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Program 9939
September 28, 1999

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

MARK MALLOCH BROWN: Woe to the congressman who resists development causes, ‘cause he’s going to see a letter writing campaign like he’s never seen before.

KRISTIN MC HUGH: This week on Common Ground, Net Aid and environmental pollution.

RICHARD BOREN: The air quality in this, the El Paso-Juarez, is a major problem. And they are only at best trying to put a Band-Aid on it.

MC HUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.

Remember “We Are the World,” Live Aid, Band Aid, and Farm Aid? Well, the concept behind those events is being used once again in something called “Net Aid.” Common Ground Senior Producer Keith Porter has the story.

PORTER: The United Nations Development Program is joining forces with big business and big name celebrities to mobilize support for eradicating poverty around the world. They’ll do this through a large Web site and a global concert to be held October 9. The Web site and the concerts are known as Net Aid.

MALLOCH BROWN: With Net Aid we are creating a global constituency-building tool to link those who we can hook on the cause of development, whether they’re in the US, China, or wherever.

PORTER: This is the new director of the United Nations Development Program, Mark Malloch BROWN. The Net Aid concerts will be held at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, Wembley Stadium in London, and the Palace of Nations in Geneva. Bono, Wyclef Jean, Jewel, David Bowie, Bryan Adams, Sting, Sheryl Crow, and many others will participate. The role of the concerts on October 9 is to drive traffic to the Net Aid Web site. Mark Malloch BROWN compares the Web site to classic door-to-door political organizing in Chicago.

MALLOCH BROWN: I’m going to have what Mayor Daley never had, which is, I hope, 10 million or a hundred million people, who through a powerful branded Web site—Net Aid—are going to come back, be repeat visitors to learn more about development. Now, what you do is, when that organizer knocks on a door in Chicago, he’s got to have something new to tell his constituent or her constituent. Something which is going to keep that constituency locked in. Twenty years ago it was pork barrel type of thing. “The Mayor is going to build you a new school in your district.” For me, global pork barrel is very different. It’s to have somebody want to come back to this Web site because they’ve developed a passion about the cause of girls’ education in Muslim countries and they want to know what progress is being made to monitor that. Or it’s the case of someone who, you know, wants to make a contribution, a financial contribution, that they want to, you know, buy textbooks for school kids who’s case has caught their interest in a particular country. Not only can they buy those textbooks and contribute to the buying of those textbooks, but through the Internet they’re going to have a much more sophisticated accountability system on how their money was used than has ever previously been available. So I want them to become repeat visitors. And as they get passionately involved in a way they never could before unless they were a Peace Corps volunteer or a UN volunteer, or an NGO worker who went out and saw this for themselves. Now through the Internet they can make that same personal journey of exploration, that same linkage, to causes and issues, which will make them activists for our cause. And in the future, the woe to the congressman who resists development causes, ‘cause he’s going to see a letter writing campaign like he’s never seen before. And that’s going to radically change the support for our business. And it’s a fabulous and exciting possibility if we can pull it off.

ROBERT PIPER: I should Net Aid emphasize is working on a very strong assumption that there’s an enormous amount of good will out there in countries like the United States and in Europe, of people in everyday jobs in all walks of life, who really want to do something. They’re aware that they, that there’s work to be done and they feel they’d like to participate and can participate, but it’s not been terribly clear to them. Up till now it’s not been so easy to know how to get involved. How do you help a child in Ethiopia? How do you, to be better fed? How do you help a Central American to build more earthquake-proof housing? So Net Aid makes this possible.

PORTER: Robert Piper is running the Net Aid Web Project for the United Nations Development Program.

PIPER: It allows you to obviously give online donations but it’s also going to put people in touch with each other, people who may be able to donate time, may be able to donate, maybe in-kind resources. So it provides an enormous number of windows for people from all walks of life to be able to see how they can participate. And they’ll get the satisfaction of seeing online the impact of what has come from their contribution.

