The Humanitarian Times

August 5, 1999


- FLOODS DISPLACE MILLIONS IN EAST ASIA as flash floods & mudslides hit China, Philippines, N Korea, N Thailand, Vietnam in recent weeks. In China 2m have fled their homes near the overflowed banks of the Yangtze River (Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu & Anhui provinces). In the Philippines at least 70,000 were displaced during the last 3 days after heavy rains & landslides hit the capital city: water level at Manilla’s La Mesa dam reached the overflow point; in parts of Manilla, floodwaters crested 10 feet. Approx 3m Bangladeshis have been affected by flooding so far this year.


- PEACE AGREEMENT TO END GREAT LAKES WAR OVER DEM. REP. OF CONGO was signed by Rwanda, Uganda, DROC, Zimbabwe & Angola announced that would freeze current territorial control. But rebels continued fighting continued this week as there are no plans to disarm rebel factions.

- PALESTINIAN REFUGEES IN LEBANON SEE DECLINING STANDARDS OF LIVING, as intl aid for them has decreased, & they are denied the right to work or access to health care, explains a US Committee for Refugees report released this week, "Trapped on All Sides." See

- ARMED REVOLT ERUPTS IN N.E. NAMIBIA, SOUTHERN AFRICA as secessionist rebels seek control of Caprivi Strip; aid workers were evacuated as Namibia’s President declared regional state of emergency. The Caprivi Strip is near to biodiversity-rich Okavanga Delta.

- GULBAHAR, KEY CITY IN N AFGHANISTAN, FALLS TO TALEBAN FORCES as the final battle for Afghanistan comes down to Massood’s resistance army defense of the Panjshir Valley. Surveys from around Afghanistan indicate wasting malnutrition is increasing, reports the current bulletin of the UN Refugee Nutrition Information System:


- MASS DESTRUCTION THREAT FROM NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION GROWING WORSE, finds a report submitted to the UN this week by a panel of experts organized by the Japanese Gov. US-Chinese tensions have led to global re-armamentation. The report urges ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty by N Korea, China, US, Russia, India & Israel.

- PROTOTYPE LANDMINE MONITOR SURVEY COMPLETED IN AZERBAIJAN by Physicians for Human Rights & Relief International last month, finding that repatriation to conflict-border areas (with Nagorno Karabakh) is hindered by landmine insecurity, that landmine surveillance via sentinel hospitals is feasible, that landmines casualties will continue to rise as repatriation occurs, & that many amputees reported that their prostheses lasted less than 6 months.

- JOURNAL AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (JAMA) ADDRESSES VIOLENCE in the current (Aug 3) issue, & provides list of aid organizations providing humanitarian medical assistance worldwide: A Harvard Univ study in a refugee camp in Bosnia found that one in four adults suffer psycho-social disabilities. The 5 most common traumatizing events were: being present during shelling or grenade attacks, hiding from, snipers, hiding outdoors, being confined to home, and being present while one's home was being searched.

- KOSOVO: UN ENVIRONMENT PROG. PUBLISHES ASSESSMENTS OF ENV IMPACT & website: . Meanwhile, UNHCR’s geographic information system has compiled village damage assessment data across Kosovo. Another site argues that NATO bombing created ecological catastrophe. The Serb ecology information network provides more varied scientific news:


- CONF ON TECHNOLOGY & DISASTER IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC, SEPT 19-23 in Kauai Hawaii, will look at telemedicine, image manipulation, biological & nuclear sensors; see Center of Excellence website:

- CONF: BUILDING BRIDGES OF PEACE, CULTURE & PROSPERITY THROUGH TOURISM meeting Glasgow, Scotland, Oct 17-21 will include professionals in peace-building, parks management environment, cultural heritage & intl. exchange. Organized by the Intl Inst for Peace Through Tourism: Email:, or view web: WWW.IIPT.ORG.






- "REFUGEES, ENVIRONMENT & DEVELOPMENT" by Richard Black (1999 Essex UK: Addison Wesley Longman pub) surveys what is known about the impact of mass migrations, & refugee camps in particular, on the natural environment, in depth & with balance. Black is rightly skeptical of the much of the piecemeal evidence of refugee- caused degradation, as piece-meal, alarmist, & relatively limited in geographic scope & time-duration. The author’s first-hand experience in Mozambican, Liberian & Rwandan refugee camps is augmented by time spent in the ‘90s surveying NGOs about their program experience, & working with the UN. Overall, the author finds little empirical evidence that links refugee settlement with long-term deforestation, land degradation or drawdown of water sources.

