Business as usual is not an option: Sustainable development is a critical factor in Ireland’s agenda for national recovery

Discussion paper presented by Niall O’Reilly at 6th International ‘Life & Development Forum’ – “We Make Life Better – Hangzhou, White Horse Lake Jianguo Hotel , November 8-9, 2013.

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Well-being
Well-being

Sustainable development is a continuous, guided process of economic, environmental and social change aimed at promoting the well-being of citizens now and in the future. To realise this requires creating a sustainable and resource efficient economy founded on a fair and just society, which respects the ecological limits and carrying capacity of the natural environment (Source: Wikipedia)

In 2013, the economic situation in Ireland is dramatically different to the earlier part of the last decade, when Ireland was known as The Celtic Tiger. Measured against the standard indicators of GDP, and GNP – trends for economic development, new housing output, tax revenues, and employment levels have dropped sharply.

We have also seen rising unemployment, a banking crisis and a collapse in the property market after a sustained, if unsustainable, boom in the property market.  A number of factors drove these unsustainable trends, including: rapid growth in employment, large scale inward migration (annual immigration rose sharply from 52,600 persons in 2000 to peak at 109,500 in 2007) (2), rapid natural population growth (17% increase between 1996 and 2006), fiscal incentives for the construction sector, rising car ownership and weakness in the strategic approach to spatial planning.

At a time of rapidly rising prosperity and development, the existing structures and controls were not strong enough to withstand the pressures that unavoidably arose.

This legacy leaves Ireland facing huge challenges in the period ahead, challenges that are all the more serious when set against the backdrop of a global economic downturn.

The sustainability pressures on the economy continue to be high and while some progress has been made, there is still a distance to travel before Ireland can fully remove itself from what is the most serious fiscal and economic crisis in the history of the Republic of Ireland.

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In meeting the challenge, the Irish Government is implementing a radical Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland – a national recovery agenda, which seeks to integrate sustainable development principles into policy making across all sectors, for the purpose of stimulating:

  • the transformation of public services
  • economic growth based on knowledge and innovation
  • an inclusive, high employment society
  • a greener low carbon economy
  • and a good quality natural and built-environment so that Ireland can once again prosper on a competitive global stage.

Lessons must be learnt from Ireland’s recent experience and Ireland will have to ensure structures and systems are put in place that are strong enough to survive periods of pressure which might threaten to weaken sustainable growth and fiscal stability.

It is widely accepted that economic growth, social unity and environmental protection are equally important targets for meeting the prime objective of delivering well-being in a diverse multi-cultured society that promotes participation, a society in which everyone takes responsibility for the environment.

While the establishment of a more sustainable pattern of development for Ireland is one of the key challenges of government and ultimately for society, there is also a clear consensus that a return to ‘business as usual’ is not an option.

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At a global level there is a growing consensus that the world’s systems of production and consumption cannot be sustained without posing a huge threat to the environment and to human health. Water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, resource depletion and irreversible biodiversity loss are problems that have to be tackled as a matter of priority.

Consensus is now focusing around the need to put economies on a more sustainable, green growth path on the basis that the cost of sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services is lower than the cost of allowing biodiversity and ecosystem services to decline.

For Ireland ‘green growth’ and the ‘green economy’ are now fundamental aspects of Government policy as the country shifts away from the ‘brown economy’ on the road to becoming a low-carbon, competitive, resource efficient and climate resilient country, policy which will ultimately improve its citizens’ well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

Economic, environmental and social progress are mutually related.

Business as usual is not an option - Sustainable development is a critical factor in Ireland’s agenda for national recovery
Blue sky living

Ireland’s Framework for Sustainable Development

This Framework contains measures to help meet the overall goal of achieving continuous improvement of quality of life both for current and for future generations.

