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Humanitarian Emergency

The war in Iraq has caused a humanitarian emergency affecting 27 million people. The conflict has obvious repercussions for a civilian population that is already suffering the lack of health care, food, water and housing, even if they are not directly threatened by bombs and bullets.

The humanitarian crisis in Iraq has triggered an international mobilization to gather support and resources for operations aimed at alleviating the suffering. The United Nations has announced that efforts to benefit civilian Iraqis will require at least 2.2 billion dollars.

Of that sum, 1.3 billion dollars would be earmarked for a gigantic operation to distribute essential items under the auspices of the World Food Program (WFP).

On its web page about the war in Iraq, WFP warns that this could become the largest humanitarian operation in history.

The alarm created by the scope of the humanitarian emergency is evident on the Internet, where specialized agencies of the UN, international organizations and a veritable avalanche of news items cover the issue, providing details of its emerging characteristics and potential magnitude.

The web site of the Center for Humanitarian Information on Iraq provides some of this data, while the Yahoo! directory allows web surfers access to a special section on links to humanitarian organizations.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees has special operations under way in neighboring countries, awaiting up to 600,000 people who could be displaced from Iraq by the war.

UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) has also issued a global alert: The children of Iraq have been trapped by war for the third time in 20 years. Nearly half the population of that country is under age 20. At least 166 million dollars are needed to provide them the assistance they need.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also has a special section of its web site dedicated to Iraq. There it announces that resources totaling 300 million dollars will be needed to confront the health challenges created by war.

The International Red Cross is present on the Internet, underscoring the need to respect international treaties in regards to treating prisoners of war. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, expresses concern about the human rights violations occurring in the context of the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

UN: Iraq
World Food Program: Crisis in Iraq
UNHCR: Emergency in Iraq
WHO: the situation in Iraq
Human Rights Watch: Iraq
Yahoo!: Iraq – Humanitarian Relief

The Maya

The Mayan civilization for more than 3,000 years shone throughout Mesoamerica, which continues to be inhabited by its descendants. The imprints, achievements and mysteries these ancient peoples left can also be explored via cyberspace.

A great number of web sites in various languages delve into this civilization and its incredible culture. Some web sites focus on archeological projects and invite interested browsers to join the excavations -- if only virtually.

From this wondrous landscape emerged a highly developed civilization, one that flourished while Europe remained submerged in relative darkness, comments the Mundo Maya portal.

Another site in Spanish, "a light in the Mesoamerican jungles", says that the "basis of Mayan philosophy was built upon harmony: creativity and receptivity, earth and sky, life and death, day and night, masculine and feminine, good and evil."

The architectural development of the Maya allowed them to erect enormous structures as part of their cities in the middle of the jungle. The structures have endured centuries -- even millennia -- and today remain a source of constant awe.

Archeologists have also discovered the great mathematical abilities of the Maya, their very precise calendar, details about their political organization into city-states, and about their daily lives, including the games they played. Some of these discoveries are explained on the web site "Rabbit in the Moon".

But we still do not know everything about the Maya because a large portion of their legacy was destroyed after the arrival of Europeans in the "new world". Their history becomes all the more interesting with the resulting mysteries. How did the peoples who lived in the Mesoamerican region achieve such a high level of development? What caused the decline of this civilization?

The Mayan influence extended over what are today southeast Mexico, the territories of Guatemala and Belize, and western Honduras and El Salvador. There are some 4.5 million people of Mayan descent in the region, speaking languages that are a legacy of that distant past.

Portal: Rabbit in the Moon
Mayan architecture
The Maya Calendar
History of the Maya
Yahoo! - Maya culture


Anti-personnel landmines are deadly devices that, hidden underground, lie in wait of victims. Each year, thousands of innocent people are maimed or killed by these "conventional weapons", lethal objects whose threat is not diminished at the end of a war. Although there is a major international effort to eliminate landmines, the menace persists.

A great deal of information on landmines and their impacts can be found on the Internet. One web site, titled "The Silent Shout", of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), explains -- by the numbers -- the scope of the problem: in 68 countries there are 115 million landmines in the ground. Once these devices are in place, they can remain active for decades.

There are as many as 100 million landmines in stock and an average 2.5 million are "planted" each year. The creation of a minefield renders land useless and complicates efforts to establish peace processes. But worst of all, landmines cause an estimated 2,000 injuries or deaths each month. And 30 to 40 percent of victims are children. UNICEF calculates that, worldwide, there is one anti-personnel mine for every dozen children.

