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Pulitzer Center Update March 15, 2008

Round One: Winning Essays

Global Maternal Health Essay Contest, Sponsored by The Pulitzer Center and Helium

The Pulitzer Center is partnering with Helium to get your voice heard on important global issues...

Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting logo

In March 2008, The Pulitzer Center partnered with Helium to launch its first round of the Global Issues/Citizen Voices Contest. Over seven hundred essays were received, and thirteen contest winners were selected. Contestants chose from multiple questions relating to different Pulitzer Center reporting projects. Find their winning essays below.

Does President Hugo Chavez's criticism of US policies represent popular sentiments in Venezuela, and perhaps Latin America at large?
Read winning essay by Deborah Bauers

Is the accidental killing of civilians by US forces, in places like Somalia, an unavoidable part of the war on terrorism?
Read winning essay by David Chapronière

What would be the most effective way for the Indian government to respond to the Maoist insurgency?
Read winning essay by Ravi Embar

What is the responsibility of American companies and consumers for unsafe working conditions in Chinese factories?
Read winning essay by Daniel Figueroa

Should a global climate agreement hold the US to a higher environmental standard than the rest of the world?
Read winning essay by Caroline Harmon

What responsibility does the world bear for rehabilitating child soldiers from the horror of serving in armed conflict?
Read winning essay by Rachel Hanlon

Can the U.S. military be effective in non-military efforts to revive a war-battered community?
Read winning essay by Steve Hutcheson

Why should the world care about the environment in places like Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Rwanda?
Read winning essay by Loyce Kareri

How concerned should Americans be about HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean?
Read winning essay by Petra Newman

Should the US consider Ethiopia an ally despite its poor human rights record?
Read winning essay by Kallie Szczepanski

What responsibility does the US have toward Vietnamese who believe they've suffered illnesses as a result of their exposure to the dioxin Agent Orange?
Read winning essay by Debra Triplett

Who should take a stand against abusive child labor being used in Congo to dig out coltan?
Read winning essay by Sara Turner

Should U.S. environmental standards apply when multinational companies develop the petroleum resources of fragile ecosystems such as Peru's Amazon?
Read winning essay by Stephanie Whybrow

Does President Hugo Chavez's criticism of US policies represent popular sentiments in Venezuela, and perhaps Latin America at large?
By Deborah Bauers

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Hugo Chavez may be many things, but naive isn't one of them. He comprehends that his popularity with his own people has been waning in recent months and he knows he needs to do something about it. Enter the man of the hour who has just negotiated with the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Columbia for the release of four hostages; all of them prominent law makers; all of them Colombian.

Chavez will stop at nothing to win the political favor of all of Latin America. He will also wage a tireless campaign to alienate the United States from third world countries that still look to her as an advocate for egalitarian reform and a stabilizing force within their fledgling democracies. So "happenstance" is probably not a term that can be applied to Chavez's shrewd brokerage of four prominent citizens from a country that has continued to enjoy a diplomatic friendship with the United States. The reason for the alliance stems largely from the support received by the American government in helping to rout the RAFC from significant portions of Colombian land. Meanwhile, Colombia's President, Alvaro Uribe, who is taking a firm stance against terrorism, has not enjoyed the same diplomatic affiliation with Hugo Chavez. Chavez would, no doubt, love to court Uribe's favor by casting himself in the role of emancipator of Colombia's victims of terrorism, having failed miserably as an effective mediator at that same task in December of 2007.

Hugo Chavez is a man who oozes charisma when he's posturing as a champion for the poor and underprivileged. However, like an errant and immature school boy, he has been known to cross the bounds of political posturing by resorting to personal insults and base name calling. To his discredit, he enjoys the singular distinction of being the only Latin American President to be told to "shut up" by the King of Spain. In 2005 Time Magazine listed him among the top 100 influential people in the world. None will argue that, good or evil, he makes his considerable influence felt.

Chavez has been the President of Venezuela since 1998 and has been reelected to two additional terms in office. During that time his popularity has waxed, waned, and waxed again. Political analysts believe that the pendulum is once again swinging away from his favor. The power of his magnetism and even his notoriety as a negotiator may not be enough to stem the growing opposition within his own country. Many of Venezuela's citizens are developing a growing fear of a man who purports himself to be the advocate of the poor while wresting power and resources from those who have enjoyed a measure of prosperity. And just how influential is this President who sponsors give-away programs to feed the poor of Venezuela while turning a blind eye to human trafficking and flourishing drug cartels? Growing numbers feel that he had failed to make good on his promises to effectively tackle the countries' poverty and crime. Others accuse him of being a dictator while widening the rift between the poor and elite under the auspices of social reform.

Chavez's Bolivarian Missions, a set of initiatives set up to provide free land, health care, and education to the poor, has helped him maintain his popularity with the impoverished masses. It is likely that it is these reforms and not his political ideology that has allowed him to teeter on the brink of political disaster and yet to return with such favor. When one considers that approximately one-third of Venezuela's people is considered to be living at poverty level and below, it is easy to see how Chavez's social reform programs have engendered the loyalty of the underprivileged population of Venezuela. He has done little, however, to provide the know-how or a strategic plan for improving the plight of those who have no gainful employment.

When one begins to take a closer look at where the resources for Chavez's missions are coming from, the indignant cries of more prosperous land and ranch owners can be heard as their lands are confiscated and redistributed to the "have-nots."

What do Venezuela's people really believe about this man, after he stands at the podium of the United Nations and brashly calls the Commander and Chief of the United States of America, "the devil?" Are his sentiments shared by other Latin American countries? Depending upon which political camp you ask, he is hailed as either a social and economic savior of Venezuela's impoverished people, or a diabolical dictator who is using his country to build his own personal empire. Whether he is revered or hated doesn't seem to affect the reality that President Chavez may not be going away any time soon.

In 2004 Chavez accused the United States government of funding in excess of one million dollars toward helping to defray the costs of issuing the referendum to provide the people of Venezuela the opportunity to vote him out of office. In 2005 he addressed the UN condemning President George Bush for bombing Iraq without waiting for UN sanction. He also took the US government to task, citing the lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction as proof of the US's invasion of Iraq under false pretenses. While speaking before the United Nations in 2006 he referred to President Bush as an imperialist and urged other Latin American countries to stop the US from invading and swallowing up the resources of Latin America. Before his speech was over he warned that Americans were being deceived as to why their government was sending troops into Iraq. Chavez also openly criticized US policy regarding trade agreements with the Americas.
In 2005 the United States failed to gain the support of enough Latin American States to pass a resolution that would have served to monitor Chavez's diplomatic and economic policies. This made it appear that much of Latin America was supporting Chavez's political ideologies. Yet, two years later, in December of 2007, a referendum which would have accorded him the right to seek indefinite reelection and singular decision-making power was voted down by Venezuela's people. This referendum would also have given the President the right to take state control of Venezuela's banks, confiscate property to further social reform, and restrict freedom of the press.

Opposition to Venezuela's President appears to be growing for several reasons. Ranches belonging to Venezuela's more affluent have been confiscated by the state and redistributed to those who have no land. In recent months Chavez has attempted to gain governmental control of his countries' oil production. Venezuela's people are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with their President's close friendship with Fidel Castro and fear this relationship is feeding Chavez's hunger for dictatorial power. A growing number believe that he is using the poor of their country to ingratiate himself into the hearts of a people that he secretly desires to dominate. While they anxiously eyeball American policy, hoping that the United States will not move to invade and gain control of their country, they fear their own President more, and do not want to see the US Government disengage from involvement in their foreign policy.

Political analysts, who have attempted to retain objectivity, have suggested that a majority of Latin American countries suffer from a mixture of old world pride and lack of self-respect. These countries tend to view the United States as either a potential economic and social savior, or a global power that could invade and gain control of their natural resources. American policy within each country has had much to do with which of these two dynamics becomes the prevalent mood. Most of the Latin American countries appear to agree with Chavez's condemnation of the United States having bombed Iraq without justifiable cause. Colombia views the US government in a more favorable light than some her Latin American neighbors. This is because the American government has taken diplomatic steps to offer aid to Colombia in her fight against terrorism and illegal narcotics traffic, as well as in her efforts to overhaul her education and judicial systems. Bolivia has long been at variance with the United States' zero tolerance of the growth of the coca leaf. She maintains that the coca crop has always been the major export of Bolivia's people and that her economy depends upon it. Even so, Bolivia's President, Evo Morales, has at least made a show of decreasing crop production while alleging that his people are actively seeking "food" markets for the crop. He has also made public statements that suggest that, although he may be sympathetic to many of Chavez's policies, he does not necessarily align himself with the Venezuelan's ideologies.

It appears that most Latin American countries, given the choice, would rather diplomatically work with the government of the United States than speak out openly against it. Herein lies the major difference between Chavez's ideology and that of a majority of Latin America. A number of this region's people do feel that the United States' work for democratic reform has been erratic and that she has too frequently left them "high and dry" in the wake of each new Presidential policy. However, the US has historically offered aid to six Latin American Countries to help strengthen their democratic forms of government. In spite of anti-American sentiments within the region that warn of American imperialism, most of these countries would still like to believe that America remains steadfast in her goal of furthering democracy while helping the economic and social plight of their people.

