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Swedish Toxic Waste Poisons Chilean Community for 30 Years
By Laura Sear and Leslie Steed (Arica, Chile)
Arica is a dusty, windswept port city in northern Chile. Tourists wander the city's long seafront under the shadow of a dramatic buff-colored cliff called El Morro. But the bracing sea air belies a toxic controversy that has bounced from court to court, from Chile to Sweden, in vain search of resolution.
In 1994, the Chilean government erected a social housing development next to an industrial site on the outskirts of the city. Families moved in, and children began to play on mounds of dust beside their new homes — sledging down them, modeling the dust like clay, and walking it back into their homes. What residents didn't realize was that the children's playground was in fact a toxic waste dump.
A decade before the housing development went up, Swedish mining giant Boliden paid a Chilean contractor called Promel €1 million ($1.1 million) to process some 20,000 tons of smelter sludge from copper, lead, silver and gold mines in the Scandinavian country. But Promel didn't process the waste. Instead, it was left unprotected on the industrial lot next to the company's processing plant — at that time about three kilometers from Arica homes.
Rashes, Miscarriages and Cancer
Tomas Bradanovic, an engineer from the Chilean capital of Santiago, moved to Arica in the late 1980s. "At first nobody knew the soil was toxic," he told DW, "until children showed symptoms we had never seen before, like strange rashes, and suddenly many mothers in the neighborhood started to have miscarriages. Eventually people started dying."
Marisol Vilches Maibé and her family lived next to the Promel site. She has suffered breast and gallbladder cancer, her husband heart failure, and her four boys skin diseases, learning difficulties and cancerous deformities in their bones — symptoms that tally with effects of arsenic poisoning listed by the World Health Organization.
"It was at the end of our street on the corner," Marisol said of the toxic waste. "When my husband finally received his treatment, the doctors in Santiago told us there was too much arsenic in his blood — twice the allowed amount."
In 1997, NGO Servicio Paz y Justicia investigated and found the dust to contain high levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, copper and zinc — findings later confirmed by a government toxicology report.
Chilean Authorities Neglect Victims
The Chilean authorities responded with plans to move the waste safely out of the way of residential areas. In fact, they shifted most of it a short distance to a site just 600 meters from the nearest homes — where it remains to this day, walled in but poorly protected by plastic sheets held down by rocks.
Today, the waste is walled off but still exposed to the elements, just five minutes' walk from the nearest social housing.
"The government just moved it across the street, in open trucks, spreading the chemical powder all over the city," said Tomas, who campaigns to raise awareness of the contamination. "It even landed on the rooftops of a primary school."
In 1999, NGO FIMA launched a case against the Chilean government and Promel on behalf of the communities near both the dump sites. It dragged on until 2007, when the Chilean Supreme Court finally ruled in the communities' favor.
By that time, Promel had gone bankrupt. The Chilean government compensated 365 residents, including Marisol. But a government report released two years after the Supreme Court ruling found that as many as 12,000 people may have been affected by the toxic waste.
Taking the Fight Back to Sweden
The same report outlined plans to dispose of the waste and provide healthcare to those affected. But they have never been effectively carried out, and in 2013 Arica residents took their fight back to the source of the waste — filing to sue Boliden at the mining company's local county court in Sweden.
Boliden argued that when it delivered the waste, Promel's site was still in a purely industrial zone. The Swedish court found that the company had been negligent in exporting waste that it would have known could not be safely processed, but did not find a sufficient link between the company's actions and the plaintiffs' injuries and ruled in Boliden's favor.
A subsequent appeal to the Swedish Supreme Court was rejected on the basis that too much time had elapsed since Boliden negligently exported the waste in 1984. Plaintiffs were left to pick up the company's legal bills of around €3.2 million.
Calls this year for the Swedish government to ensure the waste is brought home and safely processed on Swedish soil have gone unanswered.
An End to Toxic Offshoring?
More than 30 years after the European mining waste was dumped on the doorstep of an unsuspecting Latin American community, it may prove impossible to hold either the Swedish company or Swedish government accountable. But in the future, European companies may not be able to act with such impunity.
The waste is now just outside the impoverished Cerro Chuno neighborhood of Arica, where most residents are migrants.
On Dec. 5, an amendment to the Basel Convention will come into force, banning the export of hazardous waste from OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries to the rest of the world.
