Thursday, December 6, 2012

LEPINA law article harms rather than helps families in El Salvador

In El Salvador, thousands of children are being taken out of orphanages to instead live with their families in often-dismal situations.

By: Lindsay Boyle
Produced and edited by: Leisha Lininger

For 31-year-old Juana Espinoza, life has been a rollercoaster.

About 11 years ago, she, her 2- and 3-year-old sons, her newborn daughter and her husband — an alcoholic — lived with her aunt and uncle, who were also alcoholics.

After one particularly bad, physical fight, Espinoza’s uncle cast her whole family out of the house for good.

With nowhere else to go, Espinoza took to the streets with her children, crying and uncertain of her future. Although her husband reassured her they would be able to start new, it was his reputation that prevented them from doing just that.

Living in a cardboard house under a mango tree, Espinoza used a gas station’s faucet to bathe her children and wash her clothes, and often depended on others’ donations for clothing, food, diapers and more.

Although she had begun gardening and selling vegetables for about $6 a week, it was not enough to provide food for her children. She decided to take her then 3- and 4-year-old sons to a protection center — somewhat similar to an orphanage — where, after a bit of adjustment, they ended up having help getting the things they needed. She visited them every Sunday.

Eight years later, the Salvadoran government asked Espinoza if she wanted her boys back, and asked her not to worry about her ability to provide resources because the only requirement was to have a house. She did not have much of a choice — instead, she had three months to figure out how to use the same salary she had been living on for years to provide for three children instead of just one.

Because of one article in El Salvador’s LEPINA law, there are countless other stories just like Espinoza’s.

The LEPINA law, or the Law on Protection of Children and Adolescents, was signed in March 2009 and consists of 260 articles based on the human rights standards set by the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Although most articles of the LEPINA law are considered helpful and outlaw things such as sex trafficking and child labor, Article 13 states that it is a family’s responsibility to care for its children, which justifies the government to remove children from protection centers.

While on the surface the article may not sound bad, the issue is that the law is designed for developed countries, where families receiving children from places such as protection centers can turn to social programs such as welfare or food stamps for help. No such programs exist in El Salvador.

In El Salvador, the term “protection center” is more common than “orphanage” because only about 10 percent of children in centers are actually orphans. The rest ended up in centers because they were placed there by the government because of familial violence and or neglect, or because their families took them there voluntarily after being unable or unwilling to take care of them.

Often, those children have family members who are gang members, abusive, drug addicts, mentally handicapped or living in extreme poverty.

According to Kara Wilson, a San Antonio native who founded Project RED, although the term “orphanage” can carry a negative connotation in the United States, that is not usually the case in El Salvador.

“Orphanages here are wonderful places compared to (children’s actual homes), because they have three meals a day, they have beds to sleep in and they have an education — a private education, usually,” she said.

Gloria Daysi Abrego, a psychologist and social worker who has been with Project RED since it started as a pilot program in July 2011, called the LEPINA law contradictory.

She said that, although the law states that children have the right to live in a healthy home, they are often ending up in situations with little or no access to nutrition, health care, education and more — things she considers basic rights.

“For the majority of the children who are being reintegrated, all of these rights are being violated,” Abrego said.

El Salvador has experienced drastic changes since Article 13 of the LEPINA law began to be implemented in January 2011. In 2009, there were more than 3,000 children in protection centers. Now, there are about 700.

In El Salvador, there are about 60 private centers, which are usually funded by Christian, catholic or other organizations often outside El Salvador, and nine public centers, funded primarily by the government.

Children are being taken from both private and public centers and given back to their families, often with only three months’ notice.

There has been almost no national or international media coverage about the issue, which a source familiar with the LEPINA law said is mostly because Salvadoran media place little or no importance on children and their rights.

“Almost no one here in El Salvador has any idea that this is going on,” Wilson said. “Every time I tell people about what (Project RED) is doing and the problem behind it, people are shocked because they have never heard of the law.”

Project RED works holistically with families that have been reintegrated with their children to help them transition based on their individual situations. The project imparts counseling sessions, parenting school sessions and youth programs; provides beds for children; builds houses and bathrooms; registers children for school and provides them with school supplies and bus fare, and hands out monthly food and hygiene bags.

Project RED volunteers build a new
house while family members look on.
Provided by Kara Wilson
With just Wilson, an administrative worker, a social worker and two psychologists, one of which doubles as a social worker, the project is working with about 43 families, and wants to be working with 50 by the end of the year.

“Currently, the population that we work with doesn’t even represent 10 percent of the children in El Salvador that are being reintegrated into their families,” Abrego said. “But, we can see individually what the impact is through our work with each and every one of these families.”

