Monday, April 24, 2006

The wise man of Jamaica

The Jamaica Observer has a terrific columnist by the name of John Maxwell. His most recent column dealt with a variety of issues, including bird flu. It is so good I am having a hard time selecting just pieces of it. Here is an extended excerpt:
Egypt is in the throes of a bird flu epidemic. Apparently, the Egyptian poultry industry has been destroyed but backyard rearing of chickens is making the pandemic impossible to control. Galal Nassar, writing in Al Ahram, says an unpublished study suggests that "the avian flu virus is now endemic in Egypt and will remain so for years because of the bungling of health authorities at every step of the way".

It is suspected that the virus entered Egypt by the illegal importation of infected birds, which implies, according to Nassar "on top of gross negligence, gross corruption motivated by a greed so voracious that it had no compunction at letting the interest of immediate gain override the dangers to which it was exposing society".

Nassar points out that the Egyptian pandemic has occurred despite sensible precautions taken early on; a state of emergency had been declared, there was wholesale slaughter of industrial poultry, but little attention was paid to backyard poultry rearing or to the possibility that unscrupulous people might import infected poultry into the country. So, despite enormous early sacrifice, Egypt is again threatened by a pandemic to which the government's response is to blame the backyard chicken rearers.


In Jamaica, we need to realise that if bird flu becomes endemic here, as it has in Egypt, despite the fact that only a few people have died, it will mean the end of the tourism industry and wholesale unemployment. At that point we will have not only a public health emergency but a public security emergency. Before we are very much older we need to begin, and urgently, to devise a food security programme, diverting some of the millions we are spending on highways to nowhere to importing and planting food.

We really need to begin turning some of our sugar land over to peas and beans, to begin programmes to promote backyard gardening and to develop new strategies to guarantee reliable supplies of protein foods for the population. I believe it would make sense for us to begin to convert some of the enormous craters left by bauxite mining into fish ponds. It may make sense right now to forbid bauxite companies to mine out all the bauxite and instead to leave a lining of bauxite clay in the ground so that we can seal the ponds without too much expense.

It may also make sense to begin developing cottage industries around these ponds for the salting/pickling of freshwater fish, because if the pandemic really gets a grip even our electricity supplies will be in danger. We may not be able to import the oil to drive the generators to provide power for refrigerators and freezers. We need to begin a completely new look at our survival techniques and a completely new understanding of what it means to be civilised.

We can be certain of only one thing: we have no idea how desperate our situation may become.

But even if it does not become desperate we need to begin to understand the meaning of sustainable development and to prepare for future threats.
Wow. This guy is good.