WorldScan: July 28, 2003

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African Plants, Ivory, Reptiles Illegally Traded

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 28, 2003 (ENS) – A boom in poached succulent plants is among the latest threats facing Africa’s rare and endangered wildlife, a meeting in Nairobi was told. Last week, delegates to the 6th Governing Council of the Lusaka Agreement heard that the protected plants are being illegally smuggled from Somalia into Kenya. They are then exported to Europe and North America as part of the illegal horticultural trade.

Wildlife enforcement experts, government officials, wildlife groups and members of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) present at the meeting reviewed the outcome of a crackdown on illegal wildlife trade including ivory, animal trophies and skins as well as the trade in plants.

They considered a report by the Lusaka Task Force which describes how over the past 12 months 25 python skins were seized in Nairobi after being smuggled out of Uganda. Other illegal wildlife and wildlife parts confiscated include ivory, weighing 45 kilograms (99 pounds) which was seized in the Bungoma region of Kenya. Two people are in custody in connection with that seizure.

The Task Force, in conjunction with the Kenya National Bureau, also arrested an individual in Mombasa allegedly smuggling rare and endangered reptiles and amphibians in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and southern Sudan.

The Lusaka Task Force was established to support the Lusaka Agreement by training wardens, gathering intelligence on criminals, exchanging information between African countries and organizations including Interpol and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The Lusaka Agreement, known as the African Interpol for Wildlife, is a regional agreement under CITES which came into force in December 1996. The Task Force became operational in 1999.

To date, the agreement has six governments that are party to it - Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Lesotho, Congo Brazzaville, and Zambia. South Africa and Rwanda sent observers to the Governing Council meeting.

Clement Mwale, the intelligence officer for the Lusaka Agreement, said the illegal trade in plants from southern Somalia, appeared to be a new and potentially worrying phenomenon “involving sophisticated operators.”

Mwale said they have evidence that the plants, dryland species resembling aloes with thick fleshy leaves and juicy succulent interiors, are being sold for ornamental and medicinal purposes.

Mwale said they had traced the trade to a nursery in Europe and one in North America and were trying to unravel how the exporters had secured permits from Kenya. “It looks like a new, illegal trade, but it may have been operating for some time and we have only recently been alerted,” he said.

Intelligence gathering has identified a number of illegal ivory trafficking routes in Congo Brazzaville which are to be further investigated. Henri Djombo, the Congo Brazzaville environment minister, said, “There is big trafficking of the wildlife and biodiversity of the Congo Basin in terms of plant materials, including timber and medicinal plants, and animal trophies involving illegal traders and officials.”

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer, who helped broker the Lusaka Agreement, said, “We are dealing with theft of the biological resources of Africa. Currently there are six countries who are party to this agreement. I would call on more African countries to join so that this cross-border illegal trade can be more effectively countered."

More funding is urgently needed from donors to improve the financing of this anti-poaching initiative, Toepfer said. "Countries, where these products are going, also need to act to close these illegal markets so that those involved in poaching cannot profit from their highly damaging, illicit activities.”

The Canadian government has decided to supply some 120 radio sets for wildlife officers working in countries that are part of the Lusaka Agreement as a “positive contribution to enforcement of wildlife trade treaties” in Africa, Toepfer said.

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Afghan Wheat Harvest Will Be Best in 20 Years

KABUL, Afghanistan, July 28, 2003 (ENS) - Afghani farmers have produced their largest wheat harvest in recent memory, according to Serge Verniau, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in Kabul.

In a July 24 statement, Verniau said, "This is a very encouraging development considering that the country suffered greatly from armed conflicts and a four year drought."

"We are expecting that the harvest will amount to more than four million tonnes," he said. "The country will still need to import an estimated one million tonnes," of wheat Verniau predicted.

"I would say that FAO's emergency activities, such as the delivery of seeds, fertilizers and tools and the successful control of potentially damaging locust outbreaks in the North, contributed to this success," Verniau added.

Production of opium poppies has increased by almost 20 percent compared to last year, Verniau said. The possibilities of introducing alternatives to poppy production such as the rehabilitation of fruit tree nurseries and vegetable seed production exist, but poppy production offers income and employment opportunities. "It will take time to build credible alternatives. In addition, the conditions for law enforcement and controls have to be created," said Verniau.

Around 85 percent of the Afghani people depend on agriculture. Chronic undernutrition and micronutrient deficiency disorders continue to be a major problem in Afghanistan, according to the FAO spokesman. Particularly hard hit are small children, women, refugees and people in remote mountain areas.

"The diets of many people are unbalanced," Verniau said. "They lack energy, but most often variety. The diets are poor in micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron and iodine. There are also pockets of scurvy due to vitamin C deficiency affecting people in the northern mountains during winter months."

Poverty is still widespread in the country and people have no access to a nutritious diet, or cannot afford it. They often live just on bread and tea, small quantities of milk and yogurt and some legumes. The intake of fruits, vegetables and meat is still very low. People are not starving, but diets are not rich enough for children to grow and to develop mentally and for adults to be productive, Verniau said.