Abrego emphasized that Project RED does not merely hand things out to families.

“Not only do we provide things for the families, we educate the families in order to take advantage of all the potential they have and empower them,” she said.

It was nine months before Juana Espinoza heard the Project RED field team knock on her door — nine months of living on her mother-in-law’s property in a shack with no walls and an open bathroom area, struggling to feed three adolescent children — now 11, 13 and 14 — with $3- $4 a day and no support from her mother-in-law.

“When I got the news that I was going to receive my children again, I was really worried,” Espinoza said. “I told them that I didn’t have any resources, I didn’t have a way to support them both.”

Since Project RED started working with Espinoza, it has been able to provide a new, enclosed, wooden house for the Espinoza family, which includes a stove, a latrine, a place for beds and a place to wash clothes. Espinoza endearingly calls the house the “little cabin.”

Without Project RED, Espinoza said things would be “a lot more complicated.”

“Through all of my difficulties, all of the things I’ve been through, I haven’t had really anybody to support me,” she said. “I see Project RED as a support.”

Like Espinoza, 34-year-old Ana Silvia Cardoza also voluntarily took two of her children to a private protection center when she realized she could not take care of them. With a total of five children, parents who were sick, and no support from any of the children’s fathers, things had become dire.

At the center, Cardoza said her two children received everything they needed. However, in October 2011, she was notified that she would be getting her children back, and that she would then have to attend six sessions of parenting school led by government social workers and psychologists in San Salvador to learn about her responsibilities as a mother.

Abrego explained that, often, the six parenting sessions do not do enough to equip parents to properly care for their children. She added that each session covers the exact same material, and that the parents almost always attend the sessions after they already have their children back.

According to Abrego, in many cases, parents explicitly say they are not ready to receive their children, yet the government still gives them back.

“The government is claiming that these families who have objections to receiving their children are just trying to avoid having any responsibility for their children, so they don’t take that into account,” she said.

Although Cardoza said the government was nice during the court hearing and did visit her house to complete a checklist before giving her children to her, she said they never offered any further suggestions or advice, even though the LEPINA law says the government will provide follow-up visits.

“I was really happy to be with my children again because I love my children, but I didn’t have any support,” she said. “The same problems that were there before were still there.”

She said her biggest issue was trying to provide food for five children with the $20 she received each week from her eldest son, who works in a brick-making factory.

Cardoza was only alone with her children for a week or two before Project RED started working with her. First, the project gave the family bags of food, but since then, they have given more.

”(Project RED) has given us many things,” Cardoza said. “Our whole life, our whole bathing aspect is totally different. We have a sink, running water, a shower.”

Project RED also gives weekly psychological counseling sessions to Cardoza and her 11-year-old son, who has had some behavioral problems as a result of the transition from the center to his home.

“Without this help, I’d be so much more worried,” Cardoza said. “Through this help, my life has gotten so much better.”
Project RED volunteers pose with the Cardoza family.
Photo provided by Kara Wilson.

Not all of the families Project RED has worked with have shared the same kind of success.

In one case Project RED worked with, government workers returned four of six children to a house they were taken away from because of negligence, extreme poverty, some sexual abuse and mentally handicapped parents.

“Extreme poverty doesn’t even come close to describing what kind of conditions they’re living in,” Wilson said.

She described the home as a one-room, mud house in the jungle, with three string beds piled up with trash, and feces and molding food scattered throughout the house.

Although Project RED has reported the case to government authorities in the past, Wilson said the children continue to “live like savages.” She explained that authorities said they cannot take the children back to a protection center without actual proof that they are being sexually abused, regardless of the other conditions the children are living in.

Countless other families have not been reached by Project RED at all.

Wilson, who has been visiting El Salvador occasionally since she was 14, started a pilot program in July 2011 in order to assess what families’ needs were and what could be done to meet them. It worked directly with ISNA, the branch of government that oversaw child protection at the time.

Wilson said that when she discovered what the law was doing and decided to try to help the families affected by reintegration, she was kicked out of ISNA by the branch’s sub director, who told her not to try to do what the government is already doing well. She was forced to stop working with ISNA.

“I was really discouraged at the time, but that discouragement turned into motivation,” she said. “I realized it meant that really, no one wants anybody to expose what’s actually happening.”

The source familiar with the LEPINA law explained that the law is not yet complete. It is written in the law that the government is supposed to partner with NGOs and other organizations that would act as flag raisers when aspects of the law are not being implemented properly. However, that is not yet happening.