PORTER: You mentioned individuals and that an individual can make a contribution or an individual can learn more or an individual may find new ways to help. What about groups? I mean, is there a way to link perhaps a small local nongovernmental group in this country or in Europe who wants to help a like-minded group in the developing world?

PIPER: One of the features of Net Aid that we’re working on is the world’s largest, most comprehensive repository of organizations. A “Who’s Who” in the development process. Bono of U-2 described it as a Yellow Pages of development, yesterday. And indeed, by having that directory we aim to then put these people in touch with each other, make them more visible to the outside, but also allow them to network amongst themselves. So certainly that’s very much, very much part of the process.

PORTER: The Net Aid concerts will work because of the high profile celebrity involvement. The Net Aid Web site works because a huge company called Cisco Systems is involved. Cisco makes the routers, switches and other hardware that make the Internet work. Again, Mark Malloch BROWN.

MALLOCH BROWN: You know, I think it was a marriage made in cyberheaven. You know, Cisco, obviously they have a business goal, which is that they want to see their technologies drive an expansion of the Internet globally. But they are a new kind of corporate citizen who also, you know, in the way that old national corporations were anxious to do good in their own community, here’s a group of people who want to good in their community, except it ain’t a suburb in a particular location they have, but it’s the global neighborhood. Because that’s the way they think. And so their philanthropic and business interests merges neatly as Kellogg’s did years ago in the Illinois neighborhood they were located, or you know, a Rockefeller or a Carnegie did, in their communities. And so, you know, I think it is a new global philanthropy.

JOHN CHAMBERS: [speaking to a United Nations audience] Thanks to the tremendous support of artists, producers, and the UN, Net Aid is off to a very strong start.

PORTER: Speaking in the United Nations General Assembly Hall, this is Cisco Systems President John Chambers.

CHAMBERS: To build on this momentum Cisco will increase our commitment to Net Aid with another $10 million contribution. Our goal is to raise an additional $1 million from our employees. [applause] But make no mistake about this. We want this to be more than a one-time event. We want this to be more than, “I saw a concert, I sent some money, I feel better.” With the Internet our intent is to build a worldwide constituency to fight poverty on an on-going and lasting basis. As the core of this we want to prevent suffering and promote self-sufficiency all across the world, as humanity moves into a global, information-based, Internet economy.

PORTER: As I was coming into your office today all of the head honchos of Cisco….

MALLOCH BROWN: Were walking out.

PORTER: …were walking out. Did they mention that they’re going to learn an awful lot from being involved in this process as well? I mean, technically they’re going to learn a lot.

MALLOCH BROWN: They are going to learn a lot and they reference that. I mean, building the world’s biggest site, seeing it, you know, servicing a global community going forward. There’s going to be a lot of spin-off for them. But you know, I think this is from my view what the basis of public/private partnership has to be. You know, it’s that there are tangible business benefits as well as just philanthropic benefits. The critical thing is that everybody sticks to the rules. And when they say they’re doing something pro bono the do it and they don’t make money out of it. And that’s the glory of Cisco. You know, Cisco are a very highly ethical, high integrity partner to have. Yes, they have long-term commercial and business interests. But they don’t muddle those with trying to sort of profit-take on their short-term role. You know, they are doing this because they believe in it and are just an absolutely principled partner to have. And there are a lot of others like it. I mean, there’s a little company founded by a bunch of mathematicians in Boston, called Akamai, who are providing a network of global service to carry this Web site globally.

PORTER: On the night of October 9, when you get hundreds of millions of hits on this site, are you confident that it will survive? That the site will remain active?

MALLOCH BROWN: Well, yeah, I am confident that it will survive. If it goes down on October the 9, the red faces will be Cisco’s and Akamai’s, not mine. And you know, I think there aren’t, Cisco doesn’t know what a red face is. They haven’t suffered embarrassment in a decade or so, I suspect, to business. So it ain’t going to go down. I’ve much more confidence—if we were running it I’d be, I’d make that statement with a little bit more qualification. But in terms of its longer-term survival, which is very much up to us, it’s not going to go down either. Because this is a window on the future for UNDP.