The following set of 7 principles for sustainable development are the central aspects of this Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland:

  1. In relation to “economy”, the principle seeks “to promote an innovative, competitive and low carbon economy with the aim of achieving smart, sustainable and inclusive growth” and to reduce pressure on natural resources
  2. In relation to “satisfaction of human needs by the efficient use of resourcesthe key objectives are that:

(a) “Prices should reflect the real costs to society of production and consumption activities and polluters should pay for the damage they cause to human health and the environment

(b) “The needs of current generations should be addressed without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”

(c) “Resources should be used within the capacity for regeneration

3. In relation to “respect for ecological integrity and biodiversity” the Framework seeks to ensure that “the abundance of wildlife and extent of habitats should be maintained, improved and restored where necessary, through sustainable management

4. In relation to social equity the main principle is that “social inclusion should be promoted to ensure an improved quality of life for all”

5. In relation to “respect for cultural heritage and diversity” the Framework will ensure that “the quality of landscapes, the heritage of the man-made environment and historic and cultural resources should be maintained and improved.

6. In relation to “Equity between countries and regions” Ireland will:

(a) “promote fundamental rights, by combating all forms of discrimination and contributing to the reduction of poverty”

(b) “promote consistency between local, regional, national, European Union (EU) and global actions in order to increase their contribution to sustainable development”

7. The 7th and final theme of Ireland’s Framework for Sustainable Development relates to good “decision-making”. In this regard, the framework will aim to:

(a) Guarantee citizens’ rights of access to information and public participation procedures.

(b) Ensure citizens’ access to review mechanisms.

(c) Develop adequate consultation with all interested parties, including citizens, businesses and social partners (such as trade unions), and develop participatory channels for all such interested parties.

Of course there are challenges.

Ireland’s Sustainable Development Framework catagorises 12 the key challenges under the following themes:

  1. Sustainability of public finances and economic resilience.
  2. Sustainable consumption and production.
  3. Conservation and management of natural resources.
  4. Climate change and clean energy.
  5. Sustainable agriculture.
  6. Sustainable transport.
  7. Social inclusion, sustainable communities and spatial planning.
  8. Public health.
  9. Education, communication and behaviour change.
  10. Innovation, research and development
  11. Skills and training
  12. The 12th challenge is how to address global poverty and sustainable development.

I will now briefly explain Government-led initiatives regarding two of these themes: sustainable transport and public health

Smarter Travel – A Sustainable Transport Future

Transport, which is a key element of a sustainable development strategy, should be closely aligned to land use planning and the need to create more sustainable communities.

Sustainable transport is central to Ireland’s efforts to combat climate change, air pollution and other negative environmental and social impacts.

Transport trends in Ireland from the mid 1990’s onwards are unsustainable. The main problems associated with transport in Ireland are:

  • Rising pollution – greenhouse gases and particular air pollutants which are detrimental to health and the environment such as nitrous oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Increasing congestion on roads that lengthens journey times, adversely impacts on family, leisure time, and community life, contributes to the growing problem of obesity, and adds to pollution and costs at many levels including affecting Ireland’s national competitiveness. In Ireland there is a clear appetite to abandon the car for commuter driver, if only this were practical.
  • Safety also remains a key issue despite the steadily decreasing numbers of road deaths.
  • In addition, a key characteristic that distinguishes energy use in transport in Ireland is the almost total dependence on oil as a fuel and on import dependency, over 99% in both cases.

Without intervention, congestion will get worse, economic competitiveness will suffer, quality of life will deteriorate and carbon emissions from the transport sector will grow.

In order to achieve a sustainable travel and transport system by 2020, Ireland needs to change its unsustainable behaviour and habits as a nation and as individuals.

Sustainable and smarter transport measures currently being implemented by the Government under the Framework for Sustainable Development are set out in four key goals:

Goal 1 – to “reduce overall travel demand and the distance traveled by private car” and encourage smarter travel, including

  • focusing population and employment growth in sustainable compact forms, which reduce the need to travel for employment and services
  • using pricing mechanisms or fiscal measures to encourage behaviour change and discourage people from using the car unnecessarily.

Goal 2 – to “maximise the efficiency of the transport network” by ensuring that alternatives to the car are more widely available mainly through a radically improved public transport service and investment in cycling and walking.

Goal 3 – to reduce reliance on foss1il fuels and emissions by improving the fuel efficiency of motorised transport through

  • improved fleet structure
  • energy efficient driving
  • alternative driving.

Goal 4 – to improve accessibility to transport.

