WorldScan: January 3, 2003

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Drought Deprives 11 Million Ethiopians of Food

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, January 3, 2003 (ENS) - More than 11 million people in Ethiopia are facing serious food shortages and possible starvation, following a long dry spell that led to a poor harvest in many parts of the country, says a joint report released Thursday by two United Nations agencies.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) say poor rains that came late and ended early are the main cause of grain production that fell 25 percent below last year's harvest.

Ethiopian farmers were reluctant to invest in improved seeds and fertilizer due to the uncertain crop prospects, and depressed grain prices in 2001 contributed to a poor harvest, particularly in western Ethiopia where there were large surpluses, the agencies report.

After four weeks travel to all regions on a crop and food supply assessment mission in November and December, the FAO/WFP team found sharp increases in grain prices in the second half of 2002, with the prospect of a poor harvest.

food

The World Food Programme distributes grain to hungry Ethiopians in June 2002. (Photo courtesy WFP)
To manage the negative effects of fluctuating grain prices the agencies call for strategies to strengthen price stabilization, such as storage facilities and marketing.

In many lowland and pastoral areas of Ethiopia, people have only enough food to last for one to two months. "Millions of subsistence farmers and herders will soon face a desperate situation," the agencies warn.

The drought affected the lowlands most severely, but Ethiopia's major cereal producing zones have experienced cuts in production of 20 to 30 percent.

FAO and WFP estimate the 2002 cereal and pulse production at about 9.2 million metric tons. They say Ethiopia will need to import 2.3 million metric tons of cereals in 2003 to feed its people. With commercial imports forecast at 328,000 tons, the food deficit is 1.8 million tons.

The agencies say this deficit will have to be covered by a combination of emergency food aid and bilateral donations.

The FAO/WFP report is in line with the results of a government led multi-agency emergency needs assessment carried out last month, which estimated the total number of people in need of help at 11.3 million. The government and the UN are jointly appealing for some 1.4 million metric tons of emergency food aid.

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Shaky Solomons Cannot Deal with Cyclone Damage

CANBERRA, Australia, January 3, 2003 (ENS) - Six days after Cyclone Zoe devastated two of the Solomon Islands, no relief team has dropped supplies to assist the storm's estimated 1,300 victims, and no damage assessment has been conducted at the scene.

Cyclone Zoe, a category 5 tropical storm, passed over the Solomons' Temotu Province starting on Saturday, December 28, 2002, and continuing through Monday.

The United Nations announced today that it is sending a two person assessment and coordination mission to the remote island nation. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has provided a $10,000 emergency grant to purchase relief supplies.

Although no ground assessment of damage has been conducted, an Australian military surveillance flight over the islands Wednesday confirmed widespread damage on the islands of Tikopia and Anuta, tiny atolls in a remote area.

The large majority of trees on these two islands has been blown over or shredded. Extensive damage to housing, crops and gardens is reported.

Alfred Sasako, a former Solomon Islands government minister from the island of Malaita who lives in the Australian city of Brisbane, says his country does not have the capacity to deal with the crisis. He told Radio Australia that people are urgently needed on the ground to assess the situation on Tikopia and Anuta.

On a regular consultative visit to the Solomon Islands on December 17 and 18, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer characterized the situation in Solomon Islands as "very fragile." After a bloody civil war, the country, under the new administration of Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakeza faces problems of lawlessness, corruption and economic decline.

Australia and New Zealand are jointly funding a vessel filled with humanitarian supplies, which sailed Thursday for the two atolls from the Solomons' capital Honiara.

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Canada Issues New Power Plant Emission Limits

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, January 3, 2003 (ENS) - The government of Canada today unveiled tighter emission guidelines to reduce smog and acid rain pollutants from new coal, oil and gas fired power plants. The New Source Emission Guidelines for Thermal Electricity Generation, under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, will be in force as of April 1, 2003.

"These guidelines are an important component of the government's clean air agenda to reduce smog from electricity generation," said Environment Minister David Anderson. "They are one part of our plan to improve air quality with respect to smog and toxic substances, and contribute to improving the health of Canadians while also helping to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions."

The guidelines include new emission limits for the smog pollutants nitrogen oxides (NOx) that are 60 percent lower than the limits in the previous guidelines, and limits that are 80 percent lower for particulate matter (PM).

The revised sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission limits, to reduce the threat of acid rain, vary with the sulfur content of the coal, but are up to 75 percent lower than the previous allowable limits.

