WorldScan: January 14, 2003

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Indonesian Government Fails to Stop Illegal Logging

LONDON, UK, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - Corruption on the part of Indonesian police and government officials is to blame for continued illegal logging in Indonesia's national parks, a report released today in London by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Indonesian environmental organization Telapak charges. The groups accuse the government of Indonesia of failing to protect Tanjung Puting National Park, and failing to arrest the timber baron behind illicit logging there.

“Illegal logging is completely out of control,” said EIA Director Dave Currey. EIA is an independent, international campaigning organization committed to investigating and exposing environmental crime.

“Despite assurances by the government at a Consultative Group for Indonesia (CGI) meeting three years ago that it would stop logging in national parks, the logging has increased," Currey said. "Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan was accepted as a test case, yet even here they have completely failed.”

The Consultative Group for Indonesia is a group of donors convened annually by the World Bank that includes the governments of the industrial democracies, the multi-lateral banks, and several agencies of the United Nations.

The new EIA report “Above the Law: Corruption, Collusion, Nepotism and the Fate of Indonesia’s Forests,” details the promises and failures of the government since 1999.

Timber baron and Member of Parliament Abdul Rasyid was first named as being behind illegal logging in Tanjung Puting National Park in 1999, and numerous investigations by journalists, government officials and international observers have confirmed these reports.

Last year, the EIA says, three cargo ships were seized by the Indonesian Navy loaded with 25,000 cubic meters of logs off Rasyid’s Pangkalan Bun stronghold. Investigations and documents linked the ships to Rasyid’s Tanjung Lingga Group of companies. Indonesia has a log export ban, but the ships were bound for China.

Still, the police failed to prosecute Rasyid's companies, released the ships and auctioned the logs, the EIA found. The operation to seize the ships had been devised with cooperation between the Navy and the Ministry of Forestry, but the prosecution was dependent on the police.

The EIA report presents the evidence of Rasyid’s companies’ involvement in the logging and the case of the three seized ships and looks at the test case of logging in Tanjung Puting National Park.

“Corruption has reached such blatant levels in Indonesia that its international rating is equal with Kenya and below Azerbaijan,” said Currey.

“The complete failure of this government to protect Tanjung Puting," Currey charged, "is because it refuses to tackle corruption at the highest levels of the political, military and enforcement elite. The CGI accepted Tanjung Puting as a test case and must react now to the government’s failure.”

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Green Belt Founder New Assistant Environment Minister

NAIROBI, Kenya, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - Kenya's new President Mwai Kibaki has named Dr. Newton Kulundu as Environment Minister and Professor Wangari Maathai as assistant minister. Maathai was elected to Parliament in Kenya December 27 on the opposition National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) ticket. Maathai is a world renowned environmentalist, who rose to fame for her spirited campaigns against government backed forest clearance.

Maathai

Newly elected Member of Parliament Dr. Wangari Maathai (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
Maathai, a zoology professor and founding coordinator of Kenya's Green Belt Movement, easily won the Tetu parliamentary seat in Nyeri, next door to the constituency retained by President Kibaki.

Environmentalists estimate that British colonialists and Kenyan farmers cleared about three quarters of the country's forests over the past 150 years, leaving about two percent of Kenya's land area under forest cover.

Dr. Kulundu has said he intends to increase forest cover to 10 percent within the next five years, but he has given no details about where and how this would be implemented, how much it would cost, or even what he means by increasing forest cover.

Maathai will be able to create a strong forest conservation and enhancement program for Kenya. In an interview with Kenyan journalists, the new assistant environment minister, who joined NARC as a leader of the Kenyan Green Party, explained that she brings "green" values to the service of her country.

"I will bring to parliament the values that I have been practising in the opposition, especially within the environmental movement," she said. "I hope to bring to parliament a sense of transparency, a sense of accountability that we have demonstrated in our work in the Green Belt Movement and a sense of service, a desire to serve the public for the common good."

The Green Belt Movement is a grassroots NGO based in Kenya that focuses on environmental conservation and community development. It was founded in 1977 by Maathai, and was known then as Envirocare. From the beginning the group operated by encouraging community members to plant trees in large areas of public land so as to form green belts of trees.

The need to plant trees on private land arose, since more than 90 percent of rural people use fuelwood in their homes. The Green Belt Movement encouraged community members to organize themselves into groups, become members of the organization and then establish a tree nursery and distribute seedlings to community members free of charge.