Project RED is part of a tax-exempt Salvadoran nonprofit organization that became legal early in 2012. Right now, Wilson raises all of its funds by taking fundraising trips and working with individual donors, and through donations made via Project RED’s website,

For Abrego, the hardest part of working with Project RED is recognizing the true implications of Article 13 of the LEPINA law.

She added that even more families are struggling to make ends meet without the help of Project RED.

“The number of families we’re working with is a small sample of the reality that’s happening on a larger scale in this country,” she said.

Lebanon’s pile of corruption and years of neglect

By: Kaylyn Hlavaty 
Produced and edited by: Leisha Lininger

Lebanon is known for attracting tourists from all over the world to see ancient cities like Tyre and natural wonders like the famous Jeita Grotto caves. Sea travelers can see mountains that stand tall and parallel the coastline with waves brashly hitting the permanent structures.

These mountains do not have snow peaks, cedar trees or rocks. Nor do they have the slightest beauty a natural wonder should exhibit. Rather they represent generations of consumption. Plastic bottles and bags, textiles, organic waste and chemicals pile up into a man-made mountain of trash totaling 40 feet of waste.

In Lebanon, there are 670 mountains of garbage scattered across the country. Both within city limits and on the coastal regions, landfills act like permanent structures failing to blend in with the city landscape. These landfills have acted as the solution to disposing of waste in Lebanon and over the years they became permanent sights among Lebanon residents.

In contrast, 40 municipal landfills are scattered throughout the state of Ohio’s 40,860.69 square miles of land according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. These landfills are monitored and operated to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations. Lebanon’s total area is 4,014 square miles which is roughly two-thirds the size of the state of Connecticut. An Ohio resident can only imagine living in a country this small surrounded by 670 garbage dumps.

Fifi Kallab, president of Byblos Ecologia for Development and Environment has been campaigning and researching for alternatives and improvements to Lebanon’s waste management system since the 1980s.

“There is no long-term strategy for the disposal of solid waste or liquid waste,” said Kallab.

Waste disposal did not become a problem until the government had the first emergency plan put in place in 1997. The government signed a contract with the waste management company, the Averda group - Sukleen and Sukomi. This company controls the collecting of waste in the areas of Beirut and Mount Lebanon.

Two incinerators were placed in the Aamorousieh and Quarantina facility as an alternative form to landfills. The increasing popular objection against incinerators led to the residents burning down the incinerator at the Aamorousieh plant.

“We had to deal with our waste, especially in Beirut, because it’s not like the remote areas where residents burn their organic waste so we had to find a place to put it,” said Kallab.

As trash continues to be dumped in landfills along the coast, Lebanon does not have any legislation to regulate how waste is collected and disposed.

A landfill on fire off the coast of Sidon.
 Photo provided by Mohamed El Sarj
“There is no accountability within the Lebanese government when it comes to managing waste,” said Ziad Abichaker, founder of the organization Cedar Environmental.

Cedar Environmental is making an impact on environmental initiatives. Since 1999, Cedar Environmental has built 11 recycling and composting facilities across Lebanon. Achieving efficiency and sustainability is a main feature of the organization because it sorts, composts and recycles all under one roof. Instead of dumping waste that could be recycled and reused, Cedar Environmental founder Ziad Abichaker researched and developed Eco-Board. It is a durable material made entirely out of breaking down everything from plastic grocery bags to flip flops that many consumers all over the world use on a daily basis. These boards are being developed into products such as benches and bins.

“We are the only organization that builds recycling plants and operates them without sending any residues to the landfill. Everything gets recycled or reused, even clothes and shoes,” said Abichaker.

The two contractors, Sukleen, who is responsible for collecting and sweeping the streets and Sukomi who is responsible for land filling the waste have very little incentive to change the way they collect garbage in Beirut and Mount Lebanon. One concept does make Sukomi and Sukleen act like a monopoly, however. Back in 1995, Averda signed a contract for Sukleen to collect and sweep the streets. Then three years later, two more contracts were signed with Averda for composting and land filling by Sukomi.

In 2012, President Michel Sleiman along with his cabinet didn’t want to renew the contract unless new initiatives to combat the waste management were included in the contract. However, the previous prime minister, Saad Hariri, felt that it was too late to think of other alternatives so the contract was renewed, Kallab said.

“There is no solution without political decisions because we don’t need ideas,” Kallab said.“We need a transparent solution, a transparent politician and accountability for them because in Lebanon there is no accountability. They do what they want and nobody can ask them what they are doing.”

Abichaker says both contractors ran out of space for landfills. He said that both Sukleen and Sukomi managed the solid waste of Beirut and Mt. Lebanon which equals 2,500 tons of waste processed per day, but 1,800 tons of that waste is dumped right in landfills and only 400 tons is actually recycled from the contractor’s recycle containers throughout the city.

