WorldScan: May 11, 2004

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World Bamboo Diversity Falling to Deforestation

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 11, 2004 (ENS) - Half of the world's 1,200 woody bamboo species may be in danger of extinction as a result of massive forest destruction, according to a joint United Nations-commercial study, the most comprehensive ever conducted on bamboos.

As a consequence many vulnerable species such as lemurs, giant pandas and mountain gorillas that depend almost entirely on bamboo for food and shelter face a greater struggle for survival.

The study, produced by the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), uses novel analyses to combine data on the distributions of bamboo species and on existing forest cover.

It shows that many bamboo species, including relatives of those cultivated commercially, have tiny amounts of forest remaining within their native ranges. Some 250 woody bamboo species have less than 2,000 square kilometers of forest remaining within their ranges - an area the size of the city of London.

Nadia Bystriakova, the report's lead author, says, "The study recommends recognising the 'at risk' status of many bamboos and developing new strategies and efforts to slow the loss of forest and secure the survival of important forest species like bamboos."

Individuals of each species of bamboo flower once simultaneously every 20 to 100 years and then die, and this pattern makes bamboos vulnerable to rapid deforestation that is restricting the areas in which they can survive.

Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said, "Bamboos are some of the oldest and most fascinating life forms on Earth with high economic and conservation value. Many curious and unique species depend on bamboo. Trade in these plants is worth as much as bananas or American beef. Yet until now, their status and condition have been largely ignored with many species taken for granted."

The new report highlights how vital it now is for the international community to take a far greater interest in bamboos, Toepfer said.

Millions of people use wild bamboo for construction, handicrafts and food, and international trade in bamboo products, mostly from cultivated sources, is worth more than $2 billion annually. But humans are not alone in depending on bamboos.

In Asia, endangered species that depend on bamboo are the the giant panda, the red panda and Himalayan black bear.

In Africa, mountain gorillas depend on bamboos for up to 90 percent of their diet in some seasons. The survival in the wild of the mountain bongo depends on conservation of the bamboo thickets to which it migrates during the dry season.

In Madagascar, the critically endangered greater and golden bamboo lemurs depend on bamboo for much of their diet, and the rarest tortoise in the world, the ploughshare tortoise, is also connected with bamboos.

In South America, the spectacled bear, the mountain tapir and many endangered bird species are connected with bamboo in the Andes, Amazon and Atlantic forests.

Ian Hunter, director general, International Network for Bamboo and Rattan said, "The report is the first step towards quantifying existing resources of bamboo. The survival of many potentially important bamboo species may be threatened as they grow in forests that are shrinking under human pressure."

"INBAR is greatly concerned about this potential loss of biodiversity and wishes to encourage both in-situ and ex-situ conservation," he said.

This study shows locations of high forest bamboo diversity and the areas where deforestation risks are highest, creating a valuable planning tool for conservation action.

Mark Collins, director of UNEP-WCMC, explains that the researchers used unique mapping techniques to identify for the first time the worldwide distribution of bamboos and this has revealed some surprising findings. "Woody bamboos are important world-wide. Many people will be surprised to learn they are found not only in Asia but also in the forests of the Amazon and the Andes and even in African cloud forests.

"Governments at the World Summit on Sustainable Development two years ago agreed to reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity," Toepfer said. "This new report makes it clear that conserving bamboo, for the sake of people and for the sake of wildlife, should have a high priority in this global effort."

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India Forbids Tobacco Smoking in Public Places

NEW DELHI, India, May 11, 2004 (ENS) - Cigarettes and the popular sticks of hand rolled tobacco known as beedis are no longer supposed to be seen in public places. The Union Health Ministry has declared smoking in all public places an offense as of May 1, and it is now illegal to smoke beedis or any other tobacco protect in public places and on public transportation across India.

The ban carries a fine equivalent to US$4. According to the new Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Rules, 2004, owners and managers of public places have to ensure compliance. They have to display the message ‘No Smoking Area –Smoking is an Offence Here,’ prominently in all local languages.

