සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #164: දකුණු ආසියාව කුල්මත් කළ හුරුබුහුටි මීනා

This week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala) is about the Meena Communication Initiative, which used animations and popular culture to discuss serious messages related to the girl child in South Asia.

I covered the same ground in an English column some weeks ago: January 2014: When Worlds Collide 96: Before Malala Came Meena…

Meena and Mithu

මීනා කෙලිලොල් හා හුරුබුහුටි දැරියක්. වයස අවුරුදු 9 – 10ක් පමණ ඇති. ඇයට වැඩිමහලූ අයියා කෙනකුත්, අතදරු වියේ පසු වන නංගි කෙනකුත් ඉන්නවා. ඇගේ මව, පියා සහ ආච්චි සමග පවුල වාසය කරන්නේ සරල ගැමි ගෙදරක. ඔවුන්ගේ ගම්මානය දකුණු ආසියාවේ යම් තැනෙක, ඕනෑම තැනෙක විය හැකියි.

ඇත්තටම කිවහොත් මීනා කාටූන් චරිතයක්. එහෙත් ගෙවී ගිය දශක දෙක පුරා මීනාගේ කථා ටෙලිවිෂන් හා චිත‍්‍රකථා පොත් හරහා රස විදින මිලියන් ගණනක් දකුණු ආසියාවේ දරු දැරියන්ට හා වැඩිහිටියන්ට නම් මීනා ඇතුඵ පවුලේ උදවිය හරියට ජීවමාන චරිත වගෙයි.

එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ ළමා අරමුදල හෙවත් යුනිසෙෆ් (Unicef) ආයතනය ලොව දක්‍ෂ කාටූන් ශිල්පීන් හා සන්නිවේදනක පිරිසක් සමග එක්ව නිර්මාණය කළ මීනා කථා මාලාව, මෑත කාලයේ සංවර්ධන පණිවුඩ හා ජනපි‍්‍රය සංස්කෘතිය මනා සේ යා කළ සාර්ථක උත්සාහයක්.

1990දී ලෝකයේ රාජ්‍යයන් විසින් සම්මත කර ගත් ළමා අයිතිවාසිකම් පිළිබඳ ලෝක සම්මුතියේ කියැවෙන විවිධ අයිතීන් දකුණු ආසියාතික දැරියන්ට අදාල වන ආකාරය ගැන මීනා කථාවලින් රසවත්ව විවරණය කරනු ලැබුවා. නීති හෝ පිළිවෙත් ගැන කිසිවක් සඳහන් නොකොට එය මුළුමනින් ම මතු කරන්නේ කථා හරහායි.

දකුණු ආසියාවේ (සාක් කලාපයේ) රටවල ගැහැණු දරුවන් මුහුණ දෙන අභියෝග හා ඔවුන්ට නිසි අයිතීන් හා රැකවරණය ලබා දෙන්නට සමාජයට ඇති වගකීම් ගැන සරලවත්, විචිත‍්‍රවත් කියා දෙන මීනා කථා ඇරඹුණේ 1990 දශකය මුලදී බංග්ලාදේශයෙන්. ඇගේ මාධ්‍ය චාරිකාව මුල් යුගයේ පටන් මහත් ඕනෑකමින් අධ්‍යයනය කළ කෙනකු ලෙස මා එය සැකෙවින් බෙදා ගන්නට කැමතියි.

Meena originator Neill McKee

Meena originator Neill McKee

මීනා චරිතයේ හා කථා මාලාවේ නිර්මාතෘවරයා කැනේඩියානු ජාතික සන්නිවේදක නීල් මැකී (Neill Mckee). 1990 දශකය ඇරැඹෙන විට ඔහු යුනිසෙෆ් ආයතනයේ බංග්ලාදේශ් කාර්යාලයේ සන්නිවේදන ප‍්‍රධානියාව සිටියා.

ගතානුගතික දකුණු ආසියාතික ජන සමාජයන්හි පිරිමි දරුවන්ට ලැබෙන සැළකිල්ල හා ප‍්‍රමුඛත්වය බොහෝ විට එම පවුල්වල ගැහැණු දරුවන්ට නොලැබීම යුනිසෙෆ් අවධානයට ලක්ව තිබුණා. මේ නිසා ගැහැණු දරුවන්ගේ අධ්‍යාපනය, සෞඛ්‍යය, පෝෂණය හා අනාගතය අඩාල වන බවත්, මේ සමාජයීය ආකල්ප ටිකෙන් ටික වෙනස් කළ යුතු බවත් යුනිසෙෆ් තේරුම් ගත්තා.

මෙබඳු කිදා බැස ගත් ආකල්පවලට එක එල්ලේ එරෙහි වීම හෝ පණ්ඩිත විවේචන කිරීම සාර්ථක නොවන බවත් නීල් මැකී දැන සිටියා. කථාන්දර ස්වරූපයෙන්, ලිහිල් විලාසයකින් මේ ගැඹුරු පණිවුඩය ගෙන යාමට යුනිසෙෆ් තීරණය කළා.

මේ වන විට සාර්ක් කලාපයේ රාජ්‍යයන් ද මේ ගැන අවධානය යොමු කර තිබුණා. 1990 වසර ගැහැණු දරුවන් පිළිබඳ සාක් වර්ෂය (SAARC Year of Girl Child) ලෙස නම් කරනු ලැබුවා.

මීනා චෙකොස්ලොවාකියාවේ ප‍්‍රාග් නුවර දී පිළිසිඳ ගෙන, බංග්ලාදේශයේ අගනුවර ඩාකාහිදී උපත ලැබුවා යයි කිව හැකියි. හේතුව මේ අදහස මුලින්ම මැකීගේ මනසට ආවේ ප‍්‍රාග් නුවර සමුඵවකට සහභාගී වන අතර බැවින්.