The collection of garbage in the city of Beirut and the suburb of Mount Lebanon is a daily routine. Tony Jada, a resident in Mount Lebanon who works as an engineer, says that the collection of garbage is politically based and often not done properly.

“We are not that advanced in technologies. We have some factories that help distribute the waste and some of this is used for agricultural reasons and it sometimes gets back into the ground water which causes more problems for us,” Jada said.

Sukleen and Sukomi usually collect garbage every day, which is different than the U.S. waste management companies once a week routine.

Jada adds, “the collection of garbage is chaos because of the crowded streets and the amount of garbage produced by each household.”

The amount of waste just dumped rather than recycled is costing the government more than just money. The waste produced and the way in which it is disposed is detrimentally affecting the fishing industry and marina life along Lebanon’s coastline.

The coastal region of Sidon is located 25 miles from Beirut. Away from the busy city life of traffic and skyscrapers, this ancient city may sound like it carries a natural awe overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. While it carries natural beauty from the water, this coast carries a burden; it holds a mountain of human garbage.

All the products wasted from day-to-day consumption land up here next to the Mediterranean Sea. The pollution of garbage is affecting the fishing industry and marine inhabitants along the Mediterranean coast.

Mohamed El Sarji is the President of the Lebanese Union of Professional Divers who sees first-hand the daily effects of the landfills on the fishing industry and tourism in Lebanon. Most landfills are prominent along the coastline.

“Nobody would allow garbage to be in their backyard. Most of the land is private except for the coastal area because they are public. They chose it simply because it’s free land for the people. They throw it there because no one will say anything,” said El Sarji.

In the winter the waves pound the bases of garbage piles and thousands of tons of garbage fall into the sea. The fishermen get garbage caught in their nets and as a result they have to keep buying new nets. Another percentage sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor. Then the garbage floats with the current and reaches the coasts of Syria, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus.

“For us this is a national crisis. It’s a health problem for all Lebanese,” said El Sarji.
He explains how garbage is one of Lebanon’s biggest and most politically associated problems.

“We have a very corrupt government, very corrupt politicians and they will not solve any problem because they steal the money and bankrupt the country and take so many taxes from the people. It’s a very corrupt country, probably one of the most corrupt.”

There are four major landfills destroying the quality of the water and view of Lebanon’s coast. The landfills are located in Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon and Sour. The fishing industry, once a booming sector during the 1960s and 1970s, but since the civil war has steadily decreased as a major economic sector.
Garbage caught in fishermen's nets.
Photo provided by Mohamed El Sarji
The profits of fishermen are decreasing because of some species living in the region. The caves many fish find shelter is blocked by garbage, making these places inhabitable for the local fish. Once this happens, Lebanon’s most expensive species, the Calico bass and the grouper, will leave the coast of Lebanon causing the fishermen to follow.

El Sarji explains that the coastal areas are losing in two ways. The first victim he describes is not the environment itself but the fisherman because since the sea is full of garbage, waste products are getting caught in the brand new nets. Every time this happens they are losing money. The average fisherman only makes 300-500 dollars a month.

El Sarji said the other victim is tourism in Lebanon. Tourism along with banking is one of the main sectors vital to the economy.

“Nobody wants to come to a country where garbage is covering the whole area of the beach. There are some places where you can see the sand, but there could be a little garbage and this isn’t acceptable. Tourists will not go on beaches that are polluted,” said El Sarji.

The current industries in Lebanon are polluting the environment because they are out of date and have little government regulation. Lebanon is a country of consumption so it is important that the sectors of tourism and fishing stay alive and apparent in the presence of waste dumps.

“We need to make our income from tourist and tourism,” said El Sarji. “The system we have now we are lost between the two. Ministries are trying to encourage industry to grow and we want to preserve the environment. But it’s unacceptable to let industries grow because of the environment.”

Despite the lack of initiatives from the Lebanese government, civic duty has taken over with a number of non-governmental organizations (NGO) and projects trying to defeat this problem that has lasted decades. One NGO working towards a zero waste initiative with participation of local businesses is F.E.R.N, food establishments recycling nutrients.

Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli was inspired to start a project where waste was sorted and collected at the source while studying resource management at New York University. She worked with restaurants to help compost and recycle their waste into bins, which would then be taken off to an appropriate facility for recycling.

“It is an uphill battle. We just have meetings with people trying to get the word out and trying to explain what we do,” said Danberg-Ficarelli.

