briefly noted - 16.1

Congo Project Draws Fire

A joint initiative of the World Bank and the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) could address some of the difficulties that arise when development groups try to take ecological factors into account. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) would support conservation efforts in developing countries that couldn't otherwise afford them, and several demonstration projects are underway. However, one slated for a Congro rain forest that serves as hunting grounds for Baka pygmies has encountered considerable resistance.

The GEF plan in Congo is to finance projects by Wildlife Conservation International (WCI) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature that are in the works already. World Bank project consultant Karen Richardson explains that these efforts, including forest-management and research initiatives, aim to establish zones that would be protected for particular uses.

Hopefully, those uses would exclude granting logging or mining concessions in the forest to any outsiders, but Richardson won't rule out the possibility until plans are finalized with the Congo government. She does insist that GEF officials and the environmental groups involved are talking with the Congo government and indigenous peoples to determine what would best benefit local people.

Richardson believes that Congo's northern forests, where the GEF focuses face little pressure from loggers, because no infrastructure exists for getting logs out of the relatively unspoiled forest. She says no logging company seems interested anyway, and Congo itself "can live very happily of [its offshore] oil reserves."

The Environmental Defense Fund sees things differently. According to EDF economist Korinna Horta, the GEF not only threatens Congo's biodiversity, but disregards local land rights. In a report distributed last November, she attacks various GEF aims and urges the World Bank to rethink its plans.

Citing World Bank documents that, Horta writes, "were obtained in a unauthorized fashion without the bank's knowledge and on a one-time basis," she claims the GEF is linked to an International Bank for Reconstruction and Development loan to Congo for the Natural Resource Management Project. The NRMP, according to its project summary, targets such policy issues as "facilitating the marketing of round wood and the optimization of existing transport facilities [to help] being forestry exploitation back to life." The project summary also notes an intention to focus on transpiration and marketing constraints so timer can regain its former place as the most stable foreign exchange earner for Congo."

Horto also bases her concern on a 1991 UNDP report that suggests the GEF might inadvertently ease a transition to logging. The Congo project would fund a WCI effort to establish a reserve in the Nouabale-Ndoki area in the northern forest. To get personnel and equipment to the site, WCI plans to reopen 15 miles of an old logging road and remove vegetation from two rivers to open them to navigation. In so doing, Horta charges, WCI might simplify access for loggers and poachers.

WCI responds that it would limit access to the area. Spokesperson Amy Vedder of its main office in New York explains that the only way to reach the road would be from the river, allowing WCI and guards to control unauthorized use. In fact, she says, only project vehicles would travel the road. Moreover, she says, WCI is aware of its obligation to the indigenous people of the region, and the GEF will give priority in the hiring of guards and guides for the reserve to local people.

However, WCI's hiring plan might run into a snag, since the Bantu who also inhabit the villages are more interested in employment than the Baka pygmies, while the Baka make better forest guides. Moreover, Horta insists, many more Baka live in the forest than WCI and the World Bank acknowledge. For them, she says, there has been "no recognition of local land rights." WCI will work in two settlements that are only half a day away from the hunting grounds of the Baka.

Echoing the UNDP report, Horta questions the wisdom of re-opening the logging road. "Road guards are nice if you have a judicial system that will prosecute poachers once they're caught," but Congo's government is unstable. A provision government rules the country, with elections slated for the spring. While the World Bank's Richardson acknowledges the "institutional instability" and WCI plans to protect Baka hunting rights, Horta feels the planners are ignoring political realities if they believe such protection will be easy.

Dubious Swaps

In 1987, Bolivia and Conservation International (CI) collaborated in an innovative approach to both Bolivia's staggering debt and the need to conserve its rain forests. The New York-based environmental group purchased a small portion of Bolivia's foreign debt and then canceled it in exchange for a Bolivian promise to use the windfall for the new Beni Biological Reserve, home to 13 endangered species. The government also promised to create a buffer zone around the park and committed $250,000 to manage it.

