1) Crucial Talks for Global Tobacco Control
2) UN Tries to Break Deadlock on Human Cloning Treaty
3) Coke Ignores Third World Workers with HIV/AIDS - Activists
4) Poor Nations Lose Billions as Commodity Prices Fall
5) Southern Africa Unites against Water Poverty
GENEVA, Oct 11 (IPS) - Inter-governmental negotiations for an international convention on tobacco control are to be renewed next week amidst pressures from the health community and from civil society organisations that demand vigorous action to protect global public health from the threat they say is created by big tobacco transnationals.
Delegates from the 192 member states of the World Health Organisation (WHO) are gathering Oct 14-25 in this Swiss city to discuss the draft of a tobacco control convention presented in July by the chairman of the its Inter-governmental Negotiating Body (INB), Brazilian diplomat Luis Felipe de Seixas Correa.
The initiative, which came under fire from the handful of corporations that dominate the world's tobacco industry and was criticised by tobacco farmers in some countries, seeks to develop global rules "to curb the advertising, promotion and sales and smuggling of tobacco products."
But some non-governmental organisations like the Network for the Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) have charged that the Seixas Correa draft of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) does not go far enough.
NATT, based in the U.S. city of Boston and serving as an umbrella for more than 70 anti-tobacco NGOs from some 50 countries, demanded stricter wording of the draft before the vote on its approval, which is slated to take place in May 2003 at the next World Health Assembly.
"This is a critical moment for the negotiations," said WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland, adding that "the technical work is complete and I believe the time has come for countries to show their determination about curbing the tobacco epidemic."
Consumption of tobacco products, particularly cigarettes, is blamed for the deaths of 4.9 million people around the world each year. Brundtland stressed that a strong tobacco control convention will save lives.
"Delays mean more deaths, and more children falling prey to tobacco," she added.
Based on today's rate of tobacco consumption, the projected annual figure for related deaths is 10 million by the late 2020s. However, WHO executive director for of non-communicable diseases and mental health, Derek Yach, commented that this is "somewhat of an underestimate".
Trends in tobacco-related death rates are based on consumption patterns 10 to 20 years ago. Two variables that really need to be considered are youth smoking rates and "quit-rates" among adults, explained Yach.
In China, where 320 million people smoke and one million people die each year as a result of tobacco consumption, the portion of adults who give up the smoking habit is far smaller than in Europe and Latin America.
The WHO official noted that any changes in the smoking rate in China -- home to nearly 1.3 billion people -- would have an impact on the global figures on tobacco use.
The Chinese government is "steadily moving in the right direction" by launching various programmes, such as smoke-free schools.
The 2008 Olympics, to take place in Beijing, will also be "a showcase for tobacco-free sport," according to the Chinese government, said Yach.
Gradually, major sports are deploying campaigns against tobacco use. Professional football and volleyball are among the pioneers in such efforts, while Formula One auto-racing will ban tobacco and cigarette advertising beginning in 2006.
It is precisely this issue that riles the NGOs of NATT about the draft convention. They say the treaty should include a total ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship by big tobacco companies.
NATT has also expressed concern about the text's failure to explicitly make public health a priority over international trade, and that this could make the FCTC subordinate to World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements.
Negotiators from WHO member states will meet in Geneva for two weeks of talks on international rules to limit advertising, promotion and sales as well as smuggling of tobacco products and related issues.
As far as the success of advertising bans, Yach cited the cases of Brazil and South Africa, where smoking rates have diminished following the implementation of advertising restrictions.
In this sense, he said, the negotiations related to the treaty have begun to bear fruit even before it has been implemented: "The process of the framework convention has been almost as important as its own outcome."
Many countries are strengthening their own legislative responses to the tobacco consumption problem, they are revising their tax systems, and taking actions at the community level like never before, said the WHO official.
Examples of this include new laws introduced in the German parliament to restrict smoking in the workplace, similar legislation in Pakistan and India, while the government of Malaysia is slated to enact an advertising ban on tobacco products as of January 2003.
But big tobacco companies are gradually shifting their focus to the developing countries and previously closed markets in order to compensate for stagnant sales in former major markets like Europe and the United States, noted Yach.
