Monday, April 23, 2007

Saving the planet: Battle for the land of Khan

A self-taught yak herdsman from Mongolia who forced the closure of polluting mines on the Onggi river is today awarded the world's biggest environmental prize. Clifford Coonan reports
Published: 23 April 2007
The Mongolian yak herder Tsetsegee Munkhbayar loves the Onggi river, which provides his people with water and fish. It broke his heart to watch mining companies transform the waterway of his homeland in the steppes into a poisoned mess as they poured toxic slurry from the mines straight into the river.

Mr Munkhbayar, 40, decided that if he did not act to save his beloved Onggi river nobody would and so he decided to do something about it. Almost singlehandedly, and at considerable personal risk, he took on the mining companies, and it worked. This was the very first time that anyone had stood up for environmental rights in Mongolia, a country which is still opening up after decades of communist rule by the Soviet Union.

Four out of 10 Mongolians are nomadic herdsman and the big debate in the country these days is whether mining is the way of the future or if livestock-rearing, the traditional way the Mongols sustained themselves, is the way forward.

Nearly half of the population of Mongolia depends on livestock to survive and large sections of the population still live in a ger, a traditional felt circular tent that has been the dwelling of choice in Mongolia for more than 1,000 years.

This is a country where traditional shoes point upwards - the story goes that this is so that they do not harm the land. Mongolia is the land of Genghis Khan, the great 13th-century leader whose marauding forces came close to Vienna and who is still a source of great pride in Mongolia to this day.

Tradition is all very well, but the influx of foreign cash for mines around the country is increasingly important to Mongolia's economic well-being.

In 2001 he began to organise a group of volunteers to do something about it, eventually ending up with a group of 2,000 activists. The Onggi River Movement organised multi-province, roundtable discussions and launched high-profile radio and television campaigns to build public awareness about the river's plight.

"If we have a river, we have life. Without the river, there is no life there," he said in a recent interview.

Mr Munkhbayar comes from Uyanga Som in the central province of Uvurkhangai, 250 miles from the capital, Ulan Bator, where he now lives and runs his environmental group.

More than 100,000 people rely on the Onggi river for fresh, clean water, while at least one million cattle also need the waterway. In 1995, the "Red" lake that the Onggi river supplies went dry, and scientists believe that was because gold miners were diverting water away from the sourcs of the Onggi river.

Mr Munkhbayar successfully pressured 35 of 37 mining operations working in the Onggi river basin to stop, permanently, ruining the river with their mining and exploration activities.

His group took the companies to court, and three gold mines harming the river and Red Lake were involved. The case also did a lot to increase environmental awareness in Mongolia, and had a trickle-down effect on other environmental stories.

Relying on mining for future growth is a potential disaster, Mr Munkhbayar says.

Last year he inspired the creation of the Mongolia Nature Protection Coalition - a collective of 11 separate river movements in Mongolia actively fighting destructive mining, forestry, tourism and agriculture activities.

This is a serious achievement in Mongolia as the mining industry is an enormously powerful lobby and there is precious little by way of a democratic tradition in Ulan Bator, or anywhere else in Mongolia.

Most of the money coming into the country from abroad is tied in with mining and nearly two-thirds of all exports are related to natural resources.

And it is all the more challenging because Mongolia is a poor country, and some 40 per cent of the country's 2.7 million people live below the poverty line. The country is home to the world's last and largest example of an intact temperate grassland ecosystem. Only one per cent of Mongolia is considered arable land, while about 34 per cent of the population depend directly on livestock production; most of the people are traditional nomadic herders, while another 26 per cent of the population is indirectly dependent on livestock - the country has 33 million domestic animals and is known as a "land of livestock". The country is rich in minerals such as oil, coal and gas, while traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in China are keen buyers of wildlife from Mongolia.

The most economically important animal is the Siberian marmot, which is hunted for its meat and its fur, while the Mongolian gazelle, grey wolf and the red and the corsac foxes are also crucial to the country's economy.

The demands of the mining industry are putting the miners and the herders on a collision course. Even though mining is hugely important to the economy, it has played havoc with the environment in Mongolia, with the grasslands of the central Asian nation dotted with slagheaps.

The World Bank complains that little has been done to address and to assess systematically the costs of possible environmental damage from mining in Mongolia.

Mining prospectors in Mongolia are known as ninjas, because of the green pans they wear on their backs that make them look like the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles".