The project is still in its startup phase and with everything finalized in March, Danberg-Ficarelli said there are currently three restaurants working with them. She explains how one of the hardest parts is getting employees to agree with the new process because many already have their own routine figured out.

Danberg said it has been difficult to convince residents to change their household practices. When she proposes her plan to restaurants, the biggest barrier is convincing the employees that it isn’t a waste of time and explaining the reasoning behind her ideas.

“It is something people don’t know how to do because there is no opportunity to do it,” Danberg-Ficarelli said. “If you see the owners or managers enthusiastic about it than their employees will be willing to follow.”

While there is participation in the movement to reduce waste and find alternative disposal, methods, a country that has a corrupt political system makes the move toward progress long and difficult. Until the government steps up their role and takes responsibility for their country, then Lebanon risks sinking in the piles of garbage they built unless something is done soon.

“You would go nuts because you would be upset,” said El Sarji. “You have no understanding of why any human would do this to themselves and their country. We don’t understand. It’s lack of responsibility from our politicians and failure to manage a country properly.”

Columbus, Boston unite with worldwide organization to empower and provide aid to India

By: Leisha Lininger
Produced and edited by: Leisha Lininger

Home to the largest slums of Asia, the Republic of India boasts a 9.8% poverty rate with 29.8% of the population living below the poverty line. However, students in Columbus, Ohio, are determined to make a difference. Thus, with the formation of the Columbus chapter of the non-profit Association for India’s Development (AID), poverty meets a formidable foe.

According to their website, “AID is a non-profit, volunteer movement that supports grassroots organizations in India and initiates efforts in various interconnected spheres such as education, livelihoods, natural resources, agriculture, health, women's empowerment and social justice.”

With meetings hosted on Ohio State’s campus, interested community members and students alike unite to brainstorm fundraising ideas and solutions for specific issues in India. 

“We meet every Friday at 7 pm at Lazenby Hall. We always have a core group of 10-15 people,” said Aparna Lakshmanan, a student of the Ohio State University. “There are people from the community in the core group as well as undergraduates and faculty.” 

Led by Lakshmanan and Rohan Mishra, the group’s aim is to address the root cause of issues, rather than simply treating the symptoms.

“We, at AID Columbus, believe that small initiatives such as the projects we support help shape the future of our nation.”

With over 70 chapters of AID active worldwide, especially in the United States and in India, the divisions tend to meet weekly or monthly to identify issues in specific regions and think of ideas of how to alleviate those issues.

According to minutes of a meeting held in August 2012 for the Columbus branch, the chapter approved 2 Lakh 25,000 rupees for the RTI NREGA Awareness campaign. RTI stands for the Right to Information Act and NREGA stands for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment GuaranteeAct

The amount approved is equal to about $4093.36 in U.S. dollars (as of November 2012 currency conversion rates). 

In addition, the group is working on six issues, described further in detail in sidebar 1.1 and has identified solutions for each one, some of which involve education, and others which involve political and legal action against the government or in enforcing laws. This project also has the support of the Boston and the Johns Hopkins University chapters.

Other projects sponsored by the Columbus chapter also include Community Environmental Health Monitoring in Cuddalore and Tamilnadu with the SIPCOT NGO. The AID chapter in Boston also sponsors this project.

This project focuses on the five main values that comprise a successful community monitoring system. They entail providing environmental & health monitoring skills, building awareness and mobilizing support, creating an emergency response team with the region’s youth, establishing an emergency relief fun, and creating a clean livelihoods program via modes such as “environmentally sustainable livelihood[s]."

Another project includes the Sangtin Kisaan Mazdoor Sanghatan 2011 Project with the SKMS NGO in the Uttar Pradesh. In addition, the RTI program mentioned above is located in the Rajasthan region and is partnered with students at the University of Rajasthan. All of these programs focus on building community empowerment.

Coordinated by Mr. Kamal and Mr. Tejaram, the Right to Information Manch project focuses on “improving government accountability and advising people on the opportunities and facilities that are available to them via the government,” according to the 2011 RTI Manch report.

“RTI requires timely responses to citizens requesting for information about government authorities. NREGA guarantees 100 days of employment yearly to a rural household in the form of manual labour.”

The group has been involved in serving as a watchdog and investigator of the government, and discovered that Rs 40 lakh was misused in a public hearing hosted in fall of 2011 for villagers who needed compact fluorescent lights, according to the 2011 Manthan project report, located on the AID homepage for RTI Manch: Awareness Generation and Facilitation of RTI and NREGA.

Yet another project sponsored by the Columbus chapter focuses on creating a short-stay shelter for Women, according to the July 2012 meeting minutes. The history of the shelter indicates that it was approved in 2010, but faced delays due to Fair Credit Reporting Act clearance requirements that were unmet. 