Landmines can be manufactured for a mere three dollars each, says the UNICEF web site. But to eliminate these devices requires an outlay of about 1,000 dollars apiece.

A landmine can be described as a hollow object with an explosive charge inside and a detonator that is activated under the pressure of a minimum weight.

The landmine problem is characterized by its magnitude, which has led to the signing of the Convention on the matter, which according to the information available on its related web site had 146 signatory nations and 131 ratifications as of January 2002.

The Convention commits the states party to the treaty to not use anti-personnel mines and to eliminate or to verify the elimination of all such existing weapons.

The International Committee of the Red Cross stresses that the countries which have adopted the Convention have two key dates to remember: by the end of 2003 most will have to destroy all of their antipersonnel mine reserves, and by the end of 2009 they must have cleared all minefields within their territories.

The main Internet clearinghouse for information on the humanitarian crisis caused by the indiscriminate use of landmines is the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

International Campaign to Ban Landmines
Mine Ban Treaty text
Ratification status
International Committee of the Red Cross - landmines
World Council of Churches: landmines campaign
UNICEF: The silent shout


When we say the word "drought" we think of what is lacking: water. And images are brought to mind of its consequences, which can be devastating to the environment, to the economy and to human life.

"Drought is one of the fundamental causes of disasters on the global scale," says a web site about drought in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean, where the past 30 years have seen an increase in frequency and intensity of this phenomenon.

Early warning of drought is a top priority, because it can allow populations and governments to prepare for this natural and recurrent climatic event.

The drought web site of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains that drought can be categorized four ways: meteorological, when precipitation is below normal; agricultural, when soil moisture is insufficient for growing crops; hydrological, when surface and subsurface water supplies are below normal; and socioeconomic, when water shortages affect people directly.

Droughts have historically been powerful phenomena, decimating populations through starvation, forcing massive migrations and causing severe economic, social and political crises.

Droughts can also be triggered by special climatic situations, as occurs with El Niño, which appears every three to seven years and causes torrential rains in some places and severe drought in others.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has a web site with a special section on the issue of droughts, which if they persist, might end up producing a desert.

FAO: desertification, drought and their consequences
Drought monitor in the U.S.
NOAA: drought information center
Connect Yourself: El Niño
Connect Yourself: Deserts

Banana Diseases

The banana is a crucial fruit for human beings. But the production of this food -- essential for hundreds of millions of people around the world -- is faced with the serious threat of plagues, particularly the black sigatoka fungus and Panama disease.

These diseases could dramatically hurt the production capacity of some banana varieties that are highly popular among consumers if a formula is not found to keep them from spreading. Researchers are delving into areas like genetic manipulation and cross-pollination to produce resistant banana hybrids, and biological control of pests.

But what is the story behind these plagues? On the Internet there is abundant information about the topic. It is a matter of the future of the banana.

Even if you are not a regular eater of bananas, there are at least 500 million people who depend on this fruit -- particularly in Africa and Asia -- as their main source of protein. On the commercial scale, the banana is the most popular and most consumed fruit in the world, says the author of the web site Banana split.

There, too, it is noted that the two principal threats are Panama disease, caused by the fusarium oxysporum fungus that attacks the banana tree's vascular system, and black sigatoka, caused by Mycosphaerella fijiensis.

Panama disease is a major plague on banana plantations around the world, causing great losses in revenues, particularly in normally high-production areas like Central America.

Black sigatoka, a disease that causes spots on the banana tree leaves, dramatically reduces the leaf's photosynthesis, cuts fruit yields by as much as 50 percent and causes premature aging, a serious problem for fruit destined for export.

Factsheets on banana diseases
The Banana Wars against Fungus
"Transgenics will not save the banana"
Connect Yourself: Bananas and Plantains
International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain
BBC: Bananas could split for good

Parties to War

The drums of war have been sounding louder and louder during the past few months, and their echo is felt worldwide. Although an official conflict has not been declared, the tensions are evident, and have led to an avalanche of information on the Internet.

The stage for this war would be the Persian Gulf, and the protagonists of the climate of discord are the United States, which has announced attack plans for non-compliance with international weapons treaties, and Iraq.

