Coughing up Coal: Reporting from the Frontline of India's Health Crisis
Champa's eyes are surrounded by dark circles and her face is thin and drawn. It began with a fever, pain in her limbs, and she was then diagnosed with Tuberculosis.

"I was diagnosed with TB two years ago now," she said. "I have been on medication but I am not getting any better. I have difficulty breathing and even talking is hard. It has been five-six  years, ever since the plant started, our problems have started too."

Champa is one of hundreds of thousands of people in India whose health and lives are being blighted by the country's surge in coal-based electrical power generation.

India today ranks third in the world in the production of carbon dioxide and is burning more coal than ever before, with 66% of power generated by coal fired thermal power plants.

Future plans are for expansion, with the 12th five- year plan ending in 2017 adding 76GW of coal-fired power capacity and with the 13th five-year plan (between 2017-2022) adding another 93GW -- an aggressive industrial response to a growing population, a middle class hungry for modernity, and an energy policy that holds coal powered energy as integral to the development of the country's economy.

According to The Lancet's Global Burden of Diseases Study (December 2012), outdoor air pollution -- from power stations, other industry, transport, and domestic fuel burning for heat and cooking -- is among the top 10 causes of death in India. Regulations do exist in India, but are rarely enforced.

"In India we do have ambient air quality standards," said Sarath Guttikunda, chemical engineer and director at Urban Emissions in New Delhi. "But, we have found these regulations lag behind the numbers that we have seen in Europe, United States and even in China, and there is a lot of room for improvement."

In the first ever report focusing on the health impacts of the coal industry in India, scientists estimate that in 2011-2012, air pollution from coal fired power plants alone was responsible for 80,000-115,000 premature deaths. Diseases caused by pollution included 20.9 million asthma attacks, bronchitis and respiratory conditions and cardiovascular disease. These health impacts are estimated to cost India $3.3 billion to $4.6 billion per year in medical expenses and lost work days.

Singrauli - India's "Energy Capital"

Singrauli, known as the "energy capital" of the country, is the industrial hub of north-central India. It produces 10% of the country's coal based power, and straddles the border of the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Priya Pillai, Senior Campaigner for Greenpeace India has worked on the ground in the area for over three years. "There are nine thermal power plants and eleven operational mines, and this is concentrated in one district. That's the Singrauli region. And it's because of this that you'll find the large number of cases of asthma of tuberculosis of skin diseases, of cancer," Pillai explained.

Industrialized Landscape

Singrauli was once covered in forest and rich agricultural land, but the region's coal lies underneath these forests, meaning that they are being cleared at an alarming rate, further threatening endangered species and displacing tribal communities to make way for this energy juggernaut.

The landscape is now one of industrial devastation and critical levels of pollution, recently rated the third most polluted industrial cluster in the country by the comprehensive environmental pollution index. Air, water and soil have all been affected.

The open cast mines that scar the landscape resemble vast craters, streaked black with coal, trimmed green at the edges with what is left of rapidly dwindling forest.  Huge dump trucks and cranes appear like miniatures in the distance, barely visible through the poisonous haze that hangs in the air.

Milky white stagnant ash ponds, hold the by product of the industry, fly ash. Experts warn of acute health problems related to coal and the ash that it produces, which contains toxic heavy metals including mercury, arsenic, lead, nickel, barium and even radioactive substances such as uranium and thorium. Black spiky stalks of dead foliage poke out of the sludge in these ponds, testifying to its toxicity.

Man-made mountains of waste rubble, excavated and dumped, gradually bury villages. Coal-filled train bunkers and conveyor belts, some as long as 25km, snake from mines to thermal power plants, These stacks dominate the skyline, looming over human settlements and pumping out smoke which can reach as far as 400k, choking communities below. The air is permanently clouded, limiting visibility, with the smell and taste of coal dominating the senses. Everything is blanketed in a layer of dust.

Chilika Dand

Chilika Dand, in the Sonebhadra district of Singrauli, Uttar Pradesh, is one of the most critically affected displacement communities, with many people having been moved, often forcibly, numerous times to make way for coal excavation by an industry that is making them sick.

The village of around 12,000 people, is surrounded by multiple power plant stacks emitting putrid smoke. There is a railway line and road both carrying coal and a fully operational open cast mine just 50 meters away. Villagers claim that at night, filters are removed from the stacks, and ash falls and settles on rooftops like toxic snow.

There is a constant industrial hum of engines revving and the scrape of metal on stone. Twice daily explosive blasts, and the subsequent patter and thud of debris are more reminiscent of the sounds of war than of development. Few of the concrete rehabilitation blocks of 30 x 50 feet escape cracked walls due to tremors from the blasts.

Manonit G Ravi, an activist and resident of Chilika Dand shouted over the noise of engines to make himself heard. "The entire village vibrates with the blasts. Sometimes they are so big and loud, people run out of their houses thinking there might be an earthquake."