These messages have to be displayed at all airports, railway stations, bus stops, auditoriums, movie theatres, stadiums and other public places.

Owners of hotels with more than 30 rooms or restaurants seating 30 people or more must ensure that smoking and non-smoking areas are physically segregated in such a way that people do not have to pass through the smoking area to reach the non-smoking zone.

Shop owners have to display a notice at the entrance with warnings like "Tobacco Causes Cancer" and "Tobacco Kills." Sale of tobacco to minors is now against the law and shop owners must ask for proof of age.

Though the ban on smoking in public places came into effect May 1, smokers in Patna are still puffing away in public. "The Times of India" reports that many people, especially young boys had not heard of the ban, and even shopkeepers were unaware of it.

In Hyderabad, there was little evidence that the ban was being enforced, and many people were seen smoking their beedies on the railway platforms.

The ban will result in a huge loss of revenue to the media, the government acknowledges, but weighs this loss against the "prohibitively high health cost" incurred by the community. "This is particularly true of a country like India where the public health system is already overburdened," the government said.

"A responsible media ought to whole-heartedly support the ban in the same way as eco-friendly manufacturing companies have contributed to cleaning up the environment," said government writer E.C. Thomas.

India has about 200 million tobacco users, the government estimates. Of these, about one million die of tobacco related diseases every year. Forty percent of tobacco users smoke beedies, 20 percent cigarettes and the rest chew paan masala, khaini and gutka, Thomas writes.

The ban on smoking in public places is the second major step India has taken towards cleaning the air of tobacco smoke. In 1990, through an executive order, the government implemented a smoking ban in all health care establishments, government offices, educational institutions, air conditioned railway cars, chaircars, buses, and domestic passenger flights.

Chemical and toxicological tests have shown that tobacco contains such harmful elements as lead, cadmium and nickel.

India is the second largest tobacco producer in the world after China, but the government says the benefits of employment generated by production and manufacture of tobacco products are balanced against the cost of treating diseases caused by its use.

Worldwide, 10,000 people die every day as a result of tobacco use, according to World Health Organization statistics, and nicotine dependence is now formally classified as a medical disease.

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Fire, Drought, Hunger African Refugees' Portion

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, May 11, 2004 (ENS) - The fire season in central Africa, marked by widespread agricultural burning for pasture renewal and land clearing, could be seen from space this week. When NASA’s Aqua satellite passed over the region on the afternoon of May 6, it captured an image showing nearly 4,000 fires in southern Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Angola.

Though not immediately hazardous, such large-scale burning can have an impact on weather, climate, human health, and natural resources, NASA said.

Every bit of agricultural productivity that Central African farmers can wring from the land will be urgently needed this year. In the face of drought and after years of exile, tens of thousands of Angolan refugees in Namibia, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are set to return home to Angola in the next six months.

Many of those being repatriated will return home to rural towns and villages that have been virtually deserted since they left. Large tracts of land have been mined and infrastructure such as roads, water and electricity need repair or are non-existent. The few schools and hospitals left standing lack basic essential supplies.

The United Nations had planned to supply the returning refugees with food packages to sustain them until they could grow enough food to survive, but donors have been slow to respond to their need.

Under a joint program with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is planning to assist up to 10,000 Angolans in Namibia and up to 40,000 in Zambia to return home this year. An additional 19,000 Angolans will also be repatriated from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The operation is scheduled to start in Namibia in mid-May, and by mid-June in Zambia and the DRC. But what the WFP calls "a sluggish response" to appeals for support means the agency will not be able to supply the returnees with a complete food package. Nor will it be able to sustain current levels of assistance both in the camps and for those who have already returned to Angola.

"The food component of the repatriation exercise is essential to ensure people prosper when they return," said WFP Executive Director James Morris. "If they have nothing to eat and face barren fields plus rebuilding their homes, then they're more likely to give up and migrate to cities or return to exile."

