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Week of July 29, 2003

Program 0330


Bush on Africa | Transcript
| MP3

Zimbabwe Commonwealth Split | Transcript
| MP3

South Africa ANC | Transcript | MP3

State of World Oceans | Transcript | MP3

Freshwater Year | Transcript | MP3

Beneath St. Petersburg | Transcript | MP3

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

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me start with the HIV program. I mean, enthusiasm is to the tune of $15 billion; that’s pretty darn enthusiastic to deal with a pandemic.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, an exclusive interview with President Bush on his Africa policy.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Plus, struggling to solve Zimbabwe’s political and humanitarian crises.

COMMONWEALTH SECRETARY GENERAL DON MCKINNON: We are engaged. We remain engaged. We want to see change. I still believe we deserve an “A” for effort even if we only get a “D” for achievement.

MCHUGH: And the political strength of South Africa’s African National Congress.

SMUTS NGONYAMA: It’s difficult to judge the future because it depends on a number of circumstances. For the near future, the ANC will actually remain quite tenacious.

PORTER: These stories—coming up next.

[Musical interlude]

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Bush on Africa

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PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. It is fair to say that when George W. Bush became president of the United States, few analysts around the world expected him to devote much of his first term to Africa. He had, after all, argued on the campaign trail that US foreign policy was spread too thin, and that the continent simply didn’t have the same abiding national interest to the US as the Middle East or Europe. Fast forward three years, and George Bush has changed his tune. He recently became the first sitting Republican president ever to visit Africa, and as the president told Common Ground‘s Simon Marks in an exclusive White House interview, he’s now determined to keep Africa policy in the forefront of his administration.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: [taking his oath of office] I, George Walker Bush do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States….

SIMON MARKS: [narrating with the sound of fireworks and celebrating music in the background] It was a miserable day in Washington, DC, when George W. Bush was sworn into office. The rain lashed the US capital on January the 20th, 2001; the mercury barely rose above freezing point. The inauguration marked the end of the controversial 2000 presidential election campaign and the start of what most analysts of the US relationship with Africa presumed would be a period of inattention to the continent and its woes.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: [giving his inauguration speech] I will live and lead by these principles: to advance my convictions with civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility, and try to live it as well.

MARKS: In his inaugural address that January afternoon, President Bush made no reference to Africa at all. Earlier, on the campaign trail itself, he made it clear that, in stark contrast to the Clinton administration, he simply didn’t think that Africa was a US foreign policy priority.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: [giving a campaign speech] It’s an important continent. But there’s got to be priorities. And the Middle East is a priority for a lot of reasons. As is Europe and the Far East and our own hemisphere. And those are my four top priorities should I be the President. That’s not to say that we won’t be engaged. But we can’t be all things to all people in the world.

MARKS: Today, with the experience of two and one-half years in office behind him, President Bush has changed his approach.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: [responding to an interview question from Correspondent Simon Marks] We care about Africa. And we care about the people of Africa.

MARKS: In an exclusive White House interview, the President explained a deep focus on US policy toward Africa that culminated with his recent visit to the continent. To the surprise of many, in the months since the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, he has prioritized Africa policy, sensing that the continent has the potential to act as a breeding ground for terrorism, but also seemingly drawn to taking on some of its toughest challenges.

MARKS: [now interviewing President Bush] On HIV, you’ve surprised many in Washington by the vigor with which you’ve embraced the battle to combat HIV/AIDS. Some say you could do even more by more enthusiastically embracing debt relief for Africa. You favor it enthusiastically for Iraq. Why not more enthusiastically for Africa?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, let me start with the HIV program. I mean, enthusiasm is to the tune of $15 billion; that’s pretty darn enthusiastic to deal with a pandemic. I also have agreed to increase the direct developmental aid grants from the United States by 50 percent. However, we expect countries whether they be in Africa or anywhere else that are applying for this money to embrace the habits of a free country, like transparency, anti-corruption, making sure the people are educated, and receive the healthcare. So we’re doing a lot in America. There is a program in place for debt relief, and I would like to see that program implemented in full. I also called for the World Bank to give more grants rather than loans, and so our program across the board is, is compassionate in my judgment.

MARKS: The President’s openness to what he calls a policy of “compassionate conservatism” has been fueled by many evangelical groups in the US that have urged the White House to get involved in places like the Sudan, where Christians and Muslims are fighting a bloody civil war. But President Bush says his Africa policy is also focused in part on American self-interest. When African nations embrace democracy, he argues, they cause the United States fewer problems and cost it less money. In Zimbabwe, for example, President Robert Mugabe stands accused of rigging elections, seizing land from white farmers, repressing his opponents, and cracking down on freedom of speech. President Bush says the failure of African democracies like neighboring South Africa to help resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe makes it much harder to advance the interests of the entire continent.

