Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro Wiwa and eight others who were executed on that date 11 years ago.

Protests and actions took place in Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, Barbados and Ireland – while in London the Remember Saro Wiwa coalition launched a memorial to the Nigerian writer and activist. saro-Wiwa and the eight others were sentenced to death for speaking out against the impact of Shell and other oil companies in the oil-rich Niger Delta in Nigeria.

A number of communities around the world have long-standing concerns about Shell’s operations and the impacts of the oil giant’s activities.

They came together as part of this international day of action to highlight the ongoing problem with Shell’s global operations. These are not isolated cases. In Russia, Shell is accused by the government of committing environmental crimes, while the High Court in Nigeria has ruled that gas flaring by Shell is against the Nigeria Constitution.

"Eleven years on from the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, Shell is still failing to recognise the rights and needs of the communities where it operates," said Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth International. "Communities are living alongside terrible pollution, while Shell banks record profits. It is time the oil giant was forced to clean up its operations and improve its standards of corporate governance. Companies in the modern world should not be allowed to operate in this way."

FOEI, 11/10

ASIA

Ecotour Qatar

The Doha Asian Games Organizing Committee (DAGOC) has joined with Qatar’s Supreme Council for the Environment and Natural Reserves to launch a new ecological attraction – Umm Tais National Park.

The park, on the northeastern tip of Qatar, will offer visitors a chance to observe birds and marine life, mangrove forests, and a turtle-nesting beach.

"The park will create awareness about environmental protection and enhance ecological education while being Qatar’s eco-tourist destination," said Abdulla Al Qahtani, director general of DAGOC.

The Peninsula, 11/7

Misery from mitigation

Indigenous people from around the world told a news conference on Wednesday that UN-backed clean energy projects meant to combat global warming – hydropower projects or plantations of fast-growing trees among them – were hurting local people.

"We are not only victims of climate change, we are now victims of the carbon market," said Jocelyn Therese, a spokesman for indigenous people of the Amazon basin.

The indigenous representatives were in Nairobi to attend events surrounding a UN conference on climate.

Among the deleterious carbon mitigation projects cited were 162 small hydro dams in northern India, built to provide credit for developed countries striving to comply with carbon emission limits, but which flood lands relied on for subsistence by farmers and herders.

"The negative effects are not intended by the CDM," claimed Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Commission’s chief climate official.

Hussein Abilan, of northeastern Kenya, said climate change had disrupted traditional signs of rains. The natural warnings allowed people, for instance, to move livestock to higher ground to avoid floods.

"I never required meteorology to tell when rains would come – the frogs would tell me something, there were signs in the stars and the sky...We had the birds who told us of rains," he said. "All those are now gone."

Reuters, 11/8

New hope for India’s vultures

Earth Island Journal reported three years ago (EIJ Winter 2004) on the looming extinction of India’s vultures due to use of veterinary pharmaceuticals. Now a naturalist group, the Bombay Natural History Society, has established one more in a network of research and breeding centers for the beleaguered birds.

The new Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre (VCBC), the third the group has established in India, will open soon in Nagaon, with help from the state forest department of Assam. The forestry agency has provided five acres of land for the facility.

The Nagaon VCBC will breed oriental white-backed, long-billed, and slender-billed vultures, the hope being that mature birds can then be released into wild flocks.

As previously reported in EIJ, studies conducted by the Peregrine Fund implicated diclofenac sodium, an anti-inflammatory drug widely used in veterinary and human medicine and distributed over-the-counter in India, in the die-off of the vultures. Most cattle in India have been treated with diclofenac; when vultures eat dead cattle, they ingest the drug. In the last two years environmentalists and government agencies have debated banning the veterinary use of diclofenac in India. Another antiinflammatory drug, meloxicam, has proven to be safe for vultures, but the pharmaceutical company Novartis claims that patent issues prevent it from making meloxicam widely available in India.

The Statesman, 11/8

Bad news for orangutans

About 6,000 orangutans die every year due to habitat losses and poaching, a startlingly high percentage of the great ape’s total population, estimated at 56,000 in 2002. In 2006, orangutans took an especially hard hit: 1,000 are estimated lost in the forest fires that swept across Borneo and Sumatra in the last year.

photo of an orangutan looking pensivephotos.com

According to Willie Smits of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, oranges not killed outright in burning forests have been killed as pests when they venture onto farms in search of food.

