The Sacred Path

Journeys through the mist

Compassion on holiday

Tonight I made a trip to the grocery store to pick up cat food, and made a loop through the produce section to pick up some fruit. I bought a variety of goodies and was looking forward to savoring them over the next few days.

On the way home, I was listening to NPR radio since I had taken my iPod into the house this last weekend. Typically whenever I start my car, my iPod serenades me with all my favorite music, but for the past few days it has been NPR.

About half way home, All Things Considered came on with a report by Julie McCarthy titled, River’s Bounty Bypasses Families, Feeds Businesses.

The report centers on an area in northeastern Brazil along the Sao Francisco River where produce is grown, not for the people in the area, but for consumers in the US and Europe. According to the report (my emphasis):

…the bounty of this great waterway passes by thousands of poor families. In the area around the city of Petrolina in the distressed state of Pernambuco, 90 percent of the water from the river goes to large-scale agriculture, according to officials from the federal agricultural research agency. And the agriculture is not for for local consumption but for export.

Water is our most basic physical need, and the poor living and working in this area are being denied that basic need all in the name of providing us with cheap produce. McCarthy goes on to report:

Lush fields of irrigated grapes, mangoes, and melons destined for the United States and Europe shimmer like a mirage across the highway from where Jose de Sousa, 30, lives with his wife and seven children. But in his bleak settlement of cinder-block homes ironically called “Living Waters,” there is only an intermittent supply of running water. De Sousa’s eldest child, 12-year-old Gessia, died in February when she fell from a leaking irrigation canal while trying to collect water. A makeshift altar marks the spot where she fell. De Sousa says his children routinely climb the 30-foot-high concrete canal to get water for their families. His daughter died making her third trip of the day.

While the poor in these areas are working in the fields to bring us fresh produce, their children are having to risk their lives to secure the most basic need for their families – water. When McCarthy asked a vineyard owner, Joao Santos, if he felt there was something wrong with the way the water was apportioned, he replied:

“I’ve got so many problems within my own company. I have a hard enough time getting the government’s attention for myself,” Santos says. “My responsibility lies with the 30 people on my payroll. They are guaranteed a meal, housing if they want it, medical care and education for their children. They are treated with dignity.”

Stories like this sadden me and are glaring examples of just how screwed up this world is. Somehow I don’t think the fruits I bought tonight (which according to the labels were grown outside the US) will be as sweet as I had anticipated. Related link:

NPR Morning Edition, August 29, 2007: Brazil River Dispute Highlights Larger Issue


  1. Richard

    Hearing this makes me want to weep!!! Just how screwed up is this world? How sad it is to read how “our children” are affected by the injustices in the world.


  2. Indeed Irene. The sad thing is that it’s been screwed up for many, many years, but increases in magnitude year after year. At some point it will stop and things will get better. I have to believe that since the alternative is unacceptable.

  3. Richard, how distressing is this news. Life is so unfair, and so many people are born with multiples strikes against them. I am fortunate to have born into an American Christian family. I pray I never forget that great advantage, and that I in some small way, can repay the world for such blessings.

    I’m interested in your statement, “At some point it will stop and things will get better.” How and when do you think that will happen?


  4. Shirley, it all depends on choices and on when enough people decide that it’s time for a change. The number of people who feel this way is growing daily, but I’ve certainly gotten no indication from the spirits that we have reached bottom yet. The thing they have stressed is to not get caught up in the fear and negativity as that simply feeds the monster. It’s best that we each keep ourselves up to date on what is happening, but do not let it pull us in. When we keep ourselves centered and in the positive polarity we are a stabilizer.

  5. While I’m aware we don’t use our resources wisely, I commend you for keeping a positive view of these tendencies. I think humans have gone through a long period of learning to live together with each other and our bountiful resources. But, change is in the air. There is a rumbling under the surface of consciousness that we will soon choose another way. Cheers!

  6. Museditions, yes change is in the air and the rumblings get a little louder every day. I sometimes get impatient, but it (the change) is what I’ve been waiting for – what many of us here at this time have been waiting for.

  7. These kind of stories grieve my heart.

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was certainly busy promoting free trade last month. Following up on free trade agreements struck with Thailand and Brunei earlier this year, Mr. Abe flew to Jakarta and signed still another FTA with Indonesia on Aug. 20. Then he flew to New Delhi two days later, proclaiming that India would be the next special Japanese trading partner to participate in “an arc of freedom and prosperity” in a “broader Asia” that would include America and Australia (but not China). The intrepid traveler from Tokyo wrapped up his trip on Friday, Aug. 24, by jetting to Kuala Lumpur, where he praised the mutual benefits of bilateral economic cooperation thanks to a Japanese-Malaysian FTA that was signed in 2005. At week’s end, free traders had cause to celebrate.

    Well, hardly. This wasn’t free trade — but the latest signs of the most important Japanese policy shift on international economics since the end of World War II. For more than half a century, Japan, an original signatory to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947, has strongly endorsed multilateral trade liberalization through the GATT and its successor international trade rules-making body in Geneva, the World Trade Organization. The core principle of the GATT and the WTO is treating all trading partners equally.

    By contrast, today’s so-called free trade agreements are about treating different trading partners differently. While they lower some trade barriers for those included in the deals, the driving idea behind preferential trade is to put outsiders at a competitive disadvantage. Preferential trade is at odds with trade liberalization.

    The FTA between Japan and Indonesia runs to 938 pages containing rules of origin, exclusions for politically sensitive products, and protectionist specifications for 40% of local content on “sensitive” — read, politically sensitive — products. There are special rules and various product exclusions for vegetables, sugar, various dairy products, fruits, tobacco and much else. Japan won’t cut tariffs for any kind of pineapples from Malaysia, Brunei or Singapore, but will gradually reduce duties for some fresh and dried pineapples from Thailand and the Philippines. But while tariffs on Thai dried pineapples are at 6% in the first year, and will be phased out entirely in six years, the Philippines’ dried pineapples will be taxed at 7.2% at first, and won’t be duty free until year 11.

    This is special-interest politics, not sound economics. The Japanese boast that their FTAs give them preferential access to oil from Brunei, natural gas from Indonesia, and export platforms for Japanese manufacturers in smaller Asian economies. To readers of a certain age, this has a familiar ring.

    While it’s premature to hit the panic button, it’s sure time to sound the alarms. It’s simply wrong for the world’s leading economies to act as if they want Fortresses Asia, Europe and America.

    It’s truly a cause for concern that while the “developed” nations of the world are voraciously consuming resources that the developing nations sorely need to get on their feet.

    It’s a shameful thing that soon the battle for foreign source biofuels will place grains for food and grains to fuel the way of life in the developed nations in competition and under these “protective” agreements.

    Surely a shift in our thinking must take place. We are ONE.

  8. Timethief, yes they are sad stories, and all too common. I agree completely with your comments and observations. The “economy” no longer includes people, just the companies listed on the stockmarket, and those making money buying and selling those stocks. Those of us that can’t afford to play the game see our paychecks buying less and less each month, and to further the illusion, the government does not include fuel and food costs in the consumer price index (CPI) and in inflation figures in the hopes that we will buy the lies and not realize that we going a little further down the rabbit hole each month.

    A shift must, and will take place, but sadly I’m afraid, we ain’t seen the worst of it yet.

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