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Friday, June 27, 2003

:: Earth-Info.Net @ Glastonbury ::
Earth-Info.Net will be taking a break at the Glastonbury music festival this weekend...

Why not check out some of the great causes that this incredible festival supports?

They include: Water Aid, Oxfam + Greenpeace

Thanks to Jane for my ticket!

Now I just need to find my wellies...

:: Oil exploitation + rainforest report ::
Some interesting research has been published into the effects of tropical countries exploiting their oil and gas on rainforest cover...

It's a little bit complicated but it seems to suggest that if more lucrative alternatives exist people will leave the land and work in cities.

Whereas the restructuring of economies + devaluing of currencies, frequently advocated by the IMF, can have the opposite effect...

:: Amazon disappearing, fast ::
A new multi-million dollar satellite has shown that the clearing of the Amazon increased by 40% between 2001-2002...

Unfortunately, a chaotic legal system, low prosecution rate and a lack of funds for basic protection means that the temptation to make a fast buck by clearing more forest is rarely resisted.

:: Slow prosecutions for Rwandan genocide ::
The International Criminal Tribunal, investigating the Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 people were murdered (while the world looked on), was set up in 1995 + has an annual budget of $180 million yet has only convicted 12 people + acquitted 1 person...

Gerard Gahima the chief prosecutor in Rwanda has told the BBC's Focus on Africa that this rate of progress is "the result of bad management, severe corruption, problems relating to the abuse of the procedure by the defendants and their defence lawyers" and because "Many people who are involved in running the tribunal have an interest in perpetuating its existence because they make a livelihood out of it."

Thursday, June 26, 2003

:: Commission demands better chemical testing ::
The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) has said that we are playing "a gigantic experiment with all living things" by failing to test the effects of the 30,000 chemicals used in the European Union on humans + ecosystems.

The Commission recommends preliminary testing of all chemicals within 10 years (at the present rate there is a 50 year backlog!), taxes on toxic chemicals in order to discourage their use + fund toxicological research, the assembly of an internet database and the development of mechanisms for feedback from amateur groups which may be able to act as an early warning system.

See here for what Friends of the Earth + the WWF have to say regarding the inadequacies of the current regulatory system and the need for a precautionary approach, especially when dealing with chemicals which have unknown, long-term effects + interactions.

:: EU subsidy reform fudged ::
According to this BBC report the EU has agreed some major reforms to agricultural subsidies... although many remain disappointed by how far these reforms go.

Perhaps the most important reforms are the removal of the link from subsidies to production (in many cases) and increases in the funds available for environmentally beneficial measures.

However, countries still have the freedom to carry on subsiding farming if there is a danger of land coming out of production (which is obviously quite a major concession!) and the overall budget of 43 billion euros will remain much the same.

Key points:

* Abolish most of the subsidies that reward farmers according to how much food they grow

* Farmers will receive a single payment, rather than grading the amount of money in line with the amount of food produced

* Individual countries will be able to stick to the old system if there is a risk that the new system would lead to the land being abandoned

* The prices at which the EU intervenes to support farmers are to be cut in key sectors, including milk powder and butter

* Countries like the UK, which want to press ahead with more radical reform, are allowed to do so

* Direct payment for bigger farms will be cut to finance the new rural development policy, promoting the environment and animal welfare.

Agriculture subsidy expert Wyn Grant says these reforms will require further analysis, but as an initial assessment that:

* This 'multi-speed' process could well complicate WTO negotiations

* (The) 3% cuts in subsidies in 2005, 4% in 2006 and 5% from 2007 onwards to create extra revenue for rural development measures...

... there will be a financial discipline mechanism. This will, however, involve annual decisions by the Council which will leave plenty of room for the usual political games.

Earth-Info.Net particularly notes Wyn's final thoughts...

The old adage that half a loaf is better than none comes to mind. But perhaps it is more like a quarter of a loaf. And like all fudged reforms of the CAP, it will reduce pressure for real reform. Franz Fischler has hailed the agreement as 'the beginnng of a new era' but how far will it meet his aims of simplification, avoiding unwanted production incentives, improving market oriented production and avoiding trade distortions? Much will now depend on what happens in the Doha Round...

:: FoE name + shame UK paper merchants ::

We all buy paper, but I suspect that few of us know where it has come from or at what cost...

Friends of the Earth have named and shamed 11 paper merchants who have been buying paper made from pulped Indonesian rainforest.

According to FoE the UK paper merchant hall of shame is led by York Ford (Leicester), Communisis BBF (Bath), WL Coller (Manchester) and David John (Slough, Berkshire). These four companies have been buying the largest quantities of paper from the UK agent for the Indonesian paper giant Asia Pulp Paper (APP). APP's paper is made from Sumatran rainforest which is home to the endangered Sumatran tiger and elephant.