To achieve these goals the Government is pursuing a number of key targets such as:

  • Dramatically improving the placement of spatial and transport planning to stop urban sprawl, and urban-generated one-off housing in non-urban areas
  • Encouraging e-working through better broadband provision
  • 500,000 more people will take alternative means to commute to work (200,000 people will switch to cycling and walking) to the extent that the total share of car commuting will drop from 65% to 45%
  • Alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport will be supported and provided to the extent that these will rise to 55% of total commuter journeys to work
  • The total kilometres travelled by the car fleet in 2020 will not increase significantly from current levels
  • A reduction will be achieved on the 2005 figure for greenhouse gas emissions from the transport

These key targets are ambitious. However, they are necessary to improve the quality of life of Ireland’s citizens, to secure future energy supply, and to ensure that the transport sector substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the need for all developed nations to do so. These targets represent a complete turnaround in the current trends. They mean that the Irish public must radically alter how they travel, and that Government priorities in the transport sector must move towards more sustainable modes.

Smarter Travel and Sustainable Transport Ideas:

  • Specification of a maximum permitted level of car parking for Government offices and commercial sites, which have suitable public transport facilities and are within walking/ cycling distance to amenities
  • The adoption of flexible working policies. The Government has provided leadership in promoting such flexible policies in the public sector
  • Ensuring that every school and college in Ireland has a school travel plan to encourage students to take alternatives to the car.
  • Government commitment to a culture of walking in Ireland
  • A car-sharing website which will help employers to encourage such initiatives in the workforce.
  • One smart-card to pay for all forms of public transport
  • Conversion of taxi and public bus fleet to alternative fuels. 
Natural resources
Natural resources

A Healthy Ireland

Public health protection is an essential goal for society in delivering well-being and quality of life. Ireland has made significant progress in regard to the health of its population, but some key challenges remain.

The rise in life expectancy in Ireland during the past decade has been unmatched by any other country in Europe with the greatest gains in the older age groups reflecting decreasing mortality rates from major diseases.

In fact, the most important statistic from a health perspective is the number of people over the age of 65 which is projected to increase from over 500,000 now to over 1,300,000 in the next 30 years with the greatest proportional increases occurring in the 85+ age group.

However, Ireland’s ageing population, together with negative trends in obesity (60% of adults are obese), diet, exercise and other risk factors – such as smoking [6,000 deaths a year), and alcohol abuse (related road accidents cost over Euro 600 million a year) means that the level of chronic health conditions will certainly increase.

In addition, there are a range of social determinants of health, for example social exclusion, education, health services, the built environment and lifestyle choices:

People who are less well off or who belong to socially excluded groups tend to fare badly in relation to these social determinants

A healthy environment is also absolutely linked to the health of Ireland’s population which relies for survival on clean air and water and the crops we are able to grow in uncontaminated soil. Public amenities such as forest parks provide opportunities for recreation and add to our understanding of the environment thus supporting healthier lifestyles while contributing to our well-being.

The Irish Government’s Healthy Ireland framework is about taking important steps towards making Ireland a healthier and more prosperous country in which the whole population enjoys the best possible health and well-being.

It is designed to include Government Departments, local authorities and public bodies, businesses and employers, sports and voluntary groups, communities and families.

Initiatives within the Healthy Ireland Framework have four goals:

Goal 1: Increase the proportion of people who are healthy at all stages of life:

This means addressing risk factors and promoting protective factors at every stage of life – from pre-natal, through early childhood, adolescence, adulthood and into old age, to support lifelong health and well-being.

Initiatives in this context include:

  • Increasing the number of adults (by 5%) and children (6%) with a healthy weight by 2019
  • Increasing by 20% the proportion of adults eating the recommended five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day
  • Reducing smoking among young people by 1% a year
  • Decreasing levels of self-harm across all life stages
  • Increasing by 20% of proportion of the population undertaking regular physical activity

Goal 2: Reduce health inequalities:

Health and well-being are not evenly distributed across Irish society. This goal requires not only interventions to target particular health risks, but also a broad focus on addressing the wider social determinants of health – the circumstances in which people are born, grow, live, work and age – to create economic, social, cultural and physical environments that foster healthy living.

Initiatives in this context include:

  • Increasing the ‘stay at school’ rates of students in second-level schools
  • Reducing the % of the population in consistent poverty from current 6% to 2% or less by 2020.
  • Increasing self-reported happiness and well-being across socio-economic groups.