MARKS: [now interviewing President Bush] Let me switch countries if I may and ask you about Zimbabwe.


MARKS: A short while ago your Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote in the New York Times that “South Africa can and should play a stronger and more sustained role in resolving matters in Zimbabwe.” Specifically what would you like to see President Thabo Mbeki do in Zimbabwe that he’s not already doing?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Insist that there be elections. Insist that democracy rule. Insist that the conditions necessary for that country to become prosperous again are in place. I agree with the Secretary of State. I certainly don’t want to put any pressure on my friend. But Zimbabwe has not been a good case study for democracy in a very important part of the world. And we hope that not only Mr. Mbeki but other leaders convince the current leadership to promote democracy. Let me give you one reason why. There’s a lot of starving people in sub-Saharan Africa, yet Zimbabwe used to be able to grow more than it needed to help deal with the starvation. We’re a nation that is interested in helping countries, people that are starving. We’re going to spend a billion dollars this year on programs to help the hungry. It would be really helpful if Zimbabwe’s economy were such that it would become a breadbasket again, a capacity to grow more food than’s needed so that they could help deal with the hunger. And yet the country is in such that, you know, in such a condition that the agricultural sector of its economy is in shambles right now.

MARKS: The failure of South Africa to take more of a leadership role in resolving Zimbabwe’s problems has contributed to strained ties between Pretoria and Washington. And those strains have been exacerbated by some very personal criticisms of President Bush by Africa’s most prominent statesman—Nelson Mandela.

FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT NELSON MANDELA: [giving a speech] What I’m condemning is that one power, with a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a Holocaust.

MARKS: [now interviewing President Bush] When a statesman like former South African President Nelson Mandela says the very personal things about you that he has said in the past and continues to say even this week, that’s gotta hurt.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: No. I did the right thing. My job is to make sure America is secure. And if some don’t like the tactics, that’s the nature of a free world. People express their opinion. I admire Nelson Mandela. As a matter of fact my administration was the one that gave him the Medal of Freedom because of his courage and bravery. I just happen to disagree with him on his view of how best to secure America. But you can be rest assured that if I think America is threatened, I will act. And you know, I understand criticism. I mean, look. But I’m not the kind of person that runs round trying to take a poll to determine what to do. If I believe it’s necessary for my country, I will act. I also believe it is necessary when we see people enslaved to work on behalf of their freedom. Because this country believes that freedom is the desire of every human heart. And one of the great benefits of our action in Iraq is it’s not only gonna make America more secure, but it’s gonna make the Iraqi people more free. And, you know, these mass graves we’re finding is just the tip of the iceberg about what these poor people had to suffer at the hands of Saddam Hussein. And it’s that kind of suffering that troubles me. And I believe the use of, proper use of power by America will make the world more peaceful, America more secure, and as importantly, people more free.

MARKS: That view of American foreign policy finds many detractors in Africa. The President’s footsteps on the continent were dogged by protesters angry over his invasion of Iraq, and—like Nelson Mandela before them—firing accusations that he acts like a cowboy on the world stage. But in our conversation at the White House, the president seemed both committed to, and convinced by his view that the US and Africa are forging a new relationship, one that will bring mutual benefits and a new US commitment to a long marginalized part of the world. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Washington.

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Zimbabwe Commonwealth Split

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PORTER: The political and humanitarian crisis in the southern African country of Zimbabwe shows no sign of ending. Millions are said to be starving and the economy is out of control. Many blame the autocratic rule of President Robert Mugabe. But what can the international community actually do? The Commonwealth, which represents former British colonies, has suspended Zimbabwe’s membership, but it appears to have achieved almost nothing. Suzanne Chislett reports.

[Sounds of birds and animals from Zimbabwe’s jungles]

SUZANNE CHISLETT: Zimbabwe is home to 13 million people. It’s situated in the heart of southern Africa; home to the world-renowned Victoria Falls; elephants roam its vast plains and wildernesses; and for decades it has been the world’s third biggest producer of tobacco. It sounds like it should be idyllic, and yet Zimbabwe is in crisis. Like most former colonies in Africa, the country’s struggle for independence from its British rulers came at a violent cost.

