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Does the UN know what it’s doing?

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), July 22-28, 1993

The United Nations’ bloody hunt for elusive Mogadishu warlord general Mohamed Farah Aideed has many observers wondering whether the world body is making up the rules as it goes along.

Some critics, such as George Cram of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, an influential umbrella group for Canadian non-governmental organizations of NGOs, question if the obsession with Aideed isn’t just burying the UN in a deeper image problem with the Third World.

Critics point to the fallout of growing resentment from the July 12 attack on Aideed’s compound – killing more than 70 civilians – boding ill for a peaceful reconstruction of Somali society.

The fact that among those killed within the compound were clan elders who were negotiating a peace has upset Somalis even more, says Cram, a Horn of Africa researcher.

“The UN has lost its credibility, its moral authority, lost its blue-beret neutrality,” says Cram bluntly.

The degree to which Aideed should be the main focus of current UN actions has some relief agencies scratching their heads. Aideed has become Somalian bogey man number one with UNOSOM’s (United Nations Operations in Somalia) head, US Admiral Johnathon Howe. He has placed a $25,000 price on Aideed for an arrest.

“I don’t recall the UN ever going out and actually attempting to arrest individuals – they certainly haven’t done it in other conflict zones,” says reverend David Hardy of Saskatoon-based Lutheran Relief, who has organized relief flights into Somalia.

Cambodian example

He cites the example of Cambodia, where the UN brokered a controversial peace with those purveyors of the genocidal killing fields, the Khmer Rouge, in order to secure free elections.

David Isenverg of the Center for Defense Information, a liberal Washington-based think tank, worries that doggedly going after Aideed while ignoring the other factions will paint the UN as siding with one faction over another.

“The protracted effect is to turn the US and UN into partisans to the conflict.”

Hardy believes Aideed, who is adept at seeing which way the wind blows, has inflated his stature as an opponent of the UN as foreign invader.

Then there are other criticisms. Some observers wonder whether the UN is too proud or too blind, or simply oblivious when it comes to seeking advice from the locals it went in to protect.

Even Canada, while supporting the UN’s military effort since Aideed “is obstructing relief supplies,” believes that national reconciliation should be a main focus, says external affairs spokesperson Rodney Moore.

He says Canada continues to urge the UN to move quickly on national reconciliation, bringing together women’s groups, clan elders and other non-warlord groups.

“One of the areas where the UN operation went wrong is the tendency to deal with the ‘superpowers’ of Somalia while ignoring groups like women’s collectives,” says World Visions’ Philip Maher, who has just returned from Somalia.

“Part of the problem is misunderstanding,” Maher says. “The UN hasn’t done a great job of telling Somalis what they are doing.”

Many point to the peaceful north, where the as yet internationally unrecognized Somaliland offers a successful model, combining women’s groups and elders to wrest control.

“Does the UN know what it’s doing?”: Now Magazine, July 1993. This incident was the basis of the 2001 film Black Hawk Down. 

More on this story here: Somali Killings Reveal Ugly Side Of Elite Regiment

More investigative journalism here: 

Peaceniks Questioning Air-Raid Strategy In Bosnia

Study Says Jetliner Air Quality Poses Health Risks: CUPE Takes On Airline Industry With Findings Of Survey

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Study Says Jetliner Air Quality Poses Health Risks: CUPE Takes On Airline Industry With Findings Of Survey

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), March 11-17, 1993

Canada’s troubled airline industry is about to face some more turbulence, as the union representing more than 6,000 flight attendents presses its concern that many of its members’ health problems are related to poor air quality in jets.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says its locals have compiled data that paints a fairly stale profile of in-flight air quality and its relationship to altitude, passenger load and length of flight. As part of the survey, the union recorded flight crews’ complaints of chest pains and lack of oxygen, as well as other work-related problems like back injuries, hearing loss and high incidence of colds and flu.