Goal 3: Protect the public from threats to health and well-being:

The Healthy Ireland Framework is designed to ensure effective strategies and interventions to protect the public from new and emerging threats to health and well-being are implemented. Being prepared to prevent, respond to, and rapidly recover from public health threats through collaborative working is critical for protecting and securing the population’s health.

Initiatives in this context include:

  • Increasing immunization rates for children to 95% uptake
  • Reducing prevalence of food-borne infections in compliance with Ireland and EU legislation
  • Complying with indicators defined in International Health Regulations, World Health Organisation (WHO).

Goal 4: Create an environment where every individual and sector of society can play their  part in achieving a Healthy Ireland:

It is beyond the capability of any one Government Department or organisation to promote society-wide health and well-being. This can only be done through society-wide involvement in and engagement with health and well-being promotion and improvement activities – from individuals making positive lifestyle choices and projects run by community and local groups, to policy and legislative changes at the highest level of government.

Initiatives in this context include:

  • Establishing key indicators measuring the level, range and effectiveness of cross government collaboration and effectiveness of structures.
  • Increasing percentage of people participating in informal, unpaid charitable work.

The current health status of people living in Ireland, lifestyle trends and inequalities in health outcomes are leading Ireland toward a future that is dangerously unhealthy and very likely unaffordable. The work that is underway to build a health service that is accessible and fair will only succeed if Ireland builds an environment that supports people and their families to lead healthier lifestyles.

Evidence and experience from around the world clearly shows that to create positive and sustainable change in health and well-being, it takes the involvement of the whole community, the whole of Government, all of society working in unison.

In conclusion, having endured the worst crisis in the history of the Republic of Ireland, by placing Sustainable Development as a critical component in Ireland’s Agenda for National Recovery the Government is clearly focused on pursuing coherent policies and sustainable actions for the health and well-being of the country’s most valuable asset: Its people.

Given Ireland’s present economic condition investment in the necessary infrastructure elements of the Framework for Sustainable Development will be challenging. However, the real challenge is to change mindsets, so that Ireland’s institutions and individual citizens realise the benefits from altering their behaviour for the common good.

END.

Business as usual is not an option - Sustainable development is a critical factor in Ireland’s agenda for national recovery
Bio-diversity

Niall O’Reilly

Managing Director, Accurate Group Ireland China Market Makers (Route to Market, Export, Import, Partner Due Diligence)

Website: http://www.accuratelimited.com

Twitter: @AccurateChina

China Office : Accurate Group China, Hangzhou – O: +86 571 8709 1253

Ireland Office: Accurate Ireland, Dublin – O: +353-1271-1830

The Gamines (Los Gaminos) of Bogotá – By Kathryn O’Reilly

As the ‘International Year of the Child’ draws to a close we find it disturbing that the plight of millions of children working in slave labour conditions has received minimal publicity. The following is the story of some of them.

Like many other ill informed travelers – knowing a little but not enough – I had a certain impression of South America, a land of rhythmic music, colour, gaiety and an almost permanent fiesta. – Yes, I knew there was great poverty, but there isn’t a country to-day without it.

Among the many places in South America I visited Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, with a population of 5,000,000 (five million) people, at an altitude of 8,612 feet, lies almost permanently in a drifting web of clouds, fortress like. Beneath the clouds, however, lies a cosmopolitan city of amazing contrasts both in people and ways of life. The clever modern architecture blends graciously with the old, unbelievable wealth – mostly gained from great mineral resources, and illicit wealth, which is not spoken of, fueled by the drug trade and illegal emerald racketeering.

If the wealth and prosperity of a country portrays itself in the way it treats its underprivileged children – then Bogotá should bow its head in shame.

In Bogotá one sees the sickening contrast of the ultimate in opulence next door to the most desperate poverty – I speak of the slum dwellings on the slopes of the Andes “Resotration” which sprawl down the hillsides overlooking the city’s northern shopping centre. These dwellings are make from stolen bricks, cardboard, sheets of plastic, pieces of wood and disused petrol drums – anything that substitutes for four walls – at any moment the bulldozer can come, sent at a whim by a local landowner or government official. When the rains come they are more often than not washed away.