With a background of growing forests from seedlings, Maathai is likely to be good for the forests of Kenya. She is convinced that President Kibaki will support her environmental aspirations. "I am sure that Kibaki will be very good for the environment," said in the interview. "He is very committed to the environment. He has been very supportive and he has been in the struggle for change over the last 10 years."

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Jamaica Moves toward International Ozone Compliance

KINGSTON, Jamaica, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - The National Ozone Unit of Jamaica's National Environment and Planning Agency has secured a project worth US$380,000 to reduce ozone depletion by gradually stopping the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as refrigerants.

Three workshops scheduled from today through January 20 will form part of this project, the Terminal Phase-Out Plan for CFCs. Aimed at the refrigeration end-users sector, these workshops are financed by the Multilateral Fund (MLF).

The fund was established under the Montreal Protocol to assist developing countries with financing the phasing out of ozone depleting substances such as CFCs.

The Multilateral Fund is financed by the developed nations who are parties to the Montreal Protocol. The workshops, which are planned for Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Kingston, are aimed at ensuring compliance with the agreements of the Montreal Protocol in Jamaica's refrigeration and air-conditioning sectors.

Veronica Alleyne, manager of the Montreal Protocol project, said, "While there are other types of substances such as methyl bromide found in some agricultural products such as fertilizers which also damage the ozone layer, CFC consumption is higher amongst the refrigeration industry in Jamaica."

The Jamaican government will be able to offer financial incentives to b who want to install ozone friendly refrigerants, but only to enterprises that were in existence on or before January 1, 2002.

Alleyne said members of the public are welcome to come to the workshops along with members of the refrigeration industry. "Compliance, accountability and transparency" with respect to the ozone safe program is one of the agency's goals in the 21st century, she said.

The Montreal Protocol is an agreement between the countries of the world to phase out the use of ozone depleting substances in their air conditioning and refrigeration industries. Jamaica expects to be fully compliant by 2006.

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Consumers Take on U.S. Over Genetically Modified Crops

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - Documentation showing that the U.S. government allows the biotechnology industry to police itself on safety testing of genetically modified crops was presented Friday at a meeting hosted by the German Marshall Fund in Brussels on GM crops, by Dr. Michael Hansen of Consumers International.

Consumers International, which represents over 250 organizations in 115 countries, and its U.S. branch, Consumers Union, are calling on the U.S. government to stop pressuring the European Union and Africa to accept its genetically modified corn. Instead, they say the United States should conduct mandatory safety reviews of data provided by the biotechnology industry and prohibit the marketing of genetically modified crops.

The German Marshall Fund Meeting took place January 10 to 12. The focus of the meeting is on how the transatlantic dynamics regarding agricultural biotechnology are affecting developing countries in Africa as they confront issues associated with the importing and growing of genetically modified crops and products.

Consumers International points out that Africa's food needs could be met with traditionally grown foods as 70 percent of the corn grown in the United States is not genetically modified.

Dr. Hansen provided letters written by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to Monsanto accepting at face value Monsanto's own conclusions regarding the safety of their genetically modified corn variety.

He told the meeting that, contrary to the impression given by U.S. ambassadors in Europe and elsewhere, the U.S. government does not have rigorous standards for safety assessments on genetically modified crops, does not thoroughly review company data, and has never formally approved any of the genetically modified corn varieties grown in the United States.

The U.S. Agriculture Department maintains that because genetically modified crops do not pose any health or safety risks, no formal approval is needed.

A major food safety concern for genetically modified plants is allergenicity, which the consumers groups say is not adequately addressed in the United States.

Last year, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization held a Joint Expert Consultation on Allergenicity of Foods Derived from Biotechnology. It laid out a detailed protocol for evaluating the allergenicity of genetically modified foods. None of the genetically modified crops on the market in the USA have been assessed by any government agency using such a protocol.

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Possums Released to Sabotage New Zealand Sanctuaries

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - New Zealand's largest environmental organization, Forest and Bird, Monday released an anonymous letter claiming that 11 possums have been deliberately released onto Kapiti Island, a nature reserve and bird sanctuary inhabited by some of the world's rarest birds. In recent weeks Forest and Bird has received three anonymous letters threatening to sabotage wildlife sanctuaries by releasing pests.