The revisions bring the guidelines current with best available technologies that are economically feasible, the government says. "In particular, the revisions align with emission standards currently in place in the United States," Anderson said.

Environment Canada will continuously track developments in best available technologies, and update the guidelines to keep pace with evolving knowledge and technology, to promote sustainable development and to achieve the clean air on which the health of Canadians depends.

Environment Canada expects provinces to reduce emissions from existing power plants as part of their actions to achieve Canada-Wide Standards for PM and Ozone by 2010.

The long term goal is that "all fossil fuel fired generation can approach clean as gas performance. This target brings together the clean air and climate change agendas," Anderson said today.

The government's expectation is that technologies now under development will prevent the release into the environment of 70 to 90 percent of the mercury in coal.

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Transient Fishers Stake Claim to Sundarbans Island

JAMBUDWIP, West Bengal, India, January 3, 2002 (ENS) - Transient fisher people led by Father Thomas Kocherry have have taken over their lost fish drying area on the island of Jambudwip over the objections of police and forestry officials. The island is located in the midst of an area earmarked for mega-tourism development, which is opposed by the fisher people.

In West Bengal, southwest of Bakkhali, the island of Jambudwip is submerged in the sea for half the year and emerges only from March/April to September/October. Every year, a fishing colony is set up from October to January.

In July 2002, the fisher people were beaten by the police in Kakdwip when they went to submit a memorandum to withdraw the ban on drying fish in Jambudwip, according to Harekrishna Debnath, chairperson, National Fishermen Federation and General Secretary of World Federation of Fisher People.

Kocherry

Father Thomas Kocherry (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
At the request of the West Bengal union leaders, Kocherry started fasting from July 21, 2002, onwards. West Bengal's Minister of Fisheries got involved and assured everyone that traditional rights of the transient fishing community of Jambudwip would be continued. So, Kocherry, who is a fisherman and lawyer, a trade unionist and also a priest, withdrew his fast on August 2.

But, when the time came to start the transient fishing in October, not only did the forest officials not allow the fisher people to enter the island, they destroyed the fishing implements of all 45 fishing units.

Subsequently, West Bengal's chief minister, forest minister and fisheries minister agreed to let the fisher people continue their transient fishing in Jambudwip waters over the public objections of forest officials.

On November 12, 2002 when a cyclone swept the coast, forest officials chased away at gunpoint many boats of fisher people who tried to enter the channels of Jambudwip, the natural safe shelter for fishermen. Finding no other place, the fishing boats were compelled to cruise in the turbulent sea attempting to reach other places for shelter.

Two of the 45 trawlers that had taken shelter in a creek in Jambudwip capsized when they were chased out by gun wielding forest guards. A fisherman, identified as Shishuranjan Das, was killed.

At least 47 fishermen died in the high seas off the Sunderbans and Digha coasts under the impact of the cyclone. Two more trawlers sank near Jambudwip.

The fisher people believe they are being victimized because they are in the way of a large tourism development being planned for the Sundarbans coast. A memorandum of understanding was signed on October 30, 2002 to hand over islands such as Sagar, Fraserganj, and Jharkhali to Sahara India, Ltd.

Sahara India, engaged in banking, infrastructure, housing development, aviation, mass communication and entertainment, has decided to invest Rs 900 crore (US$187.7 million) in three tourism projects in West Bengal.

Subrata Roy, Sahara India chairman, said that the three schemes in Teesta Valley, Kolkata and Sundarbans are part of the company's Integrated Sahara Tourism Circuit, intended to assist the central and state governments to attract five million foreign tourists in the year following completion. All the projects will be finished within four years, Roy claimed.

Roy said that for the Sunderbans project a transit facility from Kolkata to the delta would be established, and tourism infrastructure including floatels, a tiger resort, a bay resort, and an eco-village would be developed.

"Sahara has identified four or five islands in the delta region where initial study will start soon. The group is looking for an uninhabited island for developing the tiger reserve," said Roy.

Meanwhile, Debnath said, the fisher people took courage and celebrated World Fisheries Day on November 21, 2002 by surrounding Jambudwip with hundreds of boats carrying thousands of fishermen. Forest officials erected concrete pillars at the mouth of the Jambudwip Channel to block their entry. On November 25, there was a cyclone warning, and this time all the boats entered the channel by breaking the concrete pillars.