News Update
On March 1, 2008 Colombia launched an air attack one mile over the border into Ecuador, killing 17 rebel members of the RAFC, including Raul Reyes, second in command of this Marxist guerrilla group that has been labeled by both Colombia and the United States as a terrorist organization and a powerful illegal drug cartel in Latin America.
Venezuela's response, a bit of a surprise to some, has been to strongly condemn Colombia's attack, calling it "murder" and to brand Colombia's President Uribe as a counter terrorist. Chavez has moved Venezuelan troops to the border warning Colombia that any similar activity within Venezuela's borders could spark a war in Latin America. The Venezuelan President has also recalled the Ambassador to Columbia and closed the Colombian Embassy.
It remains unclear, at this point, how Ecuador will ultimately rule in this matter. Her President, Rafael Correa has protested Colombia's violation of airspace and indicates that she has sent her own troops to the border to assess what has taken place. In the past, she has expressed doubt that Raul Reyes was hiding out in the Ecuadorian countryside, despite Colombia's repeated assertions that this was the case.

As tensions mount between Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, Colombia's aggressive move to seek out and destroy a key leader in the RAFC will likely bring pressure to bear upon her Latin American neighbors to weigh in on this recent airstrike. Will they speak out in support of President Chavez's condemnation of Colombia's activities, or applaud President Uribe's airstrike as a significant blow to terrorism? One thing seems fairly certain. Hugo Chavez's popularity and political influence in Latin American will most certainly be called into question as each of Venezuela's neighbors considers how they will respond.


Is the accidental killing of civilians by US forces, in places like Somalia, an unavoidable part of the war on terrorism?
Read winning essay by David Chapronière

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Perception is key to understanding the acceptability or otherwise of killing non-military innocents, and particularly where an influential power such as the US is involved. Why, for example, were civilian deaths deemed relatively acceptable by many during the US-led Iraq war, but not in Israel's 2006 attack on the Lebanon, carried out using arms rushed to Israel by the US? The answer, perhaps, lies behind the reason for going to war. In the case of Iraq, the aim was to remove a ruthless dictator and his many cronies who were driving the country into the ground, and who were perceived as being a threat to the rest of the world because of an apparent possession of weapons of mass destruction. The US forces were reported to have tried to keep accidental civilian deaths to a minimum. In the case of Israel, mass destruction was inflicted on a small Middle Eastern state, in which a huge amount of international aid had been invested to rebuild infrastructure destroyed in past conflicts, after three soldiers had been killed and two kidnapped by Hezbollah. The result was substantial civilian casualties caused by heavy-handed and indiscriminate bombing, widespread destruction of communities and further Israeli military deaths - and became more than even many Israelis could stomach. With the addition of widespread international condemnation, it was clear to many that the extent of the action far exceeded the reasons behind it.

In the case of Somalia, the attempted capture or killing of three al-Qaeda operatives by US troops, as part of the Bush administration's "war on terror", since entering the country in January 2007 has led to substantial civilian deaths and international criticism. Since December 2006, when Ethiopian troops toppled the Somali Islamist government and were subsequently joined by the US troops, the consequent unrest has resulted in an estimated 6,000 deaths in Mogadishu alone (Source: Comparison might readily be made with Israel's 2006 raids on the Lebanon: in both cases, civilian deaths were high.

Of course, these two conflicts share one key factor: a perception of fundamentalist Islam being in control. In the Lebanon it was Hezbollah, regarded as backed by Syria, itself seen as a rogue state. In Somalia, it was an Islamist government seen as having Taliban-like control over the people. Yet both states were enjoying relative peace despite political grumblings, and in both those states that peace was shattered by the fear of terrorism and the war against that terror meted out by outsiders.

So are civilian deaths justifiable in the fight against Islamist terrorism? Arguably not, judging by the criticism of various international organisations such as the UN and human rights groups. For most critics, it is one of the methods used to root out and attempt to kill those terrorists, and consequently inflict indiscriminate fatalities and casualties on civilians, that is most unacceptable: air strikes. No air strike in a civilian area can be exact enough to take out only those it aims to kill - civilians will more likely be the main victims. Therefore, the excessive number of civilians killed by air strikes far outweighs the aim of those attacks: to take out terrorist cells. Moreover, to claim such killings as "accidental" when it is plain the air strikes are targeted at civilian neighbourhoods is highly unlikely to sugar the proverbial pill.

One reason offered for civilian casualties is that terrorists often use civilians as a shield. This can create a conflict of conscience: certainly there are innocent casualties in any war, and that terrorists are cowardly enough to hide themselves among civilians surely brings the responsibility of those deaths down on the heads of the terrorists themselves. But such views jar against media images of parents clutching dead or severely injured children, of women wailing for the loss of their loved ones, of bloodied walking wounded. Thus, despite being told repeatedly that these casualties are an unfortunate consequence of the need to protect against terror, for many this conflicts directly with the humanitarian concern for the many innocents caught up in the bloodshed.

The level of acceptance therefore comes down to whether civilian deaths are out of all proportion to the reason for the air strikes themselves - or indeed whether the air strikes are out of all proportion to the enemy numbers they aim to take out. Thus, in hindsight, the nuclear air strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are largely seen as in proportion to what had happened before them: World War II, with its growing body count among both soldiers and civilians over an extensive period, along with an exceptionally high level of destruction across Europe and the Far East. As horrific as those nuclear attacks were, the obliteration of the two cities brought a swift end to a gruelling war.

The catalyst for Israel's air strikes against the Lebanese was the killing of three soldiers and the kidnapping of two more during a Hezbollah raid into Israeli territory. Israel's repeated aim during that conflict was the return of the two soldiers - while military and civilians on both sides suffered, but more so on the side of the Lebanese who were at the mercy of Israel's mightier air force, with much of their arms supplied by the US. In Somalia, US air strikes were aimed at flushing out or killing three al-Qaeda operatives, and yet many civilians were killed and the following unrest has killed many more. In the war on terror, innocent civilians are living through their own form of terror inflicted on them by a force that feels justified in doing so for its own, what some see as unjustifiable, means.

In both the Somali and Lebanon attacks, the war on terror was cited as the main cause of action against those states. Yet this is a war in which the enemy - the terrorist - is largely unseen, an underground movement in which many innocents are being caught up because those with larger fire power deem it correct to obliterate whole areas to take out one small cell, or even one person. The reason for such action is grossly out of proportion with the resulting destruction and death of innocents. For the many who question the war on terror, these killings - accidental or not - are certainly avoidable.

What would be the most effective way for the Indian government to respond to the Maoist insurgency?
Read winning essay by Ravi Embar

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Most of the current thinking in many hotspots around the world focuses on ways to control the conflict. This ignores the underlying fact that in most cases the origin of the conflict is about the control - people who do not have control in conflict with people who do.

India, the land that originated the concept of holistic healing and gave the world (arguably) the greatest leader of the twentieth century - Mahatma Gandhi - is being beset by a Maoist insurgency in the twenty-first century.

The Indian government is importing not only weapons but unfortunately in some instances, also the brute force and counterproductive tactics used by the weapon states.
While combating the Maoist insurgency the use of repressive and lethal force by security personnel against the insurgents has resulted, in some occasions, in innocent victims getting caught in the crossfire. This has further alienated the local populace, which was already reeling from the effects of the insurgent violence.

The references to holistic healing and Mahatma Gandhi are not unrelated to the Maoist insurgency but in fact constitute key parts of the solution.

One of the ideas Gandhi championed was "Panchayat Raj" - devolving control to locally elected councils at the village level. This would ensure that the officials were directly accountable to the local population and they would have a personal stake in seeing their localities flourish. The local populace would in turn feel empowered by having control over issues that affected their daily lives and by having representatives who not only understood their concerns but who shared them also. This "Panchayat Raj" system, if implemented correctly, would obviate the feeling of alienation of the common people and also preclude the external intervention of higher-level civic officials, who may not be familiar with or fully share the concerns of the local populace. Citizens. empowered and in control, are not likely to harbour or be sympathetic to insurgents.

The "Panchayat Raj" system would ensure that any problems are dealt with before they develop into insurgencies.
For existing Maoist insurgencies, there needs to be a holistic cure - the solution should address the historical, geographical, economic and governance aspects of the disease.

The historical reasons of the disparate insurgencies need to be fully understood in order not to repeat the same mistakes. The key stakeholders of the insurgency and their motivations need to be identified. The grievances of the local people must be addressed and the sensitivities of all the constituents must be handled with care. In the midst of an insurgency, the last thing that is required is for the explosive mix of social, religious and cultural tensions to be further aggravated.
The geographical limitations and possibilities of the region need to be analyzed in detail. The limitations may be a core part of the problem while the possibilities would form a core part of the solution. For instance, an area currently arid and not able to sustain the people in conflict may be an area rich in chemical elements and ores that could benefit the locals and might provide a solution to the conflict.