The breeding ground of the Gaminos -
The breeding ground of the Gamines – People are stacked on top of each other in slum dwellings. Many children go without basic amenities, much less the right to schooling.
Gaminos breeding grounds - Slum swellings sprawled across the hillside overlooking Bogota's northern shopping centre. According to unofficial estimates around 2,000,000 people in Bogota call such dwellings
Gamines breeding grounds – Slum swellings sprawled across the hillside overlooking Bogota’s northern shopping centre. According to unofficial estimates around 2,000,000 people in Bogota call such dwellings “home”
Gaminos breeding grounds - The slums of Bogota's mountainous perpihery
Gamines breeding grounds – The slums of Bogota’s mountainous perpihery

Bewildered prematurely aged women in the squatter settlements migrate from slow starvation in the countryside, like so many desperate ‘Dick Whittingtons’, hopeful that the city can offer more than their rural life. They bear too many children: In Bogotá the infant mortality rate is said to be 60 per 1,000 live births, while many of those born will die of disease, malnutrition and lack of medicine. For example, last August, in just one Bogotá maternity clinic a lack of medicine resulted in the deaths of 93 babies. Girls, with poor young mothers facing intense peer pressure from husbands and relatives desiring the survival of sons over daughters, are particularly at risk. Moreover, a cultural inclination for the dilution of milk bottles, which invariably are contaminated, over breast-feeding further fuels the risk of malnutrition and disease. 

Volunteer workers find that the most common objections to birth control are social ones, not religious, deriving from the male’s excessive concern with ‘machismo’.   From this wretched background the wandering homeless urchins street children – the gamines [in Espanola pronounced (gah MEE nays)] are bred, left to fend for themselves on the pitiless streets of Bogotá.

[Blog Note: In 1978, according to Page 272 of “Gamines: how to adopt from Latin America” [by Jean Nelson-Erichsen and Heino R. Erichsen (1981)], there were 130,000 gamines were living on the streets of Colombia’s cities.]

The Gaminos of Bogota - Child on the street, screenshot from the film
The Gamines (Los Gaminos) of Bogota – Child on the street, screenshot from the film “Gamin” by Ciro Duran, 1978

The children, as young as six years old, are sent out onto the streets by their mother or father or whatever where they compete with the vultures in their daily quest for food among the city’s refuse bins. Ill clad in their torn shirts and pants – often with no shoes, sometimes straw slippers, they form packs, sleeping on quiet streets, in doorways, in local parks and under bridges. It is a well know fact that they can strip a car down to the chassis in five minutes flat. They are fast on their feet, so fast the police seldom catch them – more often than not the police turn a blind eye. Girls of thirteen become prostitutes, their faces reflecting the hopelessness of their lives. Even children earning ₤1 per week down the treacherous coal mines are considered lucky.

Three years ago, when the Pope visited Bogotá the government sent military trucks on to the streets to pick up the gamines, keeping them in the mountains until His Holiness had left, for fear that he would see them or that their plight would be brought to his attention.

The gamines, or homeless street children, of Bogota sleep together, and form street gangs, to protect each other. They live off the proceeds of petty crime
The gamines, or homeless street children, of Bogota sleep together, and form street gangs, to protect each other. They live off the proceeds of petty crime

To walk on the streets of Bogotá wear even a wrist watch is not just hazardous, it’s crazy. The gamines would pull it off your arm, and if it didn’t come your wrist would be at stake. The same fate applies to handbags or any kind of jewellery.

The Casa de las Menores is a kind of remand home where boys picked up from the streets were sent. They may have committed some small crime or be guilty of the crime of illegitimacy and abandonment, unwanted orphans without any identification papers. Many boys are crammed into limited accommodation, and, certainly in the past, gruesome offences have been committed by the stronger against the weaker.

I heard of a Christmas party given by some social workers for these children. When the children saw the food they went crazy, knocked over the tables and ate like animals. They paid for this misdemeanour by being flogged with thongs by the wardens who accompanied them.

I have been told that the authorities are doing “something” – but “something” is not enough. There are now a number of volunteer projects in motion – Colombian and American teenagers are dynamic in the work that they do for these waifs – but it is only the tip of the iceberg. A complete change in social attitudes is not only necessary but vital if the smouldering discontent is not to erupt into a volcano of violence that the lethargic authorities will be unable to control.

