WSSD clearly illustrated the hatred of the US' bullying tactics
Not surprisingly, strong anti-us sentiments were in evidence at the recently-concluded World Summit on Sustainable Development (wssd) at Johannesburg. One reason, of course, was the us refusal to sign the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, despite being the most polluting nation on Earth. Ehrlich A and Ehrlich P best described the sheer profligacy of the 'American way of life'. "A baby born in the us represents twice the environmental impact for Earth as one born in Sweden, three times one born in Italy, 13 times one born in Brazil, 35 times one in India, 140 times one in Bangladesh or Kenya, and 280 times one born in Chad, Rwanda, Haiti or Nepal." (Populi; Vol 16, No 3; 1989)
The sincerity of the us in combating global hunger was also viewed with much cynicism at the Summit. In 1994, Robert Goodland provided an interesting statistics (and an interesting perspective) on the issue. "260 million Americans spend us $5 billion annually on special diets to lower their calorie consumption; some 400 million people are so undernourished that they are likely to suffer stunted growth, mental retardation or death." (1994, Growing Numbers and Dwindling Resources, Tata Energy Research Institute, New Delhi)
Today, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique are among several African nations facing the prospect of widespread starvation in the coming months; yet these countries are reluctant to distribute genetically modified (gm) food received from the United States Agency for International Development (usaid). Quite understandably, they fear that planting of seeds from these gm imports -- accidentally or otherwise -- could pose long-term threats to their indigenous varieties of grain. They are also perhaps suspicious of the quality of the usaid food.
Delegates at the Summit were especially angered by the us statement that future developmental aid, including food aid, would be linked to issues of 'good governance' and 'human rights' in recipient nations. As pointed out in a leader in this magazine (Down To Earth; Vol 11, No 8; September 15, 2002), the record of human rights violations by us companies in developing countries is long and dismal.
Considering its own state of lawlessness, the us is hardly in a position to preach good governance to other countries. According to the us department of justice, an incredible 6.3 million cases of violent crime (rape, aggravated assault and armed robbery) took place in the us in the year 2000! Little wonder that, on the last day of the Summit, us Secretary of State Colin Powell was booed down when he spoke of the us' intentions to protect the environment and fight global poverty and hunger.
It is another matter entirely that none of this gives India an excuse for adopting a holier-than-thou attitude. There is enough data to show that our urban rich are as wasteful and environmentally 'dirty', if not more so, than us citizens.
And while we may crow about surplus foodstocks, the fact is we have yet to put in place systems that will get this food across to the people who really need it. Putting in place systems that provide needy people with purchasing power to pick up the food is an even more distant dream.
Nevertheless, the controversy over gm grain supplies to starving African nations holds a grim lesson for all developing nations -- strive for and maintain self-sufficiency in food. The protection of indigenous crop varieties should also be looked at seriously before it is too late. It is equally important that India and other developing nations do not succumb to the bullying tactics of countries like the us. The refusal to accept any deadlines for cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions is, no doubt, one step in this direction.
R P Subramanian is a freelance writer based in New Delhi
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