The ninjas work in open-pit mines known as placer sites, areas where minerals can be extracted without needing to dig a tunnel or blast. They are seeking the scraps left behind by the big mining companies, who often operate inefficiently and leave a site with only 60 per cent or 70 per cent of its riches gathered, leaving the harder-to-get-at deposits behind. No one knows exactly how many of these opportunist ninja miners there are - there are certainly tens of thousands of them.

Many mining companies complain about the irresponsible placer operations, where the operators walk away without any efforts at reclamation work, and leave the site ready for the ninja scavengers to swoop, saying such companies are giving them all a bad name.

They also forage for gold in the river, using chemicals such as cyanide to leach out the gold, which poisons the water. The source of the Onggi has been damaged, possibly for good.

"The nomads are losing their pasture. They're squeezed by mining more and more," said Mr Munkhbayar told an interviewer recently from his office.

The country is rich in natural resources such as gold, platinum, uranium, copper, zinc, oil, and natural gas, but the grasslands' ecosystem is fragile. The herders need the rivers to water their animals, but they are being squeezed out by the miners. There are about 300 mines in Mongolia seeking to take advantage of the country's fabulous rich economy.

Mr Munkhbayar's efforts have just been recognised by the international green lobby and he was the only Asian recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's biggest accolade for grassroots environmental activists. The £62,000 annual award is given to outstanding individuals who work to fight pressing environmental challenges, and was created to allow these people to continue their important work. He was one of six people to win the award.

"Munkhbayar was chosen because of the huge impact he has had on the issue of responsible mining and water protection in Mongolia. Not only has he worked with governmental leaders in crafting appropriate legislation, but he has also made it a point to continue educating the public about their water resources and their democratic right to have a voice in protecting them," said Richard Goldman, the founder of the prize. "His award acknowledges his vision and personal risk."

Mongolia faces some serious environmental challenges because wildlife populations are decreasing dramatically, largely due to overexploitation.

For example, the range of the Mongolian gazelle is now only about 25 to 30 per cent of that observed in the 1950s, and the population is now thought to be in serious decline.

Rural communities in Mongolia are going through massive change as the country switches from being a centralised command economy to a market economy. Many state-owned factories in rural areas have been shuttered, with lots of jobs lost and many poor Mongolians have gone back to the land, stretching the already depleted resources in the countryside.

Doug Bereuter, the president of the Asia Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation, said: "The health of Asia's environment is fundamental to the health of all its citizens. As a grantee, Mr Munkhbayar epitomises our long-standing commitment to empowering people and organisations on the grassroots-level to creating a healthful, prosperous Asia. We congratulate and commend him on this significant award and his lasting work."

The other Goldman prize winners

Willie Corduff (Ireland, oil and mining)

Mr Corduff, a lifetime resident of Rossport, western Ireland, has led a fight since 1996 to protect the picturesque area from an approved Shell oil pipeline.

Sophia Rabliauskas (Canada, forests)

Sophia Rabliauskas, a leader of the Poplar River First Nation - 1,200 members of the Ojibway indigenous people - in Manitoba, has worked to secure protection of their two million acres of undisturbed forest (three times the size of Rhode Island). The land has been under threat from massive clear-cut logging.

Hammerskjoeld Simwinga (Zambia, sustainable development)

Mr Simwinga restored wildlife and transformed a poverty-stricken area in the North Luangwa Valley, where poaching in the 1980s destroyed the elephant population and left villagers living in extreme poverty.

Julio Cusurichi Palacios (Peru, forests)

The Shipibo indigenous leader, from the Peruvian Amazon, led an effort in 2002 that resulted in the creation of a territorial reserve for his isolated people spanning 3,000 square miles.

Orri Vigfússon (Iceland, endangered species)

Mr Vigfússon founded the Iceland-based North Atlantic Salmon Fund, which has dramatically improved salmon fish stocks in numerous countries.
Escape from the Holocaust: The secret life of Britain's Anne Frank

When her parents were sent to the Nazi concentration camps, a six-year-old from Newcastle was hidden away in Paris. Now she is retracing her path to freedom
By Ian Herbert

Published: 23 April 2007

The fragments of the story were there all along, bundled into a shoebox which lay, unopened, in a spare room at Suzanne Rappoport's apartment in Leeds. There were the postcards her father had sent, asking after her but providing no word of her mother; the studio photograph of the three of them taken a few weeks before they were separated; and the immaculate, handwritten note she had penned, aged no more than nine, telling how she longed to see them both again. "Je serai bien contente de revoir ma chere petite maman et mon cher petit papa," reads the letter. She never did.