Campaigners have been fighting for such a ban for decades — decades through which people of Arica have continued to live, and fall ill, in neighborhoods and homes contaminated with arsenic and lead. For them, it has come far too late.
'What Was Done to Us Is Wrong'
Marisol said her husband still isn't getting treatment for effects of the poisoning and she has given up on anyone being held accountable. "We'll never see justice for what happened here," she said.
Yet for Tomas, the Basel Ban Amendment at least acknowledges the injustice of offshoring toxic waste and, therefore, of what was done to his community. They are still fighting for healthcare and the removal of toxins from their environment. But, Tomas said, "It is equally important to know that what was done to us is wrong."
Reposted with permission from DW.
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By Abdullahi Alim
The 2008 financial crisis spurred a number of youth movements including Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. A decade later, this anger resurfaced in a new wave of global protests, from Hong Kong to Beirut to London, only this time driven by the children of the 2008 financial crisis.
1. Learn From the Past<p>Young people tend to be comfortable with change. Their instant adoption of technology is an example.<a target="_blank"> However, they may lack an understanding of the more permanent realities – requiring patience and </a>stoicism.</p><p>This wisdom is typically in the hands of individuals who either work within systems or who have accumulated far more tenure. This was effectively echoed by 13-year old activist, Naomi Wadler who <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17Aa6XLZe9A" target="_blank">said</a>, "We can educate our youth a lot better. We're not delving deeper into social justice movements from the past."</p><p>Youth movements that are informed by the success and pitfalls of prior efforts offer a more promising outcome. Take for example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, co-founded by a 32-year old Alicia Garza.<span></span></p><p>Unlike the civil rights movement of the 1960's, BLM lacks central governance. This means that opponents can't attack its leadership as a means to discredit the whole movement. In the 1960's, this is exactly what happened to the civil rights movement, when critics went after Martin Luther King, stalling the collective efforts of the movement.</p><p>In fact, King spent his final year <a href="https://eu.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/04/04/martin-luther-king-jr-50-years-assassination-donald-trump-disapproval-column/482242002/" target="_blank">mired in public disapproval</a> with over 75% of Americans considering him "irrelevant" including 60% of African Americans.</p><p>By studying the legacy of previous efforts, BLM has managed to rally approximately <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/big-majorities-support-protests-over-floyd-killing-and-say-police-need-to-change-poll-finds/2020/06/08/6742d52c-a9b9-11ea-9063-e69bd6520940_story.html" target="_blank">75% of the American public</a>; a feat that will undeniably ensure the longevity of its cause.</p><p>For the youth climate movement, it too must reconcile the long record of activism that predates its tenure. It ought to model itself as an intergenerational movement by giving greater credence to the activists, environmental scientists and <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/juan-manuel-santos-colombia-indigenous-peoples-coronavirus-pandemic-climate-change-environment-nature/" target="_blank">indigenous elders</a> that have fought for climate justice before its inception and ultimately signal the nuance and maturity that would activate allies within systems of power.</p>
2. Become Part of Systems Change<p>From the college campus to the coworking space, you would be hard pressed to avoid the sight of a social impact competition that invites young people to resolve some of the world's most intractable problems.<br></p><p>Unsurprisingly, this often leads to problematic and incomplete solutions. Take, for example, <a href="https://ssir.org/articles/entry/tackling_heropreneurship" target="_blank">an app for African farmers</a> developed by students who have neither farmed nor been to Africa.<br></p><p>Fortunately, there is a growing shift towards empowering young people to better diagnose the systems that uphold inequality. For example, Oxford University hosts the annual <a href="http://www.oxfordglobalchallenge.com/" target="_blank">Map the System</a> competition to celebrate some of the most promising youth-led mappings and the World Economic Forum's <a href="https://www.globalshapers.org/story" target="_blank">Global Shapers Community</a> convenes more than 7,000 young people under the age of 30 to address local, regional and global challenges.</p><p>To achieve systemic change, young changemakers must first unpack systems into <a href="https://wtf.tw/ref/meadows.pdf" target="_blank">three components</a>; elements, interconnections and functions:</p><ul><li>Elements are essentially the key stakeholders in the system. This can include individuals, land or objects.</li><li>Interconnections are the laws and social norms that bind the elements together.</li><li>Functions are the end-goals.