World Notes: Australia, Kenya, Dominican Republic, France, Iraq, Jordan, Cuba

Iraq, Jordan: Water shortages weigh heavily

Southern Iraq is so short of drinking water, according to Azzaman News, that the government has prevailed upon Iran to supply fresh water via tanker ships. Water Resources Minister Abdullatif Rasheed last week inaugurated a massive dam crossing the Khassa River north of Kirkuk, heart of a region afflicted by severe drought. Last month, he urged French businesses to invest and help manage Iraqi water resources.

Speaking to the Al-Arab Alyawm newspaper last week in Jordan, University Professor Ghazi Al-Rabab’ah warned that water-short Israel would soon be waging wars over water, even against Egypt for access to Nile waters. He accused Israel of stealing water from Gaza, also from the Litani River in Lebanon, according to

Australia: Refugees protest conditions

Condemnation of Labor Party policies on refugees burst forth last week when 78 Sri Lankan migrants confined to the customs ship Oceanic Viking began fasting as they refused to disembark for transfer to a prison on Indonesia’s Bintan Island. Indonesia never signed UN conventions protecting asylum seekers, and Australia pays Indonesia to detain its excluded, most of whom are from Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan. Presently 900 refugees are languishing on Indonesia’s Christmas Island, reports the Australian Guardian paper. Critics say a much larger number of refugees arrive by plane – usually from less troubled areas –  and live freely in Australia while immigration authorities process asylum claims. Spokespersons for the Australian Workers Union and Australian Council of Trade Union joined in denouncing “scapegoating of people.”

Kenya: Good and bad news on malaria

Surveys presented at the Pan-African Malaria Conference last week in Nairobi showed that only three percent of infected African children are receiving effective anti-malarial treatment. Africans make up 90 percent of 900,000 malaria deaths annually. Untreated children under age five will die, said Dr. Desmond Chavasse, quoted by Inter Press Service. High costs block access to recommended combination therapy. Affordable drugs are generally ineffective against prevailing drug-resistant forms of malaria. A pilot subsidy program in Uganda and Tanzania, with treatment costing $0.25 rather than $11, put combination therapy into widespread use. Scientists reported that the world’s first effective anti-malarial vaccine will be released soon. They caution that pervasive administrative and logistical glitches will curtail its use, unless they are remedied.

France: Unionization and wages down worldwide

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development last week released data on trade union density showing generalized decline over four decades. Possible anomalies include low densities for France and South Korea – 7.8 and 10.0 percent respectively in 2007 – presumably not squaring with high levels of labor militancy there. Between 2000 and 2007, Australian unionization declined from 24.7 percent to 18.5 percent; British, from 29.6 to 28.0 percent; Canadian, from 30.4 to 29.5 percent; and U. S. unionization, from 12.8 to 11.6 percent. The International Labor Organization issued a press release last week on wages that read, “Growth in real average wages in the median country had declined from 1.0 percent in 2007 to -0.2 percent in 2008.”

Dominican Republic: Corporation sued over toxic waste dump

A civil suit brought Nov. 4 before a U.S. court by 11 residents of Arroyo Barril, DR, some of them now dead, alleges major birth defects and illnesses at the hands of Virginia – based AES Corporation. At the behest of the Puerto Rican government, AES hired a contractor in 2003 to remove 100 million pounds of coal ash from a plant there to Arroyo Barril, a remote seaside village in the Dominican Republic. Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium, and nickel. A $6 million judgment against AES in 2006 by a Virginia court for illegal dumping benefitted the Dominican government, not the plaintiffs. Employing 25,000 people at power plants in 29 countries, AES took in $16 billion last year.


Cuba: People’s debate on socialism under way

By last month, millions of Cubans were engaged in organized nationwide discussion on the future of Cuban socialism. President Raul Castro had set the process in motion last summer in preparation for the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, postponed this year until a future, as yet unassigned, date.  Informal debate was ubiquitous. Most of the problems propelling discussion are economic, stemming from severe hurricane damage last year, the world economic crisis, high food costs, idle land, corruption and reduced exports. Observers cited by the report on say opinion is building in support of initiatives introduced last year such as allowing for multiple jobs, removing caps on salaries and encouragement of private farming.

Photo: Farmer walks his bone-dry land just 20 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq. Hadi Mizban/AP


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.