The situation of Afghan livestock farmers has not really improved. The outbreaks of livestock diseases such as foot and mouth disease are still occurring and pose a "serious threat" to neighboring countries, the FAO says.

"It is clear that without a sound animal health strategy run by farmers and livestock agencies, livestock production could remain low and constrained by disease. FAO will run a livestock vaccination campaign to keep the worst outbreaks in selected areas under control," Verniau said.

The FAO has undertaken a countrywide livestock census to get a clear picture about how many farm animals remain after the conflict and drought in Afghanistan and under what conditions farmers are producing. This is the first census for many years.

The FAO has received fresh funding commitments from donors but is still facing a gap of $10 to 15 million to provide a comprehensive program of rehabilitation of agriculture in the coming months. The European Commission, the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK are the main donors.

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Bank Loan Will Upgrade Pan American Highway

WASHINGTON, DC, July 28, 2003 (ENS) - A key highway linking Panama and Central America to Mexico will be rehabilitated and upgraded with a loan provided by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

The 92 kilometer (57 mile) stretch of road will be fixed with a $37 million loan to Panama, the bank said Friday.

The loan will be used to bring the Pacific corridor of the Pan American Highway up to standards agreed upon by the eight countries in Plan Puebla Panama, a regional economic development program that aims to improve infrastructure links in the region.

The United States has praised Plan Puebla Panama as an initiative created by Mexican President Vicente Fox and the Central American countries to work together to further economic development in the region.

The IDB said the 39 kilometers (24 miles) of road between the Panamanian towns of Divisa and Santiago will be expanded by two additional lanes, with three new bridges built and 12 elevated crossings for pedestrians. The bank loan will complement funding by Panama to rehabilitate another stretch of highway from Divisa to Paso Canoas, on the border with Costa Rica.

Along a deteriorated 53 kilometer (33 mile) stretch of road between Santiago and the community of El Pajal, highway slabs will be replaced and technical specifications improved for better drainage and enhanced road shoulders.

The IDB said an environmental and social evaluation of the program concluded that the project would "neither affect protected areas nor involve the resettlement of people."

Consultations were held with civil society groups, "who made useful proposals for the project," the IDB said.

The project is expected to help cut transportation costs by reducing travel time, vehicle wear and tear, and accident rates.

The 3,159 kilometer (1,963 mile) Pacific corridor of the Pan American Highway connects Panama City with the Mexican city of Puebla.

The 1,745 kilometer (1,084 mile) Atlantic corridor of the highway runs from the southeastern Mexican port town of Coatzacoalcos to the port of Cutuco in El Salvador.

The Pan American Highway system was conceived at the Fifth International Conference of American States in 1923 and supported and financed by the United States during the 1940s and 1950s.

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Natural Resources Ministry Sells Russian Forest Online

MOSCOW, Russia, July 28, 2003 (ENS) - Nine plots of wood in Kaluzhsky region were sold during the first Internet auction the Ministry for Protection of the Environment and Natural Resources of Russia said last week. The news agency RIA Novosti reported that the auction was developed under the order of the ministry.

The Kaluzhsky region is located in the Central Russian Uplands about 250 kilometers (155 miles) southwest of Moscow.

Information about the initial price, the area to be auctioned, the amount of standing wood, its species and the infrastructure for removing the timber were placed on the site so that potential buyers could become familiar with the available choices.

Buyers registered to receive a password and a registration number with which to participate in the auction.

Participants' price offers were fixed "within one second" the news agency said. Information about each completed sale was sent to all participants by email.

More than 1,600 hits came in from Russia, about 400 from Ukraine, more than 100 from Israel, 60 from the United States and Canada, and also hundreds from Germany, Bulgaria, Finland, Norway, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Turkey and other countries of near and distant foreign countries were registered on the auction site.

The ministry says that the forest auction is one step towards creation of a Russian electronic stock exchange for wood, which the ministry says will allow for the improvement of forestry management.

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Miners Not Welcome in Indonesian Protected Forests

JAKARTA, Indonesia, July 28, 2003 (ENS) - The government of South Kalimantan on the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, and Dayak Indignenous Commmunity leaders have denounced the mining company Placer Dome for its plans to begin mining operations in one of the last protected tropical forests in Indonesia.

Despite local government and community opposition, the mining company based in Vancouver, Canada and Sydney, Australia, intends to exploit mineral deposits situated in a mountain area that has had protected forest status since 1928 - the Meratus Mountain protected forest.

Bachruddin Syarkawi, the leader of the provincial House of Representatives, has called on the national government to block Placer Dome's plans to exploit the region.

Placer Dome is seeking an exemption from Indonesian Forestry Law 41/ 1999 that bans open-cut mining in protected forest areas. In total, 136 mining companies have applied for permits from the government to mine in 11.4 million hectares of protected forest areas throughout Indonesia.