Understanding the economics of the insurgency will provide a peaceful alternative to "fighting fire with fire", as well as being a sane and humane way to handle conflicts. Now that China and India are celebrating closer ties, both nations could come to an understanding that the insurgents would be denied refuge, weaponry and financing on both sides of the border. Funding social service organizations, improving civic amenities and creating educational and professional opportunities for the local youth will provide them a healthy contrast to the barren and lethal existence of the insurgency.
The security forces and police need to be amply compensated for their bravery in risking their lives in dangerous areas. Well-compensated forces are not likely to accept financial inducements from the insurgents. Local governance by local people will enable identification and separation of hard-core insurgents from the local populace. If all moral, economic and political assistance fail to convince the hard-core insurgents, then as a last resort force should be employed, directed only at the criminals and not blindly targeting innocent civilians as well.

A holistic cure would not only prevent a recurrence of the Maoist insurgency but will have none of the negative side effects of other partial solutions.

What is the responsibility of American companies and consumers for unsafe working conditions in Chinese factories?
Read winning essay by Daniel Figueroa

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Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramps, convulsions, shock, kidney failure- all in a days work. These are the effects of cadmium exposure according to the US Department of Labor, and Chinese workers making common batteries routinely suffer from it. Just one example of unsafe working conditions is Chinese factories.

A hundred years ago American workers had very few protections and rights. Factory conditions were atrocious and death and disease were common.

Since that time working conditions in America have improved. Simple things that we take for granted today- things like proper ventilation, safety controls on heavy equipment and proper protective gear have made American factories less dangerous to American workers. In addition, the federal government has instituted safety standards and workman's compensation laws to protect workers.

The legacy that America has abandoned has not, however, disappeared. America has transferred this legacy to China. According to Pulitzer Prize award winning reporter Loretta Tofani, Chinese law declares that workers have a legal right to be protected from disease and amputation. This law is rarely enforced, however, as economic expansion is more important that worker's safety.

Many young Chinese workers, typically between the ages of twenty and forty, are dying slow painful deaths. They suffer from disease and amputation resulting from toxins used to create goods in Chinese factories, goods that are then sold to the rest of the world, and especially America.

Conditions in Chinese factories would shock the average American. Poor ventilation; little to no protection from toxic materials; ineffective, if any, protective equipment; amputations are common due to old equipment, lacking safety features.

Chinese workers are paying the price for cheap Chinese goods.

Companies around the world, big and small, import these goods to sell. They may never have contact with the actual manufacturer and therefore are unaware of the worker's working conditions.

The National Labor Committee reports the following about US companies importing from China:

* Huffy bikes are made in China by workers that are paid 25 cents an hour, these workers work from 7AM until 11PM 7 days a week.
* Timberland shoes are made in China by 16 and 17 year old girls who work 14 hours a day, seven days a week, for 22 cents an hour.
* Keds are made in China by girls as young as 16 applying toxic glue with their bare hands,
* RCA TVs are made by young women, as young as 14, working from 7:30AM until 9PM, 7 days a week, for 25 cents an hour. If they make a mistake on the line they are penalized 10 hours pay.

The list of companies goes on, both the National Labor Committee's website ( and at the Pulitzer Center's website ( report on other companies.

Big businesses try to lower costs by importing from China, from the cheapest source they can find. If these factories were to improve the conditions of the workers, implement tougher safety standards, purchase new and safer machines, the costs would rise. The price of the goods will therefore also rise and buyers will become scarcer.

So, for a Chinese factory to modernize and become a safer working environment would cost the factory money- a great deal of moneyand will cost the factory customers.

Who is to blame for the working conditions in Chinese factories?

The Chinese government has strict safety standards, as strict or nearly as strict as US standards. China has even subscribed to the International Labor Organization's standards for the workplace. The problem is enforcement.
Logistically there just are not enough inspectors to inspect every factory thoroughly enough. And when inspections do occur rampant corruption assures that factories have enough warning to hide the abuses.

Factories blame the cost of doing business. It's all about supply and demand.

Importers blame supply and demand too. If they can get the good cheaper somewhere else they will go there. They don't like the idea of such poor working conditions and amputations, but they also won't pay more than they have to for a product. In the end, money determines where the importers will get their goods.

And buyers, consumers here in America, demand cheap Chinese goods. Pat Goodsell, an American consumer, put it well when she said, "I never though about the Chinese workers who made them, we just want it to work."

Cheap goods that work, American's don't worry about where the goods come from, or the working conditions of the workers who made them.

Do American companies and consumers have a responsibility in addressing the unsafe working conditions in China?
Chinese factories are not likely to progress toward safe working conditions apart from international pressure, particularly American pressure. For the US government to impose sanctions upon China is foolish and completely unlikely.

For the American consumer to stop buying Chinese products is also extremely unlikely, Chinese goods are everywhere. And as long as consumers are buying- and demanding- cheap Chinese goods American companies will continue to import them.

So the vicious cycle continues and as Loretta Tofani stated so well, Chinese workers are paying the real cost for cheap Chinese goods, with their health and their lives.

How can this cycle be stopped?

The Chinese government prohibits labor unions, so the workers cannot unionize. Labor unions helped turn the tables on unsafe conditions in America. Another story coming out of the National Labor Union website tells of the factory in China that received, from their American importers, facial masks to replace the inadequate safety masks that the employees were using. The Chinese factory was very grateful. Upon a visit from the American importer to the Chinese factory they saw their masks, still in the box that they were sent in. Turns out that even with the masks provided to them the employees aren't using them.

The problem to stopping this vicious cycle that is taking the lives of so many Chinese workers is a lack of proper education about workplace safety. Don't get me wrong, updating the machinery, better wages and fewer hours would all make a serious impact upon improving working conditions as well.

But what cannot be denied is that despite these working conditions, these people are working of their own volition. Increasing worker's education about safety practices and equipment would be the first step in improving their conditions.
One thing that can be changed is American regulation toward the importation of goods. Last year in both the Senate and the House anti-sweat shop bills were proposed. If American corporations, big and small, were required to monitor safety conditions of where their goods are made these atrocities could be avoided, or at least diminished. This is not a China problem only, by no means. If Chinese factories tried to improve conditions on their own American corporations would go elsewhere for cheaper goods. So the change needs to happen here, in America. Thirty-five year old Liu Hongmei, who works on a factory line that handles Cadmium shared, "I feel very scarred. There is no medicine that can eliminate the poison, so I will have to live in pain until I have a painful death. I feel very worried. When will I die? Who will take care of my son?" (Quoted from the Salt Lake Tribune, Sunday October 23st, 2007.)

For all the Liu Hongmei's in China, and their sons, the change has to start here.

Should a global climate agreement hold the US to a higher environmental standard than the rest of the world?
Read winning essay by Caroline Harmon

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Human-induced climate change is happening now and the people of Tuvalu are possibly more aware of this than anyone. As seas levels rise, this tiny Pacific island nation - the second smallest nation in the world - is starting to disappear beneath the waves and its population is steadily moving farther inland or emigrating to other nations.

It is expected that in the current century, hundreds of millions of people from some of the world's poorest living in low-lying areas of Bangladesh to some of the world's richest living in costal cities such as New York and London - will become "environmental refugees" as sea levels rise and claim their homes.

Scientists are now more than 90% certain that observed changes in our climate are the result of human activity that has released large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We are already experiencing some negative consequences:

The World Health Organisation estimate that more than 150,000 people die prematurely each year because of climate change. In 2003 the hottest summer Europe has experienced in 500 years caused 28,000 deaths.

In the 1970's there were 16 major natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and droughts, worldwide. In the 1990s there were 70. Although we can't attribute individual major disasters to climate change, this dramatic increase is directly in line with a rise in emissions of greenhouse gases and a resulting rise in global temperatures.

The Arctic region is already experiencing positive feedbacks. This means that some of the consequences of climate change are actually causing further climate change. This creates an accelerating spiral of changes and causes temperatures to rise more rapidly.

Many scientists now agree that we should try to limit rises in average global temperatures to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels of 150 years ago. This will give us the best chance of being able to both adapt to changes which have already happened and prevent further, less manageable and potentially irreversible, changes.

The bad news is that the earth's surface is already 0.76C warmer on average than it was 150 years ago. Even if we cut our emissions of greenhouse-causing gases to zero right now, the earth's surface will continue to warm for some time because of emissions we have already created. The good news is that most scientists believe that we have a brief window of opportunity about 50 years in which to act to prevent this rise breaching the 2C mark. However, we must begin to act now to achieve the level of change required. Scientists suggest we need a drastic cut in current global greenhouse gas emissions of between 60% and 90%.

Given the short space of time we have in which to act and the enormous amount we have to do, rather than squabble over who should do most or least as the question suggests, governments and individuals should be falling over themselves in an attempt to do as much as possible. We all like to feel equal and that everyone is pulling their weight. Hence we feel hard-done-by if we are asked to do more than other countries. Yet, the current situation is far from equal.
If the entire human population lived like the average US citizen we would need more than six planet earths to sustain us. If we all lived like the average Ethiopian we would need less than 20% of the planet we already have. Most climate change has historically, and still is, being caused by high emissions from rich industrialised countries and the consumer lifestyles of their inhabitants. Yet the negative effects of environmental damage do not respect man made borders: our emissions cause problems all around the world, often in places where others are living far less polluting lifestyles than our own.