Of more interest to frequent fliers might be the opinion of some experts that even the more common jet lag may be caused by excess carbon dioxide, ozone and radiation. More than half the air in many aircraft is recirculated, “stale” air that is high in carbon dioxide and may be carrying bacteria and viruses, according to some experts.

CUPE health and safety chair Tracy Angles says the union now has enough evidence to at least pressure the carriers to undertake more comprehensive air quality studies. CUPE represents workers at Air Canada, Canadian, Nationair, Air Transat and some smaller feeder carriers.

While the union’s study is the first of its kind in Canada, a survey by the US department of industrial relations found, among other things, that flight attendents had 20 times the expected frequency of respiratory illness.

Flying mines

“Flight attendants have been equated with coal miners in terms of the bad air they have to breathe,” says Angles. “But this is not something the companies want to study.”

However, spokespeople for Air Canada and Canadian Airlines say they have not heard of such health problems. Jerry Goodrich of Canadian simply says, “It’s not an issue.”

However, while earlier-model jets supplied the cabin with 100 per cent fresh air, increasing fuel costs led to some modification. Modern jets mix fresh air – expensive to produce – with stale air from inside the cabin, which is passed through filters. The percentage of recirculated air in some aircraft, such as the popular Boeing 747-400, could be as high as 52 per cent, Boeing’s figures show.

Boeing’s Tom Cole says air circulation in Boeing’s jets is better than in an average office building, and that the passengers are “washed” with air to eliminate carbon dioxide and other hazards.

Critics like Georgia doctor William Campbell Douglass, publisher of the health newsletter Second Opinion, charge that the high rates of recirculated air, and the reliance on passengers’ own breath and perspiration to humidify the dry air, provide a perfect environment for bacteria and viruses. Douglass even speculates that planes could transmit serious diseases like tuberculosis. He suggests jet leg could be “nothing more than CO2 intoxification and oxygen starvation.”

“There is no doubt if you are in a confined space, you are at greater risk,” says University of Toronto microbiologist Eleanor Fish. “Aircraft filter systems aren’t sophisticated enough to filter out all the bacteria and viruses. But I’d be hard pressed to believe that you are at greater risk traveling on airplanes than on elevators.”

It is difficult for public health authorities to pin down the health risks of airplane travel because passengers disperse immediately after a flight. However, medical journals have documented two cases where virus transmission could be established because the passengers were easily traceable.

In 1977, 38 of the 54 passengers on a plane grounded in Alaska for a four and a half hours came down with the same strain of flu.

“We consistently hear complaints about certain aircraft,” says Angles. “The Airbus 320 is one of the worst.”

Angles says many airlines exacerbate the problem by over-crowding planes and flying them longer and farther than they were designed for.

Cut corners

“With deregulation, they have more people in there than was ever planned on. Nationair is a good example. A normal class Air Canada 747 carries about 420 people. In the all-economy configuration the load is upwards of 496.”

Angles also says airlines have been known to cut corners by turning down air flow to save money. In their 1990 book The Aircraft Cabin: Managing the Human Factors, Mary and Elwin Edwards cite a study indicating a 1 per cent saving on a fuel bill can be achieved by reducing the ventilation rate in a McDonnel-Douglas DC-10.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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US Health Care Businesses Chasing Profits Into Canada

Some fear corporate health care will kill equality of treatment

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), April 8-14, 1993

American-style private health care is slipping across the Canadian border under the noses of three provincial NDP governments, say researchers representing an association of health care workers.

Jackie Henwood and Colleen Fuller of the 7,500-member Health Sciences Association of British Columbia charge in a recent report that a combination of free trade and tightfisted government spending is undermining the universality of medicare and ushering in the beginnings of a two-tier system.

While the health care industry created more jobs than any other sector of the economy between 1984 and 1991, they point out, things have changed dramatically since the Canada-US free trade agreement came into effect in 1989. Now much of this growth is clustering in the private sector.

And they expect that this trend will continue under the forthcoming North American free trade agreement.

“NAFTA will accelerate trends towards a privatized, nonunion and corporate dominated system of health care in Canada,” says the report.

