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(Two women from rural India)


SEPTEMBER 26, 1994

Will it ever reach us?

(Two women from rural India)


CAIRO—For Chandaben Jagaria and Raheema Dholaki, the Cairo Conference raised many troubling questions. “There should be no religion involved in this debate,” Chndaben said.  “The delegates should listen to the voices of the poor. After all isn’t this Conference about improving our lives?

Raheema said, “Tradition, society and religion have kept women suppressed for generations. It is shocking that while even the poor and uneducated women with whom I work have put religious differences aside, at the Cairo Conference supposedly learned people used religion and customs, to dictate what a woman should be allowed to do regarding her own reproductive health.”

Both women represented people who were not present at the Conference, the more than one billion poor women around the world to whom the Program of Action, when implemented would directly touch.

The Self employed Women’s Association . (SEWA) brought Chandaben and Raheema to Cairo from their home in Ahmedabad, a large industrial city in India’s western state of Gujarat.

Chandaben is illiterate, poor and lives in a hut which leaks every time it rains. She was born 50 years ago, in Badosan, a village of 2000 people. She was one of five children. Chandaben was concerned that the delegations while debating the Program of Action did not directly touch the issues that most concern the poor. “Do these people know what a poor women goes through when she bears a child? I gave birth to six children in my hut. I was so weak; we had very little food and I had to go to the nearest river to bathe since we had no water.” When her last child was just three days old she took a bus to the hospital and got herself sterilized. “I didn’t want any more children and I could not afford family planning,” she said. Chandaben went on to ask, “Will the resources pledged at Cairo, ever really reach us to improve our lives and the lives of our children?”

Chandaben’s questions spring from the experience of a difficult life. She remembers spending the first 13 years of her life helping her family survive. “We had to walk five miles everyday to get wood for our stove and another three miles for water,” she said. “There were no schools or health facilities in our village, so I never learned to read and write. Besides, there was so much work.”

At 14 Chandaben’s parents got her married and although on her husband’s salary they could barely make ends meet, she . had six children. “If only I had a choice I would have had only two,” she said. “None of my boys has a job, they work as laborers whenever they can find work.”

For 25 years, this woman’s mainstay has been SEWA. She has worked for the organization for 25 years, helping women form cooperatives to generate income and helping to set up health clinics in villages.’ SEWA has helped 60,000 poor women in India. Chandaben spoke proudly of her own contributions to women’s issues. She spent Jour years training in women and child health care and now spends 12 hours a day going to villages to set up health facilities and  talking to women about family planning,  nutrition and hygiene.  “Few of the people at the Conference have ever had to feel the desperation or the pain that goes with poverty,” she said, adding, “I hope this Conference will achieve something for the poor women of this world and promise us an existence that is at least human.”

Raheema who works closely with Chandaben in SEWA, added, “We women who have come to Cairo from every corner of the world cannot go back empty handed to our sisters who sent us here.  We must achieve something.  My first priority is the overall health of women, especially the poor who have no access to free clinics and health services near their homes.


OCTOBER 15, 1994


ECO-tourism at work: Unique resort complex makes money, creates jobs, preserves ecology

Key is sustainable development in Caribbearn nations


PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic—On the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic is the fledgling resort of Punta Cana.  With miles at fine white sandy beaches, more than 2,000 coconut trees, crystal blue waters and a coral reef, it is rapidly becoming one of the top tourist destination in the Caribbean.  What makes Punta Cana different from other tourist destinations is the story of its development –what its creators call a unique form of sustainable development.

In 1969, the region known as Punta Cana was an inaccessible jungle, inhabited by peasants or campesinos who depended on cutting and burning trees to obtain charcoal which they sold to farmers.  The land was rocky and difficult to cultivate and the region was fast being depleted of its natural flora and fauna.  Today, Punta Cana is one of the few resorts which can boast of successful sustainable development producing economic growth and protecting the environment.

“Developing countries dependent on the hard currency that tourism bring s in often pay a heavy price when the ecology of the area is destroyed,” said Theodore W. Kheel, the New York labor lawyer an one of first American investors in the region. (Kheel is former publisher of this newspaper, and its current advisory chairman.) “We were determined to keep Punta Cana not only unspoiled but to preserve an enhance the rich natural habitat of the region.”

As chairman of Groupo Punta Cana, Kheel along with his Dominican partner Frank Rainieri—the groups’s president –set out to make their vision a reality.  In a joint venture with Club Med and a loan from the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation the group built an international airport which was an essential step to open the area for tourism from the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America.  Designed by a Dominican architect Oscan Imbert, the airport incorporates the natural materials of the area and has a thatched roof of Cana leaves that grows abundantly in the area.