The following year, however, it gained monetary support of $2,000. The organization’s aims are to expose female infanticide, support the education access for female student dropouts, and assist rape victims. 

At this hearing hosted in November 2011, a scam involving
Rs 40 lakhs (4 million) was exposed and families living below
the poverty line in India received compact fluorescent lights.
(Photo courtesy of Mohan Singh, one of four fellows at RTI Manch)
(Academic Fair Use)
AID receives its funding from a variety of sources, such as grants, and donations. One staple, however, is its hot dog sale.

“We’ve been doing that for more than a decade,” said Lakshmanan. “[For about] fifteen years or more now at the Ohio State University at the football games. It’s a really well-organized system by the university.” In order to obtain permission to sell dogs for development, the chapter must sign a contract with the university.

The group is always looking for new members and for fresh ideas of funding. If you are interested in joining or in donating, check out their weekly meetings in Lazenby Hall 002, located at 1827 Neil Avenue Mall or check them out online at

The Association for India’s Development is a 501(C)(3) (Federal Tax-ID 04-3652609) non-profit charitable organization. All donations to AID are tax-exempt.

Boston’s Amit Soni and Columbus, Ohio’s Preethi Jyothi contributed to this report.

Lingering pollution in Ecuador's rainforests

By: Rebecca McKinsey 
Produced and edited by: Kaylyn Hlavaty

Indigenous tribes in Ecuador’s Amazon Rain Forest may have won a victory in 2011, but the toll of years of oil pollution that damaged both their environment and their health will take much longer to erase.

For almost 30 years, oil operations within the rain forest by Texaco Inc. — which Chevron Corporation bought in 2001 — caused such extensive pollution that it resulted in severe health problems, including cancer, for the indigenous tribes living there, who had no way to protect themselves, activists say.

And although a long, drawn-out legal battle between the tribes, activists and the oil company resulted in a $19 billion payout by Chevron in 2011, healing for the indigenous people within Ecuador’s rain forest is still far away.

An Ecuadorian child stands beside a Texaco barrel. Photo credit
Although the battle was drawn out for years, many groups, including Amnesty International and Survival, remained staunchly in support of justice for the indigenous groups affected in the rain forest.

One group that advocates for the health rights of the tribes is punto&coma, which works toward defending the environment, human rights, economic development and the fight against poverty.

Punto&coma is a small company dedicated to creating publications for NGOs about topics such as the environment, human rights, et cetera,” said Luisa Toribio, a representative from the organization. “On a personal level, there are topics (such as pollution in the Amazon Rain Forest) that interest us greatly, and for that reason, we follow and support them.”

The tribes, many of whose members had no access to the world outside of their lives in the rain forest, were not prepared for the pollution or equipped to deal with its effects.

“We lived upon the river of rich, clear waters, but with the arrival of the contamination, my brothers are now dead,” said one indigenous woman featured in Joe Berlinger’s documentary, Crude. “I am the only survivor of my family.”

Crude outlines the pollution problems that manifested themselves in the forests over the decades and the legal battle that continued for years.

Wildlife was not spared by the pollution, but the documentary primarily shows translated interviews with members of the tribes who came forward — described as “some of the most marginalized people on Earth” — and described the health problems they were experiencing as a result of the pollution, including one woman whose young daughter had liver cancer. Not even their drinking water was spared from oil pollution. “What was once paradise now has just been left in destruction,” one indigenous man said.

Throughout the documentary, oil company representatives were shown providing protests that the health problems were a result of poor sanitation rather than oil pollution.

“This is not contamination,” said one activist shown in the documentary. “This is industrial exploitation permitted by the law.”
The National Cancer Registry for Ecuador showed more than 1,200 cancer cases in oil-producing areas in the country between 1985 and 2000, according to the Eurasia Review. The numbers are expected to be even higher because they don’t specifically pertain to the Amazon Rain Forest, the report states.

The types of cancer reported to be affecting people living in oil-producing areas in Ecuador varied widely and included cancer of the stomach, rectum, soft tissue, kidneys, cervix and lymph nodes as well as skin melanoma, according to the Eurasia Review.

Still, Chevron denies its oil production efforts caused any adverse effects.

“Chevron has thoroughly investigated the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ claims of social, health and environmental harms,” states the oil company’s website. “… There is no scientific support for the claims. To the contrary, all of the legitimate evidence presented to the Ecuadorian court demonstrates that… operations present no risk to residents’ health.”