Other UK paper merchants who have been buying paper from APP are: Pioneer Print (London), Northwood Paper Sales (Harrow), Laird Paper (Nottingham), Fleet Paper (Snodland, Kent), Beever Paper (Manchester), Trent Paper Sales (Loughborough, Leicestershire) and Solcrown Stationary (Woodford Green, Essex).

In May Friends of the Earth wrote to all the above companies requesting that they stop trading with APP. No responses have been received from these companies.

Approximately 70% of the pulp for APP's paper is sourced by clear cutting and pulping wildlife rich rainforest. APP has been accused by Human Rights Watch of links to human rights abuses against local communities on the island of Sumatra. There is also evidence that in 2002 the company bought illegal timber from third party suppliers. Although there has been some progress in addressing these issues, APP continues to source the majority of its pulp from wildlife rich rainforest. APP has also failed to commit to not cutting down or purchasing timber from High Conservation Value Forests.

Ed Matthew, Forests Campaigner for Friends of the Earth commented:

"APP is obliterating some of the most wildlife rich forest on Earth. Their UK customers are complicit in this devastation and are a disgrace to their profession. They must stop buying Indonesian paper immediately."

Friends of the Earth is calling on paper merchants and retailers around the world not to buy pulp or paper from APP until it can be independently proven that they are not buying illegal timber and are not cutting down or purchasing timber from High Conservation Value Forests.

Friends of the Earth is calling on the UK Government to support legislation to make it a criminal offence in Europe to import illegally sourced timber products. Friends of the Earth is also calling on the Government to support the Corporate Responsibility Bill, a private members Bill which would make UK corporations legally liable for the damaging environmental impacts overseas of any destructive purchasing decisions.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

:: Water Aid given £150,000 by Aquaplastics ::
Earth-Info.Net is very pleased to report that the Aquaplastics site has now recorded 1,500,000 hits and that Water Aid will consequently receive the maximum £150,000 pledged to it for clean water projects in Nigeria...

So good on ya, if you've been clicking on this site each day!

Water Aid has in fact had a very successful year as it has already received £1,329,618 from Children's BBC show Blue Peter which staged a Water Works appeal and will soon receive it's regular £40,000 donation from the Glastonbury music festival...

Given that 2 billion people lack access to clean water + decent sanitation it's great to see this issue gaining the support it deserves.

Things continue to get better as... tomorrow the BBC are starting a week of programmes exploring the role of water in health, education, peace + security...

:: New species found in Bolivia ::
In 2001 a friend of Earth-Info.Net's, Ross MacLeod, mounted an expedition to Bolivia, with colleagues from Oxford and Glasgow universities....

It has turned out that this expedition discovered seven species new to science including two frogs, two snakes, two toads + a lizard. They also extended the range of a bird called the Screech Owl by 1000km.

Ross says "There's a very high rate there of endemism, species that don't exist anywhere else. It's almost as though a different species had evolved in each valley..."

In fact this expedition has been such a success that Ross and his team have now received backing from the BP Conservation Programme, a partnership between BirdLife International and Fauna & Flora International (sponsored by BP).

The next stage of this project (which will help Bolivian conservation agencies to draw up management plans + document species) has also won core funding from the UK's Darwin Initiative and will be collaborating with Conservation International and the Wildlife Conservation Society...

Great stuff! Good luck, Ross.

Monday, June 23, 2003

:: Scottish Salmon + Sellafield ::
Earth-Info.Net is amazed by how quickly major political decisions sometimes get made...

Within 24 hours of a report saying that Scottish Salmon contain low levels of radiation a 9 month moratorium on the dumping of further radioactive waste into the Irish sea has been announced!

Earlier today Greenpeace released a report which said that most of the salmon bought from UK supermarkets contain trace amounts of a radioactive compound called Technetium-99 (TC99) - a waste product of the nuclear industry.

There is no safe disposal technique for Technetium-99 on land and storing it until such techniques have been developed is not an option because the UK's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has put pressure on BNFL to get rid of it.

Apparently, it is also dangerous to store TC-99 on land in a liquid form any longer than you have to because there is no "failsafe" strategy for dealing with it...

Hence, BNFL has chosen to release this waste into the Irish Sea and the UK government has permitted it to do so...

According to the UK's Food Standard Agency the levels found in the study, are relatively low and pose no immediate risk to human health.

However, in 1998 John Prescott promised Europe that the UK would reduce radioactive pollution from Sellafield. Instead discharges have increased and are set to double over the next few years. This will mean increased levels of nuclear contamination in the food chain, and high levels have already been found in lobsters and other shellfish...

The fact that fish in British water contain radioactive compounds should, however, come as no surprise. ..

The Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant has been emptying radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea for over 50 years and radioactive isotopes traced to these emissions have been upsetting Norwegian fishermen and the Irish government for years!

Also, in May 2002 the UK's Royal Society published a damning report on the preparations that have been put in place, by successive UK governments, in order to deal with the country's existing and mounting nuclear waste. The report recommends urgent action to strengthen + reform key institutions, the enhancement of independent scientific research and substantial new investment in order to permit the rapid deployment of the best available technologies (not entailing excessive economic cost).