The recent entry of China into the WTO system meant that Beijing had to adapt its legislation to the market liberalising rules of the multilateral trade arena.
As a result, transnationals like British American Tobacco (BAT,
the world's second largest tobacco company) have already begun to open factories
in China and, protected by WTO rules, could import the raw material at lower
prices than are available on the national market, thus creating a threat to
Chinese tobacco growers, Yach explained.
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 17 (IPS) - A committee meeting here hopes to break a deadlock in the next two days so the United Nations can continue negotiating an international treaty to ban human cloning.
The process is blocked because of two strongly opposed positions: one that favours banning all cloning, including controversial stem-cell research, and the other that proposes a two-step approach - first ban human cloning, then tackle the other types of cloning.
Leading the first camp is the United States, supported by Spain and the Philippines; France and Germany, backed by most of the 191 U.N. member states, are promoting the two-step approach.
September's meeting of a U.N. ad hoc committee to define the broad outlines of the proposed treaty, ended inconclusively.
"The Germany-France proposal allows us to move on all issues though with different speed: fast where consensus exists and more slowly on other issues," said Christian Much, legal advisor for the German mission to the United Nations.
Added his French counterpart, Jean Luc Florent, "if we mix both, we risk accomplishing nothing. We think it is urgent to deal with human cloning as it is not a hypothetical situation, but a reality".
Florent referred to researchers, such as Italian doctor Severino Antinori and his colleague, U.S.-based Panos Zavos, who contend that the first cloned baby will be born within a year or two.
Both researchers claim they have already tried to generate a child by implanting cloned embryos in women.
On the other side is a draft resolution forwarded by the United States, Spain, and the Philippines that demands an immediate ban on all cloning. That includes stem cell research or ''therapeutic cloning'', where scientists create embryos that can be used to treat diseases.
"Human cloning for any purpose is an unsafe research practice, contrary to human dignity," says a memorandum from Spain's permanent mission here.
"Because the process for reproductive and for therapeutic cloning is the same - but for the end purpose - it would be impossible to prevent the former from happening if the latter is not prevented at the same time," it continued.
"Partial prohibition might give rise to clandestine human cloning for reproductive purposes, with the establishment of an illegal trade in ovules," the memorandum added.
Much warned that adopting such an all-or-nothing approach could jeopardise or delay efforts towards an international treaty against human reproductive cloning, the creation of a genetic duplicate of an existing person.
''The process of banning other purposes of cloning can be slow, as in the case of the Council of Europe, where it took nine years to finally achieve this goal.'' He continued, "to ask for everything means to receive nothing".
Delegates say the U.S. position is supported by the Holy See. Although it is not a U.N. member state and cannot vote, the Holy See has observer status and does wield moral power.
As a result, delegates say, the United States has managed to influence several strongly Catholic states, including Italy, Argentina, and Costa Rica.
The U.S. position appeals to religious conservatives and abortion opponents, who intensely criticise cloning such as stem-cell research because the embryos, which they view as human life, are destroyed by the experiments. They say the procedure is tantamount to murder.
Even so, the American public remains sharply divided on the subject.
Objection to President Bush's stance on stem cell research has been raised by top U.S. scientists, who are disgruntled that the administration more than a year ago restricted all federally funded scientists to using only 78 existing stem-cell lines for their research.
Scientists complain that those strict limits hinder invaluable research.
High-profile figures have also spoken out against Bush's position.
Former Superman actor, Christopher Reeves, paralysed as a result of a car accident seven years ago, blames Bush for blocking research that he believes could cure spinal cord injuries.
More recently, former first lady Nancy Reagan launched a campaign to reverse Bush's opposition to stem cell research, which she believes could lead to a cure for Alzheimer, which affects her husband, former president Ronald Reagan.
The latest opposition comes from California, which directly defied the administration with two pieces of legislation that are expected to become law on Jan. 1, 2003.
One extends a moratorium banning the cloning of babies. The other permits cloning of cells and tissue for medical purposes within the state but bans the sale of embryos.
The outcome of the U.N. legal committee's meeting that ends Friday will determine whether negotiations on a treaty banning human reproductive cloning can resume in February.