At the moment it is actually those in poorer countries who are experiencing the bulk of the negative impacts of environmental damage. To make matters worse, the poor are generally less well equipped to deal with these problems. People in low-income countries are four times more likely to die in natural disasters than people in high-income countries.
One proposed solution which would create equality is a system called Contraction and Convergence. Others refer to it as Carbon Units'. It involves three simple steps:

Step One: We work out how much carbon (the main greenhouse-causing gas) the world can emit every year without threatening to destroy the planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have suggested that we should reduce our global carbon emissions from the current 7 billion tonnes per year to 2.7 tonnes by 2030.
Step Two: We divide that figure by the number of people who are on the planet. Using the figures given in step one, we get a figure of 0.8 tonnes of carbon. This is how much carbon each person would be allowed to emit per year.
Step Three: Everyone is allocated this amount and given a carbon credit card' with that amount of carbon credited to it each year. Every time someone buys something, the carbon involved is deducted from their card. People must either consume no more than 0.8 tonnes of carbon per year or buy spare credits from someone who has consumed less than this. Under this system the average Ethiopian could emit five and half times as much carbon as they currently do, but the average US citizen would have to cut their carbon use drastically. Overall, worldwide emissions would fall to a sustainable level.

The main advantage of this system is that everyone would have the same allocation of carbon regardless of their income. Those with more money could of course buy other's unused credits, but there would be a finite amount of credits in existence.

Of course, it would be impossible to measure so precisely the carbon emitted by every single purchase. Imagine trying to work out how much carbon you morning cup of coffee had emitted from the energy to make the cup to the energy to transport and process the beans to the energy used to boil the water! The UK government has considered a simplified system whereby each UK resident would have a quota for their electricity, gas fuel for cars and every time they took a plane, bus or train journey.

There are also potential pitfalls. For instance those living in rural areas might have no alternative but to go into carbon-debt' as they have to drive to meet their basic needs. A flaw in the proposed UK-system is that in the UK many people live in old properties which are badly insulated because they can't afford to live anywhere else. This means that they use more electricity and gas than others not because they are greedy but because they want to keep warm! Any scheme would need to be backed up by government help to implement more public transport, better insulation for buildings and other solutions to make our lives less dependent on emitting carbon.

Assuming potential problems could be overcome, Contraction and Convergence offers a stunningly simple way of applying the same environmental standards to all. At the same time it would clearly demand more action from some than others. If it where applied on a worldwide scale and each government where given a quota based on their country's population, there could also be major advantages to international development such as poor countries being able to generate income by selling spare carbon credits to those in rich countries.

Thousands of miles from Tuvalu, African farmers are reporting consistently shorter rain-fed growing seasons. In large areas of Africa the production of maize is expected to fall significantly as a result of changing seasons and drought caused by climate change. Whilst our governments debate what standards we should all be expected to reach, millions of people are already facing the harsh realities of a changing climate.

A global climate agreement is needed urgently, but it will only work if all countries are involved and prepared to do as much as they can, not as little as they can get away with. Lets hope all countries, the US included, will rise to the challenge and ensure a sustainable, equal future for all.

What responsibility does the world bear for rehabilitating child soldiers from the horror of serving in armed conflict?
Read winning essay by Rachel Hanlon

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We've all heard tales from or about war heroes, enlisting in a war after deceiving officials about their age. They wore their uniform proud, ready to fight for their country and for the betterment of mankind. We're talking about young adults, growing men reaching ages of sixteen and seventeen who could think of nothing that could make them more proud, than proving they could fight for independence.

Now go and have a look at your child, the one sitting beside you currently finishing their chocolate milk before bed, tomorrow they'll be heading off to school. Look at your 6th grader, looking forward to recess so they can have a kick of the footy, straight after that spelling bee Miss has for class tomorrow.

Now picture your child, being forced from the building, militant warlords with guns pointed at them, rounding up the youngsters so they can go and fight, rape and pillage. Forced to be scouts for these militants, forced to be sex slaves and spies. Maybe it cannot happen to your child, but it's happening in other parts of the world. Most of these kids do not join for pride and country allegiance, as other soldiers of bygone eras, they're manipulated and abused and forced to do heinous crimes that nobody, not even an adult should bear witness to.

Some are lured by promises and compared to their poor status within their home community due to illiteracy, famine and poor circumstances, joining the ranks as a soldier is more appealing than the latter. They're forced to kill and injure, rape and taunt, others are used as gophers and for the pleasure of the more senior' militants.

These are the horrors that some countries put their children through. You may be sitting back now, looking at your own child or thinking of your young niece and nephew being involved in armed conflict, imagining them being manipulated or fed drugs before they head in to battle.

This is not a modern phenomenon, children being involved in armed combat has dated back centuries, look at children used as drummer boys on battlefields in Europe, or the emergence of the Hitler Youth in World War 2. Now we're finding this atrocity occurring in civil wars in Colombia, the Congo, Liberia, and Uganda and to bring it closer to home, children are being used as combat soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first U.S soldier to be killed in the war against terrorism was killed by a 14-year-old child. In over 85 countries worldwide, more than 500,000 children under the age of 18, girls and boys are recruited into armed groups.

It is clinically noted how war effects the mind and lives of adults who are subjected to death, killings, battles and war in general. So considering the mind of a grown adult, able to make rational decisions and obtain help, where do these children find the help to heal their scars? Who is here to speak for them, act for them and provide relief from the pain and anguish they've witnessed and many have possibly caused? 
The next time you place your hand over your child's vision so they cannot see the minor love scene occurring on the TV screen before them, ponder the atrocities that a child involved in military is being subjected to. Who is there to block their vision from pain and death?

Just what is our responsibility, the world's responsibility as members of the freethinking world, have to rehabilitating these children from the horrors they have witnessed? I'll let you ponder this question whilst I give you some background on the reasoning and atrocities of using children in armed combat.


We're not talking just about militant groups or terrorists. We're also talking about government armed forces too. Worldwide, more than 300,000 children are fighting as soldiers in government and militant groups at the one time. Considering that there are only 500,000 children to be known in active fighting, what is happening to the other 200,000?
Regulations have tried to be put into place by human rights activists and labor law sanctions, but trying to get them acted upon is the difficult part. Many turn a blind eye, offer threats and warnings but little is done to prevent children being used in armed forces.

The United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan have been known to rely and depend on information obtained from local militia and warlords. This militia is known to use child labor, the warlords are known to have children working for them, but the topic is not approached in order to not get them offside. Vital information is required from these groups. These groups also d not respond to sanctions, they're a law unto themselves. They have too much freedom and too much knowledge to create waves about children soldiers they abuse and manipulate.


The children recruited as soldiers, those that survive that is are usually left with severe mental health problems. When a military group is beaten, the children are usually left behind. The family they were involved with as they knew it, as they thought of these groups has again deserted them.

They witness murders, rapes, beheadings, people burnt alive and a number of other atrocities. Brought up to be vicious and immoral, it leaves them with much emotional and mental scarring.

Knowing nothing better than what the army has provided for them, food and shelter, a reason to live and some drugs they may have depended on, find themselves with little or no survival skills. Left alone again, no family, little social skills and classified as undesirable beings, these children of war find themselves facing a huge problem. Being children, as those under the age of 18 are, should they be facing this alone?

Poverty stricken countries that have not provided the support and guidance needed from the go-get, cannot provide this much-needed support afterwards either. If anything, there is now a larger problem at hand where children who have witnessed the atrocities are socially and emotionally inept.


In recent years, campaigning by human rights advocates has seen the introduction of educating countries and it's people about using children in armed forces. There has been a decline in the number of militants displaying their youngsters, and now tend to deny their existence within these groups.

In 2002, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child contained a provision that was ratified by all countries involved, that rose the legal entrant age into armed forces to be 18 years. This too has had some positive action.

In 2004 in Sierra Leone, ruled that the recruitment of children into armed forces is a war crime. Prosecutions have begun from this. By doing so, it is setting a precedence to all future and current militia and rebel groups that recruiting children will be dealt with severely.

Now, finally, action is being taken on behalf of these children.


The UN committee also included in it doctrine a number of states wanting to be involved in the rehabilitation and social re-integration of children who were subjected to these atrocities. In 2003, after the 14-year civil war in Liberia ended, the government began to offer counseling and cash incentives to teach these children skills vital to function in society.
Some of these children were offered the chance to come to America, re-establishing in the "lucky country".

So just what is the world's responsibility in rehabilitating children affected by war? Plenty. The countries that the children are born do not know any better. They do not have the ability top think about tomorrow and beyond, most are too busy trying to stay alive today. Just by reading this article you are becoming aware of the issues of child soldiers being used around the world. This is awareness.

Some wonderful initiatives have and are being put into place, educating children and families of countries in poverty stricken areas. Those countries ripped apart by civil war, brutal, emotional and deadly atrocities that you and I cannot fathom let alone think children are involved in.

We certainly do live in the "Lucky Country". Far luckier than we give it credit for. So next time you see that refugee from Uganda, or that refugee from Liberia walking down the street, consider what they have come from and just how far they've come. Welcome them to a world they're trying to yet again, find some sort of peace and sanctuary in, trying to adopt as their new surrogate family.


