Back to Common Ground Archive

Week of October 28, 2003

Program 0343


Bush on Asia | Transcript | MP3

Disappearing Languages | Transcript | MP3

Somaliland: Edna’s Hospital | Transcript | MP3

Destination: Baltimore | Transcript | MP3

Sustainable Development Results | Transcript | MP3

Childhood Environmental Dangers | Transcript | MP3

Damascus Jazz | 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: So, I’ve decided to come with a new strategy, and that is, rather than just the United States being the interlocutor with North Korea, we convince others in the neighborhood, like the Chinese and the Russians and the Japanese and the South Koreans. And we’re moving along.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, President Bush reflects on his recent trip to Asia.

KEITH PORTER: Plus, the world’s disappearing languages.

DANNY ABRAMS: There are a few examples of cases where a language has begun to decline and it’s been slowed or stopped by an active response on the part of a government.

PORTER: And our Destination Spotlight shines on Baltimore’s ethnic communities.

CLERK AT SOFIA’S PLACE, A POLISH DELI IN FELL’S POINT, BALTIMORE: Pirogies is stuffed dough with sauerkraut, cheese, potatoes—whatever you want in it—and the recipe comes from Poland.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page

Bush on Asia

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Security and economic issues were on the minds of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping when they met in Bangkok, Thailand recently. The summit was one of a number of stops in the region for President George Bush. Common Ground‘s Malcolm Brown asked the President for his thoughts on a number of big issues in Asia.

MALCOLM BROWN: More than a year has passed since bomb attacks on the Indonesian island of Bali claimed over 200 lives. Members of the Jemaah Islamiyah group—blamed for the attack—have been arrested and convicted. But JI, as it’s known, is also thought responsible for the August bombing of the JW Marriott hotel in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. Speaking in the White House library, President Bush warned of a continuing danger.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Of course we’re concerned about terrorism in the region, because, after all, there’s been attacks in the region. I remind our own citizens here that we’re still focused on September the 11th as kind of the defining terrorist moment, but there have been a lot of attacks and the Bali bombing is a classic example of the terrorist activities, and that happens to come in Southeast Asia.

BROWN: Going in to the APEC summit, the US message to nations in the region was to remain resolute in the ongoing war on terrorism. At the same time, President Bush is trying to drum up more support for American-led reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

[Now Mr. Brown is directly questioning the President]

Mr. President, have your APEC partners done enough to help the United States in Iraq?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, we can always use more. We’re out there working hard to convince others to participate in the reconstruction effort of Iraq. It’s in their interests that Iraq be free and peaceful. And the reason it is, is because the region needs democracy. The region needs an example of what can happen in a peaceful society. The region needs something alternative to a type of society which breeds terrorism. And I firmly believe that Iraq will emerge to be that example and that leader.

BROWN: In Tokyo, on the first stop of his trip, President Bush thanked Japan for its pledge of $1.5 billion. Competing for attention at the APEC gathering were concerns about North Korea, which – just before the summit hinted that it might carry out a nuclear test. The self-proclaimed advances in Pyongyang’s weapons program could serve to further highlight the contrast between the US approach to Iraq and its North Korean policy, which relies on diplomacy.

[Now Mr. Brown is directly questioning the President]

Clearly the region is also concerned about North Korea. You’ve described Saddam Hussein as a madman and a danger, and he was deposed by force. You’ve also said that you loathe Kim Jong-Il, and he has a known nuclear program. Why this disparity?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Because, first of all, remember in Iraq, we spent 11 years or so worth of resolutions and discussions and diplomacy trying to convince Saddam Hussein to disarm. He chose not to. I believe we can solve the issue on the North Korean—with the North Korean issue—on the Korean Peninsula peacefully. And as a matter of fact, we’re making great strides toward that. You might remember, up until recent history, the whole issue is, the United States and North Korea. And the government signed an agreement with North Korea and they didn’t tell the truth. And so I’ve decided to come with a new strategy, and that is, rather than just the United States being the interlocutor with North Korea, we convince others in the neighborhood, like the Chinese and the Russians and the Japanese and the South Koreans. And we’re moving along. This will be a major part of our discussions in APEC, to keep this group together, to speak with one voice, and that is, to Kim Jong-Il, “Get rid of your nuclear ambitions.” You know, “No nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.” It’s in all our interests we do so. And we’re making progress. Now he’s hearing at least five voices, not just one. And I believe this can be solved peacefully. Force is the last resort for the United States, not the first resort. It’s the last option. And I’m very hopeful that we can make good progress on this issue.