According to Bellona the situation is even worse in Russia where dangerously full reservoirs containing radioactive sludge at Russia's nuclear re-processing plant in Mayak, Siberia pose a huge threat to the entire Arctic...

:: Rich nations accused of ignoring AIDS pandemic ::
"Why is there always so much money for conflict, and pennies for the human condition?"

Stephen Lewis, the UN envoy on AIDS in Africa made an impassioned appeal in London on 16th June 2003, in which he accused Western governments of “criminal negligence” in turning away from the African continent, just at the very time when he believes the AIDS pandemic can be beaten. He said that there now is a vehicle, the Global Fund, but the resources, that could prolong the lives of millions of people, are missing.

You can download part 1 and part 2 of his speech from the OneWorld Radio AIDS Network website via these links.

Friday, June 20, 2003

:: White House cools climate change warning ::
The White House has been accused of watering down an Environmental Protection Agency report into the serious threats posed by climate change...

If true, this is pretty audacious as the US National Academy of Science has recently said that:

"The leading cause (of climate change) is emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels"

"Temperatures are, in fact, rising"

"Greenhouse gases are accumulating in the earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise" and

"National policy decisions made now and in the longer-term future will influence the extent of any damage suffered by vulnerable human populations and ecosystems later in this century."

These conclusions have also been endorsed + expanded upon by 17 European National Academies of Science, the International Panel on Climate Change, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, as well as the vast majority of credible climate scientists.

In terms of this administration's track record it is worth remembering what happened to Dr. Robert Watson, the widely respected and out-spoken former head of the IPCC...

As to why anyone might wish to deny the harmful effects of our current addiction to fossil fuels (at almost any price!) you can find out how much money the oil + gas industries have recently given to the major political parties by following this link.

I'll leave it to you to decide who can be the most objective when it comes to the issue of climate change...

:: Book Aid International seek sponsorship ::
Book Aid International is currently looking for sponsors who will help them to send 50,000 books to schools, libraries, universities + hospitals in Ethiopia...

Why not follow this link if you would like to donate?

Incidentally, Book Aid International has a great motto, which is...

"If education is the road out of poverty, books are the wheels needed for the journey."

Thursday, June 19, 2003

:: Unexploded bombs + landmines in Iraq ::
According to the Mines Advisory Group "Dozens of children are being killed by mines and unexploded bombs in Iraq every day."

In one week the main hospital in Kirkuk, northern Iraq received 52 killed and 63 injured as a result of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO).

The real figures are likely to be much higher as many deaths are not recorded and there is no death registration system.

Landmine Action is now calling for new international laws which would force combatants to clean up their unexploded ordnance after the fighting is over...

If you wish, you can sign their petition here...

:: ASSK's birthday ::
Today is Aung San Suu Kyi's 58th birthday.

Unfortunately, despite vehment international protests and unusually open criticism from fellow members of ASEAN (The Association of South East Asian Nations) ASSK is still being held in the notorious Insein Jail...

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Gao Pronove has been in touch to let me know about the UNCTAD/Earth Council's Carbon Market Programme which focuses on enabling developing countries to participate effectively in the emerging global carbon market...

If Earth-Info.Net had as many skilled researchers working for it as the BBC's Natural History Unit (as well as an enormous budget!) we'd probably try to give the Beeb's Nature: Environment site a run for it's money...

This informative and rapidly growing site has high quality sections offering handing hints on green living, games as well as a topical message board.

Maybe one day...

Monday, June 16, 2003

Follow this link for the most convincing description I've yet seen of the events surrounding May 30th's brutal attack on Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters and her subsequent detention by Burma's military regime....

Imagine what would happen if just before you got married you agreed to have a HIV test, and your partner turned out to be negative but your were positive...

This is exactly what happened to a young Ethiopian who has been helped by a radio programme called Yebakal, which offers a dating service for single people with HIV...

Being diagnosed with HIV is bound to be a horrendous blow, but it is great to see this (Action Aid-funded) show taking practical steps to counter the loneliness + depression all too often associated with a HIV diagnosis.

Despite opposition from Japan, Norway + Iceland the latest meeting of the International Whaling Commission has voted to offer whales enhanced protection from over-fishing, pollution + climate change.

This vote follows a recent report which stated that fishing nets accidentally kill 800 whales, dolphins + porpoises a day (or 300,000 per year).

The excellent Business + Human Rights Resource Centre (an independent organisation in partnership with Amnesty International sections and leading academic institutions) has recently revamped it's homepage so that it is less cluttered and easier to use...

Information overload has never felt so good!

A new project off the south coast of England is using ocean currents to generate electricity.

As water is much denser than air these turbines are claimed to be 4x times more efficient than traditional windmills.

Once built these inconspicuous turbines do not release carbon dioxide or other pollution, can deliver energy to a predictable timetable + help countries to produce renewable energy in line with the Kyoto Protocol and "Agenda 21".