[The sound of angry street demonstrations]

CHISLETT: White settlers had dispossessed the resident population; then guerrilla armies forced the white government to submit to elections, and the post-independence leadership committed atrocities in southern areas where it lacked local support. Overseeing the country, as he has since independence in 1980, is the leader of the Zanu-PF Party, President Robert Mugabe. He appeared to be putting the country on a stable course, but there are many who say he rules the country with a vise-like grip. The main opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, claim he has committed widespread atrocities and is responsible for the many thousands who are now without food. Aid agencies say eight million Zimbabwean’s urgently need help. In March 2002 the human rights violations, economic, and democratic issues led to the suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth—the so-called “family of nations” once linked by the imperial British power. The European Union also imposed sanctions. But the moves had little effect and in the same month Mugabe was re-elected, in a vote widely seen in the Western world as neither free nor fair.

ZIMBABWEAN PRESIDENT ROBERT MUGABE: [giving a speech at large rally] It is not the right or responsibility of the British to decide on our elections. We don’t decide on their own. And why should they poke their big noses into our business? [laughter]

CHISLETT: Now Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon faces almost daily questions about whether the organization is doing enough to force change.

COMMONWEALTH SECRETARY GENERAL DON MCKINNON: We are engaged. We remain engaged. We want to see change. I still believe we deserve an “A” for effort even if we only get a “D” for achievement.

CHISLETT: And therein lies the problem for the Commonwealth—even the leaders know they are virtually powerless. And while the Commonwealth countries continue to disagree about what needs to be done, the situation in Zimbabwe is not easing. The human rights crisis was brought to the fore in London in May when the Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer produced a report alleging claims of torture and rape from inside Zimbabwe, as well as witness statements describing so-called “concentration camps” at which punishments were being dealt out. His frustration at the lack of options open to the Commonwealth showed when he was asked about the success of the organization’s actions to combat the problems.

AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ALEXANDER DOWNER: It depends what yardstick you use here. If you use the yardstick of “Have they been able to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth?”, the fact is that they have. If you use the yardstick of “Has Zimbabwe now flourished as a successful liberal democratic society with a strong and dynamic economy?”, then the answer is “They haven’t.”

CHISLETT: The economy is in fact worsening. Statistics from May showed annual inflation running at 269%. The government has admitted it could not even afford to import paper and ink to make bank notes. South Africa and Nigeria believe the best way to ease the situation is to lift Zimbabwe’s suspension. But British Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of the most outspoken of Commonwealth leaders when it comes to Robert Mugabe, is firmly opposed to the move.

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIER: There has not been real progress there at all, in our view. We continue to have not merely a situation where there is a lack of proper democracy and proper adherence to human rights but also an appalling humanitarian situation there that has been exacerbated by the political situation.

CHISLETT: Despite the differing opinions, the Chair of the Commonwealth Ministerial meeting in May, Lieutenant-General Mompati Merafhe, Foreign Minister for Botswana, insists the question on how to handle Zimbabwe will not rattle the Commonwealth itself.

BOTSWANAN FOREIGN MINISTER MOMPATI MERAFHE: Let me add that it is true and it has stood the test of time and I don’t think it is likely to fall or stand on the basis of one issue, no matter how important people might feel that issue is within the Commonwealth.

CHISLETT: The option many Commonwealth nations are hoping for is the removal of Robert Mugabe from power. But asked outright if they had an opinion on whether the resignation of the Zimbabwean President would ease his country’s economic and humanitarian problems, the Secretary General Don McKinnon and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had differing opinions about toeing the party line.

COMMONWEALTH SECRETARY GENERAL MCKINNON: As Secretary General I don’t have a personal view.

AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNER: As the Foreign Minister of Australia, I do. I think it would help. I think it would be seen as a very significant step forward in terms of resolving the crisis of Zimbabwe.

CHISLETT: The Zimbabwe issue will next be discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in September. But opinions on what actions the organization should take if the situation hasn’t eased, or indeed on whether it should act at all, are likely to remain divided. For Common Ground, I’m Suzanne Chislett in London.

MCHUGH: The strength of South Africa’s ANC and Diaspora, next on Common Ground.

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South Africa ANC

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MCHUGH: The African National Congress, once banned in South Africa, has held a near monopoly on political power there since the end of apartheid. Last week, Reese Erlich began a four-part series on South Africa, with a look at the dangers posed by right-wing extremists. In Part II, he examines the level of support for the ANC government. While the government remains popular, critics from both the left and the right seek to capitalize on discontent bubbling up from below. Erlich reports from Soweto.