BROWN: While in Bangkok, President Bush said he would be willing to provide some kind of security assurance to North Korea, although not a formal treaty, in return for an end to its nuclear program. The approach was discussed in a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jin Tao??, in light of Beijing’s unique influence with North Korea. President Bush also raised Washington’s concerns about the value of China’s currency, which is getting much of the blame for the huge US trade deficit with China. Growing economic clout isn’t the only reason that China’s getting more attention. I spoke to President Bush on the eve of China’s historic space launch.

[Now Mr. Brown is directly questioning the President]

On China, how do you see their space program? Is it a threat to the US?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: No, it’s an interesting development. I don’t necessarily see it as a threat. I think it’s a country that’s now beginning to emerge as a sophisticated country. And it’s got great potential. And I think it’s interesting. And, I, you know, would hope that if they are able to make discoveries in space, like we did, that will, you know, the technology that will come out of that will help mankind. And so, no, I don’t view it as a threat.

BROWN: And the next day, China became only the third nation in history to put a human into orbit. For Common Ground, I’m Malcolm Brown in Washington.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page

Disappearing Languages

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: Somewhere between 50 and 90 percent of the world’s 6,000 languages are in danger of dying out, possibly with the current generation. A new study published in the journal Nature has found that the social status of a language may be the most important factor determining whether it will survive. The unusual thing is that this study, by Danny Abrams and Steven Strogatz from Cornell University, used math to study language. Judith Smelser asked lead author Danny Abrams why an applied mathematics Ph.D. candidate was dabbling in the field of linguistics.

DANNY ABRAMS: I actually received a fellowship to do interdisciplinary work for my first two years, and this project is the result of that fellowship. I was looking for something that I could apply some quantitative techniques to that is normally maybe seen as a field, as a softer science such as linguistics.

JUDITH SMELSER: And through working with that different sort of medium, your study found a new leading cause of language death that hasn’t been discussed very much in past studies, and that’s the social status of the language. Tell me a little about what you mean by that and how it affects a language’s ultimate fate.

ABRAMS: The status of a language has been recognized before in the linguistics literature as an important factor in determining whether people will continue to speak that language, but it’s always been discussed in the sense of case studies or in the sense of kind of a qualitative idea of what makes people want to speak a language. But the difference is in, my study is I think the first quantitative view of this concept.

SMELSER: And your study found that concept of status to be very important, I know. In fact you found that nearly every language in decline has a low social status. Now, you did some field research for this report too, I understand, in South America. What was that like—seeing your numbers and formulas playing out in real life?

ABRAMS: I did travel and collect some of my own data for one language, which is Quechua; it’s called Quechua. It’s the former language of the Incan empire. It’s still spoken by about 10 million people throughout the Andes in South America, the Andes regions.

[The sound of a song sung in Quechua]

ABRAMS: And I experienced first hand the sad sight of a language that is, that is on the verge of disappearance. Although Quechua is considered one of the most healthy indigenous languages of the Americas—it’s the largest—it unfortunately is disappearing very quickly because children and young people are not learning it. They associate it with rural areas and with farmers and with an older lifestyle that they don’t want to be a part of, and for that reason, all the adults in many of the cities in Peru and Bolivia and Ecuador can understand Quechua, but their children might not be able to, and it can be as extreme as the children not being able to communicate with grandparents who are monolingual—grandparents that are monolingual in Quechua and grandchildren that are monolingual in Spanish.

SMELSER: Did you see evidence in South America of Quechua having a low social status, like your mathematical model would suggest? For example is it hard for Quechua speakers to get jobs there?

ABRAMS: I certainly think that, that’s a big part of it. The truth is if a monolingual speaker of Quechua today really does not have any opportunity to at least find work in a city as a monolingual speaker of Quechua. Or there’s very few opportunities, if there are any. Also, education is difficult to find in Quechua; there are a few programs that have been started recently, but it’s difficult to find. And there’s no, very few published books in Quechua, very few TV shows in Quechua, so I think all these things are indicators and possibly causes of the low prestige of the language.

SMELSER: You suggest in your study that it is possible to prevent a language from dying out. How could this be done?

ABRAMS: Well, there are a few examples of cases where a language has begun to decline and it’s been slowed or stopped by an active response on the part of a government or groups that want to prevent the loss. One good example is French in Quebec. About 25 years ago, French was dropping fairly quickly in the Quebec region of Canada. But Canada passed—or Quebec passed—a series of laws that required publications in French whenever something was published in English. They also required education in French and they paid for advertising to increase the status of French in the sense that it would encourage people to take pride in the French language in Quebec. And this had a good effect. It really did slow down and has now stopped the decline of French in Quebec.