ආපසු ඩාකා නුවරට පැමිණි මැකී සෙසු කාර්ය මණ්ඩලයත් සමග දිගින් දිගට මේ ගැන සාකච්ඡා කළා. හුරුබුහුටි දැරියක් කථා නායිකාව කර ගෙන, ඇගේ පවුල හා ගම පසුබිම් කර ගත් කාටූන් කථා මාලාවක් නිර්මාණය කරන්නට ඔවුන් තීරණය කළා. මේ සඳහා ආයතනය තුළ අරමුදල් නොසෑහුණු බැවින් විවිධ ආධාර ආයතනවලින් එයට මුදල් සොයා ගන්නට ද මැකී වෙහෙසුණා.

ආණ්ඩු සාමාජිකත්වය දරණ අන්තර් රාජ්‍ය ආයතනයක් ලෙස යුනිසෙෆ් කි‍්‍රයාත්මක වන්නේ රජයන්ගේ අනුදැනුම ඇතිවයි. දකුණු ආසියාවේ කොයි කාටත් තේරෙන, සමීප නමක් සෙවූ යුනිසෙෆ් කණ්ඩායම මීනා නම තෝරාගෙන එයට සාක් රටවල නිල අනුමැතිය ලබා ගත්තා.

Best friends - Meena and Mithu

Best friends – Meena and Mithu

කථා රසය වැඩි කරන්නට මීනාට සුරතල් සතෙකු සිටිය යුතු යයි ඔවුන් තීරණය කළා. මුලින් යෝජනා වූයේ හීලෑ කළ රිලා පැටවෙකු වුවත් එයට ශී‍්‍ර ලංකා රාජ්‍ය නියෝජිතයන් එකඟ නොවු නිසා කටකාර ගිරවකු තෝරා ගත් බව මැකී ලියා තිබෙනවා. මිතූ (Mithu) යයි නමක් දෙනු ලැබු මේ ගිරවා මීනා යන සැම තැනම යන, ඇයට ඉතා ලෙන්ගතු සුරතලෙක්.

මීනාගේ පෙනුම හා ඇඳුම් ද හැම දකුණු ආසියාතික රටකට ම සමීප වීම සඳහා නිර්මාණකරුවන් විශේෂ උත්සාහයක් ගත්තා. සාරියක්, සල්වා කමීසයක් වැනි සංස්කෘතික වශයෙන් එක් රටකට දෙකකට ආවේණික ඇඳුමක් වෙනුවට එතරම් සුවිශේෂි නොවන ලිහිල් කලිසමක් හා කමිසයක් ඇයට ලබා දුන්නා.

මේ පෙනුම ඇතුළු අනෙක් සියුම් කාරණා නිර්ණය කිරීමට පෙර ඉතා පුළුල්ව මත විමසීම් ගවේෂණ කරනු ලැබුවා. සාක් රටවල කුඩා කණ්ඩායම් රැස්වීම් 200ක් පමණ පවත්වා බාල හා වැඩිහිටි 10,000කට වැඩි පිරිසකගේ රුචි අරුචිකම් විමසා බැලූ බව මැකී කියනවා.

මෙතරම් පේ‍්‍රක්‍ෂක පර්යේෂණ මත පදනම්ව නිර්මාණය වූ කාටූන් කථා අපේ කලාපයේ දුර්ලභයි. (එහෙත් වෝල්ට් ඩිස්නි වැනි ලොකු සමාගම් අළුත් නිර්මාණයක් කරන්නට පෙර සැම විටම පුළුල්ව පර්යේෂණ කරනවා.)

මීනා වසන ගම්මානයත් දකුණු ආසියාවේ ඕනෑම රටක තිබිය හැකි ආකාරයේ පෙනුමක් සහිතයි. ගතානුගතික වැඩවසම් මානසිකත්වය ඇති අය මෙන් ම වඩාත් විවෘත මනසකින් යුතු පාසල් ගුරුවරිය වැනි චරිත ද එහි හමු වනවා.

Meena chief animator Ram Mohan

Meena chief animator Ram Mohan

මේ චරිත රූප බවට පත් කොට කාටූන් කථා බිහි කරන්නට යුන්සෙෆ් ඇරයුම් කළේ ඉන්දියාවේ ප‍්‍රවීණතම කාටූන් චිත‍්‍රපට අධ්‍යක්‍ෂවරයෙකු වූ රාම් මෝහන්ටයි ( Ram Mohan). ඔහු 1956 සිට මේ ක්‍ෂෙත‍්‍රයේ නියැලී සිටි කෙනෙක්. උපදේශක මට්ටමින් ඇමරිකාවේ ප‍්‍රකට කාටූන් සමාගමක් වන හැනා-බාබරා චිත‍්‍රාගාරය (Hanna-Barbera Productions) ද ෆිලීපිනයේ ෆිල්කාටූන් සමාගම (Fil-Cartoons) ද සම්බන්ධ කර ගනු ලැබුවා. එහෙත් මේ නිර්මාණය 90%ක්ම දකුණු ආසියාතික නිර්මාණයක්.

‘‘අප විවිධාකාර හැඩතල නිර්මාණය කරමින් විවිධ ජන පිරිස් වලට ඒවා පෙන්නුවා. ඔවුන් වැඩි දෙනෙකු පි‍්‍රය කළ රසය එකතු කොට මීනාගේ පවුල, ගම හා කථා මාලාව බිහි කළා’’ රාම් මෝහන් කියනවා. මෙය වසර දෙකක් ගත වූ සාමුහික ව්‍යායාමයක්.