Can the U.S. military be effective in non-military efforts to revive a war-battered community?
Read winning essay by Steve Hutcheson

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In all aspects of life, various segments of our communities have a common perception of their function and purpose. The military is regarded for what it is, a battalion of soldiers whose primary purpose is war, the idea that they might change that perception is difficult conceptually and ideologically, one that I believe is flawed. I have often wondered at the logicality of the "hearts and minds" efforts of military contingents in some of the places I have been engaged such as Kosovo, Afghanistan and Aceh. It is not just simple a matter of their extensive capacity to do the work but their perception as to how they are primarily considered in a country where in the past, they may have crashed though doors, pulled down walls, taken captives and even wounded or killed people from the same neighborhood where they are now building a school or a clinic. In the event however that the security declines they can easily revert to that more aggressive mode should the need arise, the benevolent bully in the development cycle.

In most peaceful communities of the west, the military may be called out in moments of catastrophe and rightly so. They have the large machines, they have the manpower, the have the organizational structure and they have the logistics to support an immediate response however in terms of nation building they pose a political conundrum that is largely unnecessary and fraught with danger of abuse, abuse from both sides of the crisis. They do so however at a cost that is both economically and politically prohibitive.

Where I saw the largest military response to a crisis other than from a military position was in Aceh immediately following the tsunami. Air, sea and ground forces from a dozen countries had descended into the province to provide assistance that raised an immediate dilemma for the national government. The Australian army for instance bought in a large medical and engineering capacity and did an admirable job that made me proud to be associated with them yet the preceding conflict in Timor also bought in a political opposition from the national army who had in a de-facto manner, forcefully opposed them at the time of that incident.

Although there was capacity there was a sense of animosity and restriction on movement that severely curtailed what they could and couldn't do. More "friendly" armies however were given greater freedom of movement, particularly with their air wings that worked tirelessly distributing aid along the coastline where access other than by sea had been completely cut off.

The US sent in a naval medical ship however it arrived some weeks after the majority of trauma cases had been dealt with by the absolute excess of private doctors and medical teams on the ground. Unfortunately it was relegated to dealing with a few special casualties cases that normally go with any large city. Being obliged to locate in international waters it entailed a ground-air-sea mission to treat even a simple appendectomy that may well have been undertaken in the hospital proper yet the large expended funds required to get them there dictated that they be "seen" to be contributing to the population at home.

In Kosovo there was a different agenda and political perspective of the military forces there yet all the time they were still regarded as that, a military force and not so much one assigned a nation building function. Under this circumstance however it was also largely unnecessary as the province had a surfeit of humanitarian and UN agencies dealing with almost every issue that the population could require and to engage the military in the planning and execution of programs was largely vacant other than in the application of heavy or cases of more difficult logistics. For a while I was based in a large village quite devastated and where a number of aid agencies had commenced reconstruction programs. The military capacity of the UAE based in the town undertook a similar if not smaller rebuilding program however it applied itself to the most difficult terrain where its numerous rough terrain vehicles and air support had the capacity to deliver the much needed reconstruction materials that otherwise may never have arrived.

Afghanistan was where I saw a transition from the exercise of dominant military capacity to one that was now interested in the hearts and mind campaign of the population, one that also posed an immediate conflict that even today the military and the involved governments are not facing up to.

Like in Aceh, the military of the US and NATO is seen as the opposition to those that waged battle against them, in this case the Taliban. There is no excuse for the Taliban however the fight against them has since been integrated into the notion of nation building, a sort of play off to win tacit support from the population at large. The population however care naught for either side. They are more intent on resuming their lives after twenty-five years of war, to re-establish farming incomes or find a job in the ever declining economic travails that now beset the country as indeed it is affecting rest of the world, to resume a normal life.

The presence of the military and the association with their programs however exposes the people to the inherent danger of being charged with consorting with the enemy when these friendly armies finally depart, a real and ever present danger and one that on a daily basis is being waged by the Taliban to win back, or at least negate the support that all the good work invokes.

In this case, although the armies on one hand are building good will, on the other they are still applying themselves as an aggressor when the need arises and that is predominantly how the population continue to see them, no matter how much good they can achieve.

Being an aid worker for some years I have since learned that the psychological games that are played on a needy population can backfire and impede development rather than enhance it. Just handing out largess is not the answer if the population have no ownership of the projects or the resultant benefit. Too often a beneficiary or a village will wait until the free service comes along before they find the need to go and create the benefit them self. Too often they want to be paid for their labor that is ultimately for their benefit, it becomes a case of "greed comes before need". It is this that has become a common issue in the distribution of aid and one that the military unknowingly merely serves to foster without taking account of the overall development issues at stake.

Often too, the military in its quest to improve its own public perception though aid development, do so outside the purview of those who have an ultimate responsibility, the government, as was often the case in Afghanistan. The final argument being however was that so much was needed that what ever they do will be well received. I would argue that more could have been achieved in the application towards large projects that went outside the smaller hearts and minds exercise but engaged in projects with wider benefit and of greater national importance, the creation of water storage damns, flood mitigation, the reconstruction of major access roads and the like. Instead the armies are delivering wells and playing with the children in the villages, creating a positive spin for their reason to be there.

In Afghanistan, the action of the army or at least those in the position to decide on initiating the hearts and minds campaigns must however take some of the responsibility for the decline in the overall security situation that now exists throughout the country. I was in Kandahar in January 2003 at which time the Taliban killed the first of the civilian casualties. It occurred because in their eyes, he represented the opposing military forces disregarding the fact that he worked for the Red Cross and was delivering water to poor villagers. This was before the US and NATO had taken to deliver these aid programs in the void created when the aid agencies retired to allow the war to conclude. At that time the US was seen as an aggressor, it still it. Its troops postured in that aggressive manner, unfriendly to the local population, disrespectful to local custom, intent solely on doing their job of routing out the enemy, of locating the Mullahs and finding al Qa-ida in a never clear landscape where anyone may have been and most likely was one or at least sympathetic.
The military have a role to play however once that is achieved they need to retire, if not to their base, then out of the country if that is appropriate. Countries prosper under the stewardship of self-determination with appropriate guidance, not a duplication of the existing government services as in some way the foreign militaries are now supposing to do. In Afghanistan and indeed Iraq, the military intervention has seen an escalation of insecurity partly in its quest to win public support and partly in its inability to solve the problems of containment of the enemy.

Communities exist around war. Afghanistan has existed around war for thirty years, Iraq has existed around war for ten years, what is not being addressed satisfactorily is the promotion of these communities to assist themselves achieve peace as opposed to forcing it upon them through constant military intervention.

The role of the military is many fold, it has a significant part to play in many aspects of life, it has no need to display its feminine side, it is desirable in the purpose of ensuing peace exists, in the removal of despotic regimes and powerful invaders, in providing is logistical might in times of critical need, however what it is not is a nation builder, it is not equipped physically or perceptively to play that role or the role of aid worker or to replicate the role of government, no matter how onerous that job might be to those that fulfill those tasks.

Why should the world care about the environment in places like Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Rwanda?
Read winning essay by Loyce Kareri

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Having spent a large portion of my childhood and early youth in Africa, I have sadly been a witness to the debilitating effect of human conflict on the ecosystem in this beautiful continent.

Mountain gorillas in the tropical forests of Rwanda, sweeping Savannas in Mozambique and the largest set of waterfalls in the world located in Zimbabwe; this is only a minuscule snapshot of the exhilarating flora and fauna found in these exotic nations.

To answer the question why the rest of the world should be concerned with the conservation and restoration of the ecosystems in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Rwanda, I believe it's important to reflect on what these nations have to offer which, in essence, is what the world as a whole stands to lose.

According to the Carr Foundation, a U.S nonprofit organization involved in restoration projects in Mozambique, Africa is home to 70 of the world's 100 national parks and natural reserves. It also boasts one of the highest concentration of diversity in species and ecological features in the various regions of the world.

Every year, millions of adventurers, thrill-seekers and curious vacationers aiming to momentarily escape encroaching urbanization and granite living spaces, have flowed into these locales to catch a glimpse of the intoxicating scenic beauty and view exotic wild animals in their natural habitat. The tourists experience scenes that cannot be fully replicated in the zoos and animal reserves they have available back home.

Where else, aside from Animal Planet TV, can a native New Yorker see and be a part of a herd of migrating wildebeest or where can a charismatic Californian experience visiting the most highly endangered large mammal on earth, the Black Rhinoceros, in her own backyard?

Unfortunately social conflict, political unrest and extreme economic hardships are threatening to obliterate these natural treasures.

Ethnic cleansing and genocide in Rwanda in 1994 brought in its wake a severe strain on the forests and natural vegetation. A case in point is the Gishwati Forest, which once thick with African mahoganies and figs now, according to a report by Stephanie Hanes for the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, lays waste and denuded having served as a hiding place for refugees who cut down the trees and used the land to cultivate food to sustain themselves.

Mozambique too has had its share of social-political upheaval. A crippling civil war that ended in 1992 left one of the world's most diverse natural reserves barren and virtually empty of wildlife. Gorongosa National Park, once a popular destination for popular world figures, now served as a hiding place for rebels, who poached and killed the wildlife for food.