SMELSER: Two examples you give of languages that are under threat are Welsh and Scotch Gaelic. Those of course being languages that are spoken in the United Kingdom. And there are, I know, radio stations in Wales and in Scotland that broadcast solely in those languages. For example, BBC Radio Cumry in Wales.

[The sound of the radio broadcast in the Welsh language]

SMELSER: Do you think that’s the kind of thing that could help raise the social status of a language and help bring it back from the brink of extinction?

ABRAMS: I think that’s a very good first step. I think one of the common features of this problem is that languages that are dying are often associated with, with an older world. They’re not associated with modern technology and modern occupations. And so when you put a language like Welsh or Scotch Gaelic on the radio, at least it sends the message that it is still part of a modern world, and I think it can help increase the status. But of course it’s just one step in a process that really requires a lot of dedication if you really want to stop the decline of a language.

PORTER: Danny Abrams is a Ph.D. student in Cornell University’s Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. His study on language death was published in the August 21st issue of Nature.

PORTER: A trip Edna’s Hospital in Somaliland, next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page

Somaliland: Edna’s Hospital

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: Somali women, whether in Somalia or the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, have the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world. In Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, much of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed during the civil war of the early 1990’s. Despite reconstruction, health facilities remain limited. But there are signs of progress. A new maternity and pediatric hospital has opened in Hargeisa. Rupert Cook tours this new hospital in the second of his two reports on Somaliland.

[With background sounds of Mr. Cook walking through Edna’s Hospital]

COOK: Well, I’m in the center of Hargeisa at Edna’s Hospital, which is a maternity hospital, pediatric hospital. I think it’s probably the cleanest hospital I’ve seen in Africa. I’m about to go into one of the recovery rooms.

HOSPITAL PATIENT: [summarized by a translator] She went to a money hospital but she thought this is the best hospital in Hargeisa right now. We have. And she met a lot of good staff and first of these people, Mrs. Edna, and she appreciated all help she get in this hospital.

RUPERT COOK: Patients in the Edna Adan Ismail Maternity and Pediatric hospital are fortunate. Until Edna’s hospital opened in the spring of last year, most expectant mothers had extremely limited access to health care in the case of complications at birth. The hospital’s founder, Edna Adan Ismail, is a well known figure to the three million people of Somaliland. Currently Somaliland’s Foreign Minister, in the 1970’s, Edna became the driving force behind the widespread recruitment of female nurses and mid-wives, as well as the leading opponent of female genital mutilation.

EDNA ADAM ISMAIL: Somali women have always had the worst survival right of any women in the world. Even before the war Somali women fared the worst during childbirth and pregnancy. Being a health worker myself I saw what my country was like, I saw what my hometown, Hargeisa, was like. And I just recycled my whole life—my Mercedes, my jewelry, whatever, was just turned into cash and converted into this hospital. And I have no regrets. I don’t have any children. This is my life, this is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m back in my hometown, in my country. I’m 65 years old and I’m doing exactly what I want to do and I think I’m making a difference in the lives of many people because we’ve assisted over 700 babies here. A good number of these children and their mothers would not have been alive had we not had Caesarean section facilities, if blood transfusion facilities had not been in place, if trained staff were not here to receive them and assist them during these difficult times, many of these people would have been dead.

COOK: After several years of working in the 1990’s as a senior official of the World Health Organization, on retirement Edna was able to channel her substantial pension into the founding of the hospital. In addition support from local businessmen and the Somaliland Diaspora was crucial. Rakiya Omar is director of the NGO, African Rights. She also currently lives in Hargeisa.

RAKIYA OMAR: Somalis both in the Diaspora and here in Somaliland contributed to the building of the Edna Maternity Hospital. The help was sometimes in terms of financial contributions. Some people brought bricks, some people brought other building materials. But there was a really, a sense that this is our hospital, this is a hospital for our town. And so there’s a real sense of ownership.

COOK: Despite its relative political stability, Somaliland’s status as an internationally unrecognized state since its unilateral secession from Somalia in 1991, has meant that the country receives minimal outside developmental aid. Support from the Somaliland Diaspora has been vital for the building and rehabilitation of infrastructure, both in terms of funding and personnel.

NASREEN: Hello, my name is Nasreen. I’m from the United States. I’m a nurse, registered nurse.