Ms Rappoport was born of an immigrant British mother and has spent her entire adult life in England. But its defining event occurred on a warm August afternoon in German-occupied Paris, in 1942. The French police were collaborating with the Nazis in the round up of non-French Jews - those who had come to France but were not born there - for deportation. Among them were her parents, taken from their small flat at Belleville, in the attractive 20th arrondissement.

Ms Rappoport would have been taken, too, were it not for the courage and sheer audacity of the woman across the third floor landing, Mme Yvonne Collomb, who removed the child from the flat - even as French police waited for her parents to pack a case each - and then helped conceal her from the Nazis and their collaborators for over three years. Though other British Jews are known to have been among France's 30,000 Hidden Children, who escaped the Nazis in circumstances captured by Sebastian Faulks's novelCharlotte Gray, Ms Rappoport will become the first to tell her story this week, in a BBCTimewatch documentary which takes her back to the apartment block where, 65 years ago, she was concealed in a makeshift bed under her neighbour's kitchen table.

There would have been no story to tell had not Ms Rappoport's mother, Millie Spadik, whose own parents first arrived in Liverpool by passenger ship in the early 1900s to escape the Russian pogroms, decided to leave her home in Newcastle upon Tyne for France after an unhappy marriage. She settled in Paris where she had met Josek Rappoport, a Polish tailor, though she and her daughter returned to north-east England several times before the war. With Millie's income as a garment finisher supplementing Josek's salary, they enjoyed theatre and cinema and were able to indulge their daughter in her favourite treat - grenadine and lemonade with a straw at a café on Rue de Belleville. The last family photograph, taken at the Studio Jean Guy, marked their daughter's sixth birthday - 23 July 1942.

What occurred next remained firmly in the past until Ms Rappoport, now 70, concluded it was time to revisit it. Her decision to go back stemmed from a chance conversation about her parents with one of her neighbours in Leeds, Barbara Govan, whose Screenhouse Productions company has produced the Timewatch documentary, which airs on BBC2 on Friday. "I felt that I needed, while I still could, to find out what had happened to my parents - and to my grandparents, who were also taken that summer," Ms Rappoport said. "There were so many fragments of memory. That's how it must be with an experience like that."

She was at her father's shoulder, as he sat watching the pigeons in the sunshine through the window of their third-floor apartment, when they both heard the sound of the French policemen on the wooden staircase at 58 Rue de Belleville. The child was not immediately anxious: there had been a curfew for her that summer and the yellow star she and other Jewish children wore made her uncomfortable, but her parents had been assiduous about keeping the family's true predicament from her. It was as her parents locked the front door and quickly ushered her into the small family bedroom with them, bundling her under the bed, that it became clear something was seriously wrong. "Mother was sobbing, pacing backwards and forwards and tearing her hair out," Ms Rappoport recalled. "From under the bed, I saw clumps of it falling to the floor. She knew what was coming." After the front door was broken in, the Rappoports were ordered into their sparse little kitchen and were packing bags in front of the small Salamander stove, under the eye of the policemen, when Mme Collomb rushed in. "She said: 'What's my child doing in this apartment? I've been looking everywhere for her. She dragged me out by the arm before I could react," Ms Rappoport said. "She got away with it. The police left the building with my parents but never came looking for me."

Ms Rappoport now believes that her parents and their neighbour had rehearsed this script in readiness for the moment. "Mme Colomb had sent her daughter out to play at the Butte de Chaumont park that day," she said. "I also found my parents' sideboard in her apartment, and items like their Japanese tea set, which puzzled me. I now think it might have been their advance payment to her for the task she was prepared to undertake."

The days which followed brought the same bewildering existence which the two young Jewish brothers experience when hidden in an upstairs room inCharlotte Gray. Mme Collomb made her new child a bed under the kitchen table, protected from view by a long, thick chenille table cloth, and she occupied her with a pair of slippers made from old dusters. It was Suzanne's job to polish the floor with them. "I loved skating around the slippery kitchen on them," Ms Rappoport recalled. "She knew how to distract me."

