New Internationalist


August 1986

new internationalist
issue 162 - August 1986



Liquid Gold
An unknown Burmese town won an international prize for innovations in health care at this year's World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva. Shortly after Burma launched its People's Health Plan in 1979, the town of Ayadaw decided to give priority to water supplies. They adopted the slogan, 'We need water, not gold.' By 1985 97 per cent of the townsfolk used safe water, and 50 per cent had proper sanitation facilities - compared with 1.6 per cent in 1980. The town is reaping the rewards of these advances in more than international prizes. There have been no outbreaks of cholera or plague since 1979, and there has been a dramatic decline in gastrointestinal infections.

From 39th World Health Assembly. Press Release WHA/4


Fare comment
In Saudi Arabia women are taking revenge for being relegated to the back of the bus. The Saudi Public Transport Company blames female passengers for the drastic decline in fares collected last year. Why? Buses have special back entrances for women, leading to a walled-in female section. It is only too easy then, for wily women to board and get off without paying the driver who, being a man, remains up front.

From Outwrite women's newspaper, issue 47


Iranian intolerance
The Metal Bank in Tehran sacked 16 women over three days for not wearing the proper Islamic cover and for carrying make-up. The government has also ordered that women employees are not allowed to wear jeans and that their maghnaeh (which covers the head, shoulders, neck, forehead and sides of the face) should also cover the chin - otherwise they will not be allowed into the office.

From Outwrite women's newspaper. issue 47


Australians - with blood on their hands
Australia is often seen as a country which has prospered by riding 'on the sheep's back' - the shearer, the squatter and jumbuck are the ingredients of national myth. Indeed the grazing industry, with 140 million sheep, is still important to the economy. But livestock suffering has been ignored.

Cruelty and abuse in the Australian wool industry has been detailed in a new publication, Pulling the wool. Perhaps Western wool-consuming nations might think again about buying this major Australian export if they knew:

  • About 20 per cent of lambs die before the age of four weeks.
  • The grinding of sheep's teeth occurs without any anaesthetic. An electric grinder files down the incisors bringing the exposure of the sensitive nervous pulp which can become infected.
  • Tail docking is an extensive surgical operation performed without anaesthetic and without any laws requiring the operators to be skilled.

· One million sheep have died in transit to the Middle East over the past five years, due to poor conditions on board ship.

· Eight to nine million sheep die yearly from lack of proper nutrition, injury, lack of veterinary care, flood, drought and exposure.

'So far as the sheep industry is concerned,' the publication maintains, 'Australians are back in the dark ages.'

From Pulling the wool - a new look at the Australian wool industry, by Christine Townend, Hale & Iremonger 1986.


Whiff of the grape
NI readers with memories for trivia will no doubt be aware that the Briefly page is conducting a low-key competition inviting examples of the need for development education. A fiercely Neanderthal letter of complaint to Oxfam Canada has recently been challenged by an extraordinary example of racist assumptions in a letter submitted by Oxfam Scotland from the pages of the local press. We are grateful to another of our readers who submitted this piece of journalism from 'The Stars and Stripes' - authorized unofficial publication for the US Armed Forces'.

'The President says Nicaragua is going to be a Soviet "beachhead" in North America unless he gets a $100 million from Congress... After that? Russia and Cuba will be in a position to "interdict our vital Caribbean Sea lanes," threaten the Panama Canal and then "move against Mexico" ... With Nicaragua, he said, the Russians will be putting "a second Libya right on the doorstep of the United States." Doesn't it make your hair stand on end? Doesn't it make you want to ask that crowd in Washington what it takes to wake them up and send in the Marines?

When the British ruled the Earth, they never let things go this far. If some upstart country began getting big ideas about interdicting sea lanes, the British surrounded their leaders with the navy. Then if the rascals in charge didn't agree to accept a grant of British civilization embodied in a British governor who would teach them how to run things properly, a British admiral would say. "All right, give them a whiff of the grape." With good British grapeshot embedded in their hides, the upstarts usually saw the wisdom of accepting the gift of British civilization.

... What's wrong with President Reagan? He can surely scare the rest of us, but why can't he scare himself? If he had scared himself several years ago he would have given the Nicaraguans a sufficient whiff of the grape to teach the upstarts the wisdom of letting the CIA make them the gift of American civilization.'

And so the article goes on, reflecting no doubt what all self-respecting members of the American armed forces are thinking about Central America Is it they who are living on a different planet, or us? Can any reader better this example of how far we've got to go?

Information from The Stars and Stripes, March 25 1986


Deadly pollution
Did you know

  • The Irish Sea is the most radioactively contaminated in the world?
  • Windscale/Sellafield nuclear reprocessing involves discharging 96 per cent of all British radioactive marine discharges or roughly the same as all other installations in the world put together?
  • British Nuclear Fuels do not dispute that their dumping causes two to three fatal cancers, two to three non-fatal cancers, two to three genetic defects and two to three non-genetic defects for every year of their operation? Many scientists believe these figures are too low by a factor of 10 or a 100.
  • The only known cause of childhood leukaemia is radiation?
  • Researchers have not been able to isolate an amount of plutonium small enough not to cause cancer?
  • Scientists estimate the 0.5 rem (measure of radioactivity) maximum permissible radiation dose for the public is comparable to smoking 14 cigarettes a day. The maximum permissible dose to a nuclear worker at Windscale is ten times this, or 140 cigarettes a day?
  • The US has a radiation dose limit for the public 20 times more strict than that in the UK?

From Cumbrians Opposed to A Radioactive Environment. 80 Church Street. Barrow-in-Furness. Cumbria LAI4 2HJ, UK

Talking of the 'social conscience industry': 'Its shock troops are often female (Rachel Carson is their high priestess) and normally unconstrained by any knowledge of chemistry. They are earnest, puritanical and opposed to the free market. Social engineers manqué, they play on the fears of the untutored and have the power to do a great deal of mischief.'

Dr Peter King, general secretary of the UK Society of Chemical Industry.

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This feature was published in the August 1986 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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