BONO: I like being a rock singer.

PORTER: Rock star Bono, one of the Net Aid concert organizers and performers, spoke at the launch of Net Aid.

BONO: Rock music is the noise that keeps me awake, stops me from falling asleep in the comfort of this wild freedom some of us are enjoying on the eve of the 21st century. I’m here today, this evening, for one simple reason though. I want to see Live Aid through. In the eighties I was a proud part of the spoiled generation that brought you Live Aid, Band Aid, “We are the World.” You remember the songs. I hope you’ve forgotten the bad haircuts. It was an amazing thing, that moment in time where Bob Geldof and a bunch of pop starts raised $200 million for famine relief in Africa.

MALLOCH BROWN: I think they look back on the big concerts of the eighties, Live Aid, “We Are the World,” etc., and they saw them as fabulous once-off events, but whose events whose afterlife petered out. You know, once the money that had been raised during the concert itself was spent.

PORTER: Again, Mark Malloch Brown, Director of the United Nations Development Program.

MALLOCH BROWN: The glory of Net Aid is that they see they’re creating something permanent. Cause this isn’t about a once-off money raising. It’s about raising awareness so that people will get locked into this site by bookmarking it or registering on it. And will be people come back to it. And it’s that permanent constituency-building function, that creation of a permanent development/activist cadre, which I think excites them.

PIPER: Well, it’s enormously exciting. And I’m also a former musician, and for me the power of music is, is a fantastically motivating force. And something that obviously transcends language and transcends cultures, and things like that. So that’s extraordinarily exciting.

PORTER: Again, Net Aid Web site Manager Robert Piper.

PIPER: I think it’s terribly important that these, that these artists, with—because they’re role models for so many young people around the world, I think it’s terribly important—that these young people listen to them and hear their commitment to these issues. So it’s an inspiring moment for a lot of young people and an inspiring moment for us in the development community, the workers, to be able to create such an alliance.

PORTER: Any chance that sustainable economic development might actually become hip?

PIPER: Hip? If you mean that the mainstream can actually have access to it, can—yes, definitely. I’m not sure hip is the right word. But we’re definitely, this is about getting people involved who have not been involved up till now. Which means throwing out some of the language of the United Nations, the heavy bureaucratic-speak which is completely impenetrable to most people from outside. It means couching ideas in clear, clear messages that make sense to people who don’t necessarily know what a development worker does. Because it is a pretty specific professional field. So, this is all about making contact, connecting with people who have not been really touched before. And if that makes it hip, then it’s hip.

PORTER: The Net Aid Web site can be found at The concerts will be held Saturday, October 9, and broadcast live by VH-1, MTV, and the BBC. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

MC HUGH: Coming up, environmental pollution along the US-Mexican border.

RICHARD BOREN: Well, here in El Paso, we have an oil refinery, Chevron oil refinery, right in the middle of the city. It is probably the biggest source of pollution in El Paso and Juarez.

MC HUGH: Printed transcripts and audiocassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

MC HUGH: Environmental pollution on the US-Mexico border was a hot topic during the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement. Both the Mexican and US governments pledged to clean up the 2,000 mile-long border separating their countries. The debate faded from the headlines years ago, but has the situation improved? Kent Patterson recently spoke with nongovernmental activists from Mexico and the United States who are forging a renewed environmental movement.

[sound of a jack hammer]

KENT PATTERSON: The jackhammer digs into a street in Ciudad, Juarez, Mexico. One of Mexico’s fastest-growing cities, Juarez is a booming center of the export trade. Business has grown tremendously since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, as hundreds of maquiladora assembly plants churn out everything from auto parts to medical equipment. Thousands of new residents arrive every year to the city bordering El Paso, Texas. But in addition to jobs they find housing and water shortages, contaminated irrigation canals, and air pollution. One recent study by the Juarez city government reported an increase in violations of air standards since the enactment of NAFTA.