Binding provisions

Chapter 14 of the Canada-US free trade agreement opened competition for health-care facilities management services to US companies. Certain NAFTA provisions will bind all levels of government to consider for-profit health care companies on equal footing with public providers when bidding for services, and entitles them to compensation if they can prove to an arbitration board that they’ve been wronged.

“That represents a substantial encroachment on the democratic right of local, provincial and federal governments to make decisions,” says Cathleen Connors, who chairs the Canadian Health Coalition, which includes labour activists, nurses, doctors and other health-care workers.

This, in combination with health care cutbacks – both federal and provincial – is resulting in service and job cuts, bed closures, increased drug costs and an increase in privatization, the report says.

In the area of home care, for example – visiting nurses, physiotherapists, homemakers and other services – private firms now take in close to half of all OHIP billings. Many of their clients pay out of their own pockets for services.

The Ontario ministry of health doesn’t keep statistics on the private home health care sector in the province, but the Ontario Home Health Care Providers’ Association, a trade group, estimates that private firms in the industry now employ 20,000 people.

The industry is dominated by a small number of large firms, including Paramed, Comcare and Med+Care.

“It’s a market situation,” says Henwood. “If the services aren’t available to people within the public sector, they will go outside of it.

“We’ve seen this in other countries like England, where they had a public system and now have a parallel private system. If you erode a system enough that people get pissed off, they are going to start to look for alternatives, and the people with the greatest liberty are those with money.”

Connors says that because the Canada Health Act only covers the provision of hospital and physician services, the prinicples of universality and comprehensiveness don’t extend down to community-based services like home care.

The study also found that giant US private health insurers are positioning themselves to reap profits in the fertile Canadian market.

Last week, Wisconsin-based American Medical Security Inc. announced it will begin offering American hospital insurance to Ontario residents this month, citing a demand in Canada to bypass lengthening waiting lists for medical treatment.

Giant US west-coast insurer Kaiser Permanente declared in the March 1992 issue of Fortune magazine that they have targeted Canada as the next growth market. And American Express membership now offers the privilege of health insurance.

With private health care services sprouting up like spring weeds, says Henwood, provinces are placing yearly limits on the number of private services covered under provincial health plans, thus preventing people shopping around for services, no matter what their income.

Sheila Corriveau, corporate relations coordinator at Toronto-based Dynacare, Canada’s largest full-range private health care company – which operates labs, retirement homes, homecare services and consulting services – is enthusiastic about expansion plans, and says that removing patients from hospitals into their homes has been a boon for private health-care services.

“I think the health system will benefit, because what you are really doing is off-loading the cost from the public sector and from the treasury to private enterprise,” says Harry Shapiro of Dynacare. “Private enterprise depends on its own ingenuity for survival and its own levels of efficiency.”

But advocates of the public system say the free-market option now looming is being ushered in by the very parties that Canadians have come to rely on to defend medicare.

Medicare stance

Ontario’s new health minister, Ruth Grier, however, denies her government is jeopardizing medicare.

“I want to disagree with that as profoundly as I can,” she says, fidgeting with an ashtray during a recent interview. “Our government has reaffirmed its commitment to medicare. Over the last decade, under conservative and liberal governments, health care costs have increased in double-digit figures. The system would have collapsed at that rate of growth.

“I guess I haven’t found a way of blaming free trade for failures of the health care system at this point,” she says.

But critics say in the last year alone, Ontario’s ministry of health has capped health coverage for travellers abroad, removed coverage for physical exams requested by employers, chopped hospital beds and cut back the number of drugs covered on the provincial drug plan.

Grier says that the government’s vision relies on a new view of medical care seekers as consumers who are going to take more responsibility for their own health care

“Government can’t do it all,” she says.

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), April 8-14, 1993.

More investigative journalism by David South for Toronto’s Now Magazine:

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), November 12-18, 1992.

