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Children from Latin America share their visions as the planet celebrates World Environment Day, June 5. In this Tierramérica exclusive, they respond to the question: What is the environmental problem that most worries you, and how should it be solved?


Without Trees, the Land Can't Stand It

RIO DE JANEIRO - "The biggest problem is deforestation. In Brazil many forests are cut down and, without trees, the land can't stand it when it rains very hard. We need forests so we can have oxygen and breathe," says Priscila Gomes de Souza, 12, a sixth-grader at a public school in Rio de Janeiro.

Deforestation leads to "the contamination of the air, the death of animals, the collapse of hillsides and floods that kill many people," says Priscila, a girl who loves her science classes.

"People cut down trees to build their houses and for industry. Where I always go, in Campos (a town 180 km from Rio), there isn't any more forest because now there is a lot of sugarcane. But it doesn't all have to be deforested to do these things."

Priscila proposes reducing deforestation of the Amazon through campaigns on television and billboards and lessons in the schools. She also suggests planting trees, but stresses that "it has to be done with many different kinds."

Priscila thinks most of her schoolmates do respect nature and that Brazil's youth "are more environmentally aware than their parents."


Corks for All the Buses

GUATEMALA CITY - "We should cork the city buses that spew so much black smoke. Yes, cork them, put a big stick in the exhaust pipe," says Marcos Jeremías, a 10-year-old K'iché, one of 23 indigenous groups of Guatemala.

Marcos doesn't know how to read or write, but he does know how to count 'pisto' (money). He earns around 20 quetzals (2.5 dollars) each day for selling chewing gum, juice, sweets and cigarettes from a wooden box he sets up on one of the concrete benches in the Plaza de la Constitución, in the Guatemalan capital's historic center.

"The buses pass by here and they make everything dirty. They are annoying because they spew so much smoke, and it gets in my noise and mouth," he says.

"The worst are the 'gusanos' (worms)," he adds, referring to the articulated double buses that have been circulating on the streets of Guatemala City since 1998.

A 2001 study conducted by the state-run University of San Carlos recorded up to 600 micrograms of total suspended particulates (TSP) per cubic meter at two locations in the city's southern district. The maximum recommended by the World Health Organization is just 65 micrograms per cubic meter.


Sea Stars Alive, Not Dead

MEXICO CITY - "If you throw garbage into the sea, the water becomes polluted and the little fish will die. That's why I don't throw anything in when I go to the beach," says Sara Emma Cevallos, five, a preschooler from Mexico City.

"I really worry about the animals that live in the sea. The ones I like best are the flying fish, pink seahorses, baby octopuses, turtles, mermaids and sea stars, living, not dead."

She is also concerned about whales. "The hunters are bad because they kill the whales and their babies. But in Mexico they don't do it anymore because the president said not to," says Sara Emma.

Recently at school, she and her classmates spent an entire month studying different things related to the sea. Through stories, films, games and artwork they learned about the importance of marine life.

"I made a poster about the octopus. I drew an octopus and I learned what they eat and how they care for their babies. We filled a bottle with blue water, sand and little fish made of paper. We put the sea in a bottle to show our parents, in case they didn't know about the sea."


No Aerosols, Not Even for Graffiti

MONTEVIDEO - "What I'm most worried about is the destruction of the ozone layer," says Franco Balerio, 11. He proposes a ban on using aerosol sprays, especially "for useless things like painting graffiti on the walls."

Franco is in fifth grade at a private school in the Uruguayan capital, and he is passionate about electronic games.

"Aerosols have something that wears out the ozone layer and then it makes a hole, and the harmful solar rays get through," he explains.

"My teacher told us about how before people spent many hours at the beach and nothing bad happened, but then a lot of aerosols were used and now we have to be careful, because the sun burns our skin. There's a limit on which hours you can spend in the sun."

Who is to blame? According to Franco, "the industries, because they aren't concerned about nature. And the people. Some people just don't care, and others don't realize the harm they cause by using certain products."