[sound of auto traffic]

PATTERSON: Traffic backs up on the international bridges that connect Juarez with El Paso. More trucks and cars than ever crowd local roads, emitting pollutants like carbon monoxide and ozone into the air. Sometimes governmental actions exacerbate the pollution. Recently, the US Customs Service temporarily reduced the number of bridge inspectors, thus increasing the amount of time running cars spend on the bridge waiting to be inspected, and the amount of contaminants going into the air.

BOREN: The air quality in this, the El Paso-Juarez, is a major problem. And they are only at best trying to put a Band-Aid on it. There really is no far-reaching policy in terms of addressing the root cause of these problems.

PATTERSON: A growing number of grassroots activists like Richard Boren of he Arizona-based group Southwest Toxic Watch, are organizing to address border ecological issues.

BOREN: For example, Ciudad, Juarez, our Mexican city, has a terrible problem with poverty. And poverty dictates that environmental protection is going to be take a back seat to human survival, to feeding your family and so on. So until the United States realizes that Mexico has to be lifted out of poverty, the population has to have a better standard of living, that they cannot make significant progress on the Mexican side in addressing the environmental issues. On the US side we see the authorities being very hypocritical, such as saying that Mexico has to clean up their side of the border when, when in the US they try to put nuclear waste dumps right on the border, dump toxic waste on the border. And so it’s, it’s very hypocritical. And the US has to clean up its act as well. Here in El Paso, we have an oil refinery, Chevron oil refinery, right in the middle of the city. It is probably the biggest source of pollution in El Paso and Juarez.

PATTERSON: Jose Bravo coordinates the San Diego office of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, an organization of 70 groups working in the United States and Mexico. Bravo is critical of the official environmental regulatory bodies in the United States and Mexico, EPA and Semarnap. Bravo also is skeptical of official bi-national initiatives like the Border Environment Cooperation Commission, BECC, set up by NAFTA to certify new projects for funding. BECC has so far approved 27 clean-up projects, mainly for wastewater improvement.

JOSE BRAVO: But BECC’s mission when it first came out as a side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement, when the BECC first came out, it’s mission was to deal with environmental issues on the Mexico-US border. Soon after that the BECC Board narrowed that to just water issues on the Mexico-US border. And the reason why I think that happened was because I think that they saw that water issues are more benign than contamination issues and the lack of enforcement issues that we were dealing with, and we wanted some relief on. So, I think that these institutions such as the BECC, the Border 21, from out perspective, and from the communities’ perspective that we work with, are basically smoke screens just to give polish and, give the Free Trade Agreement some polish.

Let me give you a prime example. Because the BECC does not deal with hazardous materials, dumps, and other things like that, they have proposed, they proposed a water treatment plant in San Diego that would treat both water from Tijuana and San Diego. Primarily Tijuana. And the problem with that is that, that water that’s being treated there comes with a lot of chemicals and a lot of other substances from those maquilas, because there is a law in Mexico that all companies have to have pre-treatment and that law isn’t being adhered to. So those laws that are going into that water treatment plant, basically are not being cleaned to satisfactory conditions. So, again, it’s like putting the cart before the horse.

[sound of applause]

PATTERSON: Current efforts at addressing environmental problems on the US-Mexico border go back to the 1983 La Paz agreement between the governments of Mexico and the United States. La Paz committed the two governments to protecting our common border environment. Ironically, La Paz’s provisions were used in 1998 by protesters from the United States and Mexico. They gathered on this bridge in El Paso/Juarez to oppose the Sierra Blanca Nuclear Dump planned for the border region of West Texas.

[sound of music and clapping]

PATTERSON: In border meetings between nongovernmental organizations from Mexico and the United States, La Paz is now increasingly viewed as one tool to force an expanded border cleanup. Richard Boren of Southwest Toxic Watch.

