Monday, February 27, 2006

Bhopal survivors take a padayatra to the capital

Nityanand Jayaraman
26 February 2006

On February 23, 2006, Day 4 of the padayatra, we heard from the marchers. Sathyu Sarangi, one of the marchers, called from Pillukhedi, a small town in Madhya Pradesh, with breathtaking spreads of wheat fields, the gently flowing Parvati River, and smelly factories. Since they set off on February 20 on a padayatra (long march), survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster and their supporters have been out of coverage of cell-phone networks. Tired of broken promises, and lies and deceit, the Bhopalis have said enough is enough. About 150 of them set off on a march by foot from Bhopal to New Delhi, announcing beforehand that they would like to meet the prime minister and have him address all their demands.

Of the 150-odd people who started out, only 58 padayatris are currently on the road. They are in great spirits. The youngest participant is getting a ride the whole way. One-year-old Karuna, fondly known as Moti or ‘the plump one’, is the only child on the march. They start walking early in the morning, by about 4.30 am and go on until 10 or so. They start again after a long rest at about 4 pm and go on for another four hours. The going has been tough, though, especially for those with health problems. It is likely to remain so for the next few days, after which the starting pains will disappear as the rhythms of walking assert themselves. They don't have a doctor with them yet. But last night, Biju (the ayurved masseur and therapist), Dr Mrityunjay (an ayurved doctor) and Anand, a community health researcher -- all from Sambhavna Trust Clinic in Bhopal – visited and treated people.

Pillukhedi is the site of four big factories -- a spinning mill, the Vindhyachal Distilleries, a Coca Cola factory and a gelatine factory. "Very few people speak up against Coca Cola. Those that do say Coke and the other factories have spoilt the groundwater. One of the villagers who said he's a doctor -- I don't think he's really a doctor -- said that water samples from here showed high levels of fluoride. I think that is because of super-extraction -- when large quantities of water are sucked from the ground at a very high rate, it tends to erode the fluorides from the sub-surface rock formations," says Sarangi.

The Bhopalis are at home here, in a sinister way. All the handpumps in the village have signs put up by the district administration saying: Water Unfit for Consumption. The water here is like "donkey urine," concur the villagers. It is yellow and smelly. It's been this way for three years, they say. While there is little overt resistance to pollution, all villagers speak out derisively about the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board. "Everybody says the Pollution Control Board officials come, take money and go. They're all corrupt," says Sarangi. Just like Bhopal.

The distillery gives farmers the toxic sludge that remains after their effluents are treated to be used as fertiliser. Farmers say that it is okay for the first two years, but then the yield starts dropping.

The Bhopalis have been here since last evening. They are waiting for friends to arrive from Mehdiganj, near Varanasi, where villagers are waging a vociferous battle against a Coca Cola factory for sucking local aquifers dry. Last night, they screened Bhopal Expressin the village. They talked about Bhopal, and about how to begin addressing the local problems of pollution. "We also told them about the Right to Information Act and how to use it in the local context. But these places need a lot more attention. We should see how we can do that," Sarangi notes.

The villagers have given the padayatris vegetables and buttermilk. So last night there was Khaddi and Roti for dinner. The ex-sarpanch (village head) was also arranging for some milk, and if that comes, there will be kheer as well. The cooking is reportedly awesome. People take turns. The other day, Chotte Khan -- an imposing man with hennaed beard -- made the food, and it was excellent, they said. Chotte Khan is one of the long-distance runners in the justice struggle in Bhopal. In reminiscing during the mid-day breaks, he talked about how he was part of the massive demonstration against Union Carbide and Warren Anderson in December 1984, in the days after the disaster. His spirit is unflagging. Probably the reason why 21 years after the disaster, the struggle for justice and its supporter network worldwide is stronger than it ever was in the past.