[The sound of music playing and Reese Erlich speaking with South African children, asking their names.]

ERLICH: Kids play in a driveway in Soweto as their parents stay indoors to escape the midday heat. Residents here generally support the African National Congress government, as reflected in the ANC’s 60 percent majority in national elections. Morgan Gobese, a book salesman, credits the ANC with getting rid of the hated apartheid system. And, he says, the government now provides some important services for free.

MORGAN GOBESE: There’s so much that has been, that they’ve improved on. For instance, education. I would say yes to that. And also coming in to say, little lids is like, the first, you know, the first-year schoolers, shouldn’t pay, shouldn’t go, pay for education. Or if you take your young child to a clinic, you shouldn’t pay for that. That was a very, very a good, good thing. Because some of the parents, they can’t even afford to take their children to doctors or clinics because they cannot afford the money.

ERLICH: Indeed, one of the most significant reforms of the new multi-racial government was to provide free medical care for pregnant mothers and children under the age of five. Grade school education is now free. Yet massive economic problems remain. The official unemployment rate is 30 percent and housing remains a big problem.

[The sound of digging and construction.]

ERLICH: The government is struggling to build new housing to replace makeshift shacks in the black townships. Gobese says these very modest two-room houses are even smaller than those built by the former whites-only ruling party.

GOBESE: The National Party, they built 4-room houses, which, I’d say, that was far better than what they’re doing now. They’re actually getting smaller and smaller. So, well, to them it’s better than a shack. To me it’s like “Come on guys! We were complaining about the very match boxes here that we were living in. But now you come and say, ‘You know, ‘better life for us’ when you take somebody from a shack to another kind of a shack.” You know, a brick shack this time.

ERLICH: Smuts Ngonyama, an advisor to the president and press spokesman for the ANC, has heard the criticisms before. He notes that the ANC took power in 1994 and is trying to correct years of poverty and discrimination. Ngonyama says the government is trying to provide at least some shelter for everyone.

NGONYAMA: We have to catch up by giving a basic structure to each and every family. That’s why we’re giving them maybe two bedrooms or even one bedroom…

ERLICH: Critics—even inside the ANC—complain that some political leaders and black businessmen have become fabulously wealthy, while ordinary black people face greater poverty. Lynn Abrams has been a rank-and-file ANC member for over 15 years. She recalls that the ANC’s founding document, the Freedom Charter, criticizes the excesses of capitalism.

LYNN ABRAMS: The ANC, they need to go back to the drawing board, they need to go back to the Freedom Charter. We put our faith in the ANC, and we put our faith in democracy, and in better life. More than 50 percent of South Africans don’t have that better life. For example, the rich are still getting richer and the poor is getting nowhere.

ERLICH: Ngonyama acknowledges the growth in a black bourgeoisie, but says that’s inevitable in a country where black entrepreneurs were suppressed.

NGONYAMA: So you have many blacks who are multimillionaires in South Africa. And we have many blacks who are still very poor. However, the base has actually expanded of those who are haves, and it has somehow become nonracial. You have blacks and whites together now at the same time at the poverty levels. You have also whites who are very poor in this country, as well as blacks who are poor. The challenge of the government is to close that gap.

ERLICH: But critics say the government is doing too little to close the gap. They argue that the ANC has given up its socialist principals in favor of the neo-liberal economic model favored by the US and the International Monetary Fund. Professor Albert Venter of Rand University, a political moderate, says the criticism has some validity.

PROFESSOR ALBERT VENTER: The economic policy of the government is, broadly speaking, a neo-liberal policy engaging in worldwide trade. In other words, becoming part of globalization, deregulation of states, of the state itself, privatization of state assets. It’s a typical so-called “Washington consensus” or neo-liberal policies.

ERLICH: Professor Venter says in the short run privatizing state enterprises and lowering trade barriers has increased unemployment. Critics say such policies have doomed other African countries to perpetual poverty and instability. Smuts Ngonyama bristles at the criticism.

NGONYAMA: There’s nothing like neo-liberalism. We are letting the state own public resources, but there are others that we believe are very, very expensive and somehow are not yielding any finances that would increase the fiscals of the country so that we’re able to deliver on various other services.

ERLICH: Ngonyama says the government will continue to run important industries such as public transport, water, and electricity. But, he argues, it makes no sense for the government to exclusively own the telephone company or tourist resorts.

NGONYAMA: There were many resorts that were owned by the government. We can’t continue to own those if they are not running profitably. That must be partnered between the state and the private sector.