The reasons behind a war are often seen as incomprehensible -- and even unconscionable -- by the world's "ordinary people".

The conflict between the United States and Iraq had its first chapter in the 1991 Gulf War. Since then, disagreements and tensions have been ongoing, as a detailed timeline of events proves.

Those in search of explanations for the causes of war have a daunting task ahead, keeping up-to-date with the wide array of news agencies with an Internet presence.

U.S.-based media outlets tend to follow more closely the news coming out of Washington, but Iraq also has its on version of events.

And there are media that offer a unique perspective on the conflict and the surrounding tensions, such as Inter Press Service's special web page dedicated to the Iraq crisis.

News agency web sites provide a great deal of information about a war that has not yet begun. And they have also made evident the wide range of opinions on the conflict, including mobilizing the increasing population that favors peace.

Inter Press Service: Iraq - special edition
BBC: Conflict with Iraq
CNN: Showdown Iraq
The New York Times: Iraq
Iraq News Agency
U.S. Department of State
IPS: Timeline Iraq - A decade of tensions


Wheat is one of the basic grains that gave rise to civilization. Wheat cultivation is profoundly linked to ancient and modern history. This grain is milled into flour and used to make a food that is essential to millions around the world: bread.

A quick search on the Internet shows just how important wheat is today. To begin, it is the raw material for bread in much of the world, and historians say it has been cultivated for at least the last 10,000 years. The long history of the cereal is due to the fact that it is a key source of nutritional energy.

There are numerous varieties within the wheat family, but the most commonly used today are Triticum durum and Triticum compactum.

Wheat, like other cereals such as rice in Asia or maize in certain parts of Latin America, served as a trigger for the development of civilizations.

The most widely cultivated crop in the world, wheat feeds a large portion of the global population, meaning it is also the focus of studies to improve crop yields and increase nutritional properties, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

And around the world, this grain is part of a very active market. All would indicate that there is enough wheat grown, but that it is not fairly distributed among the global population. wheat
Wheatfoods: Grains nutrition info center
History of wheat
History of bread
Wheat facts
Taxonomy of wheat
In Context: Myths about Food and Hunger

Weapons for Sale

The weapons market evokes the dark side of world trade because it is ultimately a deadly business that moves billions of dollars each year. Some of the consequences are predictable: conflict, death, devastation.

The existence of the arms trade does not go unnoticed, as there are several organizations that monitor it and denounce illegal activity. Many groups have an Internet presence, like the Federation of American Scientists, which reports that weapons deals are worth more than 20 billion dollars annually.

Amnesty International warns that transfers of weapons and military services can foment and exacerbate human rights abuses. The United Nations is carrying out an intense campaign for disarmament, considered a high priority in a world that often seems armed to the teeth.

Activists are particularly concerned about small and light weapons, which are more easily smuggled across borders and disseminated throughout the population. Such weapons cause the deaths of some 500,000 people each year, of which 200,000 are victims of homicide, suicide, crime and accidents.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) maintains a website/exhibit denouncing small weapons, providing abundant information to underscore the harmful impacts of arms proliferation.

The Internet is a good place to learn more about efforts to fight weapons trafficking, legal documents like the Inter-American Convention against illicit weapons deals, and more links aimed at creating a more peaceful world.

UNICEF: Taking Aim at Small Arms
Inter-American Convention against the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, ammunition explosives and other related materials
UN: peace and security through disarmament
Federation of American Scientists
UNIDIR - UN Institute for Disarmament Research
Tierramérica - Connect Yourself: Disarmament

Bananas and Plantains

Bananas and plantains are fruits thousands of years old that have become an important food for humans. The banana trade is a dynamic market and has led to scientific delving into its genetics and its possibilities for ecological production.

The Internet is abundant with information on this -- at least for now -- abundant fruit. A good place to start is the banana page of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The sustainable increase in productivity of banana plantations is a key objective of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain (INIBAP), which reports that these fruits provide an important part of the diet for 400 million people in a hundred countries each day.

The website Bananas: a musa species notes that the banana tree is currently grown in all tropical regions of the world and the fruits represent the fourth leading crop in the world, after rice, maize and wheat.

The banana and plantain are originally from the Indo-Malaya region, but the migration of these species has been occurring since prehistoric times. India and Brazil are the leading producers of these fruits.

