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Western Press Review: The Air We Breathe, the Water We Drink

  • Don Hill

Prague, 29 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - With this summer's floods in Central Europe a recent memory, other floods devastating parts of Latin America, and fires in Indonesia still spewing flames and choking smoke, much Western press commentary discusses environmental issues.

NEW YORK TIMES: The fires were set by man

The fires burning in Indonesia and strangling southeast Asia are exacerbated by drought, but they are set by humans motivated by greed. The editorial says: "The thick smoke spreading throughout Southeast Asia apparently claimed 234 more lives on Friday, when an Indonesian airliner lost its way in the haze and crashed. The smoke, coming from forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo, now blankets Singapore, Brunei, and parts of Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand. The fires are accelerated by drought but were set by man. In its headlong rush to cut down its timber and sell it, Asia has saddled itself with the worst deforestation problem of any continent."

The editorial states: "The Indonesian government has attributed previous fires to farmers clearing their land for crops. This time, because the fires have been burning for months and satellite data is being made public, the government has been forced to acknowledge that the fires coincide mainly with areas of commercial logging on Borneo and Sumatra. Indigenous farmers use the same environmentally sound farming methods they have for centuries, rotating between plots of family land. The problem is the logging companies, which often show up unannounced, cut the trees, burn the stumps, and set up plantations of oil palms or eucalyptus and acacia trees for paper and pulp -- usually all without compensating the farmers."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Global warming looms ever more ominously

Environmental author Eugene Linden decries the failure of industrial nations to reach agreement with developing nations on international action to combat global warming. He says the effort needs a creative boost. Linden writes: "If global warming were a communist plot, there would be a treaty to combat the peril by now. Instead, only two months before representatives from industrial and developing nations are to meet in Kyoto, Japan, to agree on steps to counter the threat of climate change, it is becoming ever more clear that five years of negotiations have produced little that is meaningful. In a last-ditch attempt to develop a U.S. consensus on action, President Bill Clinton plans to hold a White House conference on October 6."

Linden concludes: "After years of talk about a solution, the problem of global warming looms ever more ominously. It's time for a new approach."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Every country in Latin America is affected by El Nino

Two commentators for German newspapers turn their attention to South America's El Nino ocean current phenomenon. It may be the cause of climactic horrors including floods and drought, they say. And the possibility exists that it is manmade.

Eva Karnofsky writes : "In July and August all of Chile was inundated. Over 100,000 people had to be evacuated from their villages and dozens of people died during the storms. Agriculture suffered damage running into the millions. Further north, in coastal Ecuador, the rain is so torrential that tourists are staying away in droves. (And) in Colombia, in contrast, farmers are complaining of drought."

She writes: "El Nino, The (Christ) Child, is to blame. It may sound harmless, but every country in Latin America is affected by this warm inshore current that annually, near Christmas, flows south along the Pacific coast of South America. Once every seven to ten years it flows not just along the coast of Ecuador but down to the coast of Peru, with a devastating effect on the weather, crops, fish and more."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Could it be that man himself is El Nino's progenitor?

Peter Sartorius writes: "At an early stage it seemed clear that the bout of climate fever which parts of the world are now undergoing, a fever that goes by the name of El Nino, was going to take a dramatic course. To call it a fever is to use a misleading metaphor inasmuch as it is less a case of high temperature than of temperatures moving from one side of the Pacific to the other. This year the warm trade winds that usually blow from east to west and pump warm Pacific water towards Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines failed to materialize.

"El Nino 1997 is looking even more feverish and dramatic. By the year's end it looks like becoming the biggest El Nino of all time. So the obvious question is whether it might have something to do with global warming, which in turn is largely due to manmade emissions of greenhouse gases. Could it be that man himself is El Nino's progenitor?

LIBERATION: The fires are a kind of suicide

The Indonesia fires are blamed both on El Nino and on the Indonesian government. An editorial today says: "The drought which El Nino, has caused only reveals the mismanagement and the notorious corruption of the Suharto regime. The fire in the forest of Abbau, one of the last primeval forests on this planet, may be a kind of suicide, but -- even without Nino and without a fire -- these people who have been cashing in, these politically callous people, have never bothered. In recent history there have been fires which have destroyed large areas as those of the present. But there is a difference whether bushland or a hundred-year-old tree is burned down.

"The Indonesian government or their Malaysian neighbors love, under the guise of attacking Western arrogance, to ridicule democratic principles, especially when they are caught in the act of wringing their necks. The blinding fumes rising from the primeval forest of Sumatra or Borneo may enable a clearer view in this respect."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: The dam is the worst in Europe

Michael J. Jordan writes in an analysis about an environmental disruption whose parentage is without question. Slovakia's Gabcikovo Dam is doubly illegal and, Jordan says, without obvious remedy. He writes: "The International Court of Justice at The Hague this week reprimanded both Hungary and Slovakia for breach of contract in building a massive, Soviet-inspired hydroelectric dam on the Danube River. Yet spin doctors for both Central European rivals were able to declare victory as The Hague also ruled the billion-dollar Gabcikovo project a fait accompli.

He adds: "There was one loser, however, say environmentalists. Some have denounced the dam as the worst in Europe for its degradation of the Continent's only inland-sea delta." Jordan writes: "The Soviet Union initially hatched the idea nearly three decades ago, primarily to improve navigation through the mighty waterway and provide needed energy to what was then Czechoslovakia." And he says: "Relations today between Hungarians and Slovaks are as strained as ever. Analysts and state officials therefore expect Gabcikovo negotiations to degenerate."