"Orangutans are starving. They are sick, and many of those we are treating were injured after being attacked by machetes," Smits told a reporter from the conservation website Mongabay.com. In addition, smoke and haze from the fires have caused respiratory problems in many of the oranges showing up at wildlife rehab centers.

Unless more stringent conservation measures are adopted by the Indonesian government, the orangutan faces extinction in relatively short order. Aside from fires, which also devastated orang populations in 1997, illegal logging and oil palm plantations are major threats to the red apes.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF)’s "Heart of Borneo" campaign is pressuring Indonesia’s government to establish reserves for the oranges, and to crack down on loggers and oil-growers

Mongabay.com, 11/6

EUROPE

Avoiding climate costs

A report released in October by the British government says that governments can afford to act – and must do so urgently – to avoid disastrous economic costs stemming from global climate change. The "Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change," prepared by Sir Nicholas Stern, head of the UK’s Government Economics Service for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, says that measures to tackle climate change will have economic benefits and that an investment of just one percent in the global economy will avoid costs of 10 percent.

The report highlights the costs of inaction on the climate front and warned of potential global impacts, with the threat that millions of people will be displaced as a result of increased drought and rising sea levels. Access to water will become a major issue and a staggering number of species could die out. In the report, Stern maintains that the cost of tackling the problem was affordable and that polluters had to be made to pay.

Environmentalists warn that a tough package of measures to reduce climate change-causing emissions, including legally binding annual targets, must follow the publication of the Stern Review.

"The Stern Review highlights the need for urgent action at an international level," said Friends of the Earth International climate campaigner Catherine Pearce. "As we approach the climate talks in Nairobi, it is essential that ministers pay heed to the warning and negotiate for tough cuts in carbon dioxide emissions after 2012. There is no excuse for delay. We know that immediate efforts are required to cut emissions in the developed world. The green technology to take us to a low carbon future is available – what it requires is the investment."

"This report turns the conventional attitude to the economics of climate change on its head," added FOEI’s Vice-chair Tony Juniper. "For too many years industry lobbyists have claimed that action on climate change was not affordable, but this proves this is not the case. The Kyoto Protocol must be strengthened and new ways found of bringing other countries on board."

FOEI, 10/30

Pluck of the Irish

On the morning of October 3 a large force of Gardaí (Irish police) forced its way through "Shell to Sea" protestors blocking the entrance to the Shell Oil company’s Bellanaboy refinery site.

This latest escalation signals a commitment on the part of Shell and the Gardaí which is acting as their private security service, to crush local opposition to the Corrib gas pipeline.

photo of demonstrators in cleansuit costunmes and policeIndymediaIrish police refuse delivery of protesters’ "pipeline" at Shell’s Ireland headquarters.

Shell plans to build a huge gas refinery on land in the middle of seven Special Areas of Conservation, to discharge waste into the Broadhaven Bay wildlife sanctuary, and to pump raw gas at high pressure through a pipeline that runs as little as 250 feet away from local houses.

Amid reports that Shell would attempt to recommence work supported by significant numbers of police, Shell to Sea campaigners maintained their picket of the proposed refinery site overnight. Around 3:00 a.m. Gardaí began to move into the Bellanaboy area in coaches. Around 200 Gardaí were transported to the site in coaches and vans and proceeded to swarm and occupy the whole area.

They blocked the roads to the protest site and began unloading crowd control barriers. At about 5 a.m. Shell to Sea protesters gathered in front of the gates of the refinery faced by line of Gardaí. The police assembled crowd control barriers on either side of the refinery entrance creating two corrals. At approximately 5:20 a.m. site security (Brenden Gilmore Security) began the process of changing shifts. Despite a commitment by protesters to allow staff to enter and leave unimpeded, the Gardaí forced a corridor through the crowd of protesters. Mary Coyle, 20, was injured in the crush as an officer choked her. She suffered neck abrasions and deep shock, complicated by the Gardaí’s refusal to allow doctors to drive to the scene.

As the ambulance pulled off through the crowds of cops, Shell to Sea campaigners who were gathered at the gate tightened in formation. Gardaí Supt. Joe Gannon approached the crowd and requested that protesters move to behind the barriers from where they could exercise their "right to protest." After it became apparent that campaigners were unlikely to acquiesce he then asked that "children, elderly people, and females" move to the back of the crowd in light of possible "confrontation." Protesters immediately sat down in front of the gates. One by one protesters were carried off and deposited behind the crowd control barriers.