Petitions, emails and faxes have begun flooding Indian embassies worldwide, and in New Delhi. Supporters of the survivors are outraged at the insensitivity of the Indian and Madhya Pradesh governments to the needs of the survivors of the world's worst disaster. "More than 20,000 people in Bhopal are forced to consume poisoned water. Medical facilities for survivors are virtually non-existent, and survivors have to beg and bribe to access healthcare. Unemployment and desperation are at an all-time high. Toxic wastes abandoned by Union Carbide continue to poison people, and create a new generation of victims," the letter to the prime minister reads.

Even more shocking two decades after the disaster is the realisation that the Indian government has decided to help Union Carbide and its owner Dow Chemical expand and consolidate its business in India. During the prime minister's September 2005 visit to New York, Dow CEO Andrew Liveris was one of the special invitees to a luncheon meeting. Within months of that meeting, a special cell was set up in the Planning Commission to facilitate the setting up of two petrochemical industrial estates in which Dow Chemicals and DuPont would invest substantially.

When the Bhopalis reach Delhi, they will decide whether to launch an indefinite fast depending on the response of the Indian government. "We have had enough. If all our demands are not met, we're not leaving New Delhi," said Champa Devi Shukla, a woman leader from the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh.

The march is being led by four Bhopal-based survivor and advocacy organisations: Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Group for Information and Action, and Bhopal ki Aawaaz. Lasting about 800 km, the marchers will cover about 30 km every day, and are completely dependent on local communities for food and shelter.

SOURCE: Infochange India News and Features

Friday, February 24, 2006

Global Wind Power Industry Spins Into High Gear

BRUSSELS, Belgium, February 23, 2006 (ENS) - Worldwide, the wind energy industry installed more than US$14 billion worth of new generating equipment last year, an increase of 25 percent over 2004, according to new figures released by the Global Wind Energy Council.

In terms of new installed capacity in 2005, the United States led the world with 2,431 megawatts (MW), roughly enough to power 680,700 average U.S. households per year.

Germany was next in the world with 1,808 MW of new installed capacity, Spain was third with 1,764 MW, India was fourth with 1,430 MW, Portugal was fifth with 500 MW, and China was sixth with 498 MW. This pattern of development shows that new players such as Portugal and China are gaining ground, the Council said.

The total installed wind power capacity now stands at 59,322 MW worldwide.

Wind turbines in a rural area of Bowling Green, Ohio (Photo courtesy Ohio Office of Energy Efficiency)
Wind power development is set to boom in the near future due to the rising price of petroleum products and the need to limit emissions linked to global warming.

Norwegian development company Havsul said Tuesday it has filed for permission to build the world's largest wind park off the western coast of Norway, said Havsul CEO Harald Dirdal.

Havsul plans to bring the $2.4 billion 1500 MW wind park online in 2010-2011, but only if it wins concessions from the Norwegian government and a common green certificate market is established, Dirdal said.

Global Wind Energy Council Chairman Arthouros Zervos said, "The overall picture confirms that the right political framework is crucial to sustain the growth of wind power around the world and to open new markets."

Zervos explained that without political support wind energy is at a competitive disadvantage due to distortions in the world’s electricity markets created by decades of massive financial, political and structural support to conventional technologies.

"Some 48 governments have already introduced laws and regulations to support the development of renewable energies, but this effort needs to be increased if the benefits of wind energy are to be reaped around the world," he said.

The three countries with the highest total installed capacity are Germany with 18,428 MW, Spain with 10,027 MW, and the United States with 9,149 MW.

India with 4,430 MW has overtaken Denmark as the fourth largest wind market in the world. A number of other countries, including Italy, the UK, the Netherlands, China, Japan and Portugal have reached the 1,000 MW mark of installed capacity, a figure thought to be critical for sustained market growth.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) says the United States was able to add so much capacity in 2005 due to the current three year window of stability in the federal incentive for wind energy, the production tax credit. Wind installations varied widely in previous years, depending on whether the tax credit had been renewed by Congress in time to create investor confidence in building new wind farms.

