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GUATEMALA: Experts Debate Water Crisis

GUATEMALA CITY - To study the water crisis and propose strategies for more efficient use, more than 300 experts from 70 countries are gathering May 23-27 in Antigua, Guatemala, 45 km west of the capital.

The 10th meeting of the Global Water Partnership is debating issues related to potable water, integration management, sanitation, free trade treaties, water service contracts, deforestation, soils and forests, GWP Guatemalan delegate Elisa Colom told Tierramérica.

''There is an obvious global crisis in water management, with a great many people who lack basic water services, especially in Africa, a very serious problem of contamination and lack of sustainability in management of this resource,'' she said.

Founded in 1996 and based in Stockholm, the GWP is a global network of organizations involved in the integrated management of water resources.


VENEZUELA: Young Caimans to Be Released

CARACAS - In the coming weeks, Venezuelan environmental workers will release 328 young Orinoco caimans (Crocodylus intermedius) that were raised in captivity, Edis Solórzano, the Environment Ministry's wildlife director, told Tierramérica.

Since the program began in 1991, ''nearly 4,000 one-year-old caimans, 80 to 100 cm long, have been released in national parks on the banks of the Orinoco River. Private donations have built nurseries, involving environmentalists, universities, the government and area residents,'' she said.

Two-hundred years ago the German naturalist and explorer Alexander Von Humboldt described great populations of this member of the crocodile family much valued for its skin. But indiscriminate hunting in the first half of the 20th century nearly drove the reptile into extinction, and in Colombia the caiman has practically disappeared.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks, in Venezuela's central plains, the Environment Ministry has released 20,000 young Arrau turtles (Podocnemis expansa), also raised in nurseries.


CUBA: Methyl Bromide Use Continues

HAVANA - Cuba has eliminated the use of ozone-depleting methyl bromide in its tobacco crops, but farmers continue to apply the chemical in other agricultural areas and in storage, admit official sources.

Pérez Montesbravo, coordinator of the Cuban program for eradicating this substance that depletes the Earth's atmospheric ozone layer, told Tierramérica that his country uses 40 tons of the pesticide annually to kill pests found in food storage and on coffee plantations and flowers and ornamental plants for export.

The alternatives in farming activities include grafting techniques, which are costly but in the long term are better for the soil and ecosystems.

Cuba has already reduced its consumption of methyl bromide by 60 percent. This gas is classified as one of the main ozone-depleting substances by the Montreal Protocol, in effect since 1989.

The Caribbean island nation consumed 120 tons of this pesticide annually before 1998, of which 80 were used for disinfecting tobacco seedbeds.


BRAZIL: Aid Afloat for River Populations

MANAOS, Brazil - The Zona Franca Verde, a boat carrying some 90 people, is bringing to the residents of the Solimoes River -- which flows into the Amazon -- an opportunity to obtain birth certificates and other documents, medical assistance, environmental education and support for generating income.

The boat is carrying out a project of the Environment Secretariat of the northwestern state of Amazonas, and its fifth expedition, which concluded on May 17, lasted 44 days.

This initiative is the only way to reach 131 poor and isolated communities in the area of the 370-km natural gas pipeline that will be built in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, to offer them citizenship, health, and development services, Secretariat chief Virgilio Viana told Tierramérica.

The river peoples for the first time are receiving eye exams and ultrasounds, he said.


CHILE: Gov't to Compensate Mining Pollution Victims

SANTIAGO - The Appeals Court of the southern Chilean city of Arica has ordered the government to pay compensations totaling 2.4 million dollars to 176 people who suffered serious harm from exposure to toxic mining waste imported from Sweden.

The ruling, announced on May 17, ''is an unprecedented landmark in the history of environmental management and environmental law in our country,'' attorney Fernando Dougnac, president of the environmental group that initiated legal action in June 1999.

In 1984 and 1985, the Swedish company Boliden Metal AB sent 20,000 tons of mining waste with high arsenic and lead content to Chile. The waste was stored by the Chilean firm Promel in the port district of Arica, near the homes of hundreds of poor families. The local health service did not oppose the storage at the time.

* Source: Inter Press Service.

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