If they go ahead, it is estimated that negotiations will be
completed by the end of 2003, and that another year would be required for
enough countries to ratify the treaty so it could enter into force.
NEW YORK, Oct 17 (IPS) - Multinational beverage giant Coca Cola is under fire from AIDS activists in the West who are demanding the company pay for HIV/AIDS treatment for its infected workers in developing countries.
On Thursday, activists in New York and several U.S. cities took to the streets to condemn Coca Cola's alleged refusal to provide AIDS care benefits to thousands of workers in several countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
The issue first surfaced in June last year when the company pledged health care coverage to over 1,000 employees in Africa for HIV testing and treatment, but shied away from promising similar benefits to the 100,000 workers it indirectly employs in bottling operations.
But under increasing pressure from a number of rights groups in the United States and Europe, Coca Cola - the largest private employer in Africa - changed its policy and said the bottlers would pay 50 percent of the costs for treatment and drugs. Workers would have to pay 10 percent.
But activists say the cost-sharing programme does not provide workers with affordable and equitable access to AIDS treatment.
"This cost-sharing scheme won't work for small and medium sized bottlers," says Allison Dismore of U.S.-based Health GAP. "They can't foot the bill and shouldn't be expected to."
The bottlers are worried about paying the high cost of treatment over the long-term, say activists, who themselves are concerned over Coke's policy of withdrawing from the programme as the prices of drugs decrease. They say that means bottlers and workers will have to foot the entire bill.
The protesters also fear that the two drug companies involved in the plan, GlaxoSmithKline and PharmAccess International, will not allow purchases of generic drugs, which are far cheaper.
"Even as a first step, the plan leaves the majority of Coke's workers and their dependents in a deadly lurch," says Health Gap's Sharonann Lynch.
"Fifteen months have passed since Coke first claimed it would negotiate with the bottlers to cover AIDS drugs. Coke's glacial pace contradicts the company's rhetoric of compassion and action."
A company spokeswoman said Coca Cola provides health care to its 1,200 employees in Africa, but the responsibility for the tens of thousands of bottling workers rests with the bottlers.
"Our 40 bottling partners in Africa, who are independent companies, are at various stages of developing their strategies," said Sonia Soutus. "They are responsible for providing health care for their employees."
Last month, the Coca Cola Foundation launched a programme to assist bottlers to expand existing health care programmes to include anti-retroviral (AIDS) drugs for their 60,000 employees, according to a company statement.
Today, more than 45 percent of all bottling employees are on this plan or other plans that include anti-retroviral drugs, it continued.
"We are engaged in our dialogue with our bottlers," says Soutus.
Activists say the company, not bottlers, must bear the costs for treatment and sex education of all those who work for Coca Cola.
"Workers are too poor to cover a 10 percent co-payment on medicines," says John Riley of New York-based ACT UP. "We don't want people to make choices between food and drugs."
The company claims bottlers' plans include treatment for workers' spouses and children, but activists contradict such claims.
"Coke is putting its profits above the lives of people with AIDS by refusing to extend coverage to children," says Lynch. "The prospect of parents taking life-saving drugs while their children die is inexplicable and indefensible."
Alarmed by the gravity of the AIDS situation, the United Nations last month renewed its appeal for immediate food and relief supplies to save the lives of million in sub-Saharan Africa facing death from starvation and the spread of HIV/AIDS, urging donors to come up with 611 million dollars.
According to UNICEF, today more than 28 million people in the
sub-Saharan region - most of them youth - are living with HIV/AIDS.
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 10 (IPS) - A sharp drop in the prices of primary commodities is having ''a major impact'' on Third World producer nations, especially African ones, says a new United Nations report.
The cyclical nature of commodities markets and rich nations' subsidies to their farmers have worsened the impact, according to the 13-page study titled 'World Commodity Trends and Prospects'.
The level of commodity prices in current U.S. dollars is now comparable to that of the early 1970s, it says.
Since 1997, the fall in prices in some commodities, including coffee, cotton and sugar, has been ''dramatic'', causing large economic losses and increased poverty in several developing countries.
The countries most affected are African ones that depend heavily on commodity exports for their revenues.