Two cranes lift the rotor to its mount on REpower's 5M wind turbine, the largest in the world. Located in Brunsbüttel, Germany, the hub of the turbine stands 120 meters off the ground, and the 120-ton rotor, featuring wind blades from LM Glasfiber A/S, has a diameter of 126 meters. It completed its first year of operation on February 2, 2006. (Photo courtesy LM Glasfiber A/S)
Europe is still leading the market with over 40,500 MW of installed capacity at the end of 2005, representing 69 percent of the global total.

In 2005, the European wind capacity grew by 18 percent, providing nearly three percent of the European Union’s electricity consumption in an average wind year.

"The European market has already reached the 2010 target set by the European Commission of 40,000 MW five years ahead of time," said Christian Kjaer, the European Wind Energy Association’s policy director.

"By 2010, wind energy alone will save enough greenhouse gas emissions to meet one third of the European Union's Kyoto obligation," Kjaer said.

Other regions are starting to catch up with Europe. The growth in the European market in 2005 only accounted for about half of the total new capacity, down from nearly three-quarters of new capacity in 2004.

Canada one region that is starting to catch up. In 2005, Canadian wind capacity increased by 53 percent.

"Canada’s wind energy industry is growing by leaps and bounds – and that’s great news for Canadians who research shows are strongly in favor of wind energy," said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA). "2005 will be remembered as the year Canada first started to seriously exploit its massive wind energy potential."

Led by India, in 2005, Asia accounted for 20 percent of new wind power installations.

The largest wind park in Southeast Asia is at Bangui Bay near the northern tip of Luzon island in the Philippines. Here NorthWind Power Development Corp operates 15 wind turbines each generating 1.65 MW. (Photo courtesy NorthWind)
China installed nearly 500 MW of new capacity in 2005, more than double the 2004 figure in anticipation of the country’s new Renewable Energy Law, which entered into force on January 1, 2006.

"Thanks to the Renewable Energy law, the Chinese market has grown substantially in 2005, said Li Junfeng of the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association.

According to China's list of approved projects and those under construction, 2,000 MW of wind capacity could be installed by the end of 2006. The goal for wind power in China by the end of 2010 is 5,000 MW," Li said.

The Australian market nearly doubled in 2005 with 328 MW of new installed capacity, bringing the total up to 708 MW.

"The 2007 implementation of a state based market mechanism and a commitment by state governments to establish an emissions trading scheme will provide financial incentives to continue this growth," said AusWind CEO Dominique Lafontaine.

Led by Egypt and Morocco, the young African market saw steady growth, with twice as much wind power installed last year as in 2004.

"Wind energy offers more that just power," Zervos said. "It has the potential to support economic development, improve the security of energy supply, mitigate hydrocarbon price volatility, create jobs, and contribute to substantial CO2 reductions."

Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is the most prevalent greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. Emitted when fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas are burned, CO2 and other greenhouse gases blanket the Earth, trapping the Sun's heat close to the planet. Wind turbines generate electricity without the emission of greenhouse gases.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

CHILE: Indigenous Children Torn Between Farm Work and Homework

SANTIAGO, Feb 21 (IPS) - They dream of becoming doctors, lawyers or reporters, but they are more likely to face a future of working as chauffeurs or domestics. Raised in poverty, Aymara and Mapuche indigenous children from the northern and southern regions of Chile tend to drop out of school to go to work.

Camilo Liempi Painecura, 14, lives with his family in a rural area of the region of Araucanía, 670 km south of Santiago. His dream is to study engineering. But he is sometimes discouraged by the exhaustion caused by attending school and keeping up with his chores on the small family farm, and the scarce free time left after his farm work is done.

His parents, Hipólito and Verónica, want him to go to the university. But they insist that he must continue working on the farm in order to preserve his Mapuche traditions and culture.

The couple told IPS that they are raising a mature, responsible young man with customs and habits that differ greatly from those of the "huincas" (non-indigenous people), something that can only be achieved by including children in the day-to-day chores from a very young age.

This story is common in Mapuche and Aymara communities in Chile.

According to the 2002 census, almost 700,000 Chileans, or 4.6 percent of the population, are members of indigenous ethnic groups. Of this total, Mapuche Indians account for a large majority, at 87.3 percent, followed by the Aymara, who make up seven percent of the country's indigenous population.