Polluted water from oil. Photo credit  Rainforest Action Network

The book Savages by Joe Kane provides an in-depth, long-term look at one of the tribes — the Huaorani Indians — who are most secluded and were most affected by the oil pollution.

It describes them as a group of people who “so fearsome that they had driven off generations of invaders” — until oil was discovered in their region.

When a company came in to clear seismic lines and recruited members of the tribe for manpower, their treatment provided an almost shocking insight into outsiders’ views of the tribes — one activists argue also promoted the problems with the oil companies.

Enqueri, one of the tribe members profiled in Kane’s book, described the treatment to Kane:

“I worked with other Huaorani Indians; we all slept together,” he said. “There was a lot of malaria, and someone was always getting hurt — cutting off a finger or getting chopped by a machete or ax. But if you didn’t work, you didn’t get paid.

“When we asked for better treatment, the company said we didn’t deserve it, because we were uncivilized.”

Amid increasing urban development, Chileans say pedal backward

By: Seaira Christian-Daniels  
Produced and edited by: Kaylyn Hlavaty

Morning traffic staccatoes along the Autopista, one of the two central highways in Santiago, Chile. The subtle scan of a toll-tracking device ushers Myriam Gregorio de las Heras to her final stop: Sanhattan, the largest and most modern area of Santiago. Sanhattan is the central location for business negotiations in Santiago and the epitome of development in the city.

De las Heras is among the nearly 60 percent of Chileans who commute to work into the downtown district of the city each day, according to a most recent 2002 Chilean Census Report. Highway tolls and wasted time, however, have caused several workers to challenge the efficiency of the Chilean transportation system amid much of the development downtown.

Some, like Camila Risso, a nurse who is continuing her education at Universidad Católica in Santiago, said she foots the bill to live on the outskirts of the city for the sake of her sanity.

“Santiago is too busy. It’s too noisy, so I prefer to get out. I prefer to go out and have a little bit of peace.” Though she says it is considerably more expensive to live in the suburban region of Region Metropolitano, the Metropolitan District, the chance to have a garden, trees in her yard, and a swimming pool allured her. Camila travels 45 minutes to and from work each day. Initially, she said, the drive did not cause alarm, but she’s beginning to feel worn out. “You spend about two hours a day driving. In the beginning it wasn’t that hard, but when it’s everyday. It’s stressful.”

Are the Roads to Blame?

Travelers come from small towns littered around the boisterously active capital city. The problem, de las Heras and Risso say, is the inefficient design of the roads downtown.

Francisco Contreras, a mine development engineer, says Chile’s copper mining industry has increased travel to and from Santiago. In Anagosto, the major mining city, there is only one main road, which often causes traffic congestion.

“This city has a huge floating population--people that come to Anagosto just to work at the copper mines and then go back to Santiago, La Serena, or Concepción--it becomes a real issue having a single "main" avenue.”

Santiago’s structure guarantees the centralization of services, public offices, and commerce, said Alejandro Aedo, an Engineering Specialist for BHP Billiton, a resource management firm. However, Jorge Jerez, an electrical engineer from Santiago, said the city structure has lagged behind the quickly increasing demographic. He says the mode of transportation must fit the population.

“The viability of the structures [downtown] doesn’t satisfy the requirements for vehicular transportation and connectivity required to improve some the congestion on the streets,” he says.

A Google map image of the streets around downtown Santiago appears the same as many other roads in major urban centers—with three-lane highways and express lanes attached on each side. Yet, as with many urban cities across the globe, the most developed cities have experienced mass amounts of congestion and inconvenience. A more simple solution

Chilean workers say the fix for congestion is to reinstitute the use of a more simple form of transportation. Diego Barros, a construction worker who has decided to live in the downtown region of the city, says though it is hard to find work in Santiago because of intense competition between small businesses and big corporations, he chooses to stay in downtown Santiago so he does not have to endure the hassel-prone public transportation system.

“I walk to work, but I try to use my bike in most cases. If it’s more than 40 km, then I take public transportation.” Barros said biking to work is a growing trend in younger professionals.

Maricel Brugerolles, who lives and works in Santiago, proposes the implementation of bike routes around the city to allow people who live closer to their jobs to bike ride to work everyday. “There’s a parallel life with respect to transportation. The government should divide the highways to decrease the amount of volume of traffic,” she says.

Though Chile records the second lowest gas emissions in 2012, the country had the second largest percent increase in gas consumption that year of BP’s top-eight monitored Central and South America Countries. These statistics explain government of Santiago issuing its first ever pre- emergency environmental alert in May of 2012. A second alert limiting vehicles without catalytic converters to a certain number of hours per day was issued in May 2011. Catalytic converters transform toxic vehicle emissions into less toxic forms.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

November Uprising: Jordanian’s call for reform

By: Gina Mussio
Produced and edited by: Molly Nocheck

The Arab Spring has largely steered clear of Jordan, a US ally and relatively stable country. After recent protests, however, all that has changed.

