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In June 2008 I wrote a report for NGO ActionAid on India’s disappearing daughters.

The report was based on new research from India that showed that sex-selective abortions and systematic neglect of girl children is on the increase. It is estimated that around 10 million female foetuses may have been aborted in India over the last two decades.In four of the five regions in India surveyed for the research, the proportion of girls to boys is showing a worrying decline.

With parts of society regarding girls as little more than economic and social burdens, families are going to extreme lengths to avoid having daughters. Although prenatal sex detection and sex-selective abortion is illegal, the law is not being enforced. Doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners are routinely violating the ban.

In poorer communities, without such ready access to ultrasound scans, daughters are instead lost through neglect and a denial of medical care and nutrition. Meanwhile, the underlying social and economic factors that underpin gender discrimination and drive people to make these decisions persists.

Click here to visit the ActionAid site and download the report.

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Twenty-five years ago, Miguel Boyero was aboard the Argentinian warship the General Belgrano when it was sunk by torpedoes fired from a British submarine at the start of the Falkland Islands war.

Boyero survived; 329 of his comrades died. Last month, Boyero hanged himself just days after the start of the war’s 25th anniversary commemorations. He joins an estimated 400 Argentinian veterans who have committed suicide since the conflict ended.

For most Argentinans the belief that Las Malvinas (as they call the Falklands) belong to Argentina is as much a part of their national identity as Eva Peron, Maradona or the tango. But while the national preoccupation with their sovereign right over the Falklands has never dimmed, Argentina’s treatment of its veterans has been one of the most shameful legacies of the war.

This article was first published in The First Post in May 2007. Click here to read it in full.

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In September 2004, 150km-an-hour winds hit the small Caribbean island of Grenada, flattening 95% of buildings, killing dozens and making thousands homeless.

Jenny Gilchrist, a local woman from the parish of St David’s, remembers the devastation which greeted her the morning after the storm hit.

“Our island was destroyed, my house had the roof ripped clean off, it was total devastation,” she says. “My daughter said to me “mammy where shall we go?” and I said to her “we have no place to go” all our clothes and our possessions were ruined. We lived in water in our house for two days before help came.”

As well as destroying large tracts of Grenada’s pristine rainforest and coral reef, the hurricane decimated the nutmeg plantations, the island’s main source of income and employment for hundreds of farmers.

Since the hurricane the government has been struggling to rebuild the island’s bankrupt economy and has been increasingly looking to tourism development as the answer to its woes.

But the speed at which the island is being sold off to foreign property companies has led to accusations by environmentalists that the Grenadian government is sacrificing the island’s pristine natural habitats to the fast buck of resort development.

Click here to read the article in full

Miskito children

When the first white cranes started appearing on the banks of the Rio Coco, deep in the Nicaraguan rainforest, Marciano Washington told his sons to start preparing the family’s three hectares of land for planting.

A month later, the weather-beaten Miskito elder from the town of San Carlos shades his eyes from the baking sun and surveys his cracked and barren land. His seed is rotting or has been eaten by rats. The few rice seeds that have sprouted are only inches high, yellow and discoloured.

“All my life the earth has told me when the rains are coming,” he says. “I don’t understand what is happening to our land.”

Miskito boat

The natural signs that Washington’s father taught him to observe, such as the white cranes, flowering avocado plants, silver fish and rapid flashes of lightning, no longer herald the rains that his community so desperately need.

Climate change is having a devastating effect on the Miskito Indians who live in wooden huts in Nicaragua’s western territories. They subsist on crops planted on a few hectares of land and food hunted from the jungle and rivers.

Ten years ago Washington said he could harvest 60 bags of rice a hectare. Last year he managed seven. “Every year it is getting worse,” he says. “We have floods in the summer and droughts in the winter. We can’t depend on nature anymore and we don’t know when to plant our crops. I don’t know how I am going to feed my family.”

Miskito boy

Environmental researchers are warning that the effect of climate change is likely to hit indigenous communities like the Miskito the hardest. Many of the world’s indigenous people live in isolated communities and their livelihoods depend on nature and on predicting the weather, making them vulnerable to increasingly unstable weather patterns.

Click here to read this article in full

Pakistani fishing boats

There is an old proverb, beloved of fisherfolk in Pakistan, that says when all else fails the sea will provide. Now, after centuries of surviving on fish such as the tuna and shrimp that thrive in Pakistan’s coastal waters, many traditional fishing communities are facing ruin as the sea is stripped bare by foreign trawler fleets and industrial overfishing.

