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Sunday, December 6, 1998

Green Vigil 

Umiam lake faces toxic threat

Umiam Lake, nestled among the rolling hills of Shillong and a major tourist attraction in the North-Eastern region, is under threat from toxic wastes being dumped into it, said a pollution expert in a PTI report.

The lake's water is getting polluted due to dumping of solid wastes, flow of sewage water and other pollutants from Shillong, barely 15 kms away, which is facing an unprecedented population boom, said Jennifer Sawain of the Meghalaya Pollution Control Board recently.

The problem has been compounded by the absence of sewerage treatment systems and the virtual non-existence of solid waste disposal facilities in Shillong, she said, adding that the town's existing sanitary facilities were inadequate, while conservancy services were limited to the municipal area, leaving uncovered a large part of the population. This led to most of the sewage and solid wastes of Shillong and its suburbs finding its way to the Umkhrah and Umshyrpi streams, which flow through thetown, she said.

The confluence of the two streams form the Wah Ro-ro stream in the north-west of the town and joins River Umiam, the main source of water for the lake. The pollutants received by the Umkhrah and Umshyrpi streams is by far beyond their assimilating capacity, Sawain said.

Forest products company opens its door for review

A large forest products company, Champion International, has opened 5.4 million acres of its forests in the United States to an independent, third-party review to determine if their practices are sustainable.

The independent, third-party review will be conducted under the auspices of the industry-backed American Forest and Paper Association's Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

"What we are talking about is a rigorous, step-by-step analysis of every acre of our ownership. That's an area equal in size to the entire state of Massachusetts," said Richard E Olson, Champion's chairman and chief executive officer.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative has no specificguidelines detailing the American Forest and Paper Association's concept of sustainable forestry, but rather is a list of guiding principles that member companies can tailor to their needs.

Once Champion International has tailored the guiding principles to their needs, they will invite university professors, environmentalists, industry experts and other people who do not have a direct tie to the company to determine if the company is in copliance with the guidelines, said Gail Doar, a spokeswoman for Champion International.

Although this system appears to pose little threat to the company, they might run into a situation where the reviewers will say that we are not quite meeting a requirement, Doar said.

World Bank called on to reform energy-lending policy

The World Bank, the public financial institution charged with the task of poverty alleviation and sustainable development, is under pressure to reform its lending policy when it comes to energy projects in developing nations.

``The bankcurrently lends 25 times as much money for fossil-fuel energyprojects as it does for renewables,'' said Daphne Wysham, lead author of a study on the World Bank's compromised role in mitigation of the Climate Change Treaty. The report, put out by the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington DC based think-tank, has helped generate enough of a stir that the World Bank last week decided to delay its approval of the Prototype Carbon Fund until further consultation with non-governmental organisations and others have taken place.

Details of the carbon fund made headlines at last month's climate talks in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when a document surfaced detailing the World Bank's plans to take control of the multi-billion dollar carbon trading market being set up under the Climate Change Convention.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the World Bank would fund fossil fuel projects in poor countries on one hand, then reap financial benefits from the resulting pollution on the other hand through acontrolling interest in the $150 billion a year carbon trading market.

The institute sees this as a conflict of interest on the bank's part because instead of working toward its mandate of poverty alleviation and sustainable development, it is working out lending schemes that benefit wealthy oil, gas and coal corporations headquartered in one of the wealthy Group of 7 nations.

The new plants bring very little, if any, energy to the two billion poor people in the world, who currently live without it because the plants are constructed for the benefit of the urban middle-class and energy-intensive industries who move in to take advantage of the cheap power, said Wysham.

Water experts for Blue Revolution

By the year 2025, 35 per cent of the world's projected population of eight billion people will face water shortages, according to a university report.

In order to conserve and manage freshwater supplies and offset a worldwide crisis the authors of the report, Solutions for a Water-ShortWorld, are calling for a "Blue Revolution" to navigate the political complexities of assuring the supply and management of freshwater resources.

The authors of the report, from Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, concede, however, that "it may already be too late for some water-short countries with rapid population growth to avoid a crisis." "To avoid catastrophe ... it is important to act now" to reduce demand for water by slowing population growth, said the authors. At the same time, warns the report, countries must conserve water, pollute less and manage supply and demand better.

By 2025, according to the report, one in every three people will live in countries short of water. Today, 31 countries face water stress or water scarcity. By 2025, population pressure will push another 17 countries, including India, onto the list. China, with a projected 2025 population of 1.5 billion, will not be far behind.

While most of the world is caught trying o meet a growing demand forfreshwater with finite and increasingly polluted water supplies, the situation is worst in developing countries, where some 95 per cent of the 80 million people added to the globe each year are born, and where the competition between industrial, urban and agricultural use for water is mounting, according to the report.

Motorola's clean-up fund

To speed cleanup at the Motorola Inc Superfund site, the US Environment Protection Agency has ordered Motorola Inc and AlliedSignal to construct a groundwater treatment plant at the Phoenix, Arizona site. Motorola and AlliedSignal have reached a stalemate in discussions about how to divide the cost of the construction and operation of the plant between the two companies. The treatment plant is estimated to cost about $12 million to build and $2 million a year to operate. The order will become effective in a month.

The plant will pump groundwater contaminated with volatile organic compounds, solvents used by Motorola and AlliedSignal. The water will then betreated to federal drinking water standards and discharged to Phoenix's Grand Canal for irrigation. Pumping of the water will prevent migration of the contaminated plume. The site was listed on EPA's Superfund National Priorities List in 1989 after ADEQ investigations found soil and groundwater contaminated with VOCs.

Beer to save salmon

When King County, Washington, executive Ron Sims urged business to help save Puget Sound's wild salmon, Olympia's Fish Brewing Co took the bait. The brewery created a new beer, "Wild Salmon Pale Ale," with plans to donate some of its proceeds to salmon recovery. Fish Brewing president Crayne Horton presented the first check to Sims at a press conference in mid-November. The money goes to Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of groups and businesses working to restore salmon runs in Washington.

GM to restore US river at a cost of $28 million

General Motors has agreed to spend more than $28 million to restore and protect the Saginaw river and bay area inMichigan, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Saginaw river and bay are contaminated by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and related compounds that the federal government alleges have been released from General Motors facilities since the early 1970s, as well as by contaminants released from wastewater treatment plants in Bay City and Saginaw, says the USFWS.

"Under the settlement, General Motors is required to finance a major cleanup of PCBs from the Saginaw River and Bay. That means a cleaner and healthier environment for people who live in and around the region," said Lois J Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

"This is a great day for birds, fish and all other species that depend on the Saginaw River and its wetlands," US Fish and Wildlife Director Jamie Rappaport Clark said. "This settlement begins a cooperative process to undo the injury to important natural resources and to staunch the flow from contaminatedsediments."

General Motors and the cities will pay $28.22 million in direct costs for sediment removal and restoration projects. The overall value of the settlement is significantly greater than this, however, because the restoration projects are designed to increase recreational use by improving fishing and boating access and by increasing the quality and quantity of habitat for fish, game and watchable wildlife.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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