Thousands crowded the streets across the country protesting the sharp increase in gas and fuel prices announced by Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour.

“People were there shouting and cursing the government and demanding they rescind the decision,” said Ahmad Tawalbeh, a chemical engineering major at the Jordan University of Science and Technology. “I went with my friend to protest because like a lot of Jordanian citizens I don't agree with the decision and I see it’s unfair for us.”

Jordan’s neighbors in the Middle East have seen their fair share of uprisings and demonstrations as well, starting in late 2010 with the Tunisia Revolution, and reaching its height spring of last year when thousands of Egyptians protested and called for the resignation of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Since then, rulers have been forced from power in Libya and Yemen and civil uprisings have erupted in Bahrain and Syria.

Jordan too has seen its fair share of protests, over 2,000 in the past two years, but nearly all have been peaceful, with cooperation between both the citizens and the police. Now, however, demonstrations have turned violent. Protesters have been sprayed with water and tear gas, police hit with rocks and two people have been reported killed.

After hearing about the protests, Naseer Alomari, a Jordanian-American principal in Westchester County and online advocate for Middle Eastern democracy, called his family in Jordan to make sure everything was okay. A large demonstration was taking place in Irbid, the city closest to his hometown, and he hoped his family could keep him updated.

His 24-year-old niece, Rawan, explained the situation to him via Skype – the tenseness, the discontent among people throughout Jordan and the conversations happening among friends and neighbors. Alomari’s brother was also in the room, simultaneously calling friends to learn what was going on in the streets below.

It was then that he received a phone call from another relative, telling him that his and Alomari’s cousin had been shot in the chest. Qais Al Omari, 27, was the first killed during the protests on Wednesday, Nov. 14 in downtown Irbid.

Qais' Coffin. Credit:  Naseer Alomar
“It’s still mind boggling that this would happen,” Alomari said. “He didn’t get to the hospital – Qais did not even make it to the hospital. He passed away.”

The village was traditionally supportive of the government, after this, however, the support of the people eroded. Demonstrators burned down the municipality building, as well as several vehicles belonging to the municipality.

“It was amazing that the first person to fall was in that small town where the king has a lot of support – or used to have,” Alomari said.

There is no doubt that Jordanians are angry. Unemployment in the cash-strapped nation is at 12 percent, with the highest rate, 27.2 percent, among young people between 20-24 years. In fact, similar to Egypt and Tunisia, its predecessors in protest, the youth are largely responsible for organizing protests and spurring conversation online and on the ground.

“My cousin, he has been looking for a job ever since I’ve known him. He’s 27 years old and he’s never held a decent job. When he died yesterday he didn’t have a job,” Alomari said. “People are afraid that they are not going to be able to support their families.”

The protests continued for days, with citizens chanting anti-regime slogans, calling the king a gambler in reference to his accused corruption, and supporting the downfall of the regime.

“I think most Jordanians have lost optimism,” said Zaid Samkari, a 24-year-old medical student and democracy activist in Jordan. “People are really frustrated and they are really angry. We are not seeing any serious measures taking place. The only thing we’re seeing is the government asking us to pay the price.”

Samkari, a member of the youth Herak movement, did not participate in the most recent protests because he doesn’t support their call for the downfall of the regime, but his discontent is palpable. The people’s demands are legitimate, he said, they want to elect a government, a parliament that represents Jordanians, to get through the economic crises and end government corruption. He acknowledged that this will not come easily.

“I’m really scared that things might develop like it has in many other Arab countries,” Samkari said. “Honestly speaking, most Jordanians don’t want that. We want the regime to be wise enough to make true reform without any bloodshed.”

The U.S.-backed Jordanian government has often issued government subsidies to placate the people, this time though, the cash ran out. The state attempted to institute austerity measures, such as the fuel price increase, to reduce a growing budget deficit and decrease public spending.

The protests have continued despite the violence, roadblocks set up by the police and hundreds jailed. Tawalbeh went to protest again after Friday prayer, Nov 16, taking video and continuing to support other citizens and friends on the streets.

Though none have said they believe the protests can be labeled a “revolution” yet, all acknowledge that Jordan is in uncharted waters and that the people are not going to give up their requests for reform.

“We are looking for a better future; We are looking for corrupts to be jailed; We want a democratic government that are elected by the people not appointed; We want a better future for the next generations,” Samkari said.