And what of us safely ensconced in the faraway ‘developed’ worlds of Europe and America? What responsibility do our affluent societies bear for the prevalence and maltreatment of Bogotá’s disposable street children? It is clear to me that with Columbia’s drug trafficking cartels seeking to cash in on growing demand in our world for the highly addictive cocaine, more and more the true cost, the victims, of such demand will be the Gamines, the throwaway children.

This article was posted in the Irish Women’s Political Association (WPA) Journal No 14, Winter 1979. It was written by my late mother Kathryn O’Reilly http://wp.me/p15Yzr-k7 (or Catherine O’Reilly as attributed by the journal’s editor) who had recently returned from an extraordinary journey to Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela as guests of great personal friends the British Ambassador to Ecuador (John and Jenny Hickman) and the British Ambassador to Venezuela (Jock and Molly Taylor). 

During International Year of the Child in 1979 many problems relating to children—slavery, abuse, prostitution, homelessness – which thus far had been rejected out of hand or blatantly ignored by municipal governments throughout Latin America were given an international airing. In her own small, yet determined, way my mother, Kathryn O’Reilly, had hoped her article would draw the attention of Irish women to the wrongful practices of the Bogotá authorities with respect to addressing the plight of the gamines. International pressure, with Unicef actively assisting in the exposure of nationally embarrassing child maltreatment issues, moved previously complacent national government and city authorities in Latin America to start taking steps, albeit piecemeal, to address child protection issues, particularly with respect to homeless street children. 

Despite the nature of this article about the vicious cycle of poverty, desertion, abuse, neglect and children’s lack of access to basic amenities that breeds the gamines, the sight of which left an indelible mark on my mother’s psyche, she considered Colombia a wonderful and fascinating country. In Bogotá she met many inspirational local NGO volunteers and thus had a first-hand knowledge of their outstanding efforts to resolve the many complex, multidimensional, problems that every developing country with limited resources faces – which are mainly the result of a rapid increase in urban populations without the housing and service provisions that such growth demands. For my mother the best things about Colombia were its natural beauty and the warm welcoming attitude of Colombians towards visitors. In fact, given half the chance she wouldn’t have hesitated to go back!

Update: May 2019

Blog Note:

  • If you would like to sponsor a homeless child in Bogotá check out the NGO

‘SOS Children’s Villages’  

http://www.street-children.org.uk/

  • “Fr. Javier De Nicolo, a dedicated Salesian missionary, visionary and human rights activist, passed away on March 22, 2016 at the age of 88. He dedicated his life to saving the young people that no one else wanted to help – children living on the streets of Bogota, Colombia. As in the likeness of the founder of the Salesians, St. John “Don” Bosco, Fr. Javier De Nicolo was devoted to helping homeless youth that others refused to approach – many of whom had severe social problems and drug addictions. Fr. Javier De Nicolo developed a system of mutual trust and respect, which became the foundation of success for his street children program. He joined in the activities of the children, sharing in their experiences and even sharing a little bit of money with them. Once respect was established, he invited them into his community where they would be provided with showers, clean clothes, meals and a warm bed. The children were able to come and go as they wished, but most chose to stay. Through various additional steps, the children were introduced to basic education and skills training, and were given the opportunity of a promising future. Fr. Javier’s generosity, dedication and hard work is something that every Salesian missionary strives to accomplish. He gave those children who had nothing and needed everything the chance to live a life of dignity, joy and empowerment. In his more than 50 years of service, Fr. Javier was a faithful disciple of both Jesus and Don Bosco, allowing thousands of children to benefit from his generous heart. May he now rest peacefully. http://www.salesianmissions.org”

Source: 

2019

2019

China – Under The Hood: A Dog’s Life in China – To Stroke or to Stir Fry?

To Stroke Or To Stir-Fry  - Dog For Food Breeding in China
This ill-fated mongrel dog, horribly compressed into a tiny wire-mesh cage, knows it’s destined for the wok – to be stir-fried! #stopyulin2015

Man’s Best Friend?

Dog lovers will have no problem telling you why the dog is regarded as man’s best friend: Faithfulness, unqualified love, friendship and laughs. By convincing us to be more active, having a dog simply makes our lives better and makes us healthier.