Sanitation is a big problem, as the allocated plots leave little room for toilets. In summer, asphyxiating dust fills the air, and in winter and rainy seasons, there is a constant septic sludge underfoot. The smell, a mix of human and animal excrement, combined with acrid industrial pollution makes the air gritty, stinging eyes and making breathing a struggle.

Residents of Chilika Dand say that illness and disease is rife in the community, with cancer, kidney failure, diabetes, vitiligo (the blanching of skin through pigment loss), hair loss and psychosis widespread, all linked to contaminated water, coal ash, particles in the air and high levels of mercury present in the environment.

The World Health Organization states that even minimal exposure to mercury may cause health problems, including neurological damage to unborn fetuses and children, and is considered "one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern." Coal fired power stations are sited as one of the main ways that mercury is released into the environment.

Siraj Un Nissa, a resident of Chilika Dand and mother of eight has Vitiligo. Her hands, arms and mouth are blanched, and her whole body is patchy where pigment has been lost. "I have been sick for the past eight years," she said. "The dust is making it hard for us to live here. No electricity. We get it for one hour and it's gone. We don't have a proper house to live in, just a make-shift shelter. We don't have anything. No one cares about the poor."

Jharia

Jharia, in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, has almost disappeared. The remote village is being buried under waste from a nearby mine opened in 2006. A thin sliver of green and only around 30% of its population is all that remains of this forest dwelling community of Harijan people, squashed against a sheer, slowly encroaching, man made cliff of debris.

Bandhu Saket, resident of Jharia explained how their health has been affected by the mine."My youngest grandson gets so unwell, his teeth start chattering and his eyes enlarge, it feels like he will not get better," he said. "It never used to be like this. Ever since the companies have come, since the vehicles have been driving back and forth, since the blasting has started, illness and disease have been spreading.  They dump things in all directions and when it is summertime, with all the dust, one cannot see anything so how can you expect anything else but to get sick!"

There was once a well that provided drinking water to the village, but the company filled it in. Now Bandhu Saket said they are forced to drink "whatever we find in the drains or irainwater collected."

Manbasia, also from Jharia, is a mother of three. Supporting herself against a huge rock from the mine, she struggled to control the emotion in her voice, and spoke shakily of illness and disease in what is left of her community.  "I can't see very well, my chest hurts, my feet don't allow me to sit down or stand up," she said. "We have no one here to help or support us. If someone is dying, there is no one to look after them or save them. Who are we meant to turn to?"

Dr. R.B. Singh

Dr. R.B. Singh worked in the area for over 20 years, treating the local population in their homes, in the small private practice that adjoins his home, and the Singrauli District Hospital next door. He attributes the huge increase in death, sickness and disease to the growth of the industry in the region.

"Since the time the new industries have come here and the coal mine belt has progressed," he said. "The patients we see in our new Out Patients Department present themselves with skin diseases and lung diseases, bronchitis, asthma and silicosis, and because of the contaminated drinking water, amoebiasis and other abdominal ailments, which have increased. I have come across bone cancer, mouth cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer. In children, bone cancer -- and in middle aged people, mouth cancer -- these are common here."

There is a constant stream of patients outside Dr Singh's private practice, all needing attention and treatment. The District Hospital next door to his practice is in desperate need of facilities. A dilapidated shell with dark corridors, a blood splattered maternity ward and rainwater coming through gaps in the ceiling. Wards are crowded but very quiet, with beds full, people lying on the floor and a distinct absence of staff.

"We have a problem with a lack of doctors as most of them qualify and go abroad. They do not want to work in these small places," said Dr. Singh.

Sarath Guttikunda, Director at Urban Emissions, New Delhi is a chemical engineer and air pollution expert. "When you are focusing on outdoor air pollution two things which are really important, one is your lungs, and other one is your heart. Among the respiratory problems, the main one is the asthma," he said. "People who are already suffering from asthma are obviously going to get affected even more, and children and older generation people, they are the ones that we see are getting affected the most."
 
Gaiman Prasad Kanojiya, a school teacher in Lojhara village, said that sickness is rife in his students, with coughing and sneezing a constant sound in the classroom. Absenteeism is common due to ill health, and parents are deeply worried about their children.

"When I go to teach, there are 216 children," he said. "Out of those, if only 100 or 150 of them turn up, it makes us wonder why the children haven't turned up. When we inquire, the child's guardian tells us that their child has been unwell or that because we had to go to the hospital, they didn't make it to school, or that for the past 15 days she's been sick and lying in bed. These kind of problems come up a lot."

Broken Promises

All over Singrauli, locals speak of sickness, their land and livelihoods being taken away, and promises of rehousing, education, employment and healthcare from industry that haven't materialized.

Rangeet Gupta is a local activist and youth worker living and working in the area. He said that after "persistent reminding" industry still has not delivered the services that it promised. That means that proper healthcare, among other things, remains available only to people who can afford it, or those who work for the industry.