COOK: You lived in the United States and were part of the Somali Diaspora. And you chose to come back to Somaliland to work here in this hospital, in Edna’s Hospital. Why?

NASREEN: I decided to come back because I thought it’s a wonderful to come back home after all these years. I get the education and training. I came to help the community. I thought it’s a good, wonderful to help somebody in need.

COOK: Besides caring for its patients, the hospital also has an ambitious program of training for young nurses.

EDNA ADAM ISMAIL: We have the first training, nursing training program in the country since 1986. We have 30 young ladies in training at the moment. We have one more year to go. They are wonderful, motivated, hard working, keen, interested young ladies who are a pleasure to teach and who are a pride to our society. My greatest wish is that I would find scholarships for the first top five students to seek education in some other world institutions of learning. Many of them are from poor families. We will not be able to cover their scholarship but they’re worth every single penny. And if I were to be nursed today I would have one of them nurse me.

[Sounds from Mr. Cook walking through the hospital]

SYLVA HASSAN: My name is Sylva Hassan. I am one of the students in nursing at the Edna Hospital Maternity.

COOK: And why did you decide to become a student nurse here?

SYLVA HASSAN: I decided when I finished in high school I liked to enjoy a healthcare worker. And I want to continue my education until I finish it. When I finish a nurse I would like to be a doctor in another country of the world.

COOK: Thanks very much. And I’m sure that you will become a very, very good doctor. For Common Ground, I’m Rupert Cook, in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page

Destination: Baltimore

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: Baltimore, Maryland is intimately bound up with the sea, and in particular two historic harbor-side communities: Fell’s Point, where Baltimore’s earliest arrivals first landed, and Locust Point. Today, Baltimore is a patchwork of ethnic communities with strong ties to the past. As part of our occasional Destination Spotlight series, Nina-Maria Potts spent time in Fell’s Point and Locust Point, talking to local historians and others, while checking out the local but surprisingly global scene.

[The sound of an engine from a water taxi]

NINA-MARIE POTTS: Two harbor-side communities hold the key to Baltimore’s immigration story, past and present. Locust Point, where two million immigrants are said to have first stepped ashore, and Fell’s Point, the main entry-point before the Civil War. Fell’s Point, named for an English shipbuilder, William Fell, was founded as a colonial seaport in 1763. Today, Fell’s Point is a local landmark, known across Maryland as a bohemian, funky district where antique shops and art galleries share cobbled streets with brew-houses and bakeries. Yet, Baltimore’s harbor is very much a working harbor, its charms gritty rather than postcard perfect. On this weekday morning, tugs chug up and down, and ferries crisscross the water, carrying commuters to work. I am catching a water taxi between Fell’s Point and Locust Point, and the captain sees me safely aboard

[The tug captain helps Ms. Potts aboard, while the engine sounds continue in the background]

POTTS: The water is calm, and Baltimore’s shore line is a mismatch of old industrial buildings and tall office blocks. Docks and tankers can be seen further down the harbor. Ellen Von Karajan, who works on the Baltimore Immigration Project, set out to chart the city’s relatively unknown immigration story, which she says, begins with Fell’s Point and Locust Point.

ELLEN VON KARAJAN: We see these two locations as sort of information places where we can send people out into the larger community, because Baltimore, unlike some of the other major ports, we still have a lot of the built environment, the actual places are still left.

POTTS: Bill Streuver is a property developer who specializes in re-interpreting that built environment. His offices are housed in a former Procter and Gamble factory, where Tide detergent was first made. Next door is the former site of Locust Point’s immigration piers, which he hopes, will be restored and exhibited as part of a planned immigration park. He says the site is perfect, not least because it’s near Fort McHenry, the legendary symbol of American resistance in the war of 1812, immortalized in the national anthem. Bill Streuver compares the city’s immigrant history with that of New York. He explains how it would have looked, decades ago:

BILL STREUVER: Coming past Fort McHenry instead of the Statue of Liberty, to Locust Point, and then they’d get processed and hop on the little ferry and head over to Fell’s Point, which is the oldest part of Baltimore. And at the time was this incredible hubbub, of sailors and bars. And to this day Fell’s Point retains much of that marvelous idiosyncratic kind of energy that reflects to me, the American tradition.

POTTS: For Ellen Von Karajan also, Fell’s Point represents more than just a point of arrival:

VON KARAJAN: Right here in Fell’s Point we have the place where Jews were first allowed to legally worship as a group.

POTTS: The multi-ethnic neighborhoods of Locust Point and Fell’s Point are a living record of history, almost like the rings of a great tree. Dean Krimmel, a historian and independent curator, explains why.