Potential disadvantages, at least for marine life, include impacts with the front edge of the turbine blade and/or pressure changes associated with the movement of the turbine blades, known as cavitations.

A similar system is being developed in the East River of New York, and Earth-Info.Net expects to see many exciting developments in this promising technology over the years to come...

The BBC has produced an interesting article outlining the role that access to fresh water plays in the conflict between the Israelis + Palestinians.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

The latest newsletter from Alertnet has two interesting articles regarding the accountability of international aid organisations, and the future of international humanitarian law...

The first article reports on the formal launching of HAP International (which grew out of the earlier Humanitarian Accountability Project) as a club for aid agencies willing to adopt standards (of accountability), to monitor themselves and to report openly on their progress and findings...

In the second article Yves Daccord, director of communications for the International Committee of the Red Cross, says that, more than ever before, international humanitarian law remains a vital protection for the most vulnerable in present-day conflicts and still "seeks to draw a line in the sand between humanity and inhumanity".

Earth-Info.Net takes an active interest in how the disabled children in a Vietnamese orphanage are doing and has just received the following update from a local physiotherapist employed by the Kianh Foundation:

"Vu: His daily activities are good. He’s made a lot of progress in speaking and understanding. He’s one of the cleverest and most progressive children.

Sen: His walking is much improved. He has just been supplied with a knee support, so his walking gets much better than before.

Thuy: Her two legs and body are stronger than before. The spasm of the leg muscles is reduced so her walking is better.

Hai: Arms good, legs more flexible. He can squat for a relatively long time; particularly he can sit when he holds onto the bed. He can crawl by himself a long way.

Van May: Better than before. He can move to and fro between his room and the exercise room independently. His wisdom has developed. There’s a good harmony between his arms and head and neck: taking a spoon of rice into his mouth, or a glass of water. Van May is a good boy, who tries so much in physio-exercise.

Luu Mai: His arms and legs are stronger and more flexible. His awareness of physio exercise is better. He can go back and forth along the parallel bars with a better movement.

Xi, Bong and Gai: They have made much progress. They can move their arms and legs with conception. Their spirit is good. They feel happy when they get physio exercise. Xi’s condition of illness is better thanks to her development of spirit and movement.

Van: Her head and neck control is relatively good. She can sit by herself for a long time.

Hong Nhi: The spasm of her legs and arms is reduced, so her movements are easier than before. The movement of her fingers is better too.

Hanh: Her health and spirit are very good. She looks so happy when she is in the physio room. She usually smiles, quite different from how she looked a few months ago.

Anh: His past habit of sitting and lying is no more. Instead, he usually stands and moves. He stands and moves between the parallel bars. He can stand by himself for a short time. His spirit is better than before.

Anh Nhi: Her right arm and leg are stronger and more flexible. She can push the walking frame by herself. Her spirit is better.

Khanh: His daily activities and awareness of independence are improved. His right arm and leg are better than they were.

Phuc: The spasms of his leg muscles are reduced. So his walk is relatively better, He’s too active to have good posture in walking when there isn’t a supervisor. It may take a long time for us to change his habit."


* The able-bodied children here are very active and have a liking for damage. The management and preservation of disabled children’s things, such as wheelchairs, walking-frames, dining tables, are not good. So they are soon damaged.

* Thuy: It is taking a long time for us to treat her. She has had to stop going to class so that she has more time for physio. I am trying my best to treat her so that she can go back to school as soon as possible.

* I’m going to open a course next month to train the carers here in physio, in how to help the children to lie and walk, and to help them in their daily activities.

* Equipment for the physio room is almost sufficient, except a treatment appliance (which is too expensive. Maybe later).

* I’m very happy to work with Jackie, and the volunteers that sometimes come here, especially with the disabled children.

* The improvement and development of the disabled children makes me happy. That encourages me so much in my work, although it is very hard. I’d like to thank you for your help to the unhappy children in HAO. I hope that we can do our best to bring the best that we can to them.

Please visit the Kianh Foundation website if you would like to find out more or support this life-enhancing work.

Earth-Info.Net is more than a little concerned by NASA's plans to develop nuclear propulsion systems for long-range space exploration.

Earth-Info.Net is concerned because 2 of the last 100 space shuttle flights have ended in disaster - despite the most thorough + expensive safety procedures of any human enterprise.

With 1 shuttle flight in 50 going catestrophically wrong, Earth-Info.Net fails to see how non-essential space exploration can justify the risk of a third shuttle exploding in our atmosphere and contaminating vast swathes of the planet with a nuclear cargo.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

A group called the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) has said it will soon launch projects in China, Morocco, Vietnam + South Africa to fortify staple foods with iron, iodine, vitamin A, folic acid and other vitamins and minerals in a bid to reduce preventable birth defects and childhood disabilities.

