Indonesia’s rainforests are fast disappearing. Forty percent of those that existed in 1950 have been destroyed. Indonesia now has the world’s second largest levels of greenhouse gas emissions, adding to global warming. The deforestation is largely the result of a corrupt political and economic system. Former president Suharto awarded huge logging concessions to family members and political allies. Much of the forest loss stems from the expansion of Indonesia’s plywood, pulp and palm oil industries. Wood processing industries openly acknowledge their dependence on illegally cleared wood. Millions of acres of forest have been cut for palm oil plantations, and owners have frequently used fire as a cheap method of forest clearing, which leads to uncontrolled wildfires that destroy even areas meant to be preserved.
During a climate conference last May in Oslo, Indonesia announced a two-year moratorium on granting new permits to clear rainforests, a potentially important advance toward slowing global warming. The move is scheduled to go into effect next January. Norway has donated $1 billion toward the moratorium, partly for monitoring and verification of reduced emissions, with a goal of 26-percent reduction by 2020. Activist groups like Greenpeace point out, however, that the moratorium leaves unprotected millions of acres already in the hands of logging companies, and deforestation will surely continue.
Thirteen people were killed and more than 600 wounded in Mozambique in early September as police tried to contain with rubber bullets and live rounds what had started out as a peaceful protest. Cars and tires were burning in the streets in the capital city of Maputo. Children were caught in the crossfire; two were killed. At the root of this little-reported mayhem were food prices. Mozambicans were enraged by a government plan to remove subsidies and allow prices for food staples like bread to rise as much as 30 percent, bad news for an already impoverished population.
The government quickly backtracked on its plans, but the violence was an unwelcome reminder of food riots around the world in 2008 that followed sharp spikes in basic commodity prices. Then market-distorting agricultural subsidies in the developed world, diversion of food crops to ethanol production and increasing transportation costs due to high oil prices were blamed for sudden increases in food costs.
In 2010, different but still worrisome factors are driving commodity prices. The world recession has taken a toll on production while simultaneously reducing the buying power of many of the world’s poorest people. Responding to tightening reserves and a poor expectation for this year’s harvest, Russia has banned grain exports. In August wheat prices had their most significant spike in 37 years. In Egypt food protests have already broken out, and more disorder is likely as price increases ripple across Africa and the Middle East. We hope an emergency U.N. meeting in Rome on Sept. 24 produces more than well-intentioned rhetoric; a practical, multilateral plan of action now to head off hunger and violence would be a most welcome harvest.
The U.S. troops in Afghanistan face a host of uncertainties, but wondering about the reliability of an interpreter should not be one of them. Unfortunately, more than one quarter of the interpreters supplied to U.S. troops by the Ohio-based contractor Mission Essential Personnel may be unqualified, according to Paul Funk, a former employee of the company. Mission Essential Personnel denies any wrongdoing, but Mr. Funk alleges that someone at the company changed the grades on the language exams of many Afghan-linguist applicants from fail to pass. Among other charges, he also said that more highly skilled stand-ins often took tests on behalf of unqualified applicants.
Civilian interpreters can help troops make inroads with a community and collect valuable information for U.S. troops, but unqualified interpreters put lives at risk. “There are many cases where soldiers have gone out into the field and have spoken to elders [who] handed messages to the interpreter that a possible ambush three miles up the road would occur,” Funk told ABC News. “If the interpreter cannot read the message, they may be attacked.”
The problem of unqualified interpreters goes beyond Mission Essential. It is important to consider the ramifications of using subcontractors during wartime. Closer attention must be paid to the quality of their work. Americans were rightly angered to learn that U.S. troops were sent to war without sufficient body armor or with defective equipment. Unqualified civilian and Army interpreters also can put troops in unnecessary danger, resulting in failed missions and ill will between troops and local communities. Better regulation and accountability are needed.