JACK BLOOM: I think there have been some privatizations, but from our point of view, we think that it could be speeded up quite dramatically.

ERLICH: Jack Bloom is a leader of the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s second largest political party, and a conservative critic of the ANC. It has a base among some white, Indian, and mixed-race South Africans. He argues the ANC policies of affirmative action for public sector jobs is also alienating whites.

BLOOM: If you’re young and white the impression is that you’re not going to get anywhere, certainly in the civil service. The immigration of skills from South Africa is very high and is very distressing.

ERLICH: But affirmative action has widespread support among the country’s majority, and the conservative whites are relatively isolated. The most vocal opposition to ANC policies comes from some of the government’s closest friends. The ANC is part of a three-way alliance with the South African Communist Party and COSATU, the country’s trade union federation. The two smaller groups say the country’s high unemployment and inflation flow from the ANC’s neo-liberal economic policies. But the Communist Party and COSATU don’t run their own candidates for public office. Instead, they run as candidates for the ANC. Prof. Venter says the left wing groups have significant support among the poor.

VENTER: They tend to support them in opinion surveys and in attitudinal surveys. But the South African Communist Party doesn’t even take part in elections as the South African Communist Party, they take part in elections as members of ANC. You know, there’s a lot of sympathy for their views, but it does not translate into electoral support.

ERLICH: Professor Venter and other observers note that at some point, the left wing may split off from the ANC and form its own party. ANC spokesperson Ngonyama agrees that it could happen, but it’s not likely in the short-run. At the same time, he and other ANC leaders warn the left not to oppose the ANC leadership.

NGONYAMA: It’s difficult to actually judge the future because it depends on a number of circumstances. For the near future, the ANC will actually remain quite tenacious. It will remain a very strong organization. It will remain a strong organization because there’s a culture of debate within the ANC. However, we don’t allow lawlessness and anarchy. So we think the ANC will allow each and every person to state their views. And once a debate is carried, then a decision is taken, it becomes binding decision

[The sounds of busy urban streets.]

ERLICH: The dispute between the leftist and centrist wings of the ANC is reflected on the streets of the black townships. Book salesman Morgan Gobese, who supports the ANC leadership, says the party can maintain support only by delivering on its promises.

GOBESE: If they create jobs and people get enough, you know, medication and thinks like that, then I’ll be positive and say in the next 20 years this country will be looking different.

ERLICH: Long-time ANC member Lynn Abrams, on the other hand, says some in the government and private sector are now looking out only for themselves.

ABRAMS: They are advancing. They don’t really care about other people. You know, they don’t care about the better life that they promised everybody, that the Freedom Charter spoke about.

ERLICH: For the moment, the ANC has widespread support, both because of its history in overthrowing apartheid and because of its governing policies. But if the government doesn’t resolve the problems of unemployment, housing, and crime, black South Africans may look for more radical solutions. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich in Soweto, South Africa.

[The sound of fading music as the South Africa children say “good-bye” to Mr. Erlich.]

[Musical interlude]

MCHUGH: This is Common Ground radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KEITH PORTER: I’m Keith Porter.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, the state of the world’s oceans.

DR. SYLVIA EARLE: It’s a wake-up call that we’ve been getting just in the last few months, the last couple of years, that the ocean does not have an infinite capacity.

MCHUGH: Plus, the global fresh water problem. And a makeover for St. Petersburg that many say is only skin deep.

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State of World Oceans

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PORTER: A meeting of international oceanographers is warning that the world’s oceans are in crisis and dramatic measures are needed to protect endangered marine life and to stop the dumping of pollutants. Recently the environmental group Conservation International brought together scientists, business leaders, and government officials from all over the world, to set out a blueprint for global action. But while this and other environmental groups are sounding alarm bells and calling for rapid changes, there are voices of dissent. In the first of a three-part series, Catherine Drew reports from Baja California, Mexico.

[The sound of fisherman at sea with their boat motors in the background.]

CATHERINE DREW: Local fishermen return to port in Cabo San Lucas, a sun-drenched small town on the very southern tip of the Baja California peninsula.

[The sound of fisherman at sea with their boat motors in the background.]

DREW: The small boats are unloaded of their tourists and any fish they may have caught. On this particular afternoon, two tourists can be seen proudly displaying a 120-pound marlin, which is taken to the dockside weighing station, before being carted off to be stuffed and mounted. Mexico’s sparkling Sea of Cortez provides an alluring backdrop for a conference about the state of the world’s seas. However, looks can be deceptive, according to the experts gathered here .

