Effective use of the Internet, which in recent years has grown phenomenally worldwide, allows these geographically dispersed parties to exchange information very rapidly and inexpensively. But at present Internet usage is undeveloped in Asia at the NGO level, which means that the promotion of information sharing via the Internet at this level is of great urgency to pursue global environmental conservation in the 21st century.
With these points in mind we set up our own network server in 1998, and started our research group's website and mailing list. These we have used to facilitate the collection, provision, and sharing of environmental information in Asia. At the Fourth Asia-Pacific NGO Environmental Conference (APNEC) we held discussions with people from around Asia on the sharing of environmental information through the Internet, and looked for people who would cooperate.
In 1999 we worked on collecting and disseminating environmental information using the Internet in two ways: sending information from Japan to other Asian countries (i.e., telling other Asian countries about Japan's pollution and about its experience in overcoming pollution) and sending information to Japan from other Asian countries (offering environmental information from other Asian countries as seen through the Internet).
2. What an Environmental Information Guide Should Be
Sharing environmental information is essential to working toward sustainable development. If information about environmental damage is not supplied broadly to the citizens, they will not make sufficient conservation efforts. This awareness has also emerged at the Earth Summit and other international conferences.
For Example, the Rio Declaration points out the importance of environmental information as follows.
"Principle 10 Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available..." (Rio Declaration on Environment and Development)Agenda 21 likewise observes the importance of environmental information in Chapter 40, "Information for Decision-Making."
"In sustainable development, everyone is a user and provider of information considered in the broad sense. That includes data, information, appropriately packaged experience and knowledge. The need for information arises at all levels, from that of senior decision makers at the national and international levels to the grass-roots and individual levels. The following two program areas need to be implemented to ensure that decisions are based increasingly on sound information:Since before the time when people saw the importance of sharing environmental information internationally, governments have responded to the requests of citizens and researchers by publishing environmental reports and statistics, and making environmental indicators available to the public.(a) Bridging the data gap;
(b) Improving information availability."
In addition to releasing information through these traditional publications, information started becoming available over the Internet in the mid-1990s. Environment ministries and other government departments post a variety of information on their websites, from their environmental laws and the contents of their environmental reports, to daily air pollution indicators. Websites have also been set up by many kinds of NGOs campaigning against pollution and for nature protection, and working in other areas, and they post a variety of environmental information including their activities.
These Internet information sources are essential to researching Asian environmental problems. From an environmental education perspective as well, it is desirable that these information sources be used to better our understanding of Asia's environmental problems.
Each day the Internet hosts more sites, which provide a huge amount of information. The amount is now so large that even the use of various search engines fails to locate the desired information. Of help in this instance are publications that list websites, but Japanese publications which list existing websites concentrate mainly on Japanese-language sites, and lack adequate listings of information sources in other Asian countries. There is a steady stream of English-language publications that list environmental sites, but those sites are mainly in Western countries, and do not adequately treat Asian information sources. This is why we need an "Asian Environmental Information Guide" dealing primarily with environmental information on the Web.
The Asian Environmental Information Guide would not only be a valuable information source to people researching Asia's environmental problems, but would likely enjoy very wide use. NGOs and other parties would find environmental information from Asian countries of assistance in finding problems common to those countries and sharing their experiences. It would probably be the first step for college and graduate students studying Asia's environmental problems to discover those problems and obtain basic information about them. It is also anticipated that information on Asia's environmental problems that is presented in English will attract the interest of high school students in English-language and social studies classes.
This series henceforth shall present in detail the contents of the Asian Environmental Information Guide, but they can be organized in an easily understood manner into these four categories.
Presenting a variety of information sources while evaluating the information will probably also be a good stimulus to those who produce web pages. The Asian Environmental Information Guide promises that it will encourage the provision of more detailed and easy-to-understand environmental information.
In particular, until now not much environmental information has issued from Japan in English. Information provided by Japan about its pollution experience from the 1950s through the 1970s, and about the various environmental problems it faces now, would likely be of use to other Asian countries in determining their development orientations and what measures to take. Information such as laws and other government documents and policy measures is available on the Environment Agency's website, but Japan ought to disseminate more concrete, diverse information such as what kind of environmental problems are in the spotlight, what the current disputes are, and what criticism there is of government policy. What is more, NGOs provide considerably less information than the government. We hope that the Asian Environmental Information Guide will function to encourage the provision of information from Japan, and to improve its quality.