Based on a 1984 New York Times op-ed piece by Thomas Lovejoy, then a World Wildlife Fund vice-president, the agreement sounded great for all involved. Similar "debt-for-nature" swaps followed in Ecuador and Costa Rica, and many U.S. environmentalists, including CI, the WWF, and the Nature Conservancy, are pursuing this strategy. However, a growing number of analysts suggest that these deals are no panacea. Rather, critics charge, debt-for-nature swaps ignore the roots of both the debt crisis and environmental degradation.

First of all, although the price tag might be high for a nonprofit organization, the impact on a country's debt is minimal. For example, Alan Patterson wrote in Environment, the Bolivian bargain canceled only $650,000 of that country's $500 million commercial debt. At the same time, he says, the narrow focus of the exchanges can divert attention from such causes of the debt crisis as expensive fuel, unfavorable terms of trade, and inflation.

Patterson also notes that much of the debt was incurred by projects that were themselves destructive, "either directly, by exploiting natural resources, or indirectly, by building the infrastructure, such as roads and dams, that in turn had major negative environmental impacts." In preserving pristine forests, swaps may fail to address the need for sustainable development in the non-industrialized world, which in itself could benefit conservation.

Conversely, swap proponents downplay the significance of some legitimate reasons for indebted nations to exploit their natural resources. Governments often depend on the income from selling timber and minerals to combat rising unemployment and poverty; protecting biodiversity for the long term may seem a less immediate priority. That may be one reason why, only four years after its agreement with Conservation International, Bolivia has granted timber concessions in the Beni Reserve buffer zone to seven companies. Much of the area in now being deforested, according to Brade Erickson, a staff member of the now-defunct Environmental Project for Central America.

Nor do debt-for-future deals address questions of government corruption. According to Polly Parks, a program associate at Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, a recent swap planned by by the Philippine Haribon Foundation may mean little for the rainforest island of Palawan, since it will be hard to stop the illegal logging that provides a livelihood for many Filipinos - and is supported by high-ranking officials.

Finally, debt-for-nature swaps raise serious questions of sovereignty. To put this issue into perspective, consider how Americans would feel if Japan used its economic leverage to dictate resources-management policy in Yellowstone Park. Moreover, neither Bolivia nor Conservation International consulted the Chimane Indians, the original inhabitants of the Beni Biosphere's buffer zone, about the swap or its implications for them.

A Bush administration initiative illustrates the depth of the sovereignty issue. An administration-supported bill would have forgiven $12 billion of Latin America's debt and diverted interest payments on the rest to environmental projects. In return, noted a New York Times editorial favoring the proposal, "debtors would have to streamline their economies, pledge to reduce their debts with other big creditors like the World Bank, and open their borders to outside investors on favorable terms."

Passed in the House, the bill died in the Senate, but not out of any reluctance to force Third World nations to toe the line of global financial institutions. Rather, Congress felt, all foreign aid is unpopular these days.

Women and Population Control

Controversy is endemic to the international endeavors of the U.S. government, yet a 1989 Agency for International Development effort struck a new note. That year, AID spent $350,000 to support a commercial album by Nigeria's Yoruba musician, King Sunny Ade. While it's easy to wonder how funding an already profitable venture by a popular musician would promote economic development, the album's content raises even more questions.

According to Elizabeth Sobo, a columnist for the Los Angeles journal African and Reggae Beat, Ade based his previous work on traditional Yoruba ideals, including an esteem for fertility. For the AID-supported album, Ade departed from that pattern, instead urging listeners to practice family planning.

The album was a part of a population-control project administered by Johns Hopkins University. Frustrated by pro-natal African traditions that inhibited the acceptance of family planning, administrators turned to indigenous music to open the way.

"The description of this `significant and sustained' communication campaign ... might have been lifted from a Pentagon manual on psychological warfare," Sobo wrote. But in many ways, it grows logically out of Western development ideas that emphasize population control.