DR. SYLVIA EARLE: We are in a shocking crisis at this point, in terms of the ocean.

DREW: Dr. Sylvia Earle, explorer in residence with the National Geographic Society and executive director of Conservation International’s Global Marine Program, is a world renowned oceanographer and undersea explorer.

DR. EARLE: We’ve been complacent, largely ignorant of the fact that the ocean is in trouble. It’s a wake-up call that we’ve been getting just in the last few months, the last couple of years, that the ocean does not have an infinite capacity to yield to us what we would like to extract. It does not have an infinite capacity to absorb what we dump into it.

DREW: Dr. Earle says that over decades, the combination of taking millions of tons of wildlife from the seas, while at the same time dumping millions of tons of pollutants has led to today’s crisis. One of the recent wake-up calls Dr. Earl is referring to is a scientific study that concluded 90 percent of the world’s large predatory fish—shark, tuna, marlin, and many more—have been wiped out in the past 50 years by commercial fishing. That study caused a stir when it was published in the science journal Nature. However, commercial fishing interests have taken issue not only with this study, but what they call the misleading statements from conservationists and oceanographers. Linda Candler is spokeswoman for the National Fisheries Institute, a trade association representing American fish and seafood businesses from the sea to the table.

LINDA CANDLER: The dire predictions and portraits that are painted of the condition of the oceans right now are very overstated. The oceans are actually in good shape, fisheries certainly are in better shape than they’ve been in a number of years. And that’s according to international regulatory bodies like the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.

DREW: Ms. Candler takes particular issue with the claims that 90 percent of large predatory fish have disappeared, insisting the research is questionable and misleading. She says the health of fish stocks must be judged within a food production system, not measured against pre-commercial fishing levels.

CANDLER: That’s tantamount to saying that “We’re going to stop farming by 50 per cent because that land used to be forest and meadows.” It would be impossible. We couldn’t produce enough food.

DREW: Other oceanographers are quick to note that over fishing and illegal fishing are only part of the problem. Population growth, coastal development, and urban sprawl, industrial and agricultural pollution, and habitat destruction are also potent forces affecting sea life. Of particular concern to the conservation groups gathered in Mexico is the 60 per cent of ocean that is considered to be international waters. Conservation International and it’s partners are calling for a world ocean public trust to ensure these waters are managed and don’t continue to be a fishing and dumping ground free for all. The National Fisheries Institute says these areas are adequately managed by the United Nations as well as many other multi-lateral organizations, and that more bureaucracy would not help.

[The sound of crashing waves.]

DREW: Recently, the independent Pew Oceans Commission completed a three-year study of America’s coastlines and oceans. The researchers cited coastal sprawl, pollution, and invasive species as particular threats to US oceans. The report claimed the root cause of the crisis was the failure of the US government to recognize that activities hundreds of miles inland will affect coastal ecosystems. Many oceanographers, like Dr. Sylvia Earle, say such findings could apply to almost every other country, particularly the poorer ones, which often cannot afford the luxury of conservation, or even studying the state of their seas. Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the famous undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, runs the conservation group, the Ocean’s Futures Society. He says addressing global inequality and third world poverty lie at the heart of the environmental challenges to the world’s oceans.

JEAN-MICHEL COUSTEAU: I’m convinced that when it comes to fisheries, you can have all the regulations in the world. If you have one and a half billion people starving, they will never comply with anything we come up with because they are so busy trying to make a living, figuring out how they’re gonna feed their kids today and tomorrow, not a year or 10 years from now. So we also have to be realistic. What can be done versus what is utopic. It’s tough, it’s a tough one. Let’s not forget that the industrial nations are responsible for the majority of all pollution issues.

DREW: That view is wholeheartedly endorsed by Indonesia’s Minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Dr. Rohkmin Dahuri, who attended the conference in Mexico. Indonesia, a developing nation comprising 17,000 islands, hosts one of the richest marine bio-diversity ecosystems in the world. Dr. Dahuri argues that while the first world must help developing nations with conservation efforts, rich nations must also be realistic about the world’s resources.

DR. ROHKMIN DAHURI: We have to entice or persuade people in developed nations, like in North America, Europe, Japan, Australia, and other developed nations, to honestly reduce their consumption rate. So I think we have to change the fear of a new system of developed nations and developing nations. It should be shared to enjoy the bounty of nature between developed and developing nations.