DEAN KRIMMEL: The notion that we have the Little Italy’s, the Little Lithuania’s, and the Little Poland’s or Polonia’s, I think it happens in 20th century for the most part, when there’s large numbers of immigrants. It’s true that in the 1800s, when people settle they often cluster; there’s German settlements and there’s German Jewish settlements and there’s Irish areas in town. In Baltimore, today, for instance, you can go to a Little Italy, or you can go to Greektown. In, where we are in Locust Point, has a very, there’s a very definite ethnic American background, it’s, some of it’s German and Irish going back several generations, and in other cases it’s Polish or Hungarian. And it reflects the broad group of Europeans who come across and land here and then decide to stay in Baltimore.

POTTS: Dean Krimmel says the immigration pier at Locust Point served as a focal point, around which the city grew organically:

KRIMMEL: The neighborhood that grew up around it is about, I guess is several thousand people in two-story row houses, and it’s really a product of this great age of American industry and immigration, where the people who came here from mostly overseas, found jobs on the waterfront, in processing, in the sugar plant from the 1920s, and there was a soap factory, that we’re standing in front of, and there were, there’s the stevedoring because there’re piers lining the north shore of Locust Point. There’s the south shore. And churches and corner saloons or bars, social clubs.

POTTS: He says many of Baltimore’s ethnic communities retain their language of origin. At one time, there were seven German newspapers. There are still many languages to be seen and heard on today’s streets.

KRIMMEL: I think that the language retention and acquisition is, is extremely important for some groups, like the Poles. The Germans before them, demanded that city laws be published in German as well as English and that seemed fine with the Baltimoreans of the 1840s and ’50s. By the 1880s and early 1900s there’s a very definite strong Polish community in Fell’s Point, a waterfront community where people worked in canneries and foundries. And language is extremely important and there’s Polish language newspapers.

POTTS: At Christmas, there is a tradition of Polish carol singing and there are several Polish churches. In Fell’s Point there is an authentic Polish restaurant, and several Polish delis in Broadway Market, which was established in 1784. At the market, I am introduced to Polish cooking at Sofia’s Place, a popular deli whose large Polish flag proclaims its heritage before you even order. There is a collage of photos depicting local American-Poles who shop at the deli, from policemen to servicemen and women.

[Sounds from a busy deli]

POTTS: [speaking to a deli clerk at Sofia’s Place] What’s the specialty from this deli?


Pirogies and gouwomky. Pirogies is stuffed dough; it’s like a dough with sauerkraut, cheese, potatoes—whatever you want in it—and the recipe comes from Poland. The gouwomky is stuffed cabbage, and it’s got ground beef with rice in it, over tomato sauce.

POTTS: Just behind Broadway Market is another popular Fell’s Point meeting place, The Daily Grind Coffee Shop. Inside, medical students in scrubs and artist-types take a morning break. Here I met Geoffrey Marsh Footner, a local maritime historian. For all the restored district’s charms, he can’t help but mourn its glory days as an historic port in its own right, and a gateway to the whole world.

GEOFFREY MARSH FOOTNER: Eventually Fell’s Point became a home of multiple ethnic groups, many coming directly into Fell’s Point as industry grew here, many coming over across from Locust Point by ferry to Broadway Pier. There is no history of Fell’s Point, that studies any in depth, any of this business. Fell’s Point was replaced by Locust Point, so Fell’s Point as far as immigrants go, was forgotten. Fell’s Point as a port, was replaced by the name of Baltimore so it was forgotten.

POTTS: With this week’s Destination Spotlight, I’m Nina-Maria Potts in Fell’s Point, Baltimore.

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

[Musical interlude]

KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.

KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, controversy over the United Nation’s sustainable development plan.

LEON LOUW: The policies that enabled the first world to become the first world, the rich to become the rich, are now denied to those who are poor.

PORTER: Plus, making the environment safe for children. And, jazz, Damascus style.

FUAD BARAKAT: An Arab can enjoy it and an American can understand it because it comes to you in the way that you are used to get music.

Top of Page

Sustainable Development Results

Listen to This Segment: MP3

MCHUGH: Last year, thousands of people gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa for the UN-sponsored World Summit on Sustainable Development. The goals of the conference were broad—to promote development and poverty prevention in poor countries, while preserving the world’s resources for future generations. One year after the summit, there is still considerable disagreement in the developing world and in industrialized countries about how those objectives should be reached.