For example, children can go blind if they don't have enough vitamin A in their diet, while a lack of iodine can cause mental retardisation...

Adding vitamins and minerals to foods such as salt, flour, oil + sugar therefore offers a cheap + reliable way of improving the health and well-being of very poor people, who frequently lack access to basic health care services.

See here for the GAIN homepage.

The US State Department has threatened to reduce the overseas aid given to 15 countries it says are not doing enough to reduce human trafficking, which results in "hundreds of thousands of men, women and children being exploited, abused + enslaved."

The named countries are: Greece, Turkey, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burma, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Liberia, North Korea, Sudan, Suriname + Uzbekistan.

Follow these links to see the State Department's Annual "Trafficking in Persons Report" or a brief factsheet.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

The European Commission has recommended radical reform of the Common Agriculture Policy and an end to farm subsidies which encourage over-production as well as the dumping of surpluses on the world market (at below cost price)... both actions which make it difficult for farmers in poor countries to compete on price, earn a living or be economically self-sufficient.

The CAP also accounts for almost 50% of the EU's budget even though agriculture only employs 5% of the EU's population!

For further information see Wyn Grant's hugely informative Common Agriculture Policy page, which offers the following quotes:

"The latest OECD figures show that $338 billion was spent around the world on farm subsidies in 2002" (This equals approx. $1 billion per day!)

"As ever, the next stage in the CAP's evolution will be based on what is politically achievable as much as on what is objectively desirable or economically rational."

Also worth a look...

The homepage of Franz Fischler (The Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries)...

A summary of Franz Fischler's Agenda 2000 proposals for agricultural reform...

Some interesting figures on the subsidies received by wealthy English farmers which have been produced by Action Aid.

and last-but-not-least...

Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign.

UN envoy, Razali Ismail, has been allowed to see Aung San Suu Kyi on the last day of his visit to Burma and said that she was "well and in good spirits".

There had been concern that ASSK had been severely injured when she was ambushed and taken into "protective custody" by Burma's military regime.

The government had said that at least 4 people were killed and 50 were injured in the clashes associated with ASSK's seizure, but other reports have suggested that as many as 75 members of the opposition, accompanying ASSK, were beaten to death by pro-government supporters...

Mr. Ismail has said that he is optimistic that ASSK will be freed within a couple of weeks, and that he will return for further talks in the next few weeks...

Guardian journalist Leo Hickman is embarking on a bid to live as ethically as possible and has had his lifestyle + consumption patterns assessed by experts from Friends of the Earth, the Soil Association and Ethical Consumer magazine.

Apparently the experts queried Leo's use of a supermarket, his foreign holidays + his (inefficient?) washing machine.

Even so Leo remains optimistic that there are plenty of things for him to begin doing, and that it won't be necessary to become a hermit on a remote mountain top or to completely opt out of the rat race...

As you'll see here + here Earth-Info.Net agrees that there's plenty we can all do in terms of considering what + how much we consume, and we wish Leo well...

I will also try to keep you posted with Leo's progress over the coming months.

In the mean time if you have any ethical suggestions, you are invited to email Leo here.

Earth-Info.Net has just been sent the latest newsletter from the OneWorld Radio AIDS Network - a collaborative project which brings together broadcasters + NGO's in their shared fight against AIDS.

The network has a very large archive of AIDS-related online radio programmes which you can listen to for free...

Here a few examples of what they have to offer:

* The Global Fund: Two years on, is it working?
This report, by InterWorld Radio takes a close look at the Global Fund (to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria), which was set up in 2000 to combat the AIDS pandemic, as well as malaria and tuberculosis, a topic also featured at the recent G8 Summit in France. So far, the fund has handed out over a billion dollars to fund projects in 153 countries. But just how effective has this been?

* Workplace HIV treatment helps breaks stigma
A special Health-e report looking at metal industry employees in South Africa, an area which provides little treatment or support for its workers. This is despite the fact that around 20% of the 350 000 metal industry workforce is infected with HIV. Khopotso Bodibe reports.

* Uganda, Burkina Faso + the world AIDS crisis.
The latest edition of this weekly show features Uganda's success in decreasing HIV infection; the extensive spread of HIV in Burkina Faso and local efforts to fight the disease and attitudes which encourage the spread of HIV; a look at the World AIDS Crisis in an interview with Family Health International; and a report on "The Reach Out Project" in Kampala, Uganda. This show is produced by Aidsjourneys Radio/ShalomCare.

* Caregiver's Corner
Caregiver's Corner is a weekly radio programme for caregivers, partners and family members of individuals diagnosed with HIV, AIDS or other serious illnesses. Focus is often international. The programmes include interviews and feature stories. This episode examines hospice care in the United States, but is valuable for a worldwide audience. By Aidsjourneys Radio/ShalomCare.

The BBC is reporting that a white South African has moved into a black township on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa...

The local community has adopted the man, Bruce Muzik, and both sides seem to be enjoying breaking down some long-standing barriers + prejudices...