But it soon became unsafe for a child, whose existence was well known, to be confined so close to home. Mme Collomb tapped into a network which was hiding children in rural France and sent her to the village of Mondoubleau in the Loire Valley, whose role in hiding children has been documented. It was here that the reality of her parents' absence and her own grim existence - with hours hidden from view in a cellar - began to dawn on her. Though she did not know it, those into whose care she had been entrusted did not share Mme Collomb's empathy. A letter, written from a family in Mondoubleau to Mme Collomb and recently recovered from the Leeds shoebox, reads: "Je regrette de vous mettre en embarras pour [Suzanne] mais je ne peux pas la garder. Je ne peux pas m'attacher a la maison pour un enfant." ("I'm sorry to put you in a difficult position over Suzanne but I can't look after her. I can't be stuck at home for a child.")

Suzanne was moved to a farmhouse in the Auvergne, where her yearning to see Ms Collomb, as well as her parents, was evident in an emotional a letter to Ms Collomb which concluded: "Je vais vous quittaient en vous embrasant de tout mon petit coeur."

Correspondence from southern Poland told Mme Collomb that the prospects for the child's parents were grim. Several postcards from Suzanne's father confirmed he was in the Auschwitz camp at Birkenau, where at least 1.1 million Jews and 75,000 Poles perished. His prisoner number - Birkenau 3776 - is at the top of the cards (translated into German at the camp) in which he reports: "I'm digging coal. I'm in good health. How is my child? Of my wife, I've heard nothing."

Young Suzanne, like dozens of France's hidden children, received no word of her parents' fate. She wept when a child, Fernandres, who had shared her predicament in the Auvergne, was suddenly taken home to Marseilles by her parents. Her years in hiding brought several close escapes - she was caught in the crossfire of a resistance attack on a German munitions train on one occasion - but eventually, after the war had ended, she returned to Mme Collomb, only to find herself within days on a ship to her maternal grandparents in Newcastle. "After everything, it wasn't what I wanted," she said. "I was returning to a strange country where I didn't speak the language. As soon as I was old enough, I left my family for London."

"Forget what happened," her grandparents told her, leaving her to reach her own conclusions about her parents' fate. And to this day, the precise details about them are unclear. Though Ms Rappoport has located them both at the Shoah Memorial in Paris, where 76,000 Jews deported from France are remembered, the dates and places of their deaths are still unknown. Discussions are currently under way in Europe on how to speed up the unlocking of a vast archive of Nazi documents, including an index of 17.5 million names, controlled by a commission on which 11 countries, including Britain, are represented. This may also reveal more about her paternal grandmother, who died at Auschwitz, and her grandfather, who died at a holding camp.

Mme Collomb's collection of evidence - passed to Ms Rappoport in 1969 when she went to France in search of documentation to assist her application for a British passport - has helped her to discover more than she hoped to learn and prompted her to ensure the Frenchwoman, who died in 1992, is remembered for her heroism. Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, has already agreed to name Mme Collomb as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust, and her name is also to be placed on France's Mur des Justes, which acknowledges those who defied the Nazis. It is now known that Mme Collomb saved others including a M. Hubermann, another neighbour, who hid in her broom cupboard.

The French government has awarded Ms Rappoport a small annual compensation - for which she must attend a Leeds police station each year to prove she is still alive. A class action suit co-ordinated in New York against the French railway, SNCF, for transporting her parents and many others continues - though a regional court verdict in their favour has recently been overturned.

"The police never came looking for me at Mme Collomb's house that day and whether I was on the arrest list is a mystery I shall never know the answer to," Ms Rappoport said. The horror that she was spared is perhaps best understood by the letters written by other Parisian children before they were herded away on trains, that summer. "My heart is heavy and I can't tell you all I am feeling," said 15-year-old Jacques Befelor before departing Paris on what was known as Convoy 15 to Auschwitz. "We are rushing to prepare for a long, sad journey and it drives us mad that we are to be separated. This is the end."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dona Paula

The legend of Dona Paula - truth or tall-tale
Blessy Thomas
[20 Apr, 2007 l 0054 hrs ISTlTIMES NEWS NETWORK]

At the place where two famous rivers meet the Arabian Sea lies the once secluded bay of Dona Paula with the fine view of Marmugao Harbour. This place carries with it an aura both romantic and mythical. Here's a peek into this enigmatic scene.

Dona Paula is nestled on a rocky, hammer shaped headland. This former fishing village has now become a commercialized location for beach resorts and restaurants. With the romance and myth attached to it, tourists throng the Dona Paula beach and Jetty in search of the mystery, besides indulging in water sports.