Proponents of the family-planning style of development, including Population Explosion authors Anne and Paul Ehrlich, blame overpopulation for many social and environmental ills plaguing developing countries. If poor people reproduced less, they assert, standards of living would rise, reducing pressure on over-burdened environments.

Not all the opposition to this approach are right-to-lifers. Progressive critics charge that the single-minded advocacy of population control treats a symptom of poverty, not the causes. This deflects blame from Western countries, which consume a disproportionate share of global resources. Moreover, solutions that focus on arresting fertility to meet arbitrary population targets foster a climate fraught with potential for human-rights abuse, especially of the poor women targeted by most family-planning drives.

In fact, while AID, multilateral agencies, and most governments have sworn off programs that blatantly force sterilization and other forms of family planning on unwilling women, population projects often embrace more subtle forms of coercion. For example, family-planning programs in many countries pay women to agree to certain forms of birth control, according to Betsy Hartman, director of Hampshire College's population and development program. In Progressive magazine, she details a Bangladeshi program that gives each woman "who agrees to be sterilized ... 175 taka and a free sari."

Poor, uneducated women ar also particularly vulnerable to manipulation by family-planning workers who provide too little information to make an informed choice. Hartman has cited a Bangladeshi community in which 40 percent of sterilizations were performed on clients who were inadequately informed of either possible side effects or the permanent nature of the procedure. In a pilot program in Indonesia, many women who accepted Norplant were badly informed about the potential risks of the implant and weren't told it had to be removed after five years. Prolonged use of an expired Norplant can lead to life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, but few clinic workers were trained to remove the implant.

Family-planning workers say they don't provide more information because, informed of the risks, women might shy away from birth control altogether. Not necessarily, responds Hartmann. "These women do want birth control," but since pills and barrier devices are often unaffordable, many women turn to more permanent methods.

Finally, family-planning programs are often implemented at the expense of general health efforts. Jodi Jacobsen, a senior researcher at Worldwatch Institute, describes the burdens on India's Family Welfare Program: "Each [clinic] is charged with carrying out ... 47 different health-care strategies among a population of 5,000." Because of their obligation to meet imposed family-planning targets, workers at these clinics often find themselves doing little but dispensing birth control.

Even in the absence of such a burden, the policies of international aid organizations can neglect women's health issues by downplaying the risks of various birth-control methods. This past August, two AID doctors criticized a draft of International Planned Parenthood Federation guidelines for family-planning clinics. While the right-wing lambasts IPPF for prochoice activities, the doctors instead charged it with overindulgence of women's health. Thus, the doctors faulted IPPF for imposing "numerous medical barriers" to family planning, including "excessive physical exams (e.g. pelvic and breast) ... holding oral contraceptives `hostage' to other reproductive medical care (e.g., pap smears and STD [sexually transmitted disease] tests)," and "categorical exclusion of methods (e.g. not providing IUDs because the STD rate is too high)."

Massacre in Colombia

Thousands of Paez and Guambiano Indians marched to protest the spread of drug-related violence in their territories following the murder of 20 people from the Huellas reserve in Caioto, Cauca. The slayings occurred December 16, 1991, on the Nile Ranch, where the indigenous community had settled without title several years ago.

The former owner sold the ranch recently after the government denied his petition for compensation for the ranch. The owners of Nile Limited, the firm that purchased the ranch, are unknown, and are said to be involved in drug trafficking. In July, the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council filed a complaint about the suspected drug activity with the Regional Procurator's Office and the Caioto Mayor's Office. Authorities did not respond, despite an increase in violent acts against local Indians after the complaint. On December 7, heavily armed civilians burned the Indian's settlement and crops. The huts and animals were burned again the day of the murders.

Indian leaders, who blame the rise in drug-related activities on Colombia's failure to resolve indigenous land claims, say they have repeatedly warned authorities about the influx of drug-backed groups in the region. In 1991, Colombia's land-reform agency turned over a mere 4,500 acres to Cuaca's Indians. One week after the murders, the agency and Cauca's indigenous governors agreed that another 40,000 acres will be granted over the next three years in an effort to stem the violence.