Once all protesters had been deposited into the corrals the police towed away cars blocking the entrance to the site. Around 7:45 a.m. a procession of minibuses, jeeps, and cars carrying workers entered the site, met by disapproving shouts from the crowd. This was followed by flatbed trucks carrying work equipment. By 8:20 campaigners were released from the corrals.

A survey carried out by campaigners found that the overwhelming majority of residents of the Erris region support Shell to Sea. For over 15 months Shell has been unable to work due to constant pickets by Shell to Sea, who intend to continue the resistance at Bellanaboy.

IndyMedia, 10/3

OCEANIA

Empty oceans

A recent study in Science shows that loss of biodiversity is profoundly reducing the ocean’s ability to produce food, resist diseases, filter pollutants, and rebound from stresses such as overfishing and climate change.

photo of birds at seaNOAABlack-footed albatrosses eat plastic garbage floating on the ocean.

The study was based at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"This study is the first to definitively link species losses in marine systems to their economic consequences for society," said Kimberly A. Selkoe, co-author and postdoctoral researcher at NCEAS. "[T]he more that humans strip marine ecosystems of their species by unchecked exploitation, the fewer benefits we derive from them, and the more society suffers from the economic consequences, such as unstable seafood markets, health problems linked to polluted beaches, and coastal damage from storms."

The study analyzed data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s database of all fish and invertebrates worldwide from 1950 to 2003. The scientists also looked at 1,000 years of records for 12 coastal regions, drawing data from archives, fishery records, sediment cores, and archeology.

Lead author Boris Worm of Dalhousie University said, "Whether we looked at tide pools or studies over the entire world’s ocean, we saw the same picture emerging… I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are, beyond anything we suspected."

The good news is that the data show that ocean ecosystems still hold great ability to rebound. However, the current global trend is a serious concern; it projects the collapse of all commercial fisheries by the year 2050. "Collapse" is defined as 90 percent depletion.

"Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean’s species together, as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood," said co-author Steve Palumbi of Stanford University.

"The data show us it’s not too late," said Worm. "We can turn this around."

University of California, 11/3

Davy Jones’ litter

An artificial Sargasso Sea of discarded plastic garbage in the North Pacific – in the North Pacific Gyre – poses an immense threat to marine life, says a new report by Greenpeace. Over the decades, ocean currents have collected the floating debris into a vortex between California and Hawai’i that Greenpeace spokespeople describe as "the size of the State of Texas."

Samples of seawater from the North Pacific Gyre indicate that it may hold millions of pieces of plastic for each square kilometer of ocean surface. Much of this is in the form of "microdebris," plastic particles ranging in size from small to microscopic, the effect of which on the ocean food web is unknown.

Though the trash pile is of astonishing size, it represents only a fraction of maritime plastic pollution: Greenpeace reports that plastic pollution is ubiquitous in the world’s oceans, with higher concentrations in the tropics and in shipping lanes, as well as in "convergence zones" such as the North Pacific Gyre.

Greenpeace estimates that 80 percent of ocean litter comes from land masses, by way of beach litter, storm drain discharge, and wind-blown debris that enters waterways from landfiulls and dumps. The remaining 20 percent is dumped from boats. Marine animals and sea birds often become entangled in marine debris or ingest it, either of which fates can cripple or kill them.

Greenpeace, 11/3

NORTH AMERICA

Shocking news: Big Oil buys votes

Republicans in the US Congress received significantly more money from big oil, and despite campaign claims to the contrary, voted overwhelmingly against legislation that would reduce demand for oil and increase clean energy supplies, according to a report by the Campaign for America’s Future.

The report identifies key votes on clean energy alternatives in the House and Senate during the 109th Congress. Members of Congress who accepted large campaign contributions from oil interests routinely voted for measures supporting industry over cleaner domestic alternatives.

While Senate Democrats received an average of $1,496 in campaign contributions from big oil, Senate Republicans received an average of $5,425, more than three times as much. House Democrats received an average of $506 each from oil interests compared to the House Republican average of $3,026, nearly six times as much.

"Big oil is paying off members of Congress to stonewall clean energy alternatives, and they are clearly getting their money’s worth," said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. "This is vote-buying, plain and simple."

The study provides a scorecard rating every member of Congress based on key votes and campaign financing. The half of the members of the House of Representatives who took less than the median contribution of $3,500 from oil interests earned an average clean energy score of 73 percent. The other half of the House, members who took more than the median of $3,500 from oil interests, earned an average clean energy score of just 17 percent.

Similarly, the 50 senators who took less than the median big oil contribution of $16,200 received an average clean energy score of 64 percent. The 50 senators who received more than the median $16,200 earned an average clean energy score of only 22 percent.