There are a number of legends behind the alleged Dona Paula Sculpture. The tourists coming here are often told fascinating stories and misguided by tourist guides. Sarika Phadte from Maharashtra, who is here on a holiday, told us the tale she was told by her Tourist Guide. "Dona was married to Paulo, a lowly fisherman. He ventured into deep seas for fishing and is said to have never returned. His dutiful wife Dona supposedly waited for him at the jetty, for so many years that she finally turned into stone!" Susan Reed, a British national told us that she read on a Goa tourism Brochure the following romantic lore. "Dona and Paulo were lovers separated by their caste and nationality and with no other option left, they decided to end their lives, by jumping off the cliff. The Statue on the rock is dedicated to them."

But the truth is far from romantic and tragic, and lacks the power to attract crowds. The truth finally puts all the legends and folklore behind Dona Paula to rest. "Dona is the title given to married women according to Portuguese customs. And Paula Amaral Antonio de Souto Maior is the lady in debate. She is not a romantic figure but definitely a historical figure. She was the daughter of the Portuguese Viceroy of Jaffnapatnam, in Sri Lanka. She and her family arrived in Goa in 1644 and she married a Fidalgo from Spain in 1656. Her husband was Dom Antonio Souto Maior. The were an extremely affluent family and the entire property from the present day Cabo Raj Nivas all the way to Caranzalem belonged to the Souto Maiors. She later passed away on December 16, 1682."

Prajal Shakardande has researched this topic thoroughly and has proof to his accounts. He has found the grave of Dona Paula Amaral Antonio de Souto Maior in the transept of the Chapel at the Governor's Palace where a part of her history is engraved on her gravestone. Shakardande also stated that, "Dona Paula was a woman of charity and is known to have helped the villagers and worked a lot for their betterment, so after her death, the villagers decided to re-name the village as Dona Paula. Initially the village was called Oddavell."

Now that the truth is out, one more thing needs to be sorted out and that is the alleged statue of 'Dona-Paulo.' According to Heta Pandit in her book 'Walking in Goa,' the statue seen today at the jetty in Dona Paula is in reality the sculpture of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Knox. It was a Dutch sculptress, Baroness Yrse Von Leistner who etched the sculpture as she was in awe of the philosopher Robert Knox.

Fiction, they say is always more interesting than fact, and that holds true here too. Nevertheless, it's never too late to give Dona Paula Amaral Antonio de Souto Maior her

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Konkani films wizard Frank Fernand passes away

MUMBAI, Apr 3: Frank Fernand, producer of epoch-making Konkani films "Amchem Noxib" and "Nirmonn", breathed his last at the age of 87 years here on April 1, and was buried on April 2.
Born on May 3, 1919, at Curchorem, the pioneering musician had the privilege of being baptized by Anjuna's saintly priest Fr Agnelo de Souza.
In 1942, Frank was exposed to jazz standards while performing in 1942 at Savoy Hotel in Mussorie with the Rudy Cotton band. He played for a while the same year in New Delhi too. By 1946 Frank was performing for Mickey Correia's celebrated band.
He joined the film industry in 1948, playing the violin and trumpet for music duo Shankar-Jaikishan. Frank is also associated with the success of Raj Kapoor's super hit "Barsat" and another film with music director SD Burman. He did remarkable musical arrangements for Kishore Kumar, C. Ramchandra, Roshan and Anil Biswas. The Hindi Film music community still cherishes Frank's final assignment with music director Kalyanji-Anandji as his first assistant. He produced Konkani film "Amchem Noxib" based on Ratus' story, under the banner of Frank Films (Goa). With a successful comedy, memorable music and Rita Lobo's fresh face "Amchem Noxib" was a runaway hit. Frank launched "Nirmonn" in Konkani, with a touching story, and received the Certificate of Merit, at the hands of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; the film was also made in Hindi as "Taqdeer" and was directed by A. Salaam. Frank Fernando joined G Arabia to produce "Priya", in Hindi in 1965, with music by Kaplan Anand. Frank, who excelled at jazz, has also provided the musical score for the film "Mhoji Ghorkarn", directed by A. Salam. He has also staged a tiatr "Bekar Patrao" in the eighties with a ten-piece orchestra. The veteran musician had a setback when he contracted Parkinson's disease in 1985. He leaves behind his wife Maggie, daughters Elfin, Doris, Larissa and son Max. [Isidore Dantas, GoaNewsClips]