Burkina Faso and Mali depend on cotton, Ghana on cocoa and gold, Kenya and Malawi on tea, and Ivory Coast on cocoa and cotton.
The combined price index for all commodities has fallen by 17 percent in real terms and by 24 percent in current dollars since 1997.
Prices for tropical beverages, including tea and coffee, have plummeted 55 percent.
Those of other agricultural commodities fell about 30 percent while minerals and metals prices dropped about 18 percent.
Prices of some commodities - including cocoa, sugar, and rubber - decreased markedly from 1998 to 2000 but recovered in 2001-2002.
According to the International Coffee Organisation (ICA), there is also a widening gap between what producers earn and what consumers pay for the same product.
At the end of the 1980s, for example, coffee producing countries received about 10-12 billion dollars out of a 30 billion dollar retail market in the United States.
But today, while the value of retail coffee sales exceeds 70 billion dollars annually, producers receive only 5.5 billion dollars, ICA said.
The U.N. study said that about 70 percent of the world's coffee supply is provided by smallholders who are directly affected by the price fall.
Coffee growing supports more than 40 percent of the rural labour force in countries such as Nicaragua.
According to calculations made by the British charity Oxfam, farmers in the Dominican Republic growing coffee on two hectares earn only 260 dollars per year from coffee production.
The collapse of the world price for coffee directly affects 125 million people. ''This is having catastrophic consequences in terms of increased poverty,'' the report said.
The study said that recent price falls in primary commodities ''have had a major impact on developing countries''.
Many of these nations, including Ghana, Nicaragua, Ivory Coast and the Dominican Republic, ''are economically vulnerable and often have to face boom-and-bust situations'', the study said.
''They have to deal with the risk of falls in foreign exchange earnings from commodity exports - which influence their capacity to import - and they are affected by rapid increases in prices of imported commodities such as oil,'' it added.
The study singles out Ghana, which mainly exports cocoa and gold and imports oil.
Between 1998 and 2000, prices of cocoa and gold fell by 47 percent and 5.0 percent respectively, while oil prices increased by 116 percent.
The situation reversed itself in 2001-2002 with an estimated increase of 76 percent in cocoa prices and a fall of 15 percent in oil prices. ''Managing such cycles is a major macro-economic task," the study said.
The Geneva-based U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says that if the average prices of coffee, sugar and cotton had remained at their 1998 levels, producer nations would have earned in following years 19 billion dollars, 1.4 billion dollars and 1.0 billion dollars more than they actually did.
The report says several factors account for the recession in commodity markets: oversupply; the decline in the U.S. dollar, and the contraction in demand caused by the slowdown in the global economy.
The report also singles out an area that ''requires urgent attention'' - agricultural subsidies to farmers in industrialised countries.
In June, U.S. President George W. Bush signed a new 180-billion-dollar farm bill that provides subsidies to American farmers who are flooding the world market with inexpensive corn, wheat, rice and soya beans.
These products are now being sold in the world market at half of what it costs to produce, leading to artificially low prices.
The U.S. sugar industry is also heavily subsidised, with about half of producers' revenues coming from government support, according to 'Global Economic Prospects', published by the World Bank early this year.
On average, U.S. sugar producers have received 2.6 times the world market price for sugar since the mid-1980s.
The 15-member European Union is also lavish in its subsidies to its farmers, who glut the world market with sugar and coffee, forcing prices down.
''The oversupply leading to the dramatic price falls has to be eliminated," the U.N. report said.
The international community also has to take measures to improve
the access of developing countries' agricultural exports to developed-country
MAPUTO, Mozambique, Oct 18 (IPS) - It is a subspecies of Africa's pervasive poverty, and one of the most worrisome: an absence of a vital natural resource, water, that policy makers call - hydrological poverty".
A lack of clean water is hindering economic growth and poverty eradication throughout Southern Africa. Nations which share major rivers are seeking water use treaties to avoid potential conflict as demand for water resources increases.
- At stake is the development of nations," says hydrologist Samuel Kunene, who is attached to Swaziland's Ministry of Natural Resources. ôAt stake, ultimately, are millions of lives."