More healthcare reporting by David South from Canada’s Today’s Seniors

Feds Call For AIDS, Blood System Inquiry: Some Seniors Infected

Government Urged To Limit Free Drugs For Seniors

Health Care On The Cutting Block: Ministry Hopes For Efficiency With Search And Destroy Tactics

New Seniors’ Group Boosts ‘Grey Power’: Grey Panthers Chapter Opens With A Canadian Touch

Seniors Falling Through The Health Care Cost Cracks

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Aid Organization Gives Overseas Hungry Diet Food: Diet Giant Slim-Fast Gets Tax Write-Off For Donating Products

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), December 2-8, 1993

Doling out diet supplements to recipients of food aid may sound bizarre, but that’s what US diet giant Slim-Fast has been doing.

The company’s cans of powder have been distributed to the conflict-ridden former Soviet republic of Georgia and other parts of the collapsed Soviet Union by the aid agency Americares.

Critics say Slim-Fast is far from appropriate and is, at best, in bad taste. New York-based food-aid critic and writer Michael Maren says such contributions are simply the result of agencies being used as dumping grounds for tax write-offs.

As an example, he cites Somalia, where he recenly spent time researching an upcoming book critical of aid programs. Pharmaceutical firms, he charges, are dumping unnecessary drugs in that country.

“If you want to help people, give them what they need, not the crap we have around here. That a so-called aid agency would bring over Slim-Fast is absurd.

“The attitude that they should take any shit we give them – it’s arrogance,” says Maren, who believes many donors have a beggars-can’t-be-choosers attitude to people in need of help.

At Slim-Fast’s corporate headquarters in New York, Adena Pruzansky acknowledges that the donations are tax write-offs, but insists that their product is very nutritious. No one, she says, has complained about their contribution.

Powdered cure

“If you look at our powdered products, there is a lot of nutrition in there. Certainly for people who don’t have food, this is something that could be useful to them.”

A spokesperson for Connecticut-based Americares, which directs surpluses donated by 1,100 firms to relief operations in 80 countries, praises Slim-Fast.

“They are a fine group of humanitarians,” says Elizabeth Close.

“Americares was just written up in Money magazine as the most cost-effective nonprofit agency,” she says of the organization, whose donations consist of overstocked, discontinued or obsolete items.

“We only accept a product for donation when we know we have a home for it. So we are not giving something inappropriate,” she says.

Close provides no details, however, about Slim-Fast’s participation. “Without their permission, I’m not really supposed to go into any further description of what they donated,” she says.

But those who see the devastating effects of eating disorders on women say Americares exercises poor judgement when it accepts such diet supplements.

“I think it’s quite bizarre,” says Merryl Bear of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre. “Many of these diet plans are starvation diets. In many of the diets, the caloric intake is less than or equivalent to what the Nazi concentration camps delivered.”

Slim-Fast’s chocolate drink powder, for instance, is made of skim milk powder, sugar, whey powder, cocoa, fibre, calcium caseinate, corn oil, fructose, lecithin, salt and carrageenan. It relies on mixing with milk to gets its nutrition.

Lynne Martin of the Toronto Hospital’s eating disorder clinic says Americares is encouraging dieting among starving people who need calories first.

“Women need a minimum of 1,800 to 2,100 calories per day – to meet that requirement with Slim-Fast, you would need eight glasses per day,” she says.

Low calories

Martin says the low calories available in the supplement become even lower if recipients don’t have access to milk and try to mix it with water.

“The protein level isn’t given without the milk, so you don’t know how much is in the powder, but certainly the calories would change if one were to mix it with water.”

At food relief agency CARE in Ottawa, program officer Ivan Connoir says what “the hungry need isn’t Slim-Fast but what is called a human daily ration (HDR).

“It is prepared in the United States especially for emergencies. It has no pork, so it can go to any country,” he says. “It is a kind of lentil stew and vegetable soup – just add water and it’s ready to eat. You even find bread in it. It can last for years.

“Of course the best thing is family food parcels that last one month.”

Now Magazine
Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), December 2-8, 1993.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021