Though Zimbabwe has been spared the tragedies of war, severe economic instability is the Achilles' heel. Facing 1000% inflation, the population has been forced to depend more on natural resources for sustenance. The resulting deforestation and poaching has all but destroyed the ecosystem.

Albeit the depressingly gloomy picture- there is hope. Local and international efforts have emerged in the three nations with the joint aim of rescuing, restoring and conserving the environment. These include the Gorongosa Conservation Project by the Carr Foundation in Mozambique, the Victoria Falls Anti-poaching Unit in Zimbabwe and the Virungas Gorilla Conservation programs in Rwanda.

How can the world show it cares about the environment in these places?

By partnering with those already involved in ecological conservation through extending monetary and intellectual aid. This support will go a long way in assisting them to recover and possibly redeem a lot of what has been lost in the upheaval.
The survival of these ecological systems will be of great benefit to both the local inhabitants and the world at large. A successfully conserved environment means more revenue from visiting tourists, resulting in the locals obtaining a sustainable source of livelihood and essentially easing the pressure on unsustainable natural resources.

At the same time a diverse and invaluable source of learning and social enjoyment remains available to the international community.

With the rapid increase of urbanization and industrialization one thing remains certain, the world will soon be in dire need of natural uninhabited space, if for nothing else, as a haven for momentary escape and peace of mind.

The unique landscape of these African nations is of universal value and so rigorous and exhaustive conservation efforts designated to protect their environment are absolutely vital, for the sake of present and future generations, worldwide.


How concerned should Americans be about HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean?
Read winning essay by Petra Newman

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"No man is an island; entire of itself . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." (John Donne 1572-1631)

The words were written almost four-hundred years ago during the Renaissance era, when the Bubonic Plague (Black Death) raged throughout Europe. Today, four-hundred years later, another plague is ravaging the world; a pandemic where death is once again a constant companion of the living. HIV/AIDS; is spreading in momentum around the world since it was first discovered in 1980, (then known as GRID; Gay Related Immune Deficiency). According to the World Health Organization, UNAIDS; "Aids is among the greatest development and security issue facing the world today."
Statistics from the 2006 report for HIV/AIDS epidemic are staggering. 
Infected . . . 65 million 
Deaths . . . nearly 25 million Approximately 35 million people living with HIV are unaware of their status. With statistics like this it would be unconscionable and reckless for world leaders to ignore. The panic and fear it once struck in our hearts has diminished over time. Headlines don't scream the words HIV/AIDS as loud as it once did. But that doesn't mean we're out of the woods. HIV/AIDS is still the deadly and contagious disease spreading death and devastation around the globe.
Are we so arrogant as to believe ourselves above this horrendous disease; that because we're from an affluent country it doesn't affect us? Have we become complacent because it's been around for over twenty-five years, thereby thinking it's of no immediate danger to us?

How concerned should Americans be about HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean when statistics show these islands to be the highest infected next to sub Saharan Africa? Florida is one of the most infected with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Could the contributing factor be the close proximity to the Caribbean Islands, and/or immigration and refugees from Haiti?

Long gone are the days of Ellis Island where immigrants were required to go through stringent examination to assure no communicable diseases set foot in the country. Tourists from around the world travelling to these tropical Islands may be bringing home souvenirs they didn't expect. The disease may not show up for ten to fifteen years, during which time they could possibly infect many others.

The time for finger pointing is over. It isn't just the sex trade, gays, and drug users; poverty, social economics, religion and political injustice all play a part in the spread of HIV/AIDS. One only has to travel a short distance from the tourist's vacationing grounds. The facade of tropical splendor fades to scenes of poverty. Corrugated tin shacks, children digging through garbage searching for anything salvageable, prostitutes soliciting in front of ramshackle bars, are all signs of a desperate people trying to survive.

The Caribbean Islands, a Mecca of tropical splendor, draws hundreds of thousands of vacationers from around the world each year. Tourism is the main industry of the islands, and sex tourism has contributed to the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in this hemisphere.

It's a little hypocritical for President Bush to suggest abstinence, or withhold money for Emergency AIDS Relief for the Caribbean, when the United States itself is the highest infected with HIV/AIDS among all the industrial countries in the world.

UNAIDS, statistics to date; 
US . . . 1.2 million 
Russia . . . 940,000 
Italy . . . 150,000 
France . . . 130,000 
Great Britain . . . 68,000 
Canada . . . 60,000 
Japan . . . 17,000 
Australia . . . 16,000

Dr. Alex Wodak, the director of Sydney hospital's addiction program and the first president of the International Harm Reduction Association, states "The United States addiction of zero tolerance has really been very, very costly; in deaths, in hospital beds, in dollars, and misery".

Australian government officials didn't respond to Dr. Wodak's recommendations which would curb the spread of HIV/AIDS in their country, so he aggressively attacked the problem himself. With a mere twenty dollars he bought a thousand syringes, put up a sign "free needles here" at his addiction center. Drug users got access to health care, education about treatment and options for their addiction.

Two years later, through the efforts of Dr. Wodak, Australia provides syringes to drug users. Australia legalized prostitution and removed laws allowing discrimination against gays. In bathhouses where gay men gather, condoms are distributed. In the U.S. where zero tolerance policy was enforced, they closed bathhouses, notched up the war against drugs and increased the abstinence-only sex education.

Dr. Wodak states "It is a difference between risk reduction and risk elimination. Eliminating behaviors-sex and drug abuse- that lead to HIV transmission is impossible. Reducing the risk to those behaviors has been proved to work. Risk elimination is sustainable. By setting utopian goals and failing to achieve them, we're always much worse off than if we set modest goals and nail them."

New anti-retroviral drugs have made a chronic disease manageable. America's $15 billion-five year Emergency Plan for Global AIDS Relief (a five year program) will and has already shown signs of improvement. Prevalence of the virus has begun to decrease in the Caribbean and relatively stabilized in recent years. However, this is just a drop in the bucket. The most impoverished countries around the world where the highest incidents of HIV/AIDS are prevalent, the drug is still unavailable.

HIV/AIDS is a disease that will be with us indefinitely. The world united has to make this disease their priority by reevaluating and addressing the issues surrounding it.
a) Sustain and increase commitment and leadership 
b) Sustain and increase financing 
c) Aggressively address stigma and discrimination 
d) Strengthen human resources and systems 
e) Ensure available and affordable commodities 
f) Build treatment access 
g) Invest in Research and development 
h) Mitigate the impact of AIDS

"The very serious impact that AIDS has already had on many countries requires that efforts to address the epidemic simultaneously focus on preventing new infections, caring for those who are infected and mitigating the impact of AIDS on the economy, institutions and social structure of the community." (Jonathan Mann . . . 1994)

If the world as a whole doesn't unite in the endeavor to eradicate this disease, we don't have to worry about weapons of mass destruction; HIV/AIDS will be the cause of our demise.


Should the US consider Ethiopia an ally despite its poor human rights record?
Read winning essay by Kallie Szczepanski

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The United States needs to remain allied with a strong Ethiopia, nearly as much as Ethiopia needs continued support from the U.S.

Ethiopia is at the heart of Africa's Horn. A mountain fortress-nation, today, as so often in the past, it is surrounded by chaos. To the north is Eritrea, Ethiopia's break-away province, now an independent (but probably untenable) state. To the west, war-wracked Sudan. To the south, Kenya, which just exploded into ethnic violence following presidential elections. And on the eastern border is Ethiopia's long-time foe, the failed state of Somalia. The United States has provided support and aid to Ethiopia ever since the communist dictatorship of General Mengistu fell in 1991, but should the U.S. continue to ally itself with a country that has been accused of violating the human rights of some of its citizens? I believe that we should, and that we must.

To properly evaluate the question, though, it's important to weigh the gravity of the human rights violations, the strategic relevance of Ethiopia to the U.S., and the relationship between the two countries.

The Ethiopian government has been accused of harassing, arresting, and torturing members and sympathizers of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a Somali separatist group, as well as restive members of Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, the Oromo, in the south. Historically, these separatist movements arise from the foreign policy strategy of Emperor Menelik II, who ruled Ethiopia in the late nineteenth century. As colonial powers swallowed up surrounding areas and began to eye the Ethiopian highlands greedily, the Emperor went on the offensive. He conquered and annexed the lowland areas to the south and east of the heartland, incorporating them into his empire, and thus creating a buffer zone between Ethiopia proper and the encroaching British and Italian colonists. Problem solved- Ethiopia was the only part of Africa that was never truly colonized by Europeans.

The solution to Menelik's problem, though, has created a host of new problems for his successors. The newly-annexed areas were home to primarily Muslim and animist tribes of nomadic pastoralists, members of the Somali, Oromo, Sidama, and other peoples ethnically and linguistically unrelated to the Orthodox Christian Amhara and Tigrayan rulers. Now, more than 100 years after their incorporation into the Ethiopian Empire, the Oromo and Somali still want out. In today's climate, the so-called "Global War on Terror" gives the Ethiopian government a perfect excuse to label separatist movements such as the ONLF and the Oromo Liberation Front "terrorist groups," and to crack down on them hard.
Journalists and rights groups such as Human Rights Watch International report atrocities in the Somali regions such as the burning of up to a dozen villages, destruction of precious food stores, public executions and the arrest, beating and murder of dissidents and even innocent bystanders. The ethnic Somali ONLF rebels, in turn, boast of having killed hundreds of government troops in June of 2007, according to a July 4th Voice of America report by journalist Nick Wadhams. The rebels also attacked a Chinese oil exploration facility in the Ogaden, killing 74 people (including 9 Chinese nationals) in April of 2007. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi responded to that attack by vowing to wipe out the ONLF.