As noted previously, even documents such as Agenda 21, which was adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit, see importance in the sharing of environmental information as a tool for many people to address environmental problems. This series will present in detail the information sources accumulated by researchers who have been investigating Asia's environmental problems. We hope this Asian Environmental Information Guide series will help facilitate the sharing and dissemination of environmental information, promote environmental education, and enhance research on environmental problems.
3. Current State of Environmental Information in Asia
3.1 General Information Sources
The most valuable source of information on contemporary environmental problems is the reporting by newspapers and other mass media. A representative book relating the seriousness of pollution in 1960s Japan is _The Horror of Pollution_ (Iwanami, 1964) by Mitsuru Shoji and Ken'ichi Miyamoto. Chapter 1 selects pollution incidents from local newspapers published in various prefectures and presents them in a chronicle style over several pages. The authors showed through newspaper articles that pollution was a nationwide problem.
Author Miyamoto made the following observation while looking back on the situation then.
"In those days I troubled myself with how to bring an awareness of pollution, as a serious matter of public concern happening all the time, to not just the citizens, but also to researchers. I checked the four national dailies, which were inadequate because they reported mainly pollution in other countries. With the help of students I checked one local paper in each of 46 prefectures and made up a chronology, which appears at the beginning of _The Horror of Pollution_ as a pollution map of Japan which showed that in the early 1960s pollution was serious nationwide, not just in the large urban areas. It was clear that the environment was quite damaged, and concern about pollution quickly spread" (Miyamoto, 2000).
Environmental problems in Asian countries and other countries also appear infrequently in Japanese newspapers' international sections unless Japanese corporations or ODA are directly involved. For example, from December 1999 through January 2000, newspapers and television reported heavily on the medical waste that had been improperly exported from Japan to the Philippines, but in the mid-1990s there had been frequent improper waste imports into Asian countries. In 1993 68 containers of wastes from the Netherlands and other countries were found to have been abandoned in an Indonesian port, and around 1995 wastes exported to China from the U.S. and other countries became a major "Western waste" issue. In late 1998 mercury-containing industrial wastes were exported from Taiwan to Cambodia, and the residents rioted in the village where the wastes had been abandoned. While readers might once find an article on such incidents in Japanese newspapers, the stories hardly ever get continuous detailed coverage as a story develops. One must read locally published English-language or vernacular newspapers to find out about Asia's environmental problems. Kojima (1996) is one work that compares information on Asian environmental problems as reported by Japanese newspapers and by local media in the respective countries.
Although the information in newspapers and other media is secondary information, it is still an essential source for gaining an overview of problems in various countries. The websites of newspapers in those countries can be easily searched for past articles, thereby providing valuable information on what environmental problems there are, and what policies are being implemented.
Another way of finding newspapers is to look
for them on the English-language Yahoo! site,
3.2 Environmental Information Sources by Theme
1) Investigating Energy and Environmental Issues with the Internet
Energy consumption is increasing faster in Asia than anywhere else in the world, and nuclear power development is also the most active here. Because energy development underpins economic development, it is often led by governments and their relevant agencies. Information on energy policy was in the past unavailable unless one went to those agencies and directly asked officials, but it is now obtained with comparative ease as the Internet grows.
Energy policy information is obtainable in English, not to mention each country's vernacular. Naturally vernacular sources are more voluminous, but because it is in fact impossible to be conversant with all the languages of Asia, comparisons of Asian environmental information, elementary studies, and other such tasks are performed in English, the de facto international language.
Obtaining information over the Internet requires that one know a website's URL, and obtaining URLs for unknown sites ordinarily involves using Yahoo! or some other search engine. But if one does not know a certain country's language, it is very hard to find the English-language information on the desired country. The usual Internet search engines such as Yahoo!, which require site registration, will come up with very little information in English about the country for which one seeks URLs. For example, if you look for URLs on South Korea using Yahoo! Korea, you will get hardly any hits for energy-related sites in English.
This does not, however, mean there are no energy-related sites. The authors' study shows that for South Korea alone there are the sites shown in the following list, and that much of the information available there is useful to us Japanese as well.
This situation -- in which people want information on a certain country whose language they do not know, but cannot locate English-language sources -- holds not only for South Korea, but for other Asian countries as well. English-language information in Asian countries is buried among the information in their vernacular languages.
Another problem is that even when Web pages are in English as in countries like India, they are in many cases not registered with Yahoo! or other primary search engines. Even organizations that provide their information on websites likely register under their own volition with search engines like Yahoo!, whose registration systems require sites to register themselves, but even then a major detour is needed to find the sought URL because it still requires a search.
In light of this situation, it is crucial that in Japan we organize URL information on energy and the environment in Asia to create a shared asset for avoiding such detours and difficulties. Here the authors have listed only a few websites in South Korea and India, but detailed URL information will be posted on the EINAP site as it becomes available.