Morris says the WFP will need a minimum of US$136 million to feed nearly 1.4 million Angolans who have already returned to their homes or are scheduled to be repatriated from Zambia and Namibia this year. There are an estimated 166,000 Angolans in neighboring countries, some of whom have been living in refugee camps for decades.

Due to seasonal rains, repatriations to Angola can only take place between June and November, a limited window of opportunity.

"It's tragic that these people will have to suffer even longer simply because WFP can't give them crucial food supplies to help them start rebuilding their lives," said High Commissioner of the refugee agency Ruud Lubbers. "The food WFP provides ensures refugees get the best possible start on their difficult road to re-establishing themselves in their communities."

The United States has donated funds to buy food packs for Angolans returning from Zambia, which they will consume during their trip home. But still the WFP needs nearly $9 million to assist some 117,000 refugees in Zambia from Angola and the DRC through to the end of the year.

"The bottom line is that without food and resources, we simply can't do our job which is to ensure people living in some of the worst imaginable conditions are given a helping hand," said Morris, who is also the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Southern Africa.

In impoverished Zimbabwe UN food agencies were forced to suspend a mission to assess crop supplies after local administrators interrupted their work, the World Food Programme said Saturday.

WFP regional spokesman Richard Lee said both the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization withdrew their teams from the field Friday after being told the crop and food supply assessment mission had been cancelled.

The United Nations warned in January that around five million people, nearly two-thirds of Zimbabwe's rural population, need food aid.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency - in 2003 the agency gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children. It costs US$.19 per day to give a child a meal at school. "There is a massive need in southern Africa for international assistance and we all share a humanitarian obligation to make sure that hand of help is extended," Morris said.

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Ontarians Support Ban on Sport Hunting Wolves

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, May 11, 2004 (ENS) - More than 90 percent of Ontarians support permanent protection for the Eastern Canadian wolf, and 88 percent oppose the practice of sport hunting wolves, a new public opinion survey has found.

A provincewide survey commissioned by the environmental group Earthroots and conducted by Oraclepoll Research found that 88 percent of those questioned favor having a sustainable wolf management program, and do not see that enough is being done now to protect wolves.

A majority of Ontarians polled, 82 percent, oppose the killing of wolves for the sale of their pelts. There was especially strong opposition to killing wolves for sport, including 70 percent of those who live in a household with someone who has a hunting licence.

Earthroots is using the survey results to ask the Ontario government for a comprehensive protection plan that would apply to wolves across the province.

The Eastern Wolf has lost 58 percent of its historical range in Canada, and is now extinct in the Atlantic Provinces and in the eastern United States. Ontario is estimated to have the largest remaining population of these wolves, and Algonquin Provincial Park is the largest protected area for the Eastern wolf in North America.

On March 3, Ontario Minister of Natural Resources David Ramsay proposed a ban on the hunting and trapping of wolves in townships surrounding Algonquin Provincial Park. Research has shown that the park’s wolf population is declining and that high levels of hunting and trapping in areas adjacent to the park threaten their survival.

“We are very pleased that Minister Ramsay listened to the people of Ontario when he acted to protect the wolves in Algonquin,” said Melissa Tkachyk, Earthroots wilderness campaigner. “Earthroots hopes this will be the first step towards the implementation of a provincewide wolf protection strategy which has strong public support.”

The Eastern Wolf has been listed as a species of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada since 2001. A Special Concern species is any native species that, on the basis of the best available scientific evidence, is sensitive to human activities or natural events.

The province is now proposing to replace the existing but out-of-date list of Vulnerable, Threatened, Endangered, Extirpated or Extinct Species of Ontario with a new Species at Risk in Ontario list in which the Eastern Wolf is listed as a species of Special Concern.

The new Ontario list would change the terms used to describe provincial "at risk" categories to correspond to terms used at the national level.