No matter how lethargic we may feel, who can resist Muffin or Flossy or Toby or Buster or Coco when they saunter up to us pleading to go for a walk? Or maybe that wagging tail is an appeal for a gentle rub?

Not only can dogs be incredible friends, but they also give us humans much needed support, as well as affection and companionship: From guiding the blind, to warning the deaf that something needs their attention, to being there for the lonely, dogs are remarkable creatures!

Man’s best friend? Well not for everyone. The photograph above, which I snapped in Du’an in South West China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is particularly upsetting. Typical of the street-wise dogs commonly seen roaming around rural villages and towns the length and breath of China, this bewildered mongrel, compressed into a tiny wire-mesh cage, is destined for a wok – to be stir-fried, or perhaps slow-cooked as a soup or stew, seasoned with spring onion, spices, rice wine and ginger.  The terror in its eyes says everything: This abused dog knows its fate. All dog lovers should be revolted by this image.

The Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is infamous for its annual Summer Solstice Yulin Dog Meat Festival 玉林狗肉节 (#stopyulin2015), the most cold-blooded and barbaric festival in the world, where every year 1,000’s of dogs are savagely killed and eaten, the run up to which involves a nefarious trade by dog peddlers in abducted stray and domestic dogs covering the length and breath of China.

What’s wrong with eating dog meat?

Before I start ranting on about the obvious cruelty, it is only fair to point out what I would imagine is the viewpoint of ‘dog for food’ farmers and dog-eaters across China, Korea, the Philippines, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

In China, dogs have been reared for their meat since Neolithic times. Farmers see no difference between pig eating and dog eating. The degree of objection lies in the means of rearing, transport, killing and cooking rather than in the choice of animal species. With respect to the Yulin Dog Meat Festival 玉林狗肉节 (#stopyulin2015) locals assert their right to eat dog meat based on traditional custom, stating if they are cruel then what about those who eat pork, beef and chicken?

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), dog meat is considered a health food coordinating Yin and Yang. With the Yin character it is considered warming to the body, which is why Chinese tend to eat more dog meat in winter. In Korea the opposite happens, dog meat is eaten mainly during the hot summer months.

The popularity of dog eating is increasing at an explosive rate – evolving rapidly from its traditions as a cottage industry.  While considered expensive compared to other meats, in northern and southern parts of China dog is an exotic banquet dish to be savoured on special occasions, especially when trying to impress your guests. The most recent information available through Google shows 43% of respondents in a Shanghai and Beijing lifestyles survey confirming they eaten dog meat, at least once.

Dog eating is big business

Now it is no longer a case of a few peasant farmers breeding a female dog once a year and taking the grown puppies to the market for a little extra pocket money.

With official local government approval, huge dog farms are being set up across the north and south China using modern scientific factory farming principles.  Faster growing methods and more submissive breeds of dog are being introduced (for example, Saint Bernard mountain dogs) and the whole business is being scaled up with modern distribution and marketing techniques.

Here are the English translations from various websites regarding two Saint Bernard breeding centres in China:

1. Breeding base of Meat-producing Breeding St. Bernard of Lin Xing Raising and Propagating Company of Shanxi, Datong Coal Mining Administration

“For a local coal mine owner faced with financial problems and mine safety issues the production of Saint Bernard mountain dog was a ‘no brainer: In comparison to chicken and pig farming breeders of Saint Bernard mountain dogs can expect to earn three to four times more income”

2. Shenyang Food Dog Research Institute, Shenyang City, Liaoning, China

“The Shenyang Food Dog Research Institute has created over 50 sites with over 6,000 Saint Bernard dogs, which are considered both tender and tasty to eat”

#StopYulin2015
Yulin Dog Meat Festival – The most barbaric festival in the world. #StopYulin2015

What’s been done in China to put an end to this?

Unfortunately, much of the anti-dog meat campaigning is tainted by racial discrimination, as is the resistance to the anti-dog meat campaigning.

Dog for food’ farmers and eaters view anti-dog eating campaign as another example of the conflict between Oriental and Western cultures, arguing that dog eating has gone on for thousands of years. Such campaigns actually cause resentment and ill will among people who have the potential to actually see the “man’s best friend” side of the argument, rather than the protein side, and stop eating them.

