WorldScan: July 11, 2002

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Deadly Monsoon Rains Pour Across Indian Subcontinent

NEW DELHI, India, July 11, 2002 (ENS) - Incessant monsoon rains since the beginning of July have caused flooding in several parts of India. According to government figures as of Wednesday, the floods and landslides have killed 199 people and affected the lives of 941,000 others.

The worst affected states are Assam and Bihar in northeastern India. More than 9,000 houses destroyed or damaged.

The India Meteorological Department has issued a heavy rainfall warning. Isolated heavy rains are likely in Bihar, the northeastern states, sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Sikkim, coastal Karnataka and Konkan, and Goa.

In Assam, the Brahmaputra River at Dhubari, and the Desang River at Nanglamoraghat are flowing above the danger level and are rising, the meteorologists said.

In the worst hit state of Assam, some 200,000 people have been affected due to floods in five districts since June 21, according to a release issued by the state government.

Relief agencies are distributing food and tarps where they can get through, but in the hard hit Dhemaji District of Assam, road and rail communication have been cut, and it is isolated from the rest of the state.

The situation in north Bihar continues to deteriorate. With torrential rains in Nepal flooding the main rivers, floodwaters have covered large areas in many districts. Continuing downpours have left the highway under three feet of water in Patna, cutting off many areas in north Bihar from the rest of the state, according to the Indian Red Cross Society.

In Bihar, the River Kodi at Baltara is flowing above danger level with a rising trend, the India Meteorological Department warns.

In the state of Gujarat, officials have evacuated some 25,250 persons in eight districts.

In the state of Himachal Pradesh authorities have issued red alert along the River Ravi asking people not to go near the river. A severe and contining landslide has completely blocked the river's flow, and a three kilometer (two mile) long lake has formed behind the landslide.

Local authorities warn that if there is a sudden outburst of water, it may cause severe damage to the Chamera Hydel hydroelectric project. According to the state government, the natural flow of water has started in the lake formed behind the landslide site.

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Ontario Pollution Enforcement Record Slammed

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, July 11, 2002 (ENS) – The province of Ontario is a haven for air and water polluters because of under-reporting of violations and an "abysmal enforcement record," the Sierra Legal Defence Fund says in a report released Wednesday. In "Polluter's Haven," the national nonprofit organization documents thousands of violations of provincial air and wastewater standards within the Lake Ontario basin.

The Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy (MOE) has documented more than 6,500 wastewater and air violations in the Lake Ontario basin since the early 1990s, but of the 265 violating facilities only 15 facilities were prosecuted and convicted since the mid 1990s, the group reports.

"Common sense dictates that if polluters know they have more than a 90 percent chance of breaking the law without being charged, they will continue to do so," said Sierra Legal Defence Fund project scientist Kim Mandzy.

"The MOE should initiate more prosecutions, especially against those facilities with long records of offending years and large numbers of violations," said Mandzy.

"Polluter's Haven" identifies irregularities in the ministry's lists of polluters published on their website. In 1999 the ministry listed four facilities within the Lake Ontario basin as having air discharges in non-compliance with provincial air pollution laws.

Using data obtained through Freedom of Information requests, Sierra Legal's report shows that 95 facilities were actually in violation.

"We found that the MOE website was very misleading and under-reported the actual number of facilities with air violations," said Mandzy. "The MOE should increase its transparency by providing the public with a complete set of information on both air and water violators."

The report argues that the province should not only list facilities and parameters violated, but also the number of violations, charges and convictions.

The report also identifies known toxic chemicals including benzene, asbestos, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), iron, lead and zinc that were still being emitted at levels violating the legal limit, despite continued government commitments of elimination.

The report recommends that facilities with violations of persistent toxic substances regulations should be a priority for prosecution.

The report is available online at: http://www.sierralegal.org.

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Cocos Island Heritage Site Boundaries Extended

COCOS ISLAND, Costa Rica, July 11, 2002 (ENS) - The United Nations World Heritage Committee, meeting for its 26th session in Budapest, Hungary during the last week of June, extended the boundaries of the Cocos Island National Park World Heritage site to match the extension designated by the government of Costa Rica last October.

On October 10, 2001 the marine reserve surrounding Cocos Island was officially extended by Costa Rica from 15 kilometers (8.33 nautical miles) to 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles) in order to increase the protection of the marine resources.

Cocos Island, along with Ecuador's Galapagos Islands World Heritage site, is part of a proposal underway for the creation of a Pacific Biological Corridor between Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia and Panama.

IUCN-The World Conservation Union is now working jointly with Conservation International and the UN Environment Programme, as well as the governments of Costa Rica and Ecuador, on creation of the Pacific Biological Corridor.

The aim of the proposal is to improve the protection of existing protected areas within the Corridor, including the two World Heritage sites, as well as to help prevent marine transportation related accidents and illegal fishing within the region.

The January 2001 oil spill off the Galapagos Islands, although it has been reported to have minimal impact on the natural values of the site, highlights the importance of such an initiative, the IUCN said.

Located 535 kilometers off the southwest coast of Costa Rica, Cocos Island National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997, following the recommendation of the IUCN. The park provides critical habitats for marine wildlife, including large deep ocean species and especially sharks.

At the time of inscription, IUCN and the World Heritage Committee noted that sharks were heavily exploited outside the Park and encouraged the expansion of the boundaries of the marine reserve.