They remained on the island until the arrival of Central Empowered Committee on December 3 which heard their case. On December 22, the fisher people learned that the Standing Committee of Parliament on Science and Technology, Forest and Environment would visit Jambudwip the next day. Using this occasion they landed on the island and started drying fish. They committee did not arrive, and Debnath says they await the next action of government and forest officials.

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Global Witness Barred from Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, January 3, 2003 (ENS) - The response of the British human rights organization Global Witness to police brutality December 5 towards community representatives protesting the government's forest management practices has gotten the organization kicked out of Cambodia.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said on December 24 that he would shut down the Global Witness office for "inflicting damage" to Cambodia's reputation and national sovereignty.

"The task for Cambodia is to terminate the duty of the Global Witness," the Associated Press quoted Hun Sen as saying. "The Global Witness is asked to leave Cambodia."

In December 1999 the government appointed Global Witness as the Independent Monitor on the Forest Crime Monitoring and Reporting Project.

But Global Witness got into trouble for reporting that about 150 "community representatives were threatened and beaten by state security forces while waiting outside the offices of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW) to hear if the Department would organize a workshop on forestry management plans and environmental and social impact assessments."

Global Witness said, "The community representatives were told to 'Be careful, [as] something might happen to you and no one will be responsible for it.' In the Cambodian context, this is a rather chilling warning, as occasionally people who have been threatened like this have been 'disappeared,' never to be seen alive again."

"At about 6:40 pm this evening," Global Witness wrote on December 5, "four trucks of armed military police, police and the elite force Flying Tigers arrived at the DFW offices. They shouted that anyone who did not run away immediately would be arrested and beat people with batons and electric cattle prods. The crowd dispersed. Approximately a dozen people were injured, including one person whose foot was broken. The same group of community representatives visited the Royal Palace two days ago and were given the red carpet treatment by the King."

Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy organization based in New York, said 11 grassroots representatives were treated for injuries. "That evening, one of the representatives, Hem Sao, 29, a village chief from Preah Vihear, died. Doctors at Preah Kossamak Hospital said his death appeared to have been from a heart attack. It has not been established whether his death was caused by the actions of the police," Human Rights Watch said.

"This is absolutely reprehensible behavior," said Rosie Sharpe of Global Witness on December 5. "It confirms that the Department of Forestry and Wildlife have no interest the consultation process."

But on Tuesday, Hun Sen called the allegations "a grossly unjust act" and "an exaggeration unacceptable to Cambodia."

"We have the right to terminate visas for anyone who dared to abuse our national sovereignty, our political rights and inflict damage to our reputation," he warned.

He said Cambodia would continue to allow independent environmental groups in the country, but not Global Witness.

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Prestige Oil Spill Hits French Coast

CAMBRIDGE, UK, January 3, 2003 (ENS) - Oil from the sunken tanker "Prestige" has reached the coast of southwest France. The BirdLife International partner organization in France, Ligue Pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO) today said that since December 30, more than 100 oiled birds have been recovered from the southwest coast of France, including guillemots, gannets, kittiwakes and puffins.

An analysis of the oil shows that it is from the "Prestige," which sank off the Galician coast of Spain on November 19.

LPO has set up a network along to monitor the number of birds oiled and washed up along the French coast.

The number of dead oiled birds recovered from the "Prestige" oil spill has unexpectedly increased over the past week, according to the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO/BirdLife), the BirdLife International Partner organization in Spain. The number of live oiled birds recovered has also increased.

After a period of two weeks in which the number of dead oiled birds recovered averaged between 20 and 30 per day, the daily average more than doubled to 72 per day after December 26, 2002.

On December 28, a total of 102 dead oiled birds were collected, the highest figure for a single day since the tanker sank.

"The increase in the number of dead oiled birds being found so long after the initial slick occurred is significant because it is almost unique amongst oil spills, and is without doubt related to the continued leakage of oil from the sunken wreck of the Prestige," said Carles Carboneras of SEO/BirdLife in Galicia.

SEO/BirdLife has estimated that the total number of birds affected during the first month of the Prestige oil spill to December 16 was between 20,000 and 40,000. The most affected species are puffin, guillemot and razorbill.

"All the indications are that oil from the Prestige will continue to affect the coast of Galicia as long as it continues to leak from the wreck. SEO/BirdLife therefore predicts that in the coming weeks the number of oiled birds affected will be even higher when more diverse species move into the area in February," Carboneras said.