DREW: While oceanographers may argue amongst themselves as to conservation priorities, there was a consensus from the conference that too little is known about many marine ecosystems, with research needed to identify priority areas, and extend marine reserve areas off-limits to fishermen. The group also agreed a global education campaign is needed to shatter the myth that the ocean has a limitless ability to withstand human neglect and abuse. The Mexico gathering ended with an acknowledgment that this meeting was just the beginning of a movement that will have to grow to include many other voices from developing nations and other interested groups, particularly the commercial fishing industry. For Common Ground, I’m Catherine Drew, in Cabos San Lucas, Mexico.

[Musical interlude]

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Freshwater Year

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MCHUGH: When you’re thirsty you most likely go to the kitchen tap and simply get a drink of water. However, in much of the developing world it’s a different story. The United Nations estimates one-sixth of the world’s population doesn’t have access to safe water. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has proclaimed this “The International Year of Freshwater” to call attention to the problem. Common Ground’s Cliff Brockman talked to Manuel Dango of the UN, Ingvar Andersson from the UN Development Program, and Eirah Gorre-Dale of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council about the scope of the situation and efforts to solve the problem.

INGVAR ANDERSSON: It’s estimated that 1.1 billion people don’t have access to safe water, a service we take for granted in our part of the world.

BROCKMAN: Ingvar Andersson is a Senior Water Policy Advisor at the UN Development Program.

ANDERSON: Even more people—roughly 2. 5 billion people—lack access to basic sanitation. And that means people don’t have any means really to maintain good personal hygiene. And this results in a large number of deaths per year, affecting poor people, and especially children. And this is about 2.2 million die every year in developing countries from water-related disease. Disease is easily prevented if you can provide clean water.

BROCKMAN: Manuel Dingo, the UN currently estimates $30 billion a year is spent worldwide on meeting water supplies. How much do we need to spend?

MANUEL DANGO: To get to the real problem, what you have to do is go on a case by case, country by country basis. Because all these, you know, big global figures, what they do is scare people out of solving the problem. If we approach it at more local, community by community basis, it can be solved. Of course it requires the participation of all. It’s not something that the international community can solve. No. It requires the participation of the local government, of the local community. And of the persons themselves.

BROCKMAN: Are you optimistic that everybody can get together to solve this?

DANGO: We have seen a change in, in attitude. Governments are first of all recognizing that they cannot be the provider of all the solutions, that they have to have partners in solving this problem. Partners coming from civil society, partners coming from the private sector, partners coming from, from NGO’s and, and the community itself. The community has to organize itself to help solving the problem.

BROCKMAN: Eirah Gorre-Dale, what can an individual in the United States or anywhere in the world do to help with this problem?

EIRAH GORRE-DALE: The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council has launched what its called the “WASH” campaign, which stands for Water, Sanitation And Hygiene. And it is an effort by the members of the Council—it’s spread out in 140 countries—to enlist the support of every citizen, every politician, decision maker, engineer, you know, businessman, and just everybody who can make a difference in order to improve the situation of especially the less fortunate among us. We have a responsibility and an obligation to help our fellow citizens to get out of this poverty. There can be no sustainable development or no progress for any nation without addressing these vital issues of providing safe water, basic sanitation, and hygiene. These are basic services and they are also basic human rights to which everyone is entitled.

Each citizen can speak up more. You know, they can write. They can enlist the support of their leaders, their mayors, their senators, their member of parliament. There is a lot to do. The United Nations can do more research, monitor the progress, provide assistance to developing countries, to communities. We have known from our various activities in the past years that communities who act together, who, who do not wait for government to act, can make a difference. I mean, we have found in Midnapur, India, in Sulabh, the experience there, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in some, you know, little communities in Africa, that where government has enabled, empowered the community to take matters into their own hands and make decisions as to the water and sanitation and hygiene services that they can have access to. So we know it is possible. The international community just, I think has to get its act together. Because at the moment, you know, there’s a lot of duplication of, I would say even assistance. We are talking right now of $10 billion being spent, in other words being invested, to provide these services in the developing world. And we need at least a doubling of that investment in order to provide this basic level of service.

BROCKMAN: Eirah Gorre-Dale is with an international organization called the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council. I also spoke with Manuel Dango, the Chief of the Water and Natural Resources Branch of the Division for Sustainable Development of the United Nations, and Ingvar Andersson, a Senior Water Policy Advisor at the UN Development Program. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

[Musical interlude]

PORTER: Coming up next, St. Petersburg’s controversial renovation. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

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Beneath St. Petersburg

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PORTER: Russia’s St. Petersburg is a historic and cultural icon. The national government spent millions of rubles to prepare for the city’s 300th birthday celebration. But as Denis Lefkovich reports, the rehabilitation of St. Petersburg is controversial.