According to the Montreal Protocol on the ozone layer, Latin American countries must quit using chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by 2010. These ozone-depleting substances are used in refrigeration and aerosols.


Kids Can Fix It

BOGOTA - "If the world continues as it is, the children in the future won't be able to enjoy life. The animals, trees, flowers, water -- everything will be contaminated," says Manuela Jaramillo, 12, a Colombian girl who will participate in the United Nations International Children's Conference on the Environment, to take place in the U.S. city of New London in July.

"I think the adult world has a lot of work to do because most of the resolutions made about the environment are just words. If all the governments made an effort to keep the promises they already signed, the world would be better off," she says.

According to Manuela, the only Latin American girl in a group of 11 youths from all around the world in charge of organizing the children's summit, her generation "is very concerned about the environment, because we are talking about the world coming to an end."

She maintains that kids today are more aware about environmental problems, "because now in the schools they tell us about contamination and we learn a lot about it."

And Manuela remains optimistic: "The world of the future has to be better, because when we kids become part of the adult world we will be able to fix many things."


Garbage and Mercury

LIMA - "I like my forest because there are plants and animals. I am worried about pollution, because it can make us all sick. And what I'm most worried about is the garbage," says Oshin, 11, who lives in the Peruvian Amazon.

In Oshin's village, Boca Amigos, there are 23 indigenous Andean families who moved there to search for gold along the banks of a river in the Amazon jungle, nine hours by boat from the nearest city.

There, the non-governmental Association for Children and Their Environment (ANIA) is developing a pilot project on environmental education for children and their parents.

"All of the kids in Boca Amigos put garbage in three different bags. In one we put paper, in another goes food scraps that are put in special containers to produce fertilizer, and in the third we put glass and plastics, to be buried in a pit," she explains.

But there is another serious problem that worries Oshin: mercury. She knows that the liquid metal her father uses to separate gold from the sand is a danger to her and the rest of her family, and to the fish that they eat. But she does not have a very clear idea of how to prevent or reduce that threat. That is why she would rather talk about garbage.


The Color of Papaya

CARACAS - "When they talk about nature, I think of lively colors, like the color of parsley, pumpkins or the papayas we planted next to my school. If we continue destroying nature, I imagine a gray future, gray like ashes," says Carmen Elena Corales.

The 12-year-old resident of the Venezuelan capital is in seventh grade at the Bolivarian Ecological School "Simón Rodríguez", which is supported by the army at Fort Tiuna, the main military base in Caracas.

"My school is built up against a mountain and we grew the little plants that we later enjoyed in the lunchroom. If we wanted to we would be able to conserve nature," she says.

The illegal trafficking of animals also worries Carmen. "Birds are my favorite animals, with their vibrant colors and their freedom of flight. I don't like zoos, with their caged, sad animals, and it hurts me to see animals sold in cages along the highway."

"There should be campaigns like those of Inparques (National Parks Institute) so that people become aware that the Earth is our big house. There should be games so that children are in contact with nature and see how wonderful it is."


Too Much Water in Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES - "The most serious problem is the flooding, and if (President Néstor) Kirchner solves it, that would help many people," says Manuel Waldman, a 10-year-old who lives in the Argentine capital.

Manu, as he is known, is a fan of "Harry Potter", and he even looks like the famous book and movie character when he puts on his little glasses.

He is upset about the rains that frequently transform his city into something that looks like Venice, Italy. Once, the bus that was bringing him home from summer vacation was delayed several hours because of flooding. His parents worried desperately until he finally arrived, safe and sound.

"In Buenos Aires, people throw garbage in the street and it (blocks the drains), so everything becomes flooded. There are people who can't even get out of their homes, and the traffic is awful," he says.

In April 2003, the flooding of the Salado River in Santa Fe province, caused by heavy rains and the lack of a containment system, was so severe that 23 people died and 135,000 had to be evacuated.

"That would really upset me if it happened to my family," says Manu.


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