Environmental groups came into the Johannesburg meeting hoping for a new start. Andrea Durbin with Greenpeace, sets out her group’s philosophy.

ANDREA DURBIN: Greenpeace believes that we need to promote sustainable development, which recognizes that the environment, there are certain limited resources in the environment and that we cannot overuse those resources, that we need to live within our means.

PORTER: But some in the developing world resent the fact that organizations in industrialized countries are, in their view, trying to make it more difficult for them to improve their economic circumstances. Leon Louw is with the Free Market Foundation in South Africa.

LEON LOUW: The policies that enabled the first world to become the first world—the rich to become the rich—are now denied to those who are poor. Let me give you a simple example. Most of the cities in the first world, most of the big cities, are on what were once wetlands. Much of the first world was once natural forest. There is no talk to my knowledge of breaking down Rotterdam and returning it to being a swamp, or for that matter where we are right now in Washington.

PORTER: In response to that charge of hypocrisy, Greenpeace’s Andrea Durbin says there are more options available to countries that are developing now.

DURBIN: There are better, safer, cleaner technologies out there today that didn’t exist before, didn’t exist for countries like the US when we were developing, that are available today. They need to be made available, provided for the developing world so that they don’t have to develop in such a way that is polluting, that, that pollutes our air and causes health problems for communities.

PORTER: Still, leaders of developing countries say they must deal with the more pressing problem of feeding their populations before they worry about pollution and global warming. Another key goal of the Johannesburg Summit was the reduction of poverty. But again, there is disagreement on how best to do this. Before the summit, members from the Group of Eight industrialized nations agreed to provide $1 billion dollars in aid to Africa’s poorest nations. They also agreed on debt relief for some African countries as well. Earlier this year, President Bush praised those types of programs.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: 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 compassionate, in my judgment.

PORTER: But not everyone in Africa believes foreign aid is best for the African people. James Shikwati with the Inter Region Economic Network in Kenya says aid forces governments to be more responsive to the donor nations than to their own populations.

JAMES SHIKWATI: We know what the government is going through. It has to answer to several people. It is ignoring the population because we don’t give it money and respecting those who give it money—the name of donor countries. And by ignoring its people it’s making it difficult for these people to be productive and even solve their own problems.

PORTER: He gives the example of a World Bank project to provide African countries with bed nets to help fight mosquitoes that may carry malaria.

SHIKWATI: If you’ve been to an area where there are mosquitoes, they don’t wait that you go to sleep first. You could be seated here and they’re busy working on you. Because the policy is donor driven, you know that you will not focus maybe on tackling the mosquito issue. Because the money’s coming for bed nets, so you’ll get all experts cheering bed nets when they know in essence bed nets will not solve their problem.

PORTER: And so, one year after the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the debate continues over how to best help the developing world out of poverty, and over whether that goal should be combined with an effort to minimize environmental damage. They’re not easy questions to answer, and many believe governments and NGOs will still be grappling with them another ten years’ time.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page

Childhood Environmental Dangers

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: The World Health Organization says three million children die around the world each year from the effects of environmental hazards. These hazards include air pollution, fumes from leaded gasoline and contaminated drinking water. Dr. Karim Ahmed of the National Council for Science and Environment tells Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman children are more susceptible than adults to environmental problems.

DR. KARIM AHMED: Well, you can divide the problems of children worldwide into two categories. One is that many children, particularly in developing countries, are exposed to a lot of biohazards, meaning bacterial contaminated water and unclean air. And so in one sense children are very vulnerable to these because they have smaller bodies to assimilate the toxins that adults may be able to withstand. Children have growing bodies that allow them not to develop in a normal sort of way. For example, lead might affect their brain development, and so on. When the World Health Organization talks about these statistics they give you actually raw death figures, whereas the number of children who actually get sick or have been irreversibly damaged may be much, much greater than that. Children have smaller bodies and for pound for pound they have to assimilate a lot of these toxins and bacterial contaminants and so on. And so they’ve become fairly great targets of these kinds of insults, environmental insults, that we particularly find in developing countries these days.

CLIFF BROCKMAN: When we think of air pollution we usually think of outdoor air pollution, but WHO, the World Health Organization, says that it’s a problem for indoor air pollution as well. Can you explain what that is?

DR. AHMED: Yes. This is particularly true in countries like China and India where they still use a lot of coal to burn for use in cooking and for home heating. In India they use a lot of biomass materials like firewood, dung, and so on. Causes a tremendous amount of smoke to be generated and what they call fine particles, which are extremely harmful.