Costa Rica has recently taken action to protect Cocos Island, forming a strategic partnership with the National Coast Guard Service and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for patrolling the marine area and prosecution of illegal fishing boat owners.

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Summit Participants Can Pay to Offset Emissions

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, July 11, 2002 (ENS) - Each of the some 60,000 people expected to attend the World Summit on Sustainable Development taking place in South Africa later this summer will generate greenhouse gas emissions. Transport from their homes to the conference site in Johannesburg, and electricity used to stage the gathering are among the uses of fossil fuels that will emit the gases linked to global warming.

South African officials will compensate for these emissions, and conference participants can help.

Mary Metcalfe of the MEC Department for Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Land Affairs, of Gauteng Province, where the conference is taking place, is asking participants to pay for their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by joining the Johannesburg Climate Legacy.

"I urge all delegates to take responsibility for their own CO2 emissions that will be caused by attending the World Summit on Sustainable Development, by supporting the Johannesburg Climate Legacy Project," she said. "It is one small step towards a sustainable climate and will be an important contribution to innovative alternate energy projects in South Africa."

"We are measuring the carbon dioxide emissions of the Summit," she said. "These emissions will be offset through investments in carbon reducing sustainable projects across South Africa.

"Companies, individuals, and governments can sponsor this offset by making donations to a dedicated Trust Fund and, in so doing on this world stage, make one of the most important commitments in modern history to a sustainable future."

There is a website where delegates can calculate how much CO2 their trip will generate and offset it. $10 will offset one tonne of CO2 emitted by the summit. http://www.climatelegacy.org/

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English Co-operative Bank to Plant 10,000 Trees

MANCHESTER, England, July 11, 2002 (ENS) - The Co-operative Bank has donated 10,000 trees that will be planted in community woodlands throughout the North West of England. This region has one of the lowest tree cover densities in England.

The first 10,000 visitors to the new website www.co-operative-woodlands.co.uk will be given the opportunity to nominate their preferred planting site for the trees.

The trees will be planted between October 2002 and February 2003 in 12 woodlands in the North West.

In 1997, the bank committed Ł300,000 to the development of four community woodlands in Greater Manchester. The four sites - in the Urmston and Ashton areas of Trafford, at Brookhouse in Salford, at Amberswood in Wigan, and Kenworthy in the Mersey Valley - are all formerly landfill sites or open cast mines. The woodlands cover an area equivalent to nearly 400 football pitches.

The bank's sponsorship has already led to the creation of over 42 hectares of new woodland consisting of birch, alder, oak and ash trees.

Some rare bird species have been recorded in a biodiversity audit commissioned by the bank - the bullfinch, grey partridge, linnet, reed bunting, song thrush and skylark.

Liz Thompson, ecological analyst for the bank, said, "Over 100 bird species are under threat in the UK today. We are delighted therefore, that six of the UK Priority Species have been sighted at the four community woodlands. We trust that as these woodlands mature, many more species will once again begin to flourish there for the benefit of communities here in the North West."

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Hill Tours to Back Ecuadorian Pipeline Protest

QUITO, Ecuador, July 11, 2002 (ENS) - Tree-sitting environmentalist and author Julia Butterfly Hill arrived in Quito Wednesday to express solidarity with communities resisting the construction of the new OCP oil pipeline through Ecuador’s fragile tropical forests.

The controversial pipeline, now under construction in the Mindo Cloudforest Reserve, has met fierce opposition along its 300 mile route. Hill, best known for her two year tree sit 200 feet atop a 2,000 year old threatened California redwood tree, will visit ecosystems, national parks, and indigenous lands threatened by the new Ecuadorian oil boom aimed at doubling oil production in the region.

Hill began her tour of the environmental and social impacts of the OCP pipeline in the Amazonian provinces of Orellana and Succumbios, the country’s largest oil producing region. She will visit several of 300 oil waste pits left by Texaco after thirty years of oil exploitation in the region. She will meet with indigenous and campesino communities that continue to suffer the environmental and health impacts of oil extraction.

“I come to Ecuador to stand in solidarity with people who stand against the absolute greed that imminently threatens the destruction of these priceless and diverse ecosystems," Hill said. "The annihilation of these critical forests and all their inhabitants for the laying of the oil pipeline and extraction of oil, is morally, socially, culturally, and ecologically wrong."

Hill will visit the Mindo Nambillo Cloudforest Reserve, home to more than 450 species of birds — 46 threatened by extinction. The Mindo community, inspired by forest defense tactics used in North America, staged a three month tree sit to physically halt pipeline construction, the first action of its kind in South America.

According to government sources, the majority of Amazon crude that will flow through the OCP pipeline is destined for markets on the west coast of the United States. The OCP Consortium includes Alberta Energy of Canada, Occidental Petroleum of the United States, AGIP of Italy, Repsol-YPF of Spain, and Perez Compac and Techint of Argentina. The US Bank, JP Morgan Chase is OCP’s financial advisor.

"I call upon the OCP consortium, the German bank WestLB, the IMF, and the World Bank, to immediately withdraw their support of this project," said Hill. "We have the technology and the tools to do things in such a better way. I and many others throughout the world are deeply committed to helping the Ecuadorian people stop this crime against humanity and the Earth."