FAO: Banana page
International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain
INIBAP: banana links
Banana: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Banana: a musa species
BBC: Bananas could split for good
Bananas on the web


Forests and Deforestation

Forests cover 3.87 billion hectares of the earth’s surface, according to the latest report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on the State of the World’s Forests

The 2001 report underlines that 95 percent of that surface area corresponds to naturally occurring forests and 5.0 percent to plantation forests. It also points out that 14.2 million hectares are lost every year to deforestation, and 5.2 million hectares are planted, amounting to a net annual loss of 9.4 million hectares.

FAO’s forestry division states that progress was made towards conservation goals in the 1990s, but warns that in order to bring to life a vision based on sustainable management, a number of factors are necessary, such as the capacity to equitably finance the costs and benefits of strides made in conservation, as well as the materialisation of effective political commitments.

In September 2003 delegates from around the globe will take part in the XII World Forestry Congress to promote the conservation of forests, a habitat that is home to 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity, as the conference web site notes.

Although the surface area covered by forests may appear extensive, the web site of the World Resources Institute shows an animated map that clearly demonstrates the enormous reduction of forest land over the past 8,000 years.

Deforestation is produced by the excessive use of forestry resources, in other words the cutting of trees by large logging interests as well as small farmers who clear land to make way for their crops. Other factors are natural catastrophes and forest fires.

Abundant information can be found on the Internet on the characteristics of deforestation, especially in tropical forests, which according to a web site are home to 70 percent of the world’s plant and animal species. There is also a large quantity of specialised reports on the issue and web sites that provide information useful to outlining plans for the management of forest ecosystems.

FAO Forestry
FAO: The State of the World’s Forests
XII World Forestry Congress
World Resources Institute
Global Forest Watch
Deforestation: Tropical Forests in Decline/Canadian International Development Agency
Tropical forests

The Sun's Rays

Solar radiation was essential for the emergence of life on Earth, but today doctors are issuing an alert: envrionmetnal and social changes have turned the Sun's rays into dangerous company when they shine too brightly.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that the greatest danger lies in ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are thought to be responsible for the increase in cancer and ailments related to the skin and eyes, the human organs most exposed to sunlight. The United Nations health agency warns that these rays are a threat to everyone.

The Intersun portal is a cyberspace offshoot of the WHO-sponsored Global UV Project that warns that these rays play a role in the two to three million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 132,000 cases of malignant melanoma reported each year. The harmful radiation could also contribute to the two million cases of blindness arising from cataracts that are recorded worldwide each year.

There has been an increase in these cases. Why? On the one hand, there is a greater tendency towards sun exposure, for aesthetic motives like suntanning. But all sources on the Internet consulted on this matter point out that the thinning of the ozone layer, known as the ozone hole, is a factor that affects a large portion of the Earth's surface.

The thinning of the ozone layer is caused by pollutants produced by human activities, such as the manufacture and use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and is a serious problem because this atmospheric shield is what protects us from the potentially harmful rays of the sun, like UV.

To combat the emissions of these contaminants, many nations of the world have signed the Montreal Protocol, which is seen as successfully curbing the production of CFCs and other ozone depleting substances. But experts warn that the effects of the ozone hole will continue for at least a half-century unless all production of such substances is halted immediately.

Meanwhile, to protect ourselves, information is helpful. Intersun posts a UV index to categorise the danger of the suns rays.

WHO: Intersun The Global UV Project
Intersun: UV index
Connect Yourself: Ozone Hole - A Threatening Void
UNEP: Ozone Secretariat
Connect Yourself: Montreal Protocol on Ozone


Copyright © 2001 Tierramérica. Todos los Derechos Reservados




Children in northern Iraq. Source: UN Oil for Food Program





















Mayan city of Calakmul. Photo source: UNESCO Heritage of Humanity




















The cover of "The Silent Shout". Source: UNICEF


















Photo credit: F. Botts / FAO.


















Banana plantation in Tanzania. Photo credit: W.Gartung/FAO.


















Satellite photo of the Persian Gulf. Photo Source: NASA



















Photo source: Bizarri/FAO



















Small arms trafficking dramatically portrayed by a UNICEF exhibit.
Photo source:





















Photo credit: P. Cenini/FAO



















Tree-cutting in Honduras. Photo credit: G.Bizarri/FAO
























Image source: WHO/Intersun