The Mapuche live in the southern region of Araucanía and the Aymara in the northernmost region of Tarapacá.

Mapuche boys usually take part in planting and harvesting the crops, as well as gathering the "piñón", the nut of the coniferous Araucaria or monkey puzzle tree, which is a staple of the Mapuche diet. Girls tend the barnyard fowl and other livestock, as well as the subsistence garden.

In the highlands 2,000 km north of Santiago, Aymara children herd llamas, alpacas and goats, sell products at the fair, and work loading and unloading trucks full of foodstuffs and livestock.

The young indigenous llama herders often suffer severely chapped skin and early rheumatic pain as a result of the arid highland climate and cold night-time temperatures.

In areas along the borders with Peru and Bolivia, indigenous children are also employed as drug smugglers, to carry small packages of drugs through the desert, by foot or by bus.

Girls, especially those over the age of 15, usually find work as domestics.

Indigenous groups defend child labour, arguing that it forms part of their culture and helps inculcate traditional values, besides the role it plays in meeting basic needs.

But the strong value placed on child labour makes indigenous minors more vulnerable to labour and economic exploitation and to dropping out of school.

These are some of the conclusions reached by the book "Child Labour and Indigenous Peoples in Chile", published by the Colegio de Profesores (teachers college) and based on a study carried out in 2004, with technical support from the subregional office of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The study was conducted in the towns of Codpa, Colchane and Pisigachoque in the north and in Collimallín, Loncofilo, Trañi-Trañi and Puerto Saavedra in the south.

"What is interesting is that it shows the reality of child labour in indigenous communities, from the viewpoints of the children themselves, their families and their teachers," María Jesús Silva, national coordinator of the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, told IPS.

The study reveals that the task of rural teachers who work with indigenous children is especially complex, because they must constantly choose between expecting less from the students who work or demanding the same from them as from the other students, thus running the risk that they will drop out of school.

The children interviewed admitted that once they have finished their farm work and other chores, they are too tired to play or do homework. Some of them also exhibit behavioural problems, which affects school performance and can lead to repeating grades or dropping out.

In 1996, the Chilean government created the Bilingual Intercultural Education Programme to help promote greater learning in schools with a high degree of cultural and linguistic diversity. But 10 years later, this initiative has still not fully succeeded in achieving its goals.

"Teachers generally point to such problems as a lack of suitable materials, high technical and administrative demands and overly large class sizes as obstacles to undertaking more innovative programmes," the study notes. These problems are further exacerbated in schools with only one or two teachers.

In 2003, the Chilean Ministry of Labour and the National Service for Minors (SENAME), in conjunction with the ILO, carried out the country's first survey on child labour. It revealed that there were 196,000 children and teenagers between the ages of five and 17 working in Chile, and that most of them lived in rural areas.

Of that total, 107,676 were working in "unacceptable" conditions. In other words, they were either the victims of sexual exploitation, involved in illegal activities, or employed in dangerous occupations.

Given the scope of the problem, SENAME decided to establish a registry of children and teenagers facing situations like these, in order for their cases to be investigated by the police and the Department of Labour. There are currently a total of 1,700 minors on this list.

Angélica Marín, a psychologist at the SENAME Department for the Protection of Children's Rights, praised the new study because it gives greater visibility to a reality that is largely ignored by the general public, and can help promote debate on the conditions in which these children and teenagers work.

It is not a question of challenging the traditions of indigenous peoples, but rather of ensuring that children from these ethnic groups are not forced to carry out work that is dangerous or overly demanding, and which also obliges them to give up their studies, Marín commented to IPS.

"The research also sheds light on other difficulties that children in these regions must face, such as poverty, the fact that their parents are typically illiterate, and the isolation in which they work, which makes them more vulnerable to sexual abuse, for example," she said.

"The study will help to focus resources on key areas and develop a specific response to the problems of indigenous children. The challenge now is to coordinate the work done by the different bodies concerned with this issue throughout the country," she added. (END/2006)