Of the estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide who are not able to access clean water, 300 million live in Africa. Forty-four million are urban residents unconnected to municipal water supplies through household or yard taps or even public standpipes and boreholes. Some 256 million, or 85 percent, are rural residents who cannot draw water from boreholes, protected wells, protected springs, or even in some arid areas cannot collect sufficient rainwater.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 53 percent of Africa's rural residents lack access to clean water and 15 percent of urban dwellers cannot draw from clean water supplies.
In the country, this lack of water exacerbates a host of diseases. In towns, danger from cholera and other waterborne diseases exists from tainted water supplies, and can led to epidemics during summer rainy seasons when storm runoff pollutes informal reservoirs.
Cholera outbreaks are also bad news for the tourism sector, and negatively impact national treasuries of the region's countries that are increasingly promoting tourism as a sustainable industry to bring in hard currency reserves.
Swaziland's tourism industry suffered negative growth last year, reports the Central Bank, after cholera spread following heavy rains.
ôHealth crises made worse by water shortages have direct economic consequences," says Dr. John Ndwandwe of KwaZulu/Natal, a South African province heavily dependent on tourism.
ôEradication of hydrological poverty is necessary in developmental terms, for the welfare of millions of people,'' he says. ''But failure to address basic water needs also affects agricultural output, health services, and ecological stability as expanding human populations compete for limited resources, almost always at the expense of wildlife."
This year's regional drought, which has put 13 million people at risk of starvation due to crop failures, has placed water issues at the forefront of policymakers' agendas. New attention is being given to ground water supplies, as farmers who had depended on rainfall begin drilling boreholes in greater numbers.
More than a quarter of the world's population relies on groundwater for drinking supplies. The percentage rises in peri-urban Africa, where residents live beyond the reach of city water supplies. Residents often have the economic means to drill for water.
Aquifers are being depleted because their natural replenishment cannot keep pace with use. When wells run dry, as they have in parts of Botswana and Namibia, residents depart and settlements become ghost towns.
Water rationing is an inconvenient way of life in towns that suffer habitual hydrologic impoverished, like Siteki in Swaziland and the eastern suburbs of Windhoek, Namibia.
Landlocked Swaziland entered into an agreement with its giant neighbour South Africa, which surrounds the country on three sides, to share the flow of the mighty Komati River.
The Komati River Basin Accord of 1992 ensured that the waterway, which enters Swaziland from South Africa in the northwest, meanders through the mountainous northern region and exits the country in the dry northern highveld of the northeast, would be harvested for its water in a controlled manner. Three of a series of five dams have been built for irrigation purposes.
South Africa and Swaziland shared the expense of the Komati Dam near Pigg 's Peak, Swaziland, which when it opened this year was the country's most expensive public works project. But the river is also utilised by Mozambique downstream.
Last month, the Komati Accord was revised to include this third country as signatory. This had always been the plan, but years of instability following Mozambique's lengthy civil war kept that country from participating.
Mozambique and South Africa have other water issues to negotiate. The Lesotho Highlands Water Project tied that landlocked country closer to South Africa through a system of dams that harnessed the mountaintop kingdom's rivers for both nations' benefit. With Mozambique, South Africa faces a more difficult challenge of undoing decades of developmental damage.
Proving that ecological damage in one country can have regional consequences, the destruction of South Africa's Tugela Basin led directly to massive flooding in southern Mozambique that costs hundreds of people their lives, and rendered hundreds of thousands of people homeless. Over the years, 90 percent of the Tugela Basin was drained for agriculture.
Meanwhile, adjacent grasslands were defoliated due to overgrazing by cattle. Without natural vegetation and wetlands to absorb rainfall, a cyclone in 2000 brought massive flooding that flowed downstream into neighbouring Mozambique, to devastating effect.
Half the world's wetlands have been lost to development in the past century. Wetlands are defined as areas frequently but perhaps not permanently covered with water that does not exceed six metres in depth at low tide. The loss of Southern Africa's wetlands due to human population pressures has lessened the region's ability to retain water that comes naturally as rain.
A web of water management systems and treaties is being put in place to reverse previous damaging policies and bring order to the chaos of water competition.
ôPeople take water for granted until the moment they don't have any," says hydrologist Kunene. ôFor millions of Southern Africans, hydrological poverty is a reality threatening their lives right now."