The resort itself was carefully planned and zoned. Rainieri said, “We allow 30 rooms per hectare which is the lowest density  anywhere and we make sure no buildings are constructed higher that the top of the coconut tree.  In addition, all our villas hae to be atleast 180 feet from the water.” The original existing landscape of coconut trees and forest dictated the sites of the buildings and it is common to see a hole in the side of a roof with the palm trees jutting through. “What we have done here,” said Kheel in an interview with The Earth Times “is sustainable development in the true sense of the word.  Not only have we changed the economy of the region by creating 25,000 new jobs  but the local people are no longer dependent on cutting trees to make a living.  The airport and the resorts have created thousands of ancillary jobs,” Andreas Gil a 30-year-old Dominican who has been working at Punta Cana for the last five years spoke about the prosperity that has come to the region since it was developed. “While I was growing up there were few jobs in this region, “Gil said. “ My brother and sister had to emigrate to the US to look for opportunities.  But now I have a good life here.  I finished my 8th grade in school and have since learned to speak Italian, English and French to cater to the different groups that come here.”

For Antonio Castillo who come from the twon of La Romana, tourism has been a boon for the local region.  He used to work in a hotel in Santa Domingo but prefers  life in Punta Cana.  His father worked in a sugar cane mill but is retired now.  Castillo said, “My father taught me Englsih and now I am learning German in the evening.  A bus from Punta Cana takes me to Higuey for my classes and brings me back.” As Haydee Rainieri, operation manager at Punta Cana (and wife of Frank Rainieri) puts it, “We are different because we believe in people not buildings. Here the employees and guests are one family,”

To protect the ecology of the area, Grupo Punta Can a has set up a not-for-profit foundation, Fundacion Ecologica Punta Cana, and donated 1,000 acres of virgin land

as a reserve for the preservation of vegetable and animal species in their natural habitat

and to restock those that are on the verge of extinction.

The first step which has already been undertaken is an ecological path covering’I50 acres which meanders through 11 natural subterranean springs and 95 different species of flora. .

Last October the Foundation in a joint effort with the National Aquarium released 39 turtles into their natural habitat in an effort ‘to repopulate the marine environment The foundation is also lobbying the government to formally declare Punta Cana a “marine park” to protect the coral reefs and the marine life. It has also launched an awareness campaign among the local inhabitants.

To protect the heritage of the area, Kheel said, “We will also create a museum for the people so that they can understand the culture of the original inhabitants of this land, the Arawak Indians.”

The museum will draw on remarkable discoveries made at Indian burial grounds

that are part of the property owned by Grupo Punta Cana. Some of the burial sites date

back more than a thousand years.

Last week, on the occasion of the group’s 25th aniversary, Bernardo Vega, the former

governor of the Dominican Central Bankand an archeologist in his own right personally

gave some visitors a guided tour of these sites, explaining ancient customs- of how the Indians came to this area from as far away as Trinidad.

He pointed to the well-preserved skeletons and explained how the Indians lived in those days. He explained how :he Indians created utensils and musical instruments from conches.

As the visitors walked back to the bus that had brought them to the site, an old man who worked nearby stood with a large conch in his hand and played a tune.

It was difficult to tell just what he was playing, and the rising wind carried the notes away from the visitors.  But from the expression on the old man’s gentle face, and from the fading sounds that had been created on his conch, those notes seemed like rich and haunting music from another time.


OCTOBER 31, 1994


High hopes for monitoring of implementation of Summit accords


The Earth Council, the private sector brain child of Maurice F. Strong, the Secretary General of the 1992 United Nations Conference an Environment and Development, is facing the formidable task of fulfilling high expectations from that meeting.

Wide-ranging constituencies that supported the Earth Summit increasingly believe that governments are not doing enough to’ keep the promises that world leaders made at the .Summit. These constituencies seem keen to’ see the Council assume a heightened monitoring role regarding implementation of the Rio accords.

The Council formally came into being in November 1993 in Costa Rica (although preparations had been under way since shortly after the Rio Summit itself). With a membership that read like the Who’s Who’ in the field of sustainable development and blessed by the Costa Rican government who not only pledged to give this prestigious NGO a home but also donated $500,000for an office, the Earth Council was barn literally with a golden spoon. At the inauguration, Council members outlined a plan of action which included creating an Earth Report which would be an annual report providing criteria of performance of governments, multinational companies and other constituencies. In addition the Council pledged to’ support NGO networks and act as a clearing-house far community based organizations. The Council also proposed to present specific inputs to gatherings which included the International Conference an Population and Development, and the Small Island States in 1994.