</li></ul><p>Take for example, the persistence of sexual harassment in the workplace as a systems issue. The elements in the system would include the victim, perpetrator and other intermediary bodies including line managers and human resource teams. The interconnections could include forced arbitration laws that prohibit employees from seeking public courts and a managerial culture that protects high performing perpetrators and pressures victims into silence. In which case, the ultimate functions (or rather dysfunctions) of the system discourage victims from pursuing action and enable perpetrators and enablers to enjoy the benefits of career progression without due trial.</p><p>Systemic change is about redesigning the interconnections (the cultural norms and laws). In the example above, it involves challenging the use of private arbitrary courts and uprooting a toxic work culture. Reclaiming this intuition opens a pandora's box that ultimately allows for any given system to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>Today, young changemakers can rely on online resources like <a href="http://systems-ledleadership.com/" target="_blank">Systems-Led-Leadership</a> to analyze any given system of inequality and then direct their unique skills and knowledge towards the most effective intervention.</p>
3. Avoid Heropreneurship<p>Daniela Papi-Thornton first coined the term <a href="http://tacklingheropreneurship.com/" target="_blank">heropreneurship</a> to describe a growing trend that credits social change to the "founder" of an organization or movement exclusively.</p><p>This culture has inspired an entire generation of young change-makers who are swayed by the allure of the "heroic" founder and whose behaviors are validated through youth awards, grants and speaking circuits that glorify a role in the limelight. This pervasive culture undercuts the entire spectrum of actors that really creates social change.</p><p>Social change does not necessarily warrant the creation of a new organization or movement. Change-makers should consider the root causes that perpetuate and uphold inequalities and then map the existing players and solutions. This process might point to scaling up the work of an existing organization or helping a local candidate run for office.<br><br>For young people who wish to create social change, their efforts – while extremely important – may go unnoticed. This is an expectation that needs to be managed.<br></p>
4. Know Your Place<p>In 2016, a political action committee entitled <a href="http://canyounot.org/" target="_blank">Can You Not</a> emerged with the aim of discouraging white men from running for office in minority districts.</p><p>Despite the comical graphics, the campaign highlights an important question for young changemakers, particularly if they advocate for issues that they have not lived: in the quest for social change, can the actions of change-makers unwittingly perpetuate injustices, even as they seek to end them?<br></p><p>In the example above, could the notion of a white man effectively assuming the role of a translator between minority communities and government only reinforce their structural underrepresentation in political decision-making? Could the desire to assume office without lived experience also signal little faith in the leadership of the very communities being served?<br></p><p>A more effective approach to social change may be to encourage such actors to take stock of the unintended consequences of misrepresentation. In doing so, they may come to appreciate the importance of "stepping back" to allow others to "step forward." More concretely, this could result in building trusted relationships with the community and eventually empowering more local voices to consider public leadership.<br></p><p>For young changemakers, it is pivotal that they assess their own standing in a given system and avoid perpetuating the very inequalities they wish to tackle.</p>
Strategic Intelligence: Youth Perspectives. World Economic Forum
A More Targeted, Effective Kind of Activism<p>Social media has played its critical part in providing young people with a vehicle to advocate for social reform.</p><p>Whether it's <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/23/greta-thunberg-speech-un-2019-address" target="_blank">Greta Thunberg's speech</a> during the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 or <a href="https://variety.com/2018/politics/features/emma-gonzalez-parkland-interview-1202972485/" target="_blank">Emma Gonzalez</a> rallying crowds for more stringent gun control. younger voices are swaying public opinion and pressuring political systems to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>The impact of these extraordinary young people is inspiring, but arguably they struggle to provide a course of action for the average young person who is motivated to pursue social change. The inconvenient truth is that social reform is difficult and even more so for a young person who wrestles with challenges related to experience and credibility.<br></p><p>To be more effective, young changemakers must forge greater bonds with late-stage activists as well as potential allies within systems of power. They must also understand the systems that uphold equality and pinpoint the intervention that would most likely inspire systemic change.<br></p><p>Finally, it is pivotal that they invest in a support system and seek to dissolve <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/this-is-how-wellbeing-drives-social-change-and-why-cultural-leaders-need-to-talk-about-it" target="_blank">personal anxieties</a> that may compromise their change-making potential.</p><p>It's time for youth activism to grow up.</p>
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