France: African immigrants die in fires

In the second fire in four months to sweep through temporary housing facilities for immigrants, 14 children and three adults died Aug. 26 when fire gutted their building in southeastern Paris. Another 23 people were hospitalized with injuries. Over 200 firefighters struggled for hours to control the blaze.

Four days later, a third blaze killed seven more immigrants and injured 14 others.

In the Aug. 26 fire, residents and neighbors said about 100 children and 30 adults, mostly from the West African countries of Senegal and Mali, were living in filthy, overcrowded conditions in the building, which is owned by the government and managed by the charity France Europe Habitat. Though the building was supposed to be temporary quarters, some residents had been there over a decade while waiting for subsidized housing.

A fire in April at a rundown residential hotel — also largely sheltering immigrants — killed 24 and injured over 50.

French officials promised a systematic investigation of similar temporary housing facilities.

Ecuador: Demand oil firms invest in poor communities

Ecuador’s Congress acted Aug. 25 to lift a state of emergency in areas where protesters attacked oil wells, but talks to resolve the crisis were stalled over protesters’ demand for immunity, The New York Times said.

Demanding that oil companies invest more in poor Amazon communities where they drill, demonstrators had attacked pipelines and pumping stations, greatly curtailing exports. Residents of the communities say environmental damage is severe, and they get little benefit.

Ecuador is South America’s second largest oil supplier to the U.S.

Under a draft settlement proposal, oil companies such as Occidental, Petrobras and EnCana Corp. would pave 160 miles of new roads in Sucumbios and Orellana provinces, while about two-thirds of the 25 percent income tax the companies pay would be earmarked for local health, environment and development projects.

India: ‘Things go badly with Coke’

The Kerala State Pollution Control Board Aug. 19 ordered Coca-Cola to shut down its bottling plant in the remote village of Plachimada, saying toxic waste from the plant was affecting drinking water in nearby villages and the plant was not providing adequate drinking water to local residents.

Residents were jubilant. “One way or another, this plant should be shut down and the management made to pay compensation for destroying our paddy fields, fooling us with fake fertilizer and drying out our wells,” villager Paru Amma told Inter Press Service.

Soon after the plant started operations in 2001, IPS said, local residents began protesting because their wells were running dry. Over two years ago, a local doctor said the water still available from the wells had become unfit for consumption. In July 2003, tests at the University of Exeter in Britain found the waste sludge the plant had given local residents as “free fertilizer” was full of heavy metals, including cadmium and lead, and was contaminating the food chain.

Along the way, the villagers were supported by an international campaign, including a three-day World Water Conference and demonstrations in Plachimada in January 2004.

Congo: Girl soldiers find it hard to go home

Some 12,500 girls now belong to government and non-government armed forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN’s IRIN news agency said, and disarming them and returning them to their communities is proving difficult.

IRIN cited a report by the non-governmental organization Save the Children, which found that when girls’ association with armed groups was revealed, their communities assumed they had been sexually abused and carried HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and had thus “lost value.”

Save the Children said fewer than 2 percent of girls go through its reintegration program. It called on the international community to fund other ways to release children from armed groups, and urged all states to ratify, enforce and report on international treaties protecting children, especially the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Jamaica-Venezuela: Oil pact signed

In Jamaica last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Jamaica’s Prime Minister Percival Patterson signed the first bilateral agreement under Venezuela’s Petrocaribe initiative to provide oil to Caribbean countries under very favorable financial terms, Granma reported.

The pact will increase Venezuela’s oil exports to Jamaica from 7,000 to 21,000 barrels per day, with a grace period of two years for payment at a 1 percent interest rate.

The PetroCaribe agreement, signed by Venezuela and all but two Caribbean countries in June, offers generous financing for oil sales to help small Caribbean economies deal with high fuel prices.

Chavez has also said the Venezuelan government would sell gasoline directly to poor organized communities in the U.S., in order to cut costs by eliminating middlemen.

World Notes are compiled by Marilyn Bechtel (