මුල් ම මීනා කථාව වූයේ Count Your Chicken (කුකුළු පැටවුන් ගණන් කරමු). අයියා (රාජු) පාසල් යවන නමුත් ගැහැණු දරුවෙකු නිසා මීනා පාසල් නොයවා ගෙදර තබා ගන්නවා. ඒත් අයියා පසුපස පාසල දක්වා යන මීනා, පන්ති කාමරයට පිටත සිට පාඩම් අසා සිටිනවා. එසේ දුර සිට උගත් ගණන් කිරීමේ හැකියාව ප‍්‍රායෝගිකව පාවිච්චි කොට කුකුල් හොරකු අල්ලා දෙන මීනා ගැන පැහැදෙන ඇගේ දෙමවුපියෝ ප‍්‍රමාද වී හෝ ඇයත් පාසල් යවනවා.

දෙවැනි කථාවට පාදක වූයේ රසවත් අඹ ගෙඩියක් ගෙදර ගෙනවිත් එයින් වැඩි පංගුව අයියාටත් ඇබිත්තක් පමණක් මීනාටත් දීමේ සිද්ධියයි. ගැහැණු දරුවාට එළිපිටම අඩු සැළකිලි දීමේ සම්ප‍්‍රදාය මේ කථාවෙන් හීන් සීරුවේ අභියෝගයට ලක් කැරෙනවා.

විනාඩි 10-15ක් පමණ දිගට දිවෙන මීනා කාටූන් කථා මුල් වටයේ 13ක් නිර්මාණය කළා. ඒවා ඉංගී‍්‍රසි, හින්දි, උර්දු, බංග්ලා, නේපාලි, දෙමළ, සිංහල වැනි භාෂා ගණනාවකට හඬ කවා එක් එක් රටවල ටෙලිවිෂන් නාලිකාවලට නොමිලයේ බෙදා හරිනු ලැබුවා.

Who's Afraid of the Bully

Who’s Afraid of the Bully

ප‍්‍රතිශක්තිකරණය, සනීපාරක්‍ෂාව, බාල වයස්කරුවන්ගෙන් වැඩ ගැනීම, ආපදාවලින් සුරැකීම, සෙල්ලම් කිරීමට දරු දැරියන්ට ඇති අයිතිය, අඩු වයසින් දැරියන් විවාහ කර දීම, HIV/AIDSවලින් ආරක්‍ෂා වීම වැනි තේමා යටතේ මීනා කාටූන් කථා නිපදවනු ලැබුවා. ඒ හැම එකක්ම සංවේදීව හා නිවැරදිව අදාල කරුණු කථානුසාරයෙන් ඉදිරිපත් කළා. මෙය ලෙහෙසි පහසු වැඩක් නොවෙයි.

ටෙලිවිෂන් කාටූන් මාලාවට අමතරව එම කථා චිත‍්‍ර කථා පොත් පෙළක් ලෙස ද මුද්‍රණය කොට විවිධ භාෂාවලින් බෙදා හරිනු ලැබුවා. බංග්ලාදේශය මුල් කර ගෙන ඇරඹුණත් 1995 වන විට මීනා සන්නිවේදන ව්‍යාපෘතිය සියළු සාක් රටවලට ව්‍යාප්ත වුණා.

එහිදී වැදගත් මෙහෙවරක් ඉටු කළේ මීනා ව්‍යාපෘති කළමනාකරු ලෙස කත්මන්ඩු නුවර යුන්සෙෆ් දකුණු ආසියාතික කලාපීය කාර්යාලයට පත්ව ආ කි‍්‍රස්ටියන් ක්ලාක් (Christian Clark). කලකට පෙර ලෝක ප‍්‍රකට සෙසමි ස්ටී‍්‍රට් ළමා ටෙලිවිෂන් වැඩසටහනේ පිටපත් රචකයෙකු හා කාටුන් ශිල්පියෙකු ද වූ ඔහු කාටුන් හරහා සමාජයට වැදගත් තොරතුරු හා පණීවුඩ දීමේ විභවය මනාව හඳුනාගෙන සිටියා.

‘කිසි විටෙක කථා රසය පලූදු වන ආකාරයෙන් තොරතුරු වැඩි කිරීමට හෝ පණිවුඩ දීමේ අරමුණින් දේශනා පැවැත්වීමට හෝ අප ඉඩ දුන්නේ නැහැ,’ මා හමු වූ විටෙක ඔහු ආවර්ජනය කළා.

කෙටි කලකින් මීනා කථා දකුණු ආසියාව පුරා කෙතරම් ජනපි‍්‍රය වී ද යත් එය ආදර්ශයට ගෙන සාරා නම් අපි‍්‍රකානු කථා මාලාවක් ද පසුව නිර්මාණය කරනු ලැබුවා. ඒ හරහා මෙබඳු ම වැදගත් පණිවුඩ අපි‍්‍රකානු සමාජයන්ට දෙන්නට යුන්සෙෆ් අපි‍්‍රකානු කාර්යාල උත්සාහ කළා. මීනාට වඩා ටිකක් වැඩිමහලූ සාරා දැරියට වයස 13යි. සිංගෝ නම් හුරතල් රිලා පැටියෙකු ඇයට සිටිනවා.

‘කාටූන් චරිත හැටියට මීනා හා සාරා තීරණාත්මක සමාජ සන්නිවේදනයක පෙර ගමන්කරුවන් වුණා. බොහෝ ගතානුගතික සමාජවල විවෘතව එක එල්ලේ සාකච්ඡා කළ නොහැකි ආකල්ප ගැන නැවත සිතා බැලීමකට ඒ හරහා යොමු කළා.’ නීල් මැකී හා කි‍්‍රස්ටියන් ක්ලාක් පසු කලෙක සිය අත්දැකීම් සමාලෝචනය කරමින් ලියා තැබුවා.