Complicating the picture is Ethiopia's December 2006 invasion of Somalia proper, where Ethiopian forces ousted the radical Union of Islamic Courts then in control of Mogadishu, and reinstalled the Somali Transitional Federal Government, which had fled the capital. Ethiopia's decision to go into Somalia was prompted in part by Somali warlords who attempted to foment a rebellion by their cousins in the Ogaden province; many seek to unify all Somalis into a "Greater Somalia," to the discomfort of Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. The U.S. tacitly supported the invasion, while privately cautioning the Ethiopian government about entering the morass that is Somalia. (America was badly burned in its attempt to intervene there between 1992 and 1994; for details, see the film "Blackhawk Down.")

Why does the United States care about Ethiopia and the Horn, anyway? First, a poor and destabilized East Africa could be a perfect breeding ground for radical terror groups like al-Qaeda; in fact, the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania show that this has already happened to some extent. Ethiopia is the only stable country in the entire region; surely the U.S. has an interest in promoting it. Ethiopia also has the largest and best-trained military in the area. In addition, the Horn of Africa is only about 18 miles from Yemen, across the Red Sea on the Arabian Peninsula. It's a classic bottleneck, and it leads to the strategically key Suez Canal. If hostile forces took control of both the Yemeni and Djiboutian sides of the Bab al Mandeb Strait, international trade and military transport would be severely disrupted.

Djibouti's status as a free and prosperous mini-nation depends almost entirely on income earned by serving as a port for now land-locked Ethiopia. Finally, as mentioned above, Ethiopia is currently supporting the internationally legitimized Somali provisional government the only force standing between Somalia and a descent back into complete anarchy.
What kind of relationship do the U.S. and Ethiopia have, and how would it change if America withdrew its support? The U.S. provided $1.5 million in military aid to Ethiopia for fiscal 2007-2008. A sudden withdrawal would decimate the material and training budget of the Horn of Africa's top fighting force; the stability of the whole region would be jeopardized. The U.S. also donates millions in humanitarian aid to Ethiopia each year, including $45 million in 2006 to the Ogaden region alone. Thus, if the U.S. suddenly halted these payments, both the government and the majority of Ethiopia's people would be embittered by what would be perceived as a betrayal by the country's top ally. What effect would a U.S. withdrawal have on Ethiopia's policies and behavior toward its separatist groups? Would a sudden cessation of America's aid and alliance make life any better for the Somali and Oromo? In all likelihood, no. The Ethiopian government might launch an all-out assault on the separatists before military readiness had deteriorated to the point that it would be infeasible. Outright civil war would benefit nobody, as neighboring Sudan demonstrates.

In the end, the U.S. has much more to lose from abandoning its alliance with Ethiopia than from maintaining friendly relations. It has been pointed out that the U.S.'s human rights record is rather besmirched at present, too: Abu Ghraib prison, Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, warrantless wire-tapping at home, and the suspension of habeus corpus rights leave us living in a flimsy glass house, indeed. Who are we to cast stones? If you still aren't convinced, consider this final point: Whose advice are you more likely to take your best friend's, or that of a former friend who betrayed you? The U.S. can more easily exert whatever moral authority it has left if it continues its close relationship with the government of Ethiopia.

What responsibility does the US have toward Vietnamese who believe they've suffered illnesses as a result of their exposure to the dioxin Agent Orange?
Read winning essay by Debra Triplett

"Well mom, as far as what I do out here is more or less depending upon V.C. activity in the area. We were hit 2 nights ago by about 400 V.C. We had only one man killed. This was because he had fallen asleep again."

"This place is surrounded by mines and 5 strands of constantan [barbed] wire. Somehow about 70 V.C. made it through the mines and wire. They started pouring through a hole in the wire, when the other gunman and I opened up with all we possibly could. Believe me, I was scared."
"The V.C. started running after about 30 minutes of fighting. When daylight had arrived we counted 191 dead V.C. The other guy and myself had caught 61 coming through the hole in the wire and hit them in a cross fire."

Two of my brothers served our armed forces and both served in Vietnam. My oldest brother, Bob, whose letter you just read a portion of, died as a result of Agent Orange. Bob's troop was always dropped off in the middle of the jungles, and used as guinea pigs to entice the V.C. to come to them, in an effort to then surround the V.C. that surrounded my brother's troop. He suffered for over 18 years with kidney failure and had two kidney transplants, taking over 56 pills a day to stay alive.

During his first kidney transplant, the doctors at UCLA hospital advised him, "We found Agent Orange in your system, but we will never write it down because we'd lose government funding if we admit it." Bob served in 1968 and 1969 in this country, and was part of the "Big Red One" 1st Infantry Division, a division known for walking through jungles and for being a threat to the enemy.

Between 1961 and 1971, approximately 77 million liters of herbicides, including 49.3 million liters of Agent Orange containing more than 360 kg of dioxin-contaminated defoliants, were sprayed multiple times over 5.5 million acres in South Vietnam. The chemical, dioxin, was used as a defoliant and herbicide to destroy forests and food crops and is known to be one of the most toxic substances known to man, killing all vegetation it came into contact with. Agent Orange was used so the Viet Cong could not hide in the jungles, and the resulting devastation brought forth many more consequences than even the U.S. Government could have imagined. Tested soils in Vietnam today show "hotspots" that indicate more than 180 million times above the safe level of toxicity, and 30 years following the government-ordered spraying, an urgent need to decontaminate the land still exists. Not only does the chemical still exist in the land, but traces are still found in ponds, in fish, and in humans.

What seems to be a known fact is the disease and ailments many of our Vietnam Veterans have suffered as a result of exposure to this chemical, which include high blood pressure, immune deficiencies, reproductive and developmental disorders, central nervous system, peripheral nervous system effects, respiratory and prostate cancers, multiply myeloma, peripheral neuropathy, soft-tissue sarcoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, chloracne, as well as type 2 diabetes, and spina bifida in children of all U.S. veterans. Agent Orange resides in the blood stream, and can be passed onto children. My brother's own grandchild was a stillborn, and it was discovered that he was born with spina bifida.

Although scientific studies indicate the incidence of illness with Agent Orange, the chemical companies continually maintain that there is no actual proof that Agent Orange causes disease. No surprise here.

Should the United States be held responsible to the people of Vietnam, and pay for cleanup? What seems like a relatively easy question is actually very difficult to answer. The government used Agent Orange at a strength of six to twenty-five times stronger than the company that manufactured it suggested. An estimated 12 million gallons of Agent Orange was sprayed over Vietnam.

War reparations are not new. Rome imposed reparations after the first and second Punic Wars. Russia, Germany, Italy, Finland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Japan have paid reparations in the past. The United States has paid reparations on more than one occasion. Reparations are typically in the form of money or goods being exchanged.
After 35 or so years, Vietnam still has not received war reparations. This undeclared "war" began in 1954, following its division by the Geneva Conference, into the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam.) A civil war began and soon became an international conflict, ending finally in 1975. The United States spent nearly $600 billion dollars on the Vietnam war, an amount that we are currently nearing in the Iraq war today.
In a near 20-year conflict that left America wondering what we were doing there in the first place, as well as left a beautiful, once colorful country devastated, and resulted in the death or missing of 58,246 American soldiers, one wonders what we owe those that remained in Vietnam. Those South Vietnamese villagers, taken over by their Communist brothers, left in ruins and in what any American would consider poverty. Should the U.S. pay reparations to Vietnam? Do we need even ask?

Who should take a stand against abusive child labor being used in Congo to dig out coltan?
Read winning essay by Sara Turner

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As a mother of two amazingly wonderful little people who bless my life every day with their sweetness and wonder, I sit trying to write this article which encompasses the death of not one, not two, but several million Congolese children. I can't process the horror. I can't image for one second what I would do if someone did to my children what is being done to the children in that country. As a parent, what would I do if my child did not come home? Here in North America there are so many avenues to respond to the crisis of a missing child, but in Congo, if your child does not come home, you can assume only the worst and hope the same fate does not befall you. How can the world.. how can I live with such a double standard?

I wonder how many times someone looks at their laptop or their cell phone and thinks "there is coltan mined by children in this product." Children who die because of disease, starvation and unsafe working conditions. Children who die because the military, the very people who are suppose to keep them safe, abuse and then murder them to hush their crimes. I try to shake the pictures of those children out of my head but they have now painted themselves into my heart.
I didn't realize when I began researching this project that it would be anything other than a writing assignment. I had no clue what I was opening myself up to and I don't know if I can delve any deeper into the truth, because the truth of the situation in the DRC is one of horror. Five and a half million people have died there in the last 10 years of which they estimate half to be children.