According to trade campaigners, it is a story that is being replicated in poor fishing communities in developing countries across the world. And as the current round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations splutter back to life, the demise of Pakistan’s fishing communities is being held up as a warning of the impact that the moves to further liberalise global fishing could have on some of the world’s most deprived communities.

Pakistani fishing boy

The Pakistani Maritime Security Agency (MSA), which polices fishing along Pakistan’s coastline, says there are currently 23 mid-size trawling boats and 21 trans-national trawlers operating with licences in Pakistani waters.

Local fishermen in Ibrahim Hydri, a small fishing town in the sparse Sindh coastal province, unload their fishing boats just yards from half-a-dozen trawlers with Chinese insignia in the town harbour. Many dispute the official figures, insisting that around 100 foreign ships have been spotted in local waters in the last 12 months.

paistani fishing boat

“Since the government has let these foreign ships into our waters, our stocks have depleted and there is nothing left,” says local fisherman Abbas Ali. “For hundreds of years, our forefathers have fished these waters, but our children are going to end up beggars.”

He says the town’s small wooden fishing boats are no match for the trawlers. “It’s like trying to race a truck with a bicycle,” he says. “In just a few years, these people have come here, destroyed the sea, and stolen our livelihoods from us.”

Click here to read this article in full

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Oil spills, shipwrecks, dumped waste, a proposed road to the South Pole, an ill-advised nuclear reactor – human interaction in Antarctica has a history of pushing the last great wilderness to the edge of ecological disaster. Now, apart from climate change, which is breaking off great chunks of ice, mass tourism is the greatest threat the continent has ever faced.

For centuries, the pristine region of 14m sq km of ice has evaded the grasp of mainstream tourism. But there is now “congestion” at landing sites as tens of thousands of people, in some of the largest cruise ships, head south.

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Tourism is growing exponentially. Until 1987, fewer than 1,000 people annually travelled to the continent. There were 6,500 in 1992/93, and double that number in 2002/3. This year, more than 28,000 people are expected to come within inches of the kind of wildlife and landscapes normally seen only on film.

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In addition to ship-based tourism, the scale and spread of tourist activities is increasing. Adventurous types can now strap on skis and slash fresh tracks down Antarctica’s uninhabited slopes, take one of the many helicopter rides that clatter daily over breeding penguin colonies, snowboard, climb mountains, kayak or scuba dive.

“Land-based tourism could have severe repercussions because nowhere is out of bounds,” says James Barnes, director of the Antarctic and Southern Oceans Coalition (Asoc), a group of 150 environmental groups. “If tourists start treating Antarctica as an activity theme park, instead of respecting its status in international law as a natural reserve dedicated to peace and science, we’ve got a serious problem.”

Click here to read this article, which first appeared in The Guardian in February 2006

The road to physical perfection leads to Argentina, a country that takes its beautiful people very seriously – so seriously that, in a startling feat of political intervention, one regional government has implemented a law that is forcing the fashion industry to acknowledge that you can be too thin.

Officials wielding tape-measures were unleashed on the glitzy shopping malls of Buenos Aires Province last month to enforce the new “law of sizes”. The legislation, which came into effect in December, stipulates that fashion retailers must stock a full range of clothing sizes for women, roughly equivalent to UK sizes 10-20. Those businesses that don’t comply could be hit with a hefty £95,000 fine or even closure.

According to the provincial government, the law has been passed to break the fashion “tyranny”, imposed by designers and manufacturers, which practically forces women to starve themselves in order to fit into their microscopic clothing. Before the law came into force, those unfortunate shoppers larger than a UK size 10 would struggle to get even an ankle into the skinny jeans and whispers of chiffon that line the racks of the suburbs’ exclusive boutiques.

By passing the law, the local authorities have conveniently offloaded any blame for the “epidemic” of eating disorders sweeping the nation. Argentina now has the second-highest rate of anorexia and bulimia in the world (after Japan), with statistics suggesting that one in ten women suffers from a “slimming disease”.

Not surprisingly, the legislation has created uproar on the fashion scene, which sees it as the kiss of death for creativity and style. One designer suggested that the provincial government wanted everyone to wear Mao jackets, and the fashion industry in general believes that enforcement will lead to the creation of clothes, based on US sizing charts, that customers simply won’t buy.

Click here to read this article, which first appeared in The New Statesman in March 2006