කාටූන් නිසා ළමා මනස අයාලේ යනවා යයි සිතන අයට මීනා අළුත් මානයක් පෙන්වා දෙනවා. තවත් කාටූන් නිර්මාණකරුවන් මේ මාර්ගයේ යනවා නම් කෙතරම් අපූරුද?

මීට වසර 15කට පමණ පෙර පාලිත ලක්‍ෂ්මන් ද සිල්වා ළමා අයිතිවාසිකම් විදහා දැක්වෙන කෙටි (විනාඩියේ) කාටුන් මාලාවක් නිර්මාණය කළා. සිබිල් වෙත්තසිංහගේ චිත‍්‍ර යොදා ගෙන කළ මේ නිර්මාණය සීමිත සම්පත් හරහා මීනා ගිය මග යන්නට ගත් දේශීය උත්සාහයක්.

 

Meena: Count your Chickens

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Meena: Too young to Marry

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Crossing the ‘Dev-Code’ Divide: Easier said than done?

Cartoon by Popa Matumula - Courtesy Cartoon Movement

Cartoon by Popa Matumula – Courtesy Cartoon Movement

“To garner public support for their causes, the development community must connect with rest of society using everyday phrases, metaphors and images. That is a far better strategy than expecting everyone to understand their gobbledygook.”

This is the central argument in my latest op-ed essay, just published on the Communication Initiative blog.

Titled Crossing the ‘Dev-Code’ Divide, I revisit a theme familiar to my regular readers: getting development pr0fessionals to communicate better.

Another excerpt:

“After working with technological ‘geeks’ and development workers for many years, I know they have at least one thing in common: their own peculiar languages that don’t make much sense to the rest of us.

“Talking in code is fine for peer-to-peer conversations. But it’s a nonstarter for engaging policy makers and the public.”

An example of coded language is the oft-bandied Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – lofty ideals, badly packaged.

This essay is a tribute to my mentor and former colleague Robert Lamb (1952 – 2012), who was a grandmaster in communicating development to public and policy audiences using simple language and powerful imagery.

Working with Robert for 15 years, I saw how he brought seemingly dreary development issues alive on TV and video – dominant media of his time — through simple and sincere story telling. He mixed inter-governmental processes with stark ground level realities. In three decades he produced or commissioned hundreds of international TV documentaries exploring what sustainable development meant in the real world.

Read the full essay: Crossing the ‘Dev-Code’ Divide

Republished in The Nation newspaper, Sri Lanka, 16 Feb 2014

Cartoon by Patrick Chapette

Cartoon by Patrick Chappatte, IHT

See also related blog posts:

November 2009: Satinder Bindra: It’s the message, stupid (and never mind the UN branding)!

July 2009: Asia’s Other Eclipse: The one that doesn’t make TV news!

March 2009: Mixing oil and water: Media’s challenges in covering human security

March 2009: Missing Mothers: How acronyms and jargon can kill innocent women

April 2007: MDG: A message from our spin doctors?

April 2007: Say MDG and smile, will ya?

Mano Wikramanayake (1951 – 2011): A Voice of Reason in Turbulent Times

Mano Wikramanayake (1951 - 2011): Image courtesy Commonwealth Broadcasting Association


We could always rely on Mano Wikramanayake to provide an incisive analysis of any given situation with a boyish grin on his face.

The senior Lankan broadcast manager, who died suddenly on 3 December 2011, was well informed and articulate without any intellectual or artistic pretensions so common in his industry. The one time cricketer turned avid golfer, he knew when to strike – with just enough force – and when to safeguard his wicket.

For over a decade, Mano was Senior Group Director of the Capital Maharaja Organisation and a Founder Director of the company’s electronic media operations, comprising three TV channels, four radio stations and three TV production houses in Sri Lanka. It is the closest the island nation has to an electronic media giant that is now extending also to the web.

Trained as a management accountant, Mano helped the Maharaja group to consolidate its pioneering ventures in privately owned radio and TV broadcasting. Media researchers and activists have faulted this liberalisation, which started in the early 1990s, as being imperfect, for example lacking a due process in the licensing. But one benefit is undeniable: it liberated us audiences from the tiresome state monopoly of the airwaves that had lasted for decades.

From the beginning, it was evident that the Maharaja group had a long time vision for their broadcasting ventures. In the early stages, they brought in Singaporean and Australian professionals but within a few years the company was run entirely by Lankans. Mano, in particular, groomed many young journalists, producers, technicians and business managers who shared his belief that a private broadcaster could do well while also doing good.

I cheered him every time he spoke out at national and international gatherings to broaden the traditionally narrow definition of public service broadcasting. In his book – and mine – PSB was not confined to state owned or public funded stations. Every channel transmitting on the public airwaves could serve the public interest, albeit in different ways.

Our paths crossed more often outside of Sri Lanka, at various regional and global media gatherings in Asia and Europe. He spoke at such events with authority, clarity and honesty. He chose his words carefully, but didn’t gloss over the thorny issues. While I tend to be cheeky and provocative – for example, calling former state monopoly broadcasters ‘Old Aunties Without Eyeballs’ – he was more circumspect. Yet he never berated Sri Lanka even at the worst of times, most notably when his main station came under a daring arson attack in early 2009.