"Humanitarian emergencies are not so exceptional, & discussion of them can take place in the same context & applying some of the same principles as in the wider field of sustainable development." The author also finds the evidence weak about the effectiveness of various programs implemented to conserve the environment around refugee camps. But he does find some cases -- in Machakos Kenya, southern Africa & Guinea, where traditional arrangements for managing natural resources have successfully adapted to migratory stress. Black promotes "participation of refugees & host populations in decisions concerning their local environments & seeing the stock of natural resources in refugee-affected areas as primarily the livelihood environment of these two groups.

- "WATCHING FROM THE EDGE OF EXTINCTION" (by BP & S Stearns 1999 New Haven: Yale Univ Press) offers sobering situation-specific vignettes about the patterns & causes of species extinctions, drawing vignettes from Hawaii, West Africa, the Mediterranean, East Africa & China. Often the authors find human negligence as a key factor in species extinctions. For example, the decimation of Hawaii’s (Oahu in particular) snails rests not only with exotic rats & an introduced predatory snail, but with biologists themselves who over the last 120 years collected, catalogued, bought & traded shells in high volume. The introduction of the Nile perch into (very large) Lake Victoria in Africa between 1959-1963 is instructive in how little E. African countries were prepared to see one species crowd out every other species of indigenous fish in the lake. The authors find they "had not expected to find so much corruption and political maneuvering connected with what we thought would be scientific & cultural problems" not all extinctions are important; the long-term solution is to have fewer people; human motivations are often mixed & muddled; competent people are in short supply; Constant management is the only way to preserve some species."

- "ECOLOGY, POLITICS & VIOLENT CONFLICT" (edited by Mohamed Suliman 1999 London: Zed Books) draws together 13 authors’ views on recent trends in resource scarcity, largely related to agricultural ecology & the inability of human societies to manage food production sustainably. Each chapter finds its own evidence to argue that scarcity of resources, & unequal access to resources, accounts for violent conflicts today. The case is made that apparently ethnic-based conflict is merely a manifestation of a deeper resource-boundary conflict between different ecological groups with different ownership claims on resources: "The Zaghawa pastoralists in the Sudan; the Tuarag conflict in Niger & Mali, the Casamance conflict in Senegal, the turbulence in the Boran region in S Ethiopia" are examples of such local wars. Mining, climate change, the increasing commercialization of forest lands, militarization, & disputes over freshwater distribution are also explored in separate chapters. (see also/voire aussi)

- "EARTH ODYSSEY: AROUND THE WORLD IN SEARCH OF OUR ENVIRONM. FUTURE" in which author Mark Hertsgaard (1998 NY: Broadway Books) describes travels to poorer corners of the world, inspired in part by Winston Churchill’s travels in Africa in 1907. Hertsgaard visits rebel-controlled areas of southern Sudan: "I left the US wondering whether the human species would survive the next 100 years, but in Africa I encountered huge numbers of people for whom surviving even the next hundred days was no sure thing. What often propels the underlying causes of poverty into full-scale famine is war. War not only kills people directly, it reduces the freedom to plant & harvest & disrupts the transportation networks needed to connect food growers & buyers. "mass starvation was actually the culminating tragedy in a complex chain of events. By failing to cover hunger until large numbers of people were dying, the news media ended up missing most of the story; in effect, the media waited until the battle was over before sounding the alarm." The author devotes a chapter to traffic jams across Asia, which he links to global warming. A chapter on nuclear weapons production plants notes the ubiquitous soil & water pollution that results. The author finds particular gloom for China, where sanitary conditions remain poor & trends in coal consumption promise to accelerate acid rain & greenhouse gas production for the world. The author notes that much of the success of the last generation in matching increased food production to a growing world population depended on bringing more land under irrigation; yet, now much irrigated land is harmed by salinization. "Meanwhile, the world is losing 25 billion metric tons of topsoil a year; various forms of land degradation affect 3.7 billion acres of land."