South Korean Energy- and Environment-Related Sites
Environment- and Energy-Related Sites in India
2) Gathering Waste-Related Information Using the Internet
When gathering information about wastes, it is a good idea to specify the waste type (municipal solid wastes or hazardous wastes), and search for data and information from the government offices, NGOs and international organizations concerned with that type.
In many Asian countries municipal wastes are managed and disposed by local governments, but amounts generated and data thereon are hardly available, and hardly any local governments have websites, which necessitates asking the relevant central government agencies. Those include health ministries, the ministries or agencies with management guidelines, and the ministries or agencies in charge of local governments.
Because many international agencies and foreign aid agencies are involved in waste management in Asian countries in the form of urban development projects, it is a good idea to ask those agencies' urban development departments. International agencies post reports on their websites.
One attempt at comparing waste management in Asian countries is the downloadable World Bank report, "What a Waste: Solid Waste Management in Asia."
The Basel Convention secretariat's website offers basic information on the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes. This site presents documents from meetings of the parties, and the documents on transboundary hazardous waste movements reported to the secretariat by member states.
The Basel Action Network site offers a substantial body of information on the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes. It has an organized store of information, such as newspaper reports, that aids understanding of current problems. The network conducted its own on-site investigation of the export of mercury-containing hazardous wastes from Taiwan to Cambodia in late 1998. Through this and other efforts it continues monitoring the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes as an NGO.
Greenpeace is another NGO with a continuing
campaign on hazardous substances. Since 1999
and into 2000 it has sent a ship around to
places in Asia including India, Thailand,
the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Japan on
a Toxic Free Asia Tour. Greenpeace's Australia
chapter issued a report on the transboundary
movement of hazardous wastes in Asia. For
its reports on lead recycling plants in India
and the Philippines, Greenpeace's investigations
included the lead concentrations in soil
near those plants, thus demonstrating its
capabilities of gathering information and
analyzing it. Greenpeace also calls for a
ban on waste incineration to limit the production
of dioxins and other substances.
3) Using the Internet to Gather Forest-Related Information on Southeast Asia
The tropical forests of Southeast Asia have one of the fastest deforestation rates worldwide. Although mainly in the developed countries warnings and concern are expressed in various ways through the media, they do not provide enough information to understand the big picture in those Southeast Asian countries. Some of these countries, however, have made progress in providing information, which has created information differentials among Southeast Asian countries. This holds for websites as well. Using forest resources sustainably makes it essential that not only experts, but also the citizens, understand the situation and respond appropriately, meaning that information sharing is vital. We therefore chose several Southeast Asian countries and found forest-related information via the Internet. These sources are presented below.
To begin with, it is convenient to locate
related sites in major Southeast Asian countries
by using the following links from the World
Resources Institute website, which lists
links for Asia, Burma, Indonesia, Japan,
and Malaysia. Following is a brief look at
a number of links.
Forest-Related Websites in Japan
3.3 Environmental Information Sources by Country/Region
1) South Korea's Environmental Problems and the Internet
In South Korea both the government and private organizations are making good use of the Internet with regard to the environment. Environmental issues in South Korea infrequently end up in the courts, more often being fought on the legislative front. Because the making of an excellent law is deemed a feather in the hat of a national assembly member or bureaucrat, it is not an uncommon occurrence for a law more advanced than needed by society to be passed, which is then followed by a citizens' movement. Owing to this situation, South Korea's government is more active than Japan's government in disclosing information in order to advocate the government's position to the citizens (its position is not necessarily pro-conservation). Some examples follow.
South Korean Government Websites
4. Conclusion and Outlook
As the foregoing discussion has shown, this year we have worked to enhance the EINAP website in two ways: sending information from Japan to other Asian countries and sending information to Japan from other Asian countries. Especially with respect to activities for collecting Asian environmental information and making it available to the public, we feel that during this one year we have achieved considerable progress in both the amount of information collected, and in the technical methodology for collecting and organizing information. It is possible that accumulating a corpus of information arranged by issue and region will in the future directly benefit the sharing of environmental information not only in Japan, but in Asia as a whole.
Accordingly, the orientation for our activities henceforth should perhaps be, domestically in Japan, augmenting the "Asian environmental information" website, and, over the long term, pursuing activities with the goal of publishing an "A Guide to Asian Environmental Information." As noted above, the information contained in this report has already been posted on the EINAP website, and there are plans to make improvements from time to time in the content and method of organization in accordance with user feedback. Additionally, beginning with vol. 30 no. 1 (published July 14) of _Research on Environmental Disruption_ we have established a new department called "Guides to Asian Environmental Information," which is written by EINAP.