BOREN: You know, you can look at it and say, ‘well, this is a very depressing situation,’ but there are things on the bright side. And that is that the citizens and organizations in Mexico and the United States are coming together and getting better organized. And people are, realize that they’re not, they can’t sit back and wait on government authorities to solve problems. That without the people rising up and taking a stand and putting pressure on government officials, nothing is going to happen. And fortunately, there is a growing movement, bi-national movement, and that is having a great impact. And the victory over the state of Texas’s, the victory of the state of Texas’s project to put the nuclear waste dump in Sierra Blanca, is a prime example of the power of citizens when they rise up in nonviolent peaceful struggle against the forces that are trying to do us harm.

PATTERSON: Bill Addington is a resident of the small town of Sierra Blanca, Texas. A veteran of the successful fight to stop the planned nuclear dump, Addington and other members of the Sierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund are now turning their attention to the massive sewage sludge dump that sits near their homes. The waste they live with is imported from New York City.

BILL ADDINGTON: Airborne chemicals and actually airborne sludge going through the air. And of course with our famous winds that we get out here, and when it’s in the droughts, it just pulverizes and blows in the wind. The stench can travel, these volatile gases that impacts the people’s health, can travel 30 miles when it’s cool on the ground level. So being so close to the border, a polluting site, I mean for example, Kent, to every ton of sludge from New York City there’s one pound of pure lead. So when they’re dumping 400 tons a day of sewage sludge, which they are, in my home, over a 40,000 acre patch, you’re getting 400 pounds of lead dumped there. And the EPA says that’s safe for children in the area on both sides of the river, to be absorbing lead. And every doctor in the world knows the acceptable lead, level of lead in a children’s blood is zero.

[sound of music and clapping]

PATTERSON: The La Paz agreement gave birth to the EPA’s Border 21 program. Both La Paz and Border 21 confine the scope of their attention to a 60-mile limit on either side of the border. Susan Smith is a New Mexico-based activist who has attended meetings on behalf of the Sierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund and other groups. Smith says the ecological definition of the border should be expanded.

SUSAN SMITH: So that you can’t just try and create this funny little sociopolitical region and call it the border, and ignore the resources that feed into it and make, give it its life. You know, it’s not like it exists in a vacuum.

PATTERSON: To cite one example, Smith and activists from Mexico and the United States protested the opening of New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project, WIPP, although the nuclear dump is located more than 100 miles from the border. Opponents content that it could eventually leak radioactive material into the Pecos River that flows into the Rio Grande between Mexico and the United States. Both the EPA and US Department of Energy, which owns WIPP, discount such a scenario. However, at a Border 21 meeting this year convened by environmental officials from the two countries, Smith and others brought up WIPP as a good reason to fine tune La Paz.

SMITH: So there was a strong case made there for certain annexes to the agreement to deal with radioactive and toxic dumping. I brought up in the work group about, that handles waste sites and issues like sludge, the need to expand the treaty as well. And it was noted, duly noted, by the coordinators both from Mexico and the United States, as an issue that would be reviewed in the course of their work over this next year.

[sound of music and clapping]

PATTERSON: Border environmental activism is likely to increase in the near future. When Presidential campaigns in both Mexico and the United States are in full swing next year the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice plans to refocus the candidates on previous promises to clean up the border environment. Jose Bravo.

BRAVO: And if we don’t receive any answers we are going to mount a campaign to kind of tarnish the presidential campaigns that are coming up. So that’s, you know, I hope they don’t take that as a threat and I hope they start working before that. But we are definitely going to take it back to the streets and let them know that we are not satisfied with any of these governments.

PATTERSON: Meanwhile, environmental crises facing places like El Paso/Juarez continue to appear. Headlines in Mexican newspapers this year declared Juarez the fourth-most polluted place in Mexico. And on certain days, authorities in El Paso now declare ozone alerts, warning the elderly, children and other health-sensitive groups to restrict their outdoor activities. For Common Ground, I’m Kent Patterson reporting.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

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