[The sounds of celebration—applause, cheering, brass bands.]

DENIS LEVKOVICH: The sounds of St. Petersburg, marking the 300th anniversary of its creation by Russian Tsar Peter the Great. The festivities were indeed impressive. Residents and their numerous guests were treated to an amazing cocktail of parades, theatrical shows, and of course the sights of St. Pete’s beautiful historic downtown that Russians call their “Northern Venice.”

[The sounds of celebration—applause, cheering, brass bands.]

LEVKOVICH: St. Petersburg was originally built on a swamp. And with only 48 sunny days a year, chilly weather, and high humidity it takes more than a smile to keep the city in a good shape. In fact it takes a lot of money—something this city is constantly short of. So when the Russian government and President Putin himself announced that the city would be renovated for this year’s celebrations, people here were ecstatic. Their hopes of having roads they could actually drive on, sidewalks cleared of litter, and new heating systems for their buildings were coming true. Or were they? It appears the government had something completely different in mind. The city indeed received a healthy injection of funds—nearly $1 billion US. But instead of investing in the city’s needs, the money was, as a popular Russian proverb goes, “thrown to the wind,” quite literally. An estimated half a million dollars alone was spent on so called “cloud busters”—airplanes designed for the sole purpose of dispersing clouds so that the numerous VIP’s attending the festivities could enjoy two extra days of sunshine.

[The sound of street traffic and cars driving over potholes.]

LEVKOVICH: The streets of St. Petersburg were dressed for the occasion with fresh asphalt, but only those streets which were on the route of the distinguished guests’ corteges. Some of the roads were paved in such a rush that road workers didn’t even have time to dismantle the old tram tracks. The new road surface was laid right over them. How long these roads are going to last is anybody’s guess. But the paramount of this show-off, or as Russians would say, “Potemkin village” approach are the renovated facades. Some of the buildings were painted during Russia’s freezing winter, so by the time the celebrations came around the paint was flaking off. So the buildings were repainted overnight and the houses that were in such bad shape they couldn’t hold the fresh paint were covered with large pieces of canvas with pretty green buildings painted on them. The accusations fell on the celebration committee. However, the committee’s head, Natalia Batazhok, seemed to be unfazed.

NATALIA BATAZHOK: No. In one moment we have no possibility to do all things. So we were to choose 70 buildings—so not we, but our president, he was to choose, I was to choose. So 70 objects, 70 buildings, it’s not a small count. It’s not a problem of celebration because we spent only sponsor’s money. Only sponsor’s. So we can’t say to somebody that “You must repair something.”

[The sound of tour guides’ boats on St. Petersburg’s canals.]

LEVKOVICH: But many residents of St. Petersburg feel left out. Konstantin Petrov runs a small tourist business. He’s the lucky owner of a small 20-foot boat that takes visitors on a scenic tour of the “Northern Venice” canals.

KONSTANTIN PETROV: [via a translator] It feels as if these celebrations are being put on for someone else, not for the people of our city. So much money is being spent! We’d love to have at least some of those funds spent on our needs, like getting people out of communal apartments. People are not in a mood to celebrate.

LEVKOVICH: And Konstantin is not alone in his skepticism. In fact, many complained that the high level summits that coincided with the weekend of celebrations brought more trouble then they were worth.

[The sound of street traffic.]

LEVKOVICH: The raised level of security and traffic diversions caused numerous traffic jams. People couldn’t get downtown. And those who did struggled to get back out to their homes. And to add insult to injury, just days before the celebrations began, people here found out that some of the celebration funds were missing. But Natalia Batazhok of the organizing committee is unaware of any misused funds.

NATALIA BATAZHOK: For example, somebody said that, “This road must be cheaper. And you have spent more money.” Maybe we have spent more than people are thinking. And for me, it’s not interesting what the people are saying. I am responsible. Our president is responsible. Specialists are responsible. So we’re responsible. We must do.

[The sound of celebration, featuring classical Russian music.]

LEVKOVICH: Still, the noisy celebration weekend suggested that the people of St. Petersburg were still glad they had the holiday. Back on the “North Venice” canals, pleasure boat captain Konstantin summarized his compatriots’ opinions.

KONSTANTIN: [via a translator] The 300th anniversary is great! We’d love to celebrate the 400th anniversary next year and the 500th the year after. Then maybe something will change in our city.

LEVKOVICH: For Common Ground, I’m Denis Levkovich in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security