On November 10 and 11, members of the Earth Council will meet again in San Jose, Costa Rica, to review the activities of the past year and plan the next steps. President Jose Maria Figueres of Costa Rica is scheduled to’ give the welcome address. Julius K. Nyerere, farmer president of Tanzania, and Robert S. McNamara, farmer president of the World Bank are  also expected to attend. Apart from disseminating information, in the one year of its existence, the Earth Council has participated in a three-day conference of all Ombudsman of Latin America and in the creation of the Council of Ombudsman of Latin America. The Council also prepared a paper relating population and consumption  which was presented at the International Conference an Population and Development,

Cairo 1994.  

In order to prepare the Earth Report the Council has made collaborative arrangements UNDP, UNEP, the Stockholm Environment Institute and Ontario Hydro (whose chairman is Maurice Strong). Earlier this year the Council also signed an agreement with Green Cross International to cooperate on an Earth Charter which will promote the value change needed in society to implement sustainable development through personal and social commitment.

Perhaps the most significant achievement of the Earth Council was the signing of two agreements with the Dutch Government totaling $1.2 million to “turn into reality the dreams of Rio” by promoting sustainable development of the planet.

At the signing, which took place on August 18 in San Jose, the Ambassador of the Netherlands, Franz van Haren, said: “We are very interested in the work of the Earth Council .  It carries out a very effective monitoring function to see if governments of the world have the political courage to implement what the heads of state agreed to during the Earth Summit.”


OCTOBER 31, 1994

South-South: A renewed force



A new initiative launched at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, promises to play vital role in providing existence regional expertise in reproduction health care to developing countries. Ten developing countries—Indonesia, Kenya, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Columbia and Mexico—with successful family planning programs started the South-South Partnership which called for pooling their experience and resources and making it available to other countries.  The Initiative which had its first meeting in Indonesia, in August this year, received a further impetus in Cairo when one of the recommendations in the Program of Action was devoted to the strengthening of the South-South Partnership.

Nebiha gueddana who heads Tunisia’s National Office for Family and Population said in an interview with The Earth Times, “The South-South cooperation is now a reality.  We cannot lose more time by extending the phase of preparatory activities.” The group intends to meet in Harare, in April, where Dr. Gueddana says they will discuss the final phase of action by reaching a consensus on policy and dirfection.  Tunisia’s contribution to this effort is that “the government is ready to offer any families and take any measures to facilitate the operational phase of South-South Partnership,” she added.

The next  meeting of  Partnership will formalize the structure and decide on the location of the secretariat.  It is scheduled to be convened by the Minister for Health and Child Welfare for Zimbabwe, Timothy Stamps, in Harare in April, 1995. The priorities of the South-South Partnership are to promote and find support for specific initiatives and to manage a global network of information to link need to capacity.  Also to elaborate on the ways in which a successful long term collaboration between countries can be

achieved in the field of technical assistance and training for population programs,

specifically aimed at improving reproductive health and family planning services at the field level.

The Partnership has already had formal expressions of support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the United Nations Population Fund, the United States Agency for International Development, the European Union and The World Bank.  Other possible donors,  encouraging in their expression of support, were  Japan and the Netherlands.

Haryono Suyono, Indonesia’s Minister of State for Population and one of the prime movers in setting up the Partnership said, “We are very optimistic.  Already from the successful Indonesian experience in family planning, we are sending experts to  Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the Solomon Islands and Fiji to develop their family planning programs.” In addition, Indonesia has been asked by the Asian Development Bank, to  prepare an assessment for training and facilities for family planning programs in the Solomon Islands.  The project will cost between 3-5 million dollars, “One week after Cairo we started an internship program,” said  Haryono, “ten participants from Ethiopia and  Kenya came to stay in Indonesia for three months and will live in the villages and learn about our family planning programs.  We want to convince all the developing countries to join the Partnership and to pool our collective experiences, in order to effectively implement some of the recommendations made in Cairo.”


OCTOBER 31, 1994


‘A center of excellence’

How Tunisia reduced its population growth rate by one-third


In a region noted for having some of the world’s highest rates of population growth, Tunisia is one country beginning to reap the benefits of a 30-year commitment to family planning and women’s rights.  The population growth rate has dropped from about 3 percent, in 1966, down to 1.9 percent in 1992.

According to Nabiha Gueddana, the Director General, Office National de la Famille et de la Population, “The success of the Tunisian experience is based on a strong political commitment, legislation to empower women and a family planning program that offers quality service at all levels.”

Tunisia is the only Arab and Muslim country that allows unrestricted abortions for women but only in the first three months of pregnancy and only in a hospital or authorized clinic.  Since 1973 when this law was passed the rate of abortions has gone down.

Dr. Gueddana, who is a pediatrician and a professor of Pediatrics in the University of Tunis—and was Minister for Family and Women for two years –emphasizes the fact that the Tunisian model succeeded because from the beginning the Constitution guaranteed equal rights for women in all areas, administration came about because Tunisia built on its rich cultural and historical diversity to have strong social programs,” she said, in an interview with The Earth Times.