The national government was expected to make a decision on July 3, but has not yet done so. Throughout Indonesia, communities have held protests, and some 6,000 citizens have sent postcards to the government supporting protected forest areas.

The Council of Dayak Meratus, representing 115 communities, issued a passionately worded letter of protest, signed on June 25, urging President Megawati Soekarnoputri to reject Placer Dome's plans and to consider that mining activities would threaten their water sources, their sacred sites, and their livelihoods.

"The presence and activities of the mining company in our lands since 1982 until the present have not been transparent or participatory, instead treating the community as mere bystanders," the Council of Dayak Meratus said in its statement of opposition.

Placer Dome's exploration property in South Kalimantan is held through Placer's wholly owned subsidiary, Southkal Resources. In the company's April annual general meeting in Toronto, Placer Done Director Keith Ferguson responded to criticism that the company deliberately withheld from shareholders the extent of community backlash to its operations, by claiming that Placer has the support of the Meratus people.

"International mining companies and governments must respect our laws, and not pressure Indonesia to sacrifice its environment to satisfy foreign greed," says Siti Maimunah, of the Indonesian Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM).

A coalition of international civil society organizations, including JATAM, the Australian Mineral Policy Institute (MPI), the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) and MiningWatch Canada has called on the Indonesian government to uphold its environmental protection laws.

"In Stakeholder Roundtable meetings held by Placer in Sydney in 2000, Placer management told us they were serious about sustainability. So stakeholders gave them three simple benchmarks of good faith: no riverine waste dumping; no exploration or mining in protected areas; and no mining without the consent of affected peoples," said Igor O'Neill of MPI. "Three years later and Placer shouldn't be surprised to receive an "F" on its sustainability test if it pushes through a mine in the Meratus protected area, against indigenous Dayak people's clearly stated opposition."

"It is utterly unacceptable that a Canadian company should try to subvert Indonesia's attempts to protect what is left of its natural forest habitat," says Dr. Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada, "Placer Dome is well known in Canada, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea for the extensive environmental damage the company has caused and clearly cannot be trusted as a steward of Indonesia's fragile ecosystems."

The threat to protected areas is sufficiently acute to have prompted a rare official intervention from the Asia Pacific office in Jakarta of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

UNESCO’s letter appeals to Indonesian parliamentary committees currently considering government plans to mine in protected areas, with specific reference to tiny Gag island in West Papua where BHP Billiton plans to build the biggest nickel mine in the world, dumping waste into the sea.

The UNESCO letter explains that the Raja Ampat archipelago, including Gag Island, is one of seven sites being considered for World Heritage listing. The biodiversity in the area includes 505 species of coral, 64 percent of all known coral species in the world.

Scientific findings also listed 1,065 fish species, among the highest fish diversity in the world.

UNESCO’s intervention is a blow to BHP Billiton’s lobbying to overturn protected forest status and the company’s plan to use submarine tailings disposal, despite its claims to have reformed after the Papua New Guinea Ok Tedi incident. BHP’s Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea caused severe, long lasting pollution of the Fly River, and local communities successfully sued BHP for multi-millions of dollars in damages.

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Olive Trees Keep Hope Alive

CHHATAR KLAS, Pakistan, July 28, 2003 (ENS) - The Kashmir Institute of National Development (KIND) and the Society for Advancement of Women (SAW) have initiated a campaign to replant olive trees from areas where they have been cut, for whatever reason. The campaign aims to keep hope alive within poor rural communities throughout the conflict area between Pakistan and India.

An area along the River Jhelum in Kashmir was once the highly protected prize habitat of olive trees. The trees cultivated in a strip 30 kilometers long and four kilometers deep were destroyed, but a wild species, known locally as kahu, exists in abundance.

The goal of this campaign is to replant 5,000 olive trees along this belt with the sponsorship of KIND and SAW, as well as mosques and other groups and individuals around the world. Through replanting olive trees, the people will be encouraged to keep hope alive and to reaffirm their commitment to work constructively toward building peace, the Kashmir Institute of National Development said in a statement announcing the campaign.

Workers from KIND and SAW are beginning the first planting season in August and Septembe with technical support from National Research Centre of Pakistan Agricultural Research Council and the Pakistan Oilseed Board.

The planting is part of a worldwide campaign to revive olive plantations, as the "olive branch is not only considered as sign of peace but the olive products are highly aspired by rich and poor alike. They bring stability to rural economy," KIND said.

The campaign is asking sponsors to contribute US$20 which covers the cost of the young plant, distribution, planting, and information for farmers on the best techniques for olive tree care and production improvement.

The cost also covers an official certificate, a sponsor label to be inscribed with the sponsor’s name, and every sponsor will receive a certificate indicating the location of the tree.

Contact the Kashmir Institute of National Development (KIND), Village Chhatar Klas, P.O. Kullian, Dist. Muzaffarabad, Account # 8741-7, National Bank of Pakistan, Muzaffarabad AJK Pakistan

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