If Mano was measured, sharp and articulate in his public remarks, he could still be jovial and easy-going in private conversation. We were regular (and vocal) participants at the annual Asia Media Summits organised by the Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD). Another regular Asian broadcaster once called him the ‘Lankan pragmatist’ while labelling me the ‘Lankan idealist’. To him, at least, Mano and I appeared to bat on from the opposite ends, but working to a common goal.

During Asia Media Summit 2006, Mano spoke at a plenary session on ‘Local Content for Global Audience: An uphill battle?’ that my organisation, TVE Asia Pacific, put together on behalf of the UN’s regional body, ESCAP. It explored the role of broadcasters in promoting the Millennium Development Goals that all countries have committed to achieving by 2015.

Mano Wikramanayake (second from left) at MDG and Local Content Plenary Session at Asia Media Summit 2006

Soon after he’d spoken, my colleague Manori Wijesekera good-naturedly challenged him to “put his money where his mouth was”. He readily agreed — and kept his word. Two years later, we co-produced with his station a TV debate series called Sri Lanka 2048 that explored pathways for creating a more sustainable island nation.

“This could be a forerunner to programmes which encourage public debate on issues that concern all of us,” he said when the series premiered in May 2008.

Mano was always ready to partner with development or charitable organisations on well-conceived projects, but he had no time for random do-gooders with vague ideas. He ensured that the Maharaja group’s considerable presence in the airwaves was put to good use in support of carefully selected educational, cultural and sporting endeavours.

Mano was equally sharp with numbers as he was with words. As a senior manager, he minded the financial bottomline of the companies under his charge. He also realised that the media business was very different from, say, marketing soft drinks or manufacturing PVC. His team bore witness to how ably he balanced the regulatory, political, journalistic and commercial interests while raising the bar for quality news, information and entertainment for his audiences.

In later years, he shared this vast experience with other developing country broadcasters, for example through training programmes and manuals for the AIBD, and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) in which he was a leading light. From Afghanistan to Fiji, and from Barbados to South Africa, the voice of practical and pragmatic Mano Wikramanayake will be missed.

But he has energised a generation of broadcasters, and not just in Sri Lanka. In the evolutionary perspective, all of us are transmitters — we constantly pass on ideas, experience and values to our children, students, colleagues and others in our spheres of influence. Such transmission happens 24/7, in all directions and across generations. Some among us are better transmitters than others: they amplify and value-add before passing on.

Mano was one of the finest ‘transmitters’ in the broadcast business, and that is how I shall remember him. His “transmissions” will continue in the teams and establishments he leaves behind.

Taste the Waste: Uncovering a crime against humanity and Nature

Opening the lid...


“How can we explain the fact that one sixth of humanity goes to bed hungry every night, when the world already produces enough food for all?

“The short answer is that there are serious anomalies in the distribution of food. Capricious and uncaring market forces prevent millions of people from having at least one decent meal a day, while others have an abundance of it. For the first time in history, the number of severely malnourished persons now equals the number suffering from over-consumption: about a billion each!”

That was the opening of an article on the future of food, co-authored by Sir Arthur Clarke and myself in 2000. It was circulated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to mark World Food Day that year, and was reproduced in 2008 in The Hindu newspaper, India.

Nearly a decade after we wrote those words, the situation hasn’t really improved. There still are a billion people for whom chronic hunger is a grim fact of life. About 25,000 people die of hunger every day. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, the number of obese people has grown to 1.5 billion.

Talk about a world of contrast and disparity!

Here’s more shocking news: we routinely throw away half of all food produced in this world. Between plough and plate, or from farms to homes, we waste almost as much food as we eat.

Eyes Wide Shut?

Many countries don’t have the slightest idea how much is wasted. Britain made an effort to measure the waste pile and came to a staggering 15 million tons of food a year. This includes 484 million unopened tubs of yoghurt, 1.6 billion untouched apples, bananas worth £370 million and 2.6 billion slices of bread.

In his recent book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, Tristram Stuart documented the extent of waste in the food industry worldwide.

Taste the Waste is a new documentary film linked to an online campaign that shows us what is being thrown away: where, why, when and by whom.

The film maker turned campaigner, Valentin Thurn, has come up with one more reason why we should stem this callous waste: “Cutting food waste is an easy solution to reduce climate emissions and hunger,” he says.

Reducing food waste means a big opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – if we threw away only half of the avoidable waste, the consequences for the climate would be the same as taking one out of five cars off our roads.

It would also help the hungry, because they also depend on the global food cycle. Cash crops from all over the world are traded on the stock exchange. The agricultural resources on this planet are limited. The farmland taken up to produce the food that we throw away could instead be producing food for them.

Young activists protest against this situation by rescuing the wasted food. People eating rubbish – a habit that sounds disgusting until you see the loads of perfectly edible food in the bins of your supermarket or sandwich shop around the corner.

Thurn’s call to action: “We need your help! Go out, look around and tell us about the food in the bins where you live. Send texts, photos, videos, and help to reveal the huge scandal of how we are wasting food.”

Watch the film’s trailer on YouTube:


According to the latest FAO figures, there are more hungry people in the Asia Pacific (642 million) than all other regions combined. This is followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (265 million), Latin America and the Caribbean (53 million), and the Near East and North Africa (42 million). Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest percentages of people living in hunger, while the Middle East and North Africa saw the most rapid growth in the number of hungry people (13.5%) during 2008.

The UN’s definition of hunger is based on the number of calories consumed. Depending on the relative age and gender ratios of a given country, the cutoff varies between 1,600 and 2,000 calories a day.

Starting in 2008, activist groups worldwide observe 16 October as World Foodless Day. Their argument: World Food Day is a mockery and is much better named World Foodless Day.