“Today, 54.5 percent of married women use contraception.” Knowledge of modern contraception is virtually universal, thanks to a highly effective campaign of public education and information via radio and national television.

In a country of over 8 million people, 39 percent of whom live in rural areas, outreach efforts for all primary health services have also been expanded.  Teams are assigned to make home visits and to provide education on pre-natal health, childbirth, post-natal care and family planning.

“Tunisia is a strong supporter of the South-South Partnership,” said Dr. Gueddana, “In 1990 Tunisia started in international program for training in family planning and a number of African countries took part in this including Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria and Niger.”

Dr. Gueddana went on to say, “Tunisia has been designated as a center of excellence in family planning by the United Nations Population Fund (Unfpa) and the training program is now recognized by Unfpa as an International Training Center for reproductive health and family planning and women and development.”


NOVEMBER 30, 1994

Biodiversity meeting in Bahamas to consider financial mechanisms

Protection of species emerges as revived concern

Diplomats, journalists and scientists from all over the world gathered in the Bahamas on

November 28 for two weeks for the First Conference of the Parties on Biological Diversity. The significance of the meeting was spelled out by Elizabeth Dowdeswell, executive director of the United Nation’s Environment Programme, at the opening.

“This Convention is much more than just a set of rights and obligations to be implemented by the Contracting Parties,” Dowdeswell said. “It is a means by

which nations can support one another equitably in their quest for sustainable development.”

The aim of the Convention is “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its .components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

Developing countries contain at least four-fifths of global biodiversity and are recognized by the Convention as having sovereignty over it. Industrialized nations have the financial resources and the advantage of. biotechnology to make use of the biological diversity. Herein lies the main contention: who gives how much to whom and whether the North should share the benefits and intellectual property rights for a successful drug developed and patented by the North from a species found in the South?

The legal, moral and financial implications are vast and vested interests could jeopardize the very essence of the Treaty, which outlines clearly that Parties must:

• develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological   resources; establish training and research programs for this and support such programs in developing countries;

• establish protected areas, restore degraded ecosystems; and establish ex situ conservation facilities;

• carry out environmental impact assessment prior to any proposed project that may reduce biodiversity;

• recognize the rights of governments to regulate access to their own genetic resources, and, wherever possible, grant other Parties access to genetic resources  for   environmentally sound uses;

• encourage technology and biotechnology transfer, particularly to developing countries;

• establish an information exchange between the Parties on all subjects relevant to biodiversity;

• promote technical and scientific cooperation between Parties (particularly to developing

countries) to enable them to implement the convention.

• ensure that countries that provide genetic resources have access to the benefits arising from them;

.provide financial resources to developing countries to enable them to carry out the requirements of the convention.

 The question of providing  financial resources to developing countries is another sticky issue. The unmet financial requirement for developing countries is estimated to the US$20 billion a year.

At present, US$228 million in aid is channeled to developing countries for the conservation biological diversity. Donor countries are unwilling to commit

themselves to more even though it has often been pointed out that in 1990 alone global military spending was US$980 billion. So while countries negotiate, an estimated

17 million hectares of tropical moist forests are being cleared annually and the accompanying loss  of species can only be guessed at.

According to UNEP, a little more than more than a quarter of all drugs used in the US are plant-based and the total retail value of such drugs in 1980 was about US$8 billion.

A mere 40 species are source of these drugs so in effect each species generates US$200 million a year for the pharmaceutical industry.  For example, diosgenim is used in the manufacture of contraceptive pills and a species of plant that grows in the foothills of the Himalayas in a major sources diaosgenim.  The species has been so over-collected that it is now subject to international trade controls.  An extract from serpentine root, which is a forest shrub in India, has been used as one of the principal substances in commercial tranquilizers for the past 50 years and the species is also under threat in the wild.

When the Convention on Biological Diversity opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on the June 5, 1992, 157 countries signed the Convention; notable among the exceptions was the United States. At the time of the adoption of the agreed text of the Convention on Biological Diversity, in its declaration the United States said that the text was” seriously flawed” and “we find particularly unsatisfactory the text’s treatment of intellectual property rights; finances, including, importantly, the role of the Global Environmental Facility; technology transfer and biotechnology.”

The United States signed the convention under the Clinton administration but has not ratified it.  So far 167 States and the European Community have signed the treaty and 103 nations and the European Union have ratified it.

In a press communiqué the Group of 77 and China warned that “any delay on the selection of the financial mechanism will undermine the effectiveness of the implementation of the financial provisions of the Convention.”

It remains to be seen what the door countries, especially the United States, will come up with at the First Conference of the Parties on Biological Diversity taking place in Nassau.

Unless there is political commitment the fate of thousands of species and millions of acres of ecologically rich areas are under threat from overuse, loss of habitat and environmental pollution.