In the Asian region, it will also perhaps be necessary to quickly push forward with translating the store of information into English, disseminate it through venues such as APNEC, and continue to increase and enhance information, as well as to look for cooperating parties in other countries.
In Japan, we shall work on expanding and enhancing the store of Asian environmental information, while at the same time providing for close work among existing publications such as _The State of the Environment in Asia_, _Research on Environmental Disruption_, and the EINAP website, and also endeavoring to issue publications meant specifically for the purpose. For the entire Asian region, make EINAP more widely known by beefing up the English-language information on EINAP's website and promoting EINAP at international conferences and other venues, while at the same time using the mailing list and other means to find cooperating parties in other countries. By continuing these activities we will gain experience and build up our organization so that in the future EINAP can help build networks by serving as an information center for Asian environmental NGOs.
Interview with a Victim of the Bhopal Poison Gas Accident
Following is the record of an interview conducted in Bhopal on March 19, 2000 by Abdul Jabbar, representative of the Bhopal Poison Gas Women Victims Alliance (in Hindi, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan), with Rashida Bi (26 at the time of the disaster, now has an 18-year-old son), the representative of the Bhopal Poison Gas Women Victims Stationery Workers Union (Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh), which was organized by women victims of the disaster.
To provide job opportunities to 600,000 victims who lost their opportunities to work because of the accident, the government invested a total of 700 million rupees. One way the government extended help was establishing the District Industry Corporation (DIC, a semi-governmental company) in July 1985, and implementing a program that provided women with job training and places to work. The jobs involved making a variety of craftwork product such as stationery supplies, bedspreads, and leather articles. In the beginning 40 workshops were established in Bhopal. Women were trained for three months and then started working.
The women worked there for two and a half years, but were paid a mere 6 rupees a month. They formed a Stationery Workers Association (SWA) and appealed to the state assembly through demonstrations and other means, which resulted in a raise to 429 rupees a month. Even though in 1988 the pay for regularly employed workers was 3,000 rupees, the women's pay was held at 429 rupees on the grounds that "poison gas victims cannot work adequately." For this reason they went on a three-month strike.
At the same time, 100 women and their 25 children took over a month to walk the more than 700 km from Bhopal to Delhi to appeal directly to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. This happened during May and June, India's hottest season. To cover their travel costs, the women even sold the jewelry that they wear as proof they are married. They arrived in Delhi a month and three days after their departure, but because Prime Minister Gandhi made no attempt to see them, the state governor met them instead. With the governor's promise to solve the problem, the women returned to Bhopal.
But no concrete solutions at all were forthcoming, so in 1989 the women initiated a court battle to seek pay equivalent to that of regular workers. After seven years of hearings the court handed down a decision that gave the women the brushoff, claiming, "This complaint should be taken to the Labor Court, not this court." Dissatisfied with this pronouncement, the women appealed to a high court, but after three years of hearings that court also dismissed the case. On March 13, 2000 the women reportedly filed another appeal, this time with the District Labor Court in Bhopal.
As these court attempts proceeded, well over half the original 49 workshops were closed, and there now remains only one, where 86 women victims work part-time. These women are the plaintiffs. Even though the pay of regular company employees is 5,500 rupees, these women's pay is held at 1,931 rupees, and apparently they are allowed only one day off per month. What is more, the closure of the other workshops resulted in 5,000 unemployed women.
In 1992 when the Hindu fundamentalist People's Party won the reins of government in the state of MP, some manufacturing facilities were closed because 70% of their workers were Muslim. After the government closed those facilities, they were run by the victims themselves as Economic Rehabilitation Centers. However, a garment factory that the authors visited, which employed 250 women gas victims, apparently closed last year because its products sold poorly owning to problems including quality and design.
I asked Rashida Bi about her own health and was told that she must take potent medicine because she is suffering from severe memory loss and headaches that last eight to 10 days. Further, walking is a chore because of arthralgia, and she soon loses her breath by just moving around. Her symptoms worsen year by year.
Additionally, even now one-half to one-third of the victims in Bhopal suffer with cancer. (Rashida Bi's father died of throat cancer in 1985). Women also have reproductive disorders. Some of the children born after the disaster have skin afflictions such as blisters and rashes, and other problems include congenital impairment like mental retardation.
In conclusion I asked about demands to the relevant parties.
Victims also delivered a request to President
Clinton, who happened to be in India at that
time, to visit Bhopal and to take Anderson