It’s a day of global action on the crises that beleaguer the people. The objectives are to: “create public awareness and media attention on the root causes of the food crisis; provide policy recommendations and organize meetings with government officials, opinion makers and leaders; organise activities to raise our voices against neoliberal policies and their impact; and highlight people’s recommendations to respond to the world food crisis.”

Watch PAN-Asia Pacific’s video for World Foodless Day 2008:



Read an excellent review of Tristram Stuart’s book: Watching our wasteline, By Darryl D’Monte

Mixing oil and water: Media’s challenges in covering human security

Talking to the last drop: All streams flow to Istanbul?

Talking to the last drop: All streams flow to Istanbul?

The 5th World Water Forum opens in Istanbul, Turkey, today. It will be held in the historic city – a bridge between the east and west – from 16 to 22 March 2009.

Held every three years, the World Water Forum is the main water-related event in the world. It seeks to put water firmly on the international agenda with a view to fostering collaboration – not confrontation – in sharing and caring for the world’s finite supplies of the life-giving liquid. The forums bring together officials, researchers, activists and media to a few days in which they can drown in their own cacophony…well, almost.

I haven’t been to one of these mega-events – I almost did in 2003, when it was hosted by Kyoto, Japan. That forum was almost entirely eclipsed – as far as the media coverage was concerned – by the United States deciding to invade Iraq during the same week. This inspired me to write an op ed essay on oil, water and media which was syndicated by Panos Features and widely reproduced at the time in newspapers, magazines and even in a few activist and development publications. But six years later, it’s hard to locate it online, so I’m publishing it here, unedited, exactly as I wrote in that eventful week in mid March 2003:

Oil on water: will the media get this Big Story?

By Nalaka Gunawardene: 20 March 2003

“If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water.” Ismail Serageldin, an eminent Egyptian architect and planner, made this remark in 1995 when he was vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank.

Well, we are in that new century now, but old habits die hard. The war in Iraq has been fuelled by oil interests, and – starting at the time it did, on March 20 –effectively sidelined global talks to secure freshwater for all.

Clean water, anyone?

Clean water, anyone?

Even as the United States launched its attack on the country that sits on the world’s second largest oil reserve, the Third World Water Forum was in progress at the Japanese cities of Kyoto, Shiga and Osaka. The event, running from March 16 to 23, is this year’s biggest international conference on a sustainable development issue and involved hundreds of government and civil society representatives trying to resolve one of the major survival issues of our time: equitably sharing the world’s finite freshwater resources for our homes, farms and factories.

The two processes cannot be more different. One aims to use force while the other seeks to foster co-operation among nations to cope with water scarcity. The increasingly isolated United States has abandoned the United Nations process in its single-minded determination to disarm Iraq, a nation it considers a major threat to peace and security. Meanwhile in Kyoto, the nations of the world – including, but not led by, the United States – were discussing an issue that is far more central to humanity’s security. It has the full blessings of the UN, which has designated 2003 the International Year of Freshwater.

Yet the water forum seems hardly newsworthy to the major news organisations that are preoccupied with war. For months, the global television networks were gearing up for Iraq war coverage. The first Gulf War helped globalise CNN, and this time around, there are other international and regional channels competing for the eye balls. Locked in a battle for dominant market share, CNN International and BBC World are trying to outdo each other in covering the conflict exhaustively — and to the exclusion of everything else. In the do-or-die media marketplace, ‘soft issues’ such as water are easily edged over by conflict. As cynical news editors will confirm, if it bleeds, it leads.

The notions of national and global ‘security’ – on which the Iraq war is being waged – are relics of the Cold War that are completely out of sync with today’s global realities. Who says we have entered the 21st century?

In the closing decade of the last century, as the world grappled with one crisis after another – ranging from famine and drought to global warming and HIV/AIDS – the notion of ‘security’ was radically redefined to include ecological and social dimensions. What is now termed ‘human security’ is concerned not so much with weapons as with basic human dignity and survival. As first articulated in the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report in 1994, human security includes safety from chronic threats such as hunger, disease and repression, as well as protection from sudden and harmful disruptions in the patterns of daily life.

Mahbub ul Haq

Mahbub ul Haq

The rationale for this was brilliantly summed up by the late Mahbub ul Haq, former Finance Minister of Pakistan and architect of the Human Development Index: “If people are sleeping on pavements, ministers have no business shopping for modern jets and howitzers. While children suffocate in windowless classrooms, generals go about in their air-conditioned jeeps. Nations might accumulate all the weaponry they want, but they have no strength when their people starve…”

A world in which four out of every ten people live in areas of water scarcity is not secure. And if urgent action is not taken, this will increase to two thirds of humanity by 2005. Ensuring water quality is as important as basic access: preventable diarrhoeal diseases – including cholera and dysentery — kill more than seven million children every year. That is 6,000 deaths every day.

James P Grant

James P Grant

James Grant, former executive director of UNICEF, once used a powerful metaphor to describe this scandalous situation: it was as if several jumbo jets full of children were crashing everyday – and nobody took any notice.

If the media are obsessed with death and destruction, why aren’t these numbers registering on their radars? Why is it that silent emergencies forever remain ignored or are only superficially covered? Even statistics don’t set the media agenda: for example, according to the UN, twice as many people are still dying from diarrhoeal diseases as from HIV/AIDS in China, India and Indonesia. But the international donors and media assign far more importance to HIV than to clean water.

No other factor can distort reality as oil. Oil comes on top of water both in the physical world, and in the murky world of global politics. Our collective dependence on petroleum immediately ensures the Iraq war a disproportionately high rank in public and media concerns.