U.S. Congress Issues Tibet Declaration

"The United States Congress has declared Tibet `and occupied country under established principles of international law whose true representatives are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile as recognized by the Tibetan people.' The bill was part of the State Department Authorization Act."

Raiding the Western Treasure House

"China is about to exhaust all of its mineral supplies, according to ... an announcement by Xinhua [the Chinese government press agency]... Seven of the fifteen `key staple minerals essential to China's economy will run out within the decade, and there will be an insufficient supply of 11 of the 45 major minerals needed in the next ten years...." Given this desperate situation, it is likely that the Chinese will continue to exploit Tibet's rich mineral wealth at an ever increasing pace.

"Tibet, dubbed Xizang by the Chinese, meaning `the Western treasure house,' possesses vast mineral resources. Half the world's known uranium reserves are in the mountains around Llasa, and Tibet has 40% of `China's reserves of iron ore. Also in Tibet, the Norbusa chromite reserve alone boasts 43% of `China's' total reserves. In addition, Tibet has huge resources of coal, gold, copper, lead, borax, and oil."

Pharmaceutical Firm Makes Biodiversity Link

Merck & Co, Inc., the worlds largest pharmaceutical company, has begun a collaboration with Costa Rica's National Biodiversity Institute, a private nonprofit organization. The agreement will give Merck the exclusive right to screen substances extracted from Costa Rica's indigenous species for medical and agricultural applications. The institute will receive part of the profits from products that result, which it would invest in science and conservation efforts.

To promote conservation immediately, Merck is giving the institute $1 million for the first two years of the agreement - more than doubling its budget - to train scientists and collectors to gather and catalog specimens and prepare the extracts to send to Merck's labs. Some of the money will also support Costa Rica's National System of Conserved Areas.

In the short run, the up-front money will mean jobs for dozens of Costa Ricans who might otherwise have to live off marginal land, according to institute director Rodrigo Gamez. In the long run, the program might encourage a drug firm to establish a plant in Costa Rica. Just as important, it could help show that biodiversity is a valuable economic resource.

Native-American Action Blocks Merger

The Federal Reserve Bank - the Fed - has rejected a merger between First Interstate BancSystem of Montana and Commerce BancShares of Wyoming. Native Americans living on the North Cheyenne Reservation in Montana had challenged the merger after failing to convince First Interstate to extend credits and loans to their community.

Forming a nonprofit group called Native Action, the residents charged that the bank violated the Community Reinvestment Act, which prohibits banks from loan practices that discriminate against communities in which they do business. This is the first time a CRA challenge has led the Fed to reject a merger, and the first time a Native-American community has petitioned the Fed on such grounds.

The Northern Cheyenne Reservation has mineral wealth and farm and ranch land but little money to cultivate the resources. Many people on the reservation believe that local non-Indian ranchers, including several members of the bank's board of directors, denied them loans because they perceive development of the reservation as a direct threat.

UN vs. Intellectual Property Rights

"The Worlds Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) - the UN agency which protects patents - has told the UN Human Rights Centre that it does not recognize indigenous peoples....Mr. Arpad Bogsch, WIPO Director General, wrote the center that intellectual property is distinguished by the type of intellectual creation and not by the groups responsible for its creation.…

"Mr. Bogsch's ... letter confirms that the current system of patent protection - and WIPO's stewardship - is a major obstacle [to protecting indigenous culture and knowledge.] For example, the idea of individual authorship often clashes with the indigenous sense of community, making it hard to meet the requirements of the Paris Treaty, which regulates and protects patents."

First Peoples Granted Citizenship

"[Costa Rican] President Rafael Angel Calderson...signed into law a bill facilitating citizenship cards for thousands of undocumented Costa Rican Indians who for years had been denied citizenship. Many Indians were born in remote areas far from Civil Registry centers, so they never obtained the necessary papers to be granted citizenship. Once they have their citizenship cards, they will be eligible for Social Security, health care, and bank loans, benefits previously denied them."

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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