The good news is more and more people in China believe that dogs have earned their place in society as companions and helpers – they want the eating of dog meat to end. In May 2011, animal rights activists stopped a truck in Beijing containing 500 dogs destined for the dinner table. Following a stand-off involving over 200 people and a toothless police contingent by the roadside the animal rights activists purchased the dogs from the dog peddling lorry driver for US$18,000. More recently, in the summer of 2014 a dog lover noticed a truck full of dogs packed in open air cages along the Jingha Expressway (Beijing-Harbin Expressway) he alerted netizens on Weibo, China’s leading micro-blogging app. Volunteers quickly coordinated rescue organisations and citizens in many cars and vehicles to encircle the truck. The truck contained 400 dogs; together with four more trucks that were subsequently captured, 2,400 dogs were rescued, the most rescued dogs ever. Most were adopted, while the remainder, after receiving emergency treatment, were sent on to dog shelters in Hebei province. Unfortunately one truck escaped.

While an outright ban on the traditional custom of dog eating, especially with respect to the Yulin Dog Meat Festival 玉林狗肉节 (#stopyulin2015), is unlikely to be effective, as a first step authorities should enforce rigorous controls aimed at ensuring the source of the dog meat is legal and safe. A concentrated effort against those who steal and abuse domestic and stray dogs must also be imposed.

Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Taiwan have already banned the practice – this is the example for China to follow.

Stop eating dogs! Stop the Yulin Dog Festival 2015!

Note: Original article was written on June 20, 2011. Latest revisions to this article are dated February 4, 2015

Real people I know……. Is life really so cheap?

This past month appears to have been out of the ordinary. Nevertheless was it really so exceptional?

April 18th – Death in a foreign land. RK, a German man, died suddenly, his body remains unspoken for in the refrigerator of a mortuary in Hangzhou.

April 24th – FB, can’t afford to give birth to her baby in a private hospital, and doesn’t want to move through the turmoil of street, labour room, delivery room, maternity ward and back out on the street in less than 48 hours. By phone from abroad the self-conscious, well off, pollinator continues in self-denial: “It’s not mine”.

April 28th – Suicide or survive. CF attempted suicide with a razor – her second attempt.  The mind numbing pain of grinding poverty. Vulnerable CF had reached the point of no return.  Said a family member:

“…lately my sister was very quiet and never came out from her room. I was shocked because my sister attempted suicide for the second time. All the family was in a panic and we sent her to the hospital”.

Meanwhile, CF’s uncle died and the family couldn’t even afford a coffin.

April 30th – To appease the concerns of her Indian boyfriend’s mother, JQ went to hospital in Beijing to terminate her pregnancy, a two month old life. In a panic, she telephoned me because she didn’t understand the instructions of the Chinese surgeon. “Take a traditional Chinese medicine for one week” or “have an operation”, what were they saying? Would there be side effects? Yes, many, especially JQ’s emotional well-being. I advised her Indian boyfriend to take her and his child home. He did: A defiance of the traditional Indian mother-son bond in favour of a life.

May 8thOm mani padme hum. JH hasn’t been seen or heard of in the 10 weeks since she embarked on a trip to India / Nepal. I would like to think that she has fled her brutal husband to begin a new life, but I suspect this nasty man had a hand in her disappearance. JH’s story is one of innocence ripped away by a Russian gangster whose mind-boggling depravity she knew nothing of until it was too late.

May 10th – Single mum, IS’s anxiety gnaws away at her mind all night long, every night. She needs to put food on the table and provide for her son’s education, ashamed of being reliant on her brother-in-law for handouts, while all the other village kids, except her own, attend school.

May 13th – NS, whose new born son has rubella, now worries about the well-being of her dear uncle as greedy loan sharks seek to grab hold of his land, the rice paddies his family have owned for generations.

May 16th – IE owes her employer the equivalent of €500 for borrowings needed to care for her sick mother, and knowing it will take years to pay off accepts her fate as a bonded slave.

 Real people I know - Is life really so cheap

Real people, real lives, happening now – just some of the people I know. What about the people you know?

If you haven’t been there, you will have no idea what grinding poverty and pounding emotional pain are like, or perhaps you do.