, (Tierramérica).- In an effort to attend to the problems of hunger and malnutrition, among others, the United Nations General Assembly on Oct. 31 declared 2004 the International Year of Rice. Sixty percent of the world's 1.3 billion poor live in Asia, and rice is their principal sustenance.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it is urgent to boost rice supplies, given the growing demand by a population with very limited income and whose numbers are growing exponentially.
A study by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) states that the average person in countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam and Burma consume 150 to 200 kilos of rice a year, representing two-thirds or more of their daily calorie intake and approximately 60 percent of their daily protein consumption. "For the poorest, rice is a luxury," says the study.
Among the notable characteristics of this cereal is its low level of sodium and zero cholesterol. Rice is also an important source of vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin and niacin) and minerals (phosphorous, iron and potassium). Rice also has limited amounts of protein, containing eight amino acids essential for the human body.
Worldwide, more than 585 million metric tons of rice were produced in 2001, 84 percent in Asian countries. The vast majority of consumers are in Asia (91 percent). Latin America represents 3.7 percent of consumption and Africa 3.4 percent.
The prediction that growing demands for rice will outstrip production has led organizations like FAO to support the development and cultivation of hybrid rice, produced by cross-pollination of two species. Hybrid varieties discovered in 1974 by Chinese scientists currently produce 15 to 20 percent more than traditional varieties.
Accompanying poverty is malnutrition. According to figures from the non-governmental Bread for the World Institute, there are 840 million people suffering malnutrition worldwide. Of that total, more than 95 percent live in developing countries and more than 153 million are five years old or younger. An estimated six million of these young children die of hunger each year.
Land, water and labor resources are on the decline in rice producing countries, there are those who put forth other arguments in the world hunger debate.
The World Health Organization, for one, states that hunger is the result of poor distribution and inequality, not the lack of food."
Belated Sanitation Alert
MONTEVIDEO, (Tierramérica).- The sanitation alarm sounded by Uruguayan authorities last week in the southern Ciudad de la Costa, the country's fastest growing urban center, came two years after residents, experts and activists warned of the problem.
The National Environmental Directorate (DINAMA) announced Oct. 27 that the city's sanitation system is on the verge of collapse. Ciudad de la Costa, outside Montevideo, grew from 34,400 people in 1985 to nearly 80,000 today -- and does not have an operational sanitation network.
This situation was denounced by hospital authorities in 2000, and even before by neighborhood groups and water experts, Carlos Surroca, of the environmental group REDES, told Tierramérica.
Sewage is contaminating the underground water reservoirs and causing health problems. And high levels of fecal matter are found in the area's beaches on the Rio de la Plata, according to DINAMA.
On War Footing for Gold Mining Project
LIMA, (Tierramérica).- The Canadian mining company Manhattan, backed by Peru's Ministry of Energy and Mines, called off the Nov. 7 public hearing on its gold exploitation plan for the northern city of Tambogrande after the mayor announced a general strike to protest the project.
Tambogrande is the capital of the valley of the same name, the country's leading fruit-producing region, with 45,000 hectares of citrus and mangos destined for export.
Underneath the city are gold deposits estimated to be worth 1.2 billion dollars. Mining the ore would require relocating more than half of the inhabitants, tearing down 22 city blocks.
Mayor Francisco Ojeda announced the general strike for Tambogrande, where 98 percent of the peasant farmers polled say they oppose the project, although Manhattan promises jobs and better housing.
The Disappearing Amphibians
SAN JOSE, (Tierramérica).- Populations of 23 species of frogs and toads in Costa Rica have decreased, and 11 could become extinct, according to the studies conducted by biologists Gerardo Chaves and Federico Bolaños, from Costa Rica's National University.
In the northwestern cloud forest reserve of Monteverde, 20 species have disappeared, such as the golden toad (Bufo periglenes).
And in the Talamanca mountain range, one of the areas of greatest biodiversity, 26 species have seen sharp reductions or disappeared.
The causes are not clear, but could be related to climate fluctuations, contamination, introduction of exotic species, solar radiation or disease, say the experts.
Costa Rica is home to 182 species of amphibians, representing four percent of the world total.
Monitoring Caribbean Reefs
GUATEMALA CITY, (Tierramérica).- Guatemala's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources this month delivered aquatic research equipment for monitoring the Mesoamerican Reef System, which extends along the Caribbean coast from the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, to Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.
Three boats, dissection equipment, scuba gear, multiwave radios, microscopes and other material will be used by biologists and reef experts from the four countries of the region, and from European countries as well as the United States, ministry spokesman Sergio del Aguila told Tierramérica.
The monitoring efforts will take place between Manabique Point in Guatemala and Sarstun in Belize.
"Monitoring will allow us to gather data about reproduction, dissemination of larvae and re-population of coral, fish and other components of the reefs, in order to deepen our knowledge of the ties between these and other marine environments," said Del Aguila.
Ecological Museum Promoted
TEGUCIGALPA, (Tierramérica).- Residents and officials in the northern Honduran region of Choloma are promoting the creation of an ecological museum near Ticamaya Lagoon in order to protect marine species and promote tourism.
Choloma Mayor Sandra Deras told Tierramérica that the project has a price tag of 147,000 dollars and will be presented to the government for financing through international cooperation.
Feasibility studies are currently underway. In the two hectares set aside for the park, the municipal government has launched a clean-up effort in Ticamaya, one of the country's "ecological jewels".
Parrots, crocodiles, 'guaras' and other species will be part of the eco-museum, the second such institution in Honduras.
The first is in Islas de la Bahía, in the Caribbean, under private management and focusing on marine species and coral reefs.
BUENOS AIRES, (Tierramérica).- - The environmental watchdog Greenpeace alerted the governments of Argentina and Chile about a nuclear waste shipment that left Australia last week and could pass through Cape Horn, a threat to the territorial waters of both countries.
The "Fret Moselle" departed the port of Australia's Botany Bay last Monday with five containers of radioactive waste from the Lucas Heights nuclear power plant, and is to arrive in December in France, where the load will be treated at the Cogema plant.
Although the Australian and French authorities refused to reveal the route that the freighter is to take, it would have to pass either through the Cape of Good Hope, in southern Africa, or South America's Cape Horn.
The Argentine constitution prohibits the passage of nuclear waste through its territorial waters.
In January 2001, the "Pacific Swan" followed a path near the South American coasts in its journey from Japan to France. By the time the Argentine and Chilean governments demanded that the nuclear waste carrying vessel avoid their territorial waters, it had already passed through them. *Source: Inter Press Service.
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