Monday, June 09, 2003

Friends of the Earth has issued a press release which suggests that deep differences exist between many of the countries attending tomorrow's WTO Working Group on Investment, regarding the future liberalisation of foreign investment...

This working group will be the last round of formal negotiations before September's WTO Ministerial in Cancun, Mexico where agreement on the full "Doha" WTO agenda (re: trade funded development) is supposed to be achieved...

According to FoE:

"The WTO investment agreement is highly controversial because of doubt over whether it will bring about more investment, let alone help alleviate poverty, improve economies, or promote sustainable development. It will also restrict countries' abilities to control foreign investment and regulate their own economies. There are suspicions that the agenda is being driven by big business, as it is being promoted by countries with multinationals who are responsible for most foreign investment, rather than by the needs and demands of the developing countries."

"A number of developing countries have repeatedly reinforced their opposition to such an agreement and have instead called for the issue of global corporate accountability regulation to be addressed."

Saturday, June 07, 2003

The UNEP is urging action to better manage the world's groundwaters and warns that cities, industries + agriculture may soon struggle to meet their needs...

This is because ground waters are being exhausted by over-extraction and becoming tainted by salt contamination.

Places as diverse as Arizona, Bangladesh, Bangkok, Cairo, Calcutta, London, Mexico City + Jakarta are vulnerable to excessive extraction depleting their water supplies, while many semi-arid regions are at risk of salt contamination...

Salt contamination occurs in hot countries where excessive land clearance and/or irrigation have taken place... once the native trees are cut down, the grasses that farmers tend to grow as crops, such as wheat, often fail to release water into the atmopsphere as fast as it is being pulled up to the surface by the sun... this leads to surface waterlogging (which drowns plants) - irrigation speeds up the waterlogging step - eventually the water table is raised to such an extent that it becomes impossible to drain the land and prevent the water as well as the salts it carries (which have been washed deep underground by millions of years of rain) from reaching the surface... over many decades the water-borne salts precipitate out at the surface (due to evaporation) and become highly concentrated... eventually, even salt-tolerant plants stop being able to grow + the land turns into desert....

In Australia, previously productive farmland is being lost to salt on a massive scale and cities such as Adelaide + Perth are having their drinking water tainted... this problem is even more severe in poor countries which cannot afford to pay for desalination, have large populations + lack the resources (or knowledge) necessary to revegetate their landscapes...

You can find out more about this hidden, but critical problem here.

The Webby Awards have been announced...

The winners for Activism were Act for Change (panel's choice) + Greenpeace (people's choice).

The equally deserving Jane Goodall Institute, Voice Yourself + World Resources Institute were the other nominees...

Last month Earth-Info.Net was contacted by Richard Kahn of Vegan Blog and this started me thinking about the different forms of environmentalism + environmental blog that exist...

I don't have time to explore all the different forms of environmentalism (believe me there are a lot!) but I thought it might be good to provide a quick run-down of the environmental blogs I know about + to leave it to you to choose which blogs fit your interests + needs:

Coral Report: Marine ecology made easy...
Dailysummit.Net: A weblog which offered live coverage of the UN's World Summit 2002
Dive in to Earth Day: Set up for Earth Day (April 22nd)... events, links + history.
Dystopia: A US weblog covering environmental + social issues. Lots of links.
Earth-Info.Net: Environmental + humanitarian news, issues + comment... but of course you knew that!
Earth Peace Project: A collection of profound quotes done with style + thought.
EarthSummit.Info: Earth-Info.Net's older brother: 600 useful links + The World Summit.
Eco-Portal: A news portal run by Glen Barry, author of the following* blogs:
* Climate Blog: Comment + analysis of climate change + renewable energy issues.
* Earth Blog: A well-done + newsie environmental blog, from a US perspective.
* Forest Blog: A great blog which helps to show why forests really matter.
* Water Blog: The first blog dedicated to international water issues + news!
Ex-Entropy: "Deep ecology", ethics + books
Future Harvest: Technical news from the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute
Greenpeace Weblog: A weblog from Greenpeace - up for a Webby!
Invasive Species: Great coverage of innumerable invasive species.
NGO map: The use of "Knowledge Management" by international NGOs.
Rebecca Blood: Blogging supremo who covers sustainability, weblog development + gothic fashion...
Sierra Activist: A grass roots news + activism site.
Soliloquist: Environment + society from an ethical + human rights point of view.
Swamp Cottage: A blog covering African, UN + hi-tech developments
Vegan Blog: "The (Eco) Logical Weblog" by Richard Kahn
Viridian Blog: Seemingly deceased! Try the Viridian Repository.

New finds...
How to Save the World: Essays on environmental thought + policy. Thanks to Dave Pollard.
Ecosocialism: A weblog of ecosocialist opinion

Please let me know if I have missed anyone + I will add them to the list!