BROCKMAN: Dirty water is also a big concern for children. The Pan-American Health Organization, the UN, and others have said that, they say it transmits diarrhea, which is the second biggest child killer in the world. What can be done to improve water quality?

DR. AHMED: Well, the World Health Organization has estimated that over a billion inhabitants in this world do not have access to safe and clean water. And about two and a half billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities. And so what happens when you have a combination of extremely polluted water and inadequate sanitation, that causes even more degradation of water sources. And so many inhabitants around the world have no other recourse but to take water from those highly contaminated systems. And, and that’s how we have such a high degree of diarrheal diseases amongst young, young inhabitants in those countries, particularly infants less than the age of five. Many of them die from these kinds of diseases that they get exposed to.

BROCKMAN: Is there something that can be done to improve water quality?

DR. AHMED: There has been a major attempt to try to bring in adequate sanitation systems in the developing world. I think combined with proper education, hygienic education—just for example, washing hands with soap might have a tremendous impact in some of these communities. And also to provide people with an understanding that they should not draw water from these areas might make a big difference. Unfortunately many times in these parts of the world they have no other recourse but to use these kinds of systems. But I think education is a major, major factor short of having enormous infusion of funds to build new sanitation systems. And to provide clean water, pipe water, for example, to people in, particularly in rural districts is quite an expensive proposition at the moment. But I think a lot more of the multilateral and bilateral agencies are putting their resources into providing clean and potable water around the world. And I think in the next couple of decades the United Nations have made a commitment that they will make safe and clean water as highest priority of all the programs that they are trying to now implement.

BROCKMAN: Many countries, especially in Asia, still use leaded gasoline. We don’t think about that perhaps in this country. But what kind of effect does that have on children?

DR. AHMED: Leaded gasoline is the one single most important issue for many parts of the world where they still are using that kind of fuel. Many countries are beginning to address this problem and the country that I am coming from, Pakistan, in the last two, three years there have been a complete phase out of leaded gasoline because of the work we have done to try to bring to the attention of policymakers and people working in industry about the long-term impact of lead in gasoline. The same thing is happening in other parts of the subcontinent. Bangladesh, India, so on. It is still not being fully implemented in some parts of Asian countries. I think there has been a worldwide awareness of this, this problem now. The World Bank and the WHO has really focused on this issue for at least the last decade. And I think as more people become aware of these issues it will be addressed. One of the highest priority of our organization right now is to see a complete phase out of leaded gasoline in all developing countries where it’s still being used.

BROCKMAN: Just for our listeners who may not be familiar with this issue, leaded gasoline, how does that impact children?

DR. AHMED: Leaded gasoline produces lead that goes into the atmosphere. And lead when it’s assimilated by young children affects their growth pattern, but most severely affects their brain. So even very low levels of lead can cause reduction in cognitive abilities. A somewhat higher concentration can cause all kinds of developmental abnormalities. And sometimes at very high concentration you can get outright fatalities from being exposed to lead.

BROCKMAN: Where environmentally speaking would you say some of the worst places are for children to live?

DR. AHMED: I think right now some of the worst places for children are some of the large mega-cities around the world. Mexico City comes to mind immediately. There are many, many areas there where the children are living in extremely degraded environment. Some of the poverty stricken areas of Rio de Janeiro, for example. There are large cities in Asia, whether it’s Bombay, Calcutta. My home town of Karachi, for example, there are many, many slums where people have no access to clean water. They have very degraded air to breathe. Then there are countries in Africa where children not only in cities but also in the rural areas are very much affected by exposure. I mentioned earlier about the fact that children who live in rural areas of India and China get exposed to high concentrations of particulate matter from inappropriate combustion sources. So some of the areas in the world which are very much affected are in the rural areas also, not just the big cities.

BROCKMAN: Many of these problems sound preventable. Just kind of in an overall manner, what can be done to improve environmental conditions?

DR. AHMED: I think that there has to be first of all a recognition on the part of health and environmental ministers and officials in these developing countries that these are, children are our future. They have to understand that by neglecting the need of children today they are basically mortgaging the future of not only themselves but the whole society. I think that’s how we have been presenting the information to policymakers where I come from. And when they begin to recognize that this is our future and we are in fact short-changing our future by not taking care of our children today, it will have enormous implications for our growth and prosperity in the future. So that’s one area.