The letters appear to be from hunters disgruntled by Forest and Bird's campaign to protect nature from the impact of pests such as possums, deer and thar, a species of goat.

One letter reads, "I have let elevin [original spelling] opossums go on Kapiti. More to follow." The letters have been given to police who are investigating the threats.

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Brushtailed possum in New Zealand (Photo courtesy From NZ)
The brushtail possum is a small marsupial introduced to New Zealand from Australia, that is a pest because it feasts on many of New Zealand’s native plants. The possum will also prey on the eggs of birds, including the endangered kokako and other invertebrates. The possum also competes with native birds for food, and so diminishes their food supply.

"Kapiti Island is a nature conservation jewel, and how people could even think of releasing possums onto it defies belief," says Eric Pyle, Forest and Bird's Conservation Manager.

"I am sure that the vast majority of New Zealanders will be dismayed and saddened by claims that possums have been released onto this conservation icon," he said. "Thousands of volunteers' hours and hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars have gone into ridding Kapiti Island of its pests so that such rare birds such as little spotted kiwi, saddleback and takahe can flourish."

One of the letters from a group calling themselves the Biodiversity Action Group threatens to release pests in wildlife sanctuaries if Forest and Bird did not reconsider its position on thar. The group claims to have already spread thar, wallabies and fallow deer around New Zealand.

"Many New Zealanders have worked hard to rid sanctuaries of pests. We are saddened that a group wants to put all that work at risk and threaten our natural heritage", says Pyle. "Clearly there is an lunatic element in the hunting fraternity that has no concern for New Zealand's natural heritage. This rogue element is even prepared to threaten kiwi, our national emblem."

Forest and Bird calls on all responsible hunters to distance themselves from this kind of irresponsible behavior and sort out the lunatic fringe within their ranks.

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Botulism Claims Endangered Black-faced Spoonbills

CAMBRIDGE, UK, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - An outbreak of avian botulism has killed 71 Endangered black-faced spoonbills in the Tseng-wen Estuary in Taiwan over the past month, according to the Wild Bird Federation Taiwan, the BirdLife International Partner organization in Taiwan. The deaths amount to more than seven percent of the world population of 969 individual birds.

Avian experts attribute the disease to unusually high winter temperatures at Tseng-wen Estuary, the most important wintering site in the world for the species. The estuary holds more than 70 percent of the global population of black-faced spoonbills.

The first dead birds were found December 9. An analysis of the birds conducted by the Tainan Hsien Livestock Disease Control Center and Professor S.S. Tai of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology identified the disease as avian botulism.

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Black-faced spoonbills (Photo courtesy Taiwan Government)
The Taiwanese Council of Agriculture, Endemic Research and Conservation Center, Tainan Hsien Livestock Disease Control Center of Tainan County Government, and the Wild Bird Federation Taiwan (WBFT) researched the sickness and worked to treat sick birds.

WBFT and its local chapter, the Wild Bird Society Tainan, helped to set up an emergency care rescue team to assist the authorities. Treatment with type-C botulism antiserum flown in from the United States helped 17 of the infected birds to recover.

Taiwanese officials and WBFT now plan to take preventative measures at Tseng-wen Estuary to minimize the risk of a recurrence of an outbreak of the disease by changing how organic pollution is controlled. As a first step type-C botulism antiserum is being stockpiled.

"This outbreak of avian botulism has killed more than seven percent of the world population and is a significant blow to this already endangered species," said Professor Chien-chung Cheng, president of WBFT. "It is only thanks to the swift collaborative efforts of the government agencies and NGOs involved, including WBFT, that the number of bird deaths has been minimized and 17 infected birds saved."

Black-faced spoonbills breed on islets off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula and China, explains BirdLife International. There are major wintering wetland sites in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, China, Japan, Macao and South Korea.

An action plan involving these major range states has resulted in co-ordinated actions, says BirdLife, including satellite tracking and field surveys which have added to knowledge of migratory movements and identified important breeding and passage sites.

Japanese and Korean scientists have been invited to investigate the epidemic in hopes of prevention. Professor Kim Sooil, a spoonbill breeding biologist from South Korea, is leading a team from the Korean Federation for the Environment Movement to investigate the botulism epidemic and evaluate the actions taken by the Taiwanese government to prevent the spread of the disease.