Thursday, June 05, 2003

It is emerging that the ambush of Burma's Daw Aung San Suu Kyi by "government-affiliated thugs" resulted in at least 4 deaths + the injuring of 50 others.

Earlier reports had already suggested that ASSK was injured during the ambush, when a brick was thrown through her car window...

The UN's special representative, Razali Ismail, is due to visit Burma on Friday, and it can only be hoped that he can gain access to ASSK, and negotiate her release.

Earth-Info.Net recommends a visit to an online radio project called OneWorld Radio.

This collaborative radio site enables you to listen to programmes that have been made by a huge variety of large + small humanitarian or environmental organisations, from all over the world...

The front page currently offers a programme from the Caribbean Environmental Reporters Network (CERN) on the use of local fruit to make smooth tasting wine.

Another programme reports on Ukrainian street children and won the 2002 OneWorld/UNICEF Award for outstanding children’s radio.

Plenty of great stuff!

P.S. June 5th was World Environment Day... this year's theme was water.

There is hope that DNA vaccines, which make use of viruses called bacteriophages in order to give people immunity, will eventually be able to provide a cheap + effective way of vaccinating large numbers of people against multiple diseases...

It's still early days, but this is an interesting development and one that builds on a Russian technique involving the skilled use of viruses (phages), instead of antibiotics, to fight disease...

New research from Cameroon suggests that wild dogs (otherwise known as painted hunting dogs) have dramatically declined in northern Cameroon due to a combination of habitat loss, the loss of prey + persecution from herdsmen.

In order to conserve this species the report's authors recommend that the fragmentation of protected areas should be prevented and the amount of direct human persecution reduced...

If you would like to find out more about these beautiful animals you might like to see a picture of some wild dogs + read about Greg Rasmussen's amazing work to protect them in Zimbabwe... Good on ya, Greg!

Earlier this week, at a 5-day conference called Defying Ocean's End (DOE) it was announced that an anonymous donor has offered Conservation International $5 million towards protecting the world's oceans - provided they can raise an additional $4 million!

Over-fishing, destructive fishing methods, coastal development, pollution + climate change all threaten the future of world's oceans.

Earth-Info.Net's fingers + toes are therefore crossed in the hope that someone else will step forward to help fund the Action Plan to Save Earth's Oceans before too long!

A report from the independent Pew Oceans Commission says that overfishing at sea, over-development along the coasts + increasing pollution from cities and fields are leading to a decline of ocean wildlife and the collapse of ocean ecosystems around the US...

The report concludes that "the status quo is unacceptable" and has identified the following priorities:

* A unified national policy based on using marine resources sustainably

* The redirection of fisheries policy towards protecting ecosystems

* The management of coastal development to minimise habitat damage + the loss of water quality

* The control of pollution, especially nutrients.

* The establishment of a national system of fully protected marine reserves.

* The formation of an independent national oceans agency.

* The doubling of funding for basic ocean science + research.

Apparently, it wasn't just Earth-Info.Net that was massively underwhelmed by what the G8 nation's offered to the world's poor in Evian...

Follow these links to find out what the following organisations had to say about the Evian meeting:

* Friends of the Earth said there was too much emphasis on voluntary transparency from big business...

* Christian Aid complain that the rich nations have asked the world's poor to wait for progress until the next round of trade talks take place in Mexico in September...

* Oxfam said that the G8 statement on trade was vacuous + point out that rich countries subsidise their own farmers with approx. $1bn a day and most of the money going to big agri-businesses.

Perhaps the most damning comment can be found in aBBC summary where someone from Oxfam is quoted as saying, "when the history of the war on poverty is written, Evian won't even be a footnote."

Overall, another missed opportunity...

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

The Pew Research Centre for People and the Press has produced an interesting report entitled Views of a Changing World 2003 War With Iraq Further Divides Global Publics which looks at changes in public attitudes to the UN, US + society in 21 different countries.

The WorldWatch Institute is about to launch it's annual Vital Signs report on the state of the planet, and it makes sobering reading...

Follow these links for the report's preface, table of contents and an overview...

In summary, the report outlines two different types of environmental destruction related to inequality + poverty. The first is the result of excessive consumption by rich countries, while the second is a result of the world's poor having to eek out a living...

A few Vital Facts include:

More than 13 million children who have lost a parent due to AIDS

14.4 million people die each year from infectious disease

There were 12 million international refugees in the beginning of 2002

While the global economy has grown 7x since 1950, the disparity in per capita income between the 20 richest and 20 poorest nations more than doubled between 1960 + 1995.

Fortunately, the report isn't all bad news, as it ends with an empowering list of things we can all do...

Including serving those in need, greening our community, becoming an informed voter, Quitting smoking, exercising more, and eating more fruits + vegetables, practicing + promoting safe sex, helping eliminate the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS + ensuring safe motherhoods...

Now all we need is for enough people to decide these things have to happen, which is where we all have a part to play.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Earth-Info.Net has to admit to being very disappointed with both the scale + scope of the humanitarian measures agreed at the G8 summit.