It’s not just the United States that is addicted to oil – we all are. Addicts tend to lose sight of the cost of their dependence, as we have. On 24 March 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on in Prince William Sound in Alaska and a fifth of its 1.2 million barrels of oil spilled into the sea, causing massive damage to over 3,800 km of shoreline. Investigations implicated its captain for grossly neglecting duty. Shortly afterwards, Greenpeace ran a major advertising campaign with the headline: “It wasn’t his driving that caused the Alaskan oil spill. It was yours.”

Exxon Valdez: Drunken driving!

Exxon Valdez: Drunken driving!

Greenpeace continued: “It would be easy to blame the Valdez oil spill on one man. Or one company. Or even one industry. Too easy. Because the truth is, the spill was caused by a nation drunk on oil. And a government asleep at the wheel.”

A nation drunk on oil is waging a war that has more to do with oil than anything else. Our news media are behaving just like cheer-leaders.

War is undoubtedly a big story. But so should be water. One in six humans does not have safe drinking water, and one third of humankind lacks adequate sanitation. We may be living on the Blue Planet, but the waters are muddy and life-threatening to billions.

For sure, a bunch of people huddling together in three Japanese cities won’t solve this crisis overnight. But unless knowledge and skills are shared, and a political commitment is secured, safe water for all will forever remain a pipe dream.

Will it take a full-scale war over water in one of the flashpoints around the world for the military-industrial-media complex take sufficient interest in this survival issue? (That might happen sooner than we suspect.)

It’s ironic that the World Water Forum was undermined by the Iraq war breaking out in the very same week. Washington has now poured oil over everybody’s water.

[Nalaka Gunawardene is an award-winning Sri Lankan science writer, journalist and columnist. He heads TVE Asia Pacific, a regional media organisation working on sustainable development issues, and is on the board of Panos South Asia. The views expressed here are his own.]

Missing Mothers: How acronyms and jargon can kill innocent women

iwd_5“This year alone, more than 500,000 women will die during pregnancy or childbirth. That’s one woman missing every minute of every day. We call these women ‘missing’ because their deaths could have been avoided. In fact, 80 per cent of maternal deaths could be averted if women had access to essential maternal health services.

“We know where and how these women are dying, and we have the resources to prevent these deaths. Yet, maternal mortality is still one of the most neglected problems internationally.”

This sobering message from Unicef is worth reflecting upon as we mark another International Women’s Day.

Unfortunately, critical issues like these often don’t make the news – or worse, are relegated to the background as inevitable. As Joseph Stalin said in a different context, one death is a tragedy; a million deaths a mere statistic.

The challenge to the development community is to go beyond simply counting deaths in cold, clinical terms. UNICEF has recently released a two minute video, “Missing Mothers” as a tool for international development professionals to use in raising awareness of the issue of mothers dying needlessly.

Having a baby is both a very natural process and a joyous occasion for the parents and extended family concerned. Yet having a baby still remains one of the biggest health risks for millions of women worldwide.

Time to make missing women count...

Time to make missing women count...

As Unicef’s 2009 State of the World’s Children report reminded us recently, 1,500 women die every day in the world due to complications arising during pregnancy and childbirth. The chances of a woman in developing countries dying before or during childbirth are 300 times greater than for a woman in an industrialised country like the United States. Such a gap does not exist in any other social indicator.

The largest number of maternal deaths in the world is in South Asia. In India alone, an estimated 141,000 women die each year during pregnancy or childbirth. Recently, my Indian journalist friend Kalpana Sharma wrote a perceptive column on this topic in The Hindu newspaper.

She noted: “The solution has been known for years. The problem is the will to make it work. We also know that the solution would benefit everyone, not just women. Yet, affordable and accessible health care, for instance, has not received the thrust that is needed.”

The Missing Women video suggests to activists and campaigners that action can start with five steps: 1. Educate girls, young women and yourself; 2. Respect their rights; 3. Empower them to participate; 4. Invest in maternal health; 5. Protect against violence and abuse. The Unicef website, meanwhile, lists 10 ways in which concerned individuals can make a difference.

All very commendable and necessary — but not sufficient. With all the good intentions in the world, Unicef’s experts and officials come across as, well, detached and geeky. They don’t connect well enough to the real world people whose needs and interests they are genuinely trying to serve. Their messages are lost somewhere in their precise terms, jargon and endless acronyms.

Just take, for example, the very phrase of maternal mortality itself. Precise but also very stiff and dry. Who outside the medical and development circles uses such terms in conversation? When I write or make films about the issue, I prefer to call it ‘mothers dying needlessly while having babies’. Yes, it’s more wordy and perhaps less exacting. But most ordinary people would get what I’m talking about.

If the jargon-ridden language reads dry in text, it completely puts off people when they watch such words being spoken on video. Such films may pander to the Narcissism of Unicef mandarins, but they completely flop in terms of public communication and engagement.

This is the same point I made in October 2008 when commenting on the Unicef-inspired first Global Handwashing Day: “Passion used to be the hallmark of UNICEF during the time of its legendary executive director James Grant, who strongly believed in communicating messages of child survival and well-being. He gave UNICEF a head start in working with the media, especially television.”

Jim Grant’s deputy, journalist Tarzie Vittachi, who came over to the UN children’s agency after a stint at the UN population fund, used to say: “Governments don’t have babies; people do”. We might extend that to: inter-governmental agencies don’t have babies; real women do. That may be why Unicef insists on delivering its life-saving messages so riddled in politically and scientifically correct, but so sterile language.

Unicef’s YouTube channel has a number of short videos related to what they insist on calling maternal mortality. Here’s an example where Unicef’s Chief of Health Dr. Peter Salama says it’s really an unconscionable number of deaths, and a human tragedy on a massive scale:



MDG5: Save Our Moms!