Despite, their significant role in the ecosystem, Ontario’s wildlife laws do not provide any protection to wolves that range beyond limited park areas. It remains a virtual open season for hunting and trapping wolves in much of Ontario and there are no quotas or bag limits to restrict the harvest.

"The province does not know how many Eastern or gray wolves are killed each year whether for sport, property protection, or because they are perceived as vermin," Earthroots points out.

“Even the raccoon has been afforded more protection than wolves under Ontario’s wildlife laws,” said Tkachyk. “At the very least, wolves deserve no less respect and consideration as the other wildlife species.”

A strong majority of those polled, 89 percent, are of the opinion that wolves should receive at least the same or more protection as other species in Ontario.

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Small Grants Accomplish Great Benefits Across Australia

CANBERRA, Australia, May 11, 2004 (ENS) - Some of the most vital environmental work is done in small ways, planting a tree or removing invasive weeds. These jobs can be done by volunteers, and this year, once again, thousands of volunteers are using small government grants to tackle local environmental problems.

Volunteers have been approved for A$15,418 to protect a remnant of ancient rainforest near Mt. Surprise in Queensland.

On the East Alligator Floodplain adjacent to the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park in Northern Territory volunteers will use A$12,727 to control the weed Mimosa pigra.

Eurobodalla communities will be able to care for creeks around Batemans Bay in New South Wales with a grant of A$13,690.

Australian Environment Minister Dr. David Kemp, and Conservation Minister Senator Ian Macdonald, said Friday that A$8.5 million had been approved for 646 projects across Australia in the second round of the Envirofund for 2003–04.

This round involves grants of up to $30,000 for community groups to undertake local projects aimed at conserving native plants and wildlife and promoting natural resource management.

Envirofund is the local community component of the Australian Government's $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust.

“Through Envirofund, community groups can carry out effective on-ground work such as tree planting, fencing, weeding and seed collecting to target local problems such as salinity, water quality, protection of native vegetation and coastal erosion,” Kemp said.

Macdonald said these latest projects bring the total expenditure through the Australian Government Envirofund to $49.9 million since the program was introduced in April 2002.

This funding has gone towards more than 3,000 environmental projects across the continental nation. Two rounds of funding are offered each year, and for those who missed out this time, the next round is now open. Applications for the next round of Envirofund close at 5pm on July 9, 2004. For application forms, visit: http://www.nht.gov.au

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Intensive Farming Could Harm EU's Eastern Birds

CAMBRIDGE, UK, May 11, 2004 (ENS) - Birds in the expanded European Union of 25 countries may experience serious problems in the new member states that joined the bloc on May 1. The danger to wildlife and rural landscapes is EU agricultural policy, the bird conservation group BirdLife International warns.

The new member states - Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia - will bring to the EU flowery meadows, diverse farmland habitats and a wealth of plants and animals.

Many farmland bird species that are now uncommon in much of western Europe are still widespread in most of the new Eastern European member states. The eight mainland accession countries will bring more than 76,000 pairs of white storks Ciconia ciconia to the EU. Currently, there are just 5,700 pairs in northwest Europe.

But intensive agriculture has already decimated farmland birds in the first 15 EU countries, and no real strategy is in place in the new member states to prevent wildlife from being swept away by the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) says.

"We urgently need to avoid the same mistakes in the new member states," said Giovanna Pisano, Agriculture Task Force coordinator with BirdLife.

Hungary and Poland are home to several birds threatened with global extinction, including the great bustard Otis tarda, the Corncrake Crex crex; and the Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola.

"Supporting and training farmers to understand wildlife needs will be a crucial step," said Clairie Papazoglou, who heads BirdLife's European Community Office.

In 1999, BirdLife International began a project to address the key challenges of EU enlargement. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is BirdLife in the UK, and Vogelberscherming, which is BirdLife in the Netherlands, have been working with key BirdLife partner organizations in the new EU countries to help protect species and sites of international importance.

BirdLife is now lobbying for more Common Agricultural Policy funds to be allocated to protecting and creating wildlife rich areas in the new member states.