The war is brutal and is fueled in large part by the richness of the minerals that are being mined. Coltan(Columbite-tantalite)which is used to produce tantalum capacitors and other components of modern electronic devices as well as the highly in demand copper are being sold on the black market. That money is funding the purchase of weapons, ensuring more fighting and continuing the cycle of death. Eighty percent of the world's coltan comes from the mines in the DR of Congo. The technique used to extract it from the earth is similar to the process used in the 1800's to mine gold. Sloshing the silt through a sieve and the heavier than mud coltan settles to the bottom and is then scooped out. A seasoned worker processes one kilogram per day and is paid $1.00 for their work unless that worker is a child and then they are paid twenty cents to dig in the mud and rocks with crude implements. Without proper nutrition and clean water, they become weak with sickness and starvation. Many die. They breathe in the mine dust, damaging their lungs. They are injured or killed when the walls of the mining pits collapse. Children who should be in school are forced to work in brutal conditions. Often times they are the primary or solitary wage earners in their family. Many of the working children are left as head of their household because one or both parents are dead either through illness or slaughter. The odds are good it was a little of both.

It is vitally important and necessary to bring awareness to the situation in the DRC. Noise has to be made and action has to be taken, but how many battles of injustice can we fight at once? As a nation, how many of the world's issues do we have to tackle? Just who's responsibility is it to save those children? I believe the answer lies in knowledge. Accountability, responsible trading practices and as consumers, we need to hold the manufacturers to a standard.
In October of 2007 the U.S. Government announced they were providing sixteen million dollars in grants to help end abusive child labor in Africa. The funds will be distributed to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo and Uganda. In the DRC, it will be administered through the Save The Children Foundation in association with the U.S. based American Center for International Labor Solidarity and will be used to provide children in need with access to quality basic education and vocational training opportunities and to collect reliable data on child labor in these countries.
The U.S. Department of labor identified the Democratic Republic of Congo in a 2006 report on "The Worst Forms of Child Labor."

It is apparent that people are starting to take notice, but so much more can be done and should be done. Allocation of money for educating the children is a great start. For every dollar spent on educating a child, it is estimated the return to be seven dollars. Knowledge is power. Education is the key.

But what about educating the consumer? If manufactures and retailers were held to the standard of Fair Trade practices, then they would not purchase raw materials or finished product that employed the use of child labor. Although eighty per cent of coltan is presently being purchased from Congo, Canada and Australia are also known suppliers of the mineral, so why not buy from them thereby forcing the mining companies in Congo to adhere to a standard that refuses to allow child labor? If the consumer refused to buy products that do not display the Fair Trade label, then manufacturers and retailers would have no choice but to provide Fair Trade product.

I have read about the UN Millennium Development project and the Stop Child Labor organization. Both are visionary and deserve more attention and support.

So much is being done or is seeming to be done based on the claims by various government and world crisis agencies and yet children are still dying heinous deaths every day at an alarming rate. We can cover our eyes, change the channel, refuse to educate ourselves and those children are still going to die. That is the reality.
I have heard so many things over the years about the horrors in Congo but to be honest I didn't really pay that much attention. I absorbed only enough to know that I didn't want to know more.

As I rummage through all of the notes I have made, I wonder just how far is too far away from a situation to feel a moral obligation to take on some responsibility for the atrocities that are happening in other countries? Where is the line drawn when a person can walk away and say that it's not their problem?

Who should take a stand against abusive child labor being used in Congo to dig out coltan? We all should. It is the responsibility of everyone; governments, International Organizations, corporate bodies and consumers to ensure they do not support any trade with countries that do not adhere to the core labor standards, of which one of those standards is not to employ child labor.

We can live our lives surrounded with cotton and candy and accept them for what they are or we can dig in the ground and learn how the cotton grows and watch as the candy is made.

Should U.S. environmental standards apply when multinational companies develop the petroleum resources of fragile ecosystems such as Peru's Amazon?
Read winning essay by Stephanie Whybrow

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The Amazon Rain forest is endeared to us all as 'the Lungs of the Earth'. We embrace the enormous, serene expanse of Amazon rain forest as a treasure of our own. But to whom does it really belong? Who has the right to inhabit it, mine it, develop it or protect it? Whose environmental standards and values should apply in deciding its future? The question has been asked: Should US environmental standards apply when multinational companies develop the petroleum resources of fragile ecosystems?

In exploring the developments and impacts of gas and oil mining developments currently taking place in the Amazon forests of Peru, we note firstly that the head of these developments is Hunt Oil a US company. Hunt Oil is also accompanied by various other international companies involved in constructing and servicing a Natural Gas pipeline. Then perhaps the answer is yes, in this case these companies should be kept accountable to US environmental standards.

From a ground view, more than two hundred different indigenous groups inhabit the Amazon rain forest region. To date many of these communities have had little or no external associations with the 'outside world'. They live independently, in harmony with their surroundings, surviving by using age-old skills, fishing and hunting. Today commercialism and energy needs, which these cultures have long preceded, are threatening the indigenous way of life. Damages and impacts on the ecosystem from mining developments are beyond question. In this case the ecosystem is particularly fragile. Once it is gone it can never be replaced. Perhaps another relevant question is: is this destruction compensated by the influx of new technology and natural resources such those made available to other social populations of Peru and abroad? 
On a national scale the development of the Camisea River gas pipelines means greater independence and a locally based energy source for Peru. Peru will benefit (or is said to) from cleaner transport technology and utilising their own natural resources provided by the Camisea River Pipeline Project. Other benefits sold by the commercial producers are: more accessible electricity, internet, television, and connection to indigenous communities, closer contact with the 'outside world'. All benefits are expected to lead to wide education and greatly improved trading in the global markets. Change is certain, benefits will be measured by perspective.

The Camisea River is becoming badly polluted by soil erosion and residues from river traffic and foreign building materials which has lead to scarcity of fish, the main diet in the region. Other environmental catastrophes include six pipeline ruptures since the construction began in 2001, leading to gas leakage, but one of the many and most immediate environmental impacts of the project. Other impacts include invasions on a social level such as disease, prostitution, alcohol and substance abuse and influx of foreign cultural values. Do the US Environmental Standards apply to these intrusions? Indigenous communities fear what the 'outside' is bringing in: influences of 'westernised' culture and new ways of life, changes and values that are radically new and overwhelming to the indigenous people, supposedly compensated by the providing tools and substances they have never needed before. These communities fear losing their culture and freedom for the price of gas, oil and consumerism. They are right to question: what will happen in the future? Once the gas oil and commerce has expired, what will happen then? Developments and mining of natural resources builds an inevitable 'road of no return' to the environment, causing irreversible damages on fragile ecosystems. Are these footprints compensated by the changes they bring?

The Amazon rain forest is by no means a single victim to suffer from development violations. Nor are the invasions of cultural and ethical values upon the Amazon indigenous communities alone in their wreak. Everyday, globally we build something bigger, better and more powerful: energy stations, mining resources and precious metals/stones, clearing land for greater transport and motorways or agricultural production. Each industry contributes to damages and changes worldwide. The US environmental laws favour projects which help to empower a developing country, such as Peru, but they also overlook the devastation caused by these practices. The financial gains are of higher importance and the underlying motive of such developments is not charity. So we cannot trust U.S standards as a single and ethical. The role of U.S Environmental Standards is unsatisfactory. The perspective of all parties involved, including indigenous communities, must be taken into account. Diligence and a conscientious effort to maintain high standards and prevent damages and spills could have an entirely different outcome to such projects. The apathy that is currently in place is not acceptable.

In Peru, perhaps the best solution is to reach a compromise. Inevitably, as Peru develops and grows it is going to require greater energy resources. Having destroyed many of our own rain forests and natural parklands, it is not conceivable to prevent developing countries from using their resources; instead we embellish the only remaining forests and intend to prohibit them from accessing their own resources. We cannot retrieve ecosystems that we have driven to extinction; however redeveloping forests is another argument. By minimising detrimental impacts and by increasing safety standards thus actively protecting local cultures and the natural environment, reasonable developments can be established. These measures cost money which creates less incentive for commercial groups. So be it. To make money it is necessary to spend it. The essential overall costs involved here are not only monetary. Developed countries and mining companies gain enormous profits from projects such as the Camisea pipelines. As we have exhausted our own rain-forests and have destroyed natural habitats thus we depend on developing nations, such as Peru to provide us with further resources.
In the argument of environment versus commercialism someone will inevitably lose the battle. Many foreign and U.S companies exploiting natural resources such as in the Camisea River project, offer minimal benefits and leave unfulfilled promises to the local governments and people. This is what is occurring in Peru at present. As the government depends on foreign companies due to their lack of resources to develop alone, they receive a small percentage from resources obtained. Do US environmental standards purport the power to change this? We must keep these commercial projects accountable. The role of monitoring our planet's fragile ecosystems can not solely rely on U.S environmental standards. In our plight to protect the Amazon and the fragile eco systems of our environment, it is all too easy to point the finger at the mining companies and environmental standards short falls. A more active involvement and solution begins in reflecting on how our everyday behaviours affect our environment. In the end we all use energy resources; we are the consumers at the top of the chain.


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Environment and Climate Change

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