Authors of the report, Alex Carter and Eric Lotke, point to the growing public demand for a comprehensive clean energy and conservation program. They note that citizens’ groups like the Apollo Alliance are shining a spotlight on the connection between oil industry campaign contributions and the voting record of candidates for federal and state office.

Campaign for America’s Future, 11/1

Police violence in Oaxaca

Five months of standoff between government forces and protesters in the central Mexican state of Oaxaca took a further tragic turn in late October as paramilitary forces killed three people: Oaxacans Esteban Zurrita and Emilio Alonso Fabian, and progressive US videographer Bradley Will. According to uncorroborated activist sources, the death toll in Oaxaca now stands at around a dozen, with dozens more people unaccounted for.

photo of a man throwing a tear-gas grenadeReutersA protester hurls a tear gas canister back at police in Oaxaca.

The protests began as a labor action centered around Oaxaca Governor Ulises Ruíz Ortíz’s refusal to discuss salary hikes for schoolteachers, who often work without pay for months at a time. The Oaxaca Teachers’ Union responded by occupying a number of buildings in the state’s capital city Ciudad de Oaxaca. Ruíz, under fire for his alleged brutality toward the state’s large indigenous Zapotec population, ordered the buildings cleared in June, which provoked a storm of reaction from across the Mexican left spectrum. Tens of thousands of labor, indigenous rights, and left activists poured into Oaxaca in response to calls by the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca) for support.

Using Will’s shooting as a cover, Mexico’s President Vicente Fox called for riot police to retake the city on October 29. Police and the Mexican Army used water cannons, bulldozers, and tear gas against crowds of protesters, an apparent majority of whom were women, some of them of rather advanced age. Governnment forces were rebuffed by protestors and forced to retreat. Over a million people marched in the streets of Ciudad de Oaxaca in support of the Asamblea popular on November 6. The protestors are demanding Ruíz either resign or be removed from office.

www.asambleapopulardeoaxaca.com 10/28, 10/29, 11/6

SOUTH AMERICA

Long-term peril for Amazon

The Amazon rainforest and its surviving native communities are in greater danger than ever. "Global warming, logging, mining, soy plantations, dams, and the oil industry’s thirst for new reserves threaten to deforest and degrade the majority of the Amazon rainforest in our lifetime," warns Amazon Watch Executive Director and Founder Atossa Soltani.

photo of a pirhana, close up on pointy teethphotos.comAmazon wildlife such as this smiling pirhana are
increasingly threatened.

Amazon Watch, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in October, works to defend the Amazon rainforest and support its indigenous peoples against the impacts of industrial development on their lands.

"National governments and international institutions need to prioritize saving the Amazon before industrial development and climate change push the rainforest’s ecosystems beyond the tipping point," said Soltani. "They should start by declaring pristine areas and indigenous reserves in the Amazon basin off-limits to the extractive industries and by supporting environmentally sound development that values the ecological services provided by the Amazon. The future of the planet depends on it."

Amazon Watch was established in 1996 with the aim of uniting the environmental movement with the Amazon’s indigenous communities. Those communities frequently suffer as a result of oil drilling, mining, road-building, and other large-scale commercial "development" on their lands. Deforestation accounts for about one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the Amazon is in the grip of a second, highly unusual annual drought, and scientists fear that the vicious circle of climate change and deforestation may already be having catastrophic repercussions on global weather patterns.

Official indigenous reserves provide one of the most effective ways of preventing deforestation. Yet local communities’ views are rarely sought by national governments, transnational corporations, and so-called development banks before the initiation of projects that will have heavy impacts on their lives and lands.

Currently, Amazon Watch is working to protect a total of 18 million acres of rainforests in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. The group has recently launched a fifth campaign, to prevent the continued dumping of nearly one million barrels of toxic by-products from oil drilling into a vast area of the northern Peruvian rainforest inhabited by the Achuar people, who until now have had one of the most traditional cultures in the Amazon basin.

Meanwhile, Amazon Watch’s Clean Up Ecuador campaign has helped to bring Chevron (formerly Chevron-Texaco) to within 12 months of a judgment in a multi-billion dollar landmark environmental trial in Ecuador for similar toxic contamination there. The organization also has named the actress Q’Orianka Kilcher, who starred as Pocahontas in the Hollywood blockbuster The New World, as its Youth Ambassador.

Amazon Watch, 10/26

Around the world was compiled by Caitlin O’Brien.

   

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