The other I think is there has to be some involvement on the part of both multilateral and bilateral agencies to address these issues directly. The United States in recent years starting with the Clinton administration and going through the current administration, tremendous impact, effort has been made in dealing with children’s health issues by agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and others. Because they feel that this is an area of highest priority. There has been an enormous increase in childhood asthma, for example, in this country, in the United States and they don’t really know, can’t pinpoint the cause of it. There’s also a whole new class of toxic chemicals have been identified in recent years, called endocrine disrupters, that impact the developmental potential of children. So there’s a major effort to try to understand the impact on children and what the long-term consequences would be for society as a whole.

So I think there has been in the, at least in the last ten years, a major understanding about the special vulnerability of children, why we should pay more attention to their needs more than adults, for example. And how to address these questions. And, and more and more organizations are getting involved in these issues, both internationally and nationally.

CLIFF BROCKMAN: Dr. Karim Ahmed is the Director of the International Program at the National Council for Science and the Environment. He is also the founder and president of the Global Children’s Health and Environment Fund. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

PORTER: Coming up next, Middle Eastern jazz.

MCHUGH: You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

Top of Page

Damascus Jazz

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: The Middle East has a wonderful and long musical tradition, very different from that in the West. But Reese Erlich found a Syrian trumpeter who has mastered both Middle Eastern and western styles. His fusion of the two musical traditions might surprise and delight you. Erlich calls this story “When the Saints Go Marching In—to Damascus.”

[The sound of “When the Saints Go Marching In—to Damascus,” with same melody as “When the Saints Go Marching In,” but with a very strong Middle Eastern feel to it]

REESE ERLICH: As a youngster growing up in Damascus, Fuad Barakat learned middle eastern music on his grandmother’s oud, a kind of Arabic wide-bodied guitar. He later studied western classical music on the trumpet.

FUAD BARAKAT: I survived needing both of them. Equally. You can’t take your, the beauty away from a car and you can’t take it away from a horse. This is, Western music is very beautiful and the Arabic approach is very beautiful.

ERLICH: With modern technology these days it’s much easier to play both. Barakat has invited me to a small party with friends and fellow musicians to demonstrate how he fuses the music of the east and west. Barakat sits down at a normal looking keyboard, the kind used by rock bands around the world. He plays a western, major scale.

[The sound of Mr. Barakat playing piano notes in western-style music]

ERLICH: Then Barakat punches a button, and the keyboard shifts to the Middle Eastern, pentatonic scale.

BARAKAT: Pentatonic was five notes

[Mr. Barakat then plays the five piano notes of the Middle Eastern pentatonic scale]

ERLICH: Then keyboard player Said Sar takes over. He punches a few more buttons and starts up the drum machine and other instruments. But instead of a hip-hop beat with bass guitar, he brings up the tabla, oud, and accordion.

[The sound of Mr. Sar playing more orchestrated Middle Eastern-style of music]

ERLICH: Fuad Barakat lived in Houston for 16 years and earned a living playing all kinds of popular music—from polka to soft rock. But his real love is jazz. These days, back home in Damascus, he experiments with fusing middle eastern music with jazz.

BARAKAT: For example, let’s say if we take a melody like When the Saints.

[The sound of Mr. Barakat playing When the Saints Go Marching In, first in a jazz style, then in Middle Eastern-style]

ERLICH: Barakat not only plays jazz with a Middle Eastern bent. He plays popular Arabic music in a jazz style by adding swing and blue notes, the bending of notes below their normal tone. First Barakat plays an Arabic pop standard.

ERLICH: [addressing Mr. Barakat directly] What’s it called again?

BARAKAT: Talanight Tach Hamoura.

[The sound of Mr. Barakat playing Middle Eastern-style music]

BARAKAT: If we take this song, and we try to jazz it. I will do some swinging.


BARAKAT: Then I start afterwards, I will enter the, the blue notes.

[plays full jazz version]

BARAKAT: An Arab can enjoy it and an American can understand it because it comes to your, to you, in the way you are used to get music. But if I play some authentic instruments, some real, you know, ethnic instruments, like, you know, oud, you probably will not accept it the way you accept it, on, you know, with the drums, and a bass, and you know, and a guitar, and then a trumpet in solo.

ERLICH: So in a sense you are trying to bring the wealth of this music to a wider audience, in the way that you arrange it?

BARAKAT: To tell you the truth, my main goal was to enjoy myself. [laughs] I enjoy myself very much playing these songs. Suddenly to my, you know, astonishment, some people enjoyed them, too.

[The sound of Mr. Barakat’s Middle Eastern jazz]

ERLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich in Damascus.

[The sound of Mr. Barakat’s Middle Eastern jazz]

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

Top of Page