Rather than conclusively deal with the threats posed by AIDS, dirty water, famine + poverty the leaders instead spent a large proportion of their time considering the long-term threat posed by weapons of mass destruction...

Admittedly, it probably did not help that the summit's coverage was overshadowed by violent protests and the great powers patching up their differences after the war in Iraq.

Even so one cannot help wondering when the world's leaders will decide to tackle, within concrete timelines, targets + treaties, the throny issues surrounding trade, aid, debt + access to medicines... rather than continue to produce vague action plans which fail to tie down rights, responsibilities + funding.

More positively, it was good that African and developing country leaders were invited to attend the talks, that immediate assistance for the famine in Africa was agreed and the EU promised to contribute more funds to the Global Health Fund.

The G8's "Water Action Plan" was also agreed, although this was swiftly criticised by Friends of the Earth for relying too heavily on public-private partnerships which have a checkered track record at providing cheap + profitable access to clean water...

The Sustainable Development International (www.sustdev.org) website is worth a visit...

It offers good quality news, briefings + links on different aspects of sustainable development from a business-friendly perspective.

I found some of the partnerships that have been forged of interest...

The International Institute for Sustainable Development, providers of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, in collaboration with the Secretariat of the UN Forum on Forests, has created a new e-mail list for news and announcements related to forest policy issues.

This is a peer-to-peer announcement list and any subscriber to FORESTS-L can post to this list. Postings that fall within the list guidelines will be distributed to all other subscribers.

Thanks to Claudio Sillero of the Canid Specialist Group for passing on this news.

The internal displacement of refugees, within national boundaries, is a huge problem...

Fortunately, the latest edition of the Forced Migration Review does a good job of opening up this issue and of reporting on problems in places that most of us rarely hear of, let alone think about...

In particular there are interesting articles on Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone + Mauritania as well as the international rule of law...

Building on the success of the BBC's Big Read, Book Aid International has launched The Big African Read as a way of promoting African authors and literacy.

A great idea, from a great charity!

See here for a list of the 100 best African books from the 20th century.

Earth-Info.Net has noticed that there never seems to be a good time to spend money protecting the world's environment or helping the poor...

During the boom years no-one wants to jeopardise the good times, while during the bust years no-one wants to dent the recovery...

Larry Elliot of the Guardian has written a thoughtful piece on some of the excuses for inaction we tend to hear, and helpfully outlined a few ideas for action...

On a different note, take a look at this article on how Bill Gates + George Soros are helping to enhance Bob Geldof + Bonos' lobbying efforts through the funding of rigorous advice and data collection.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Britain, France + Sweden are demanding that the Burmese military release Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested yesterday.

Earth-Info.Net is waiting to see what comes out of the current G8 summit in Evian...

Debt relief, trade subsidies, export credits + access to essential medicines are all possible areas for pledges, but the devil will be in the detail and there has sadly been relatively little implementation following previous fine-sounding agreements.

On this topic... see Jubilee Research + CAFOD's report entitled "Did the G8 Drop the Debt? Five years after the Birmingham Human Chain, what has been achieved, and what more needs to be done?"

In brief, this report calls for an end to the privatisation + liberalisation conditions linked to debt relief that harm the poor, the creation of a fair procedure for poor countries if they become insolvent in the future, highlights that only 8 countries have received full debt relief and calls for the creation of a World Debt Day.

There is also a rumour Jacque Chirac is proposing that a tax on weapons should be used to feed the poor (in a modification of the long-proposed Tobin Tax on currency speculation) and I will report on this in more detail as soon as possible...

See the Publish What you Pay and Wyn Grant's Common Agriculture Policy website to get a feel for what this and similar proposals could be an effort to divert attention away from...

The BBC is currently staging a week-long event called "The Water Debate".

On the debate's homepage you can find out about some of the world's water-related problems... and more positively a few of the potential solutions!

In order to get you started the BBC's ace environment correspondent Alex Kirby has written an excellent introduction to the role of water in international health, food security, politics + business...

In particular, Alex emphasises the need to use finite water resources wisely, equitably + sustainably.

If you would like to find out more about the importance of improving access to clean water + better sanitation Earth-Info.Net recommends that you visit Water Aid's website.

If you wish, you can donate 10 cents to Water Aid (courtesy of Aquaplastics) by clicking here, or alternatively donate a regular / fixed amount by clicking here.

A Kenyan government report has estimated that corruption costs the country $1,000,000,000 per year.

It is also estimated that corruption results in approximately 25% of all government spending being lost without any benefit to society... and according to Transparency International's "Daily Bribery Survey" Kenyans pay on average 16 bribes a month, simply to go about their ordinary lives!

The head of Transparency International's Kenya chapter, John Githongo, has been put in charge of the country's anti-corruption efforts, and his presence seems to be having an effect as last week all of the heads of government procurement departments were sacked for giving business to companies they part-owned and often failed to deliver the goods...