MDG5: Save Our Moms!

Reducing by three quarters the number of mothers dying needlessly while having babies is one of the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs, the holy grail in international development since the United Nations adopted these in 2000, setting 2015 as the target date.

We have now passed the half way mark, but progress has been patchy and unimpressive. And it will remain so as long as the UN agencies and other development players insist on peddling jargon and acronyms. Considering the issues of life and death involved here, we must view bad communication as a killer — joining the ranks of unsafe drinking water and violence against women and girls.

Writing an editorial for SciDev.Net in September 2005, I noted: “All development workers and UN officials should take a simple test: explain to the least technical person in your office the core message and relevance of your work. Many jargon-using, data-wielding, acronym-loving development workers would probably fail this test. But unless development-speak is translated into simpler language, the MDGs will remain a buzzword confined to development experts and activists.”

I don’t believe in ghosts, but it’s time to bring back the spirits of Jim Grant and Tarzie Vittachi to Unicef to again humanise the agency so mired in its own ‘geekspeak’. The intellectual rigours of evidence-based, scientific analysis must be balanced with clarity and accessibility. It’s fine to be informed by science, but learn to say it simply, clearly and concisely.

The lives of half a million women and millions of children depend on it.

Iodised Salt: How to make the world smarter, faster?

A miracle powder?

A miracle substance to get smarter?

One of the earliest video films I helped distribute at TVE Asia Pacific, soon after it was set up in 1996, was called Ending Hidden Hunger.

This 20 minute film, made in 1992 by Bedford Films of UK and narrated by Sir Peter Ustinov, described how the UN children’s agency UNICEF was working toward eliminating micronutrient deficiencies from iron, vitamin A and iodine in different parts of the developing world. Examples are taken from Africa and Asia to both illustrate the extent of the problem as well as steps being taken to reduce these deficiencies that cause mass-scale disability and death.

The main premise of the film was simple: those lacking micro-nutrients in their regular diet often don’t show immediate signs of starvation. This deprivation builds up over time and causes slow – sometimes irreparable – damage.

Nicholas Kristof

Nicholas Kristof

I was reminded of this film — and its still very relevant message — when reading an excellent essay by Nicholas Kristof in International Herald Tribune a few days ago. He is a columnist for the New York Times who travels the world reporting from the various frontlines of survival and struggle.

In Raising the World’s I.Q., dispatched from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Kristof was talking about ‘a miracle substance that is cheap and actually makes people smarter’: iodised salt.

Here’s the context, as he put it:

“Almost one-third of the world’s people don’t get enough iodine from food and water. The result in extreme cases is large goiters that swell their necks, or other obvious impairments such as dwarfism or cretinism. But far more common is mental slowness.

“When a pregnant woman doesn’t have enough iodine in her body, her child may suffer irreversible brain damage and could have an I.Q. that is 10 to 15 points lower than it would otherwise be. An educated guess is that iodine deficiency results in a needless loss of more than 1 billion I.Q. points around the world.”

In nearly all countries, the best strategy to control iodine deficiency is iodisation of salt — one of the most cost-effective ways to contribute to economic and social development. Especially in these hard times, development professionals are looking for smart ways to get the biggest bang for their limited (and still shrinking) bucks. Investing in micronutrients – such as iodine – can provide some of the biggest bangs possible.

UNICEF Report 2008

UNICEF Report 2008

In June 2008, UNICEF published Sustainable elimination of iodine deficiency, a new report on progress since 1990 when the world’s governments set the target to eliminate iodine-deficiency disorders worldwide.

In October 2008, The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, published a report that noted: “Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of preventable mental impairment worldwide.”

The medical, public health and development communities have known and talked about iodine and other micronutrients for over 30 years. Significant progress has been made – for example, UNICEF says by 2006, more than 120 countries were implementing salt iodisation programmes, and 34 countries had managed to get rid of iodine deficiency among their people through this smart strategy.

But there still are major gaps — which continue to cause preventable damage to tens of millions of people including children.

Nicholas Kristof navigates through the heavy, jargon-ridden developmentspeak and churns out an eminently readable, accessible piece. It’s written in first person narrative from a part of the world where illiteracy, superstition – and their erstwhile companion, religious fanaticism – are trying to prevent people at risk from using iodised salt. This is science writing at its finest: anecdotal, personalised and purposeful.

And he’s absolutely right when he says iodised salt lacks glamour, doesn’t have too many stars or starlets singing its praise and (almost) no one writing about it despite its potential to improve lives for so many people.

I should know: one of the earliest topics I tackled as a young science reporter – getting started in the late 1980s – was salt iodisation. I struggled to put together a readable, engaging piece — which I then had to push through jaded editors who wondered what all this fuss was about.

I have only one (minor) bone to pick with Kristof. He pokes fun at Canada for hosting and supporting the Micronutrient Initiative, “an independent, not-for-profit organization committed to promoting simple cost-effective solutions for hidden hunger and developing innovative new solutions where needed.”

He calls Canada “earnest and dull, just like micronutrients themselves”. It’s a personal view – perhaps expressed with his tongue firmly in his cheek. Having travelled a fair amount in North America, and having good friends in both countries, I think that the nation north of the US-Canada border is a tad more civilised, certainly more caring and better engaged with the rest of the world.

But then, that too is a personal view. I’m darn lucky that I get enough iodine in my diet so that I can think for myself, keep asking lots of annoying questions…and occasionally even get some answers right.

Two billion people – almost a third of humanity – aren’t so lucky.

Read Raising the world’s I.Q. by Nicholas Kristof

Salt iodisation is not universally hailed. Read an alternative point of view that appeared in India’s Frontline magazine in 2006: Imposing iodine