"In this area of ours, there isn't even a decent hospital for the displaced community, they have nothing at all, no schools, no doctors, no hospital, no roads, not even an arrangement for hygiene and sanitation. They have just been abandoned," said Gupta.

Champa, like so many others, experienced this first hand, buying her own medicine when she has the money to do so, and going without treatment when she can't afford it.

"We receive no help from the people at the plant at all. Since the health problems started because of the plant, we have not been given so much as a single tablet by them or the government."

As the health situation gets more critical, scientists, medical professionals and environmental campaigners all predict that if India pushes forward with the planned expansion of coal-fired power generation and regulations remain unenforced, the consequences to human life will be even more devastating.

"The calculations that we have done for the current number of power plants, we have seen close too 100,000 premature deaths, and if we are going to triple the number of power plants and don't do anything about the regulations, we will at least triple this number, and looking at health impacts of the air pollutions in the range of 300,000 premature deaths," said Sarath Guttikunda.

Doctor Singh warned that the atmosphere in Singrauli will be polluted "to such a degree that it will not be viable to live here any more." Champa, Manbasia and their families, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, face a future of poverty, sickness and death with no means of escape.  Manbasia reflected, "Now, with the dust and smoke bellowing, there are people getting sick. And if you don't have the money like us, what do we do? Kill ourselves?"

Sarah Stirk is a journalist and filmmaker with The Ecologist Film Unit in the United Kingdom.
 
 

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Everything You Need to Know About Stand Up Planet

 

Stand Up Planet host Hasan Minhaj

 

 

So what is it?

 

Stand Up Planet is a documentary TV show and digital series that showcases life in some of the toughest places on Earth through the lens and experiences of stand-up comics. Indian-American, Hollywood based comedian Hasan Minhaj takes you to bustling Mumbai and India to meet up-and-coming comedians. Their humor helps you learn about their homelands in striking ways. It’s equal parts reality TV, documentary and travelogue. Check out the trailer to see Minhaj and other comedians in action:

 

 

How can I watch it?

 

The two-hour Stand Up Planet special premieres Wednesday, May 14 at 7pm ET/PT on Link TV. (The first hour is a documentary following Minhaj as he travels abroad. The second hour is the comedy showcase, hosted by Minhaj and which features a variety of comedians performing at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood.) You can also watch it on KCET -- premiering 9pm on May 14 -- and on Pivot -- premiering at 10pm on May 14. Click here for more airdates.

 

What comedians does Stand Up Planet feature?

 

In addition to Hasan Minhaj, you’ll see two Indian comics (Aditi Mittal and Tanmay Bhat), three South African comics (Mpho Popps, Loyiso Gola and Kagiso Lediga). Also expect American stand-ups James Adomian, Nate Bargatze and Michelle Buteau as well as comedy legends Bill Cosby, Norman Lear and Carl Reiner.

 

Stand Up Planet cast, left to right: Norman Lear, James Adomian, Hassan Minhaj, Carl Reiner, Nate Bargatze, Michelle Buteau, Aditi Mittal and Mpho Popps

 

What kind of humor are we talking about?

 

Like any comedians in the US, comedians abroad make light of the stuff they encounter on a day-to-day basis. But what’s interesting about Stand Up Planet is how it helps you understand what constitutes a part of everyday life in India or South Africa. Take Aditi Mittal’s literal take on bathroom humor, for example. Did you know that 40 percent of the world’s population doesn’t have access to a toilet?

 

 

HIV and AIDS are widespread in South Africa. But did you know men can reduce their chance of contracting HIV by 60 perfect just by getting circumcised? That decision isn’t so easy, of course. Listen to Mpho Popps’ take on “going to the mountain.”

 

 

So it’s just a comedy show and special?

 

As Hasan embarks on an epic journey of discovery to find some of the funniest stand-up comics in the most unlikely places, he follows their jokes and personal experiences deep into the hard truths and the promise for change in some of the toughest global poverty issues of our time.

 

Aditi Mittal

 

Mpho Popps

 

From rural villages and urban communities in India to the streets of Soweto in South Africa, Stand Up Planet brings you the stories and perspectives of individuals and organizations on the frontlines of social change. Learn more about SUP’s heroes and allies here. And get all the latest information about Stand Up Planet -- the broadcast show as well as the web-original content -- on the show's official website.

 
 

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Residents on Edge of Evacuation Zone Return Home
In Japan, some residents of one city in the Fukushima evacuation zone are being allowed to return home.  More than 300 people from one district in the northeastern city of Tamura were forced to evacuate following the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 that destroyed a nuclear reactor. Tamura is about 12 miles from the plant, right on the edge of the radioactive zone. With more on their homecoming, here’s Japan’s public broadcaster NHK.
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Reporter:
People in the neighborhood had to leave their homes right after the accident three years ago. But government officials found that radiation levels were relatively low. So workers could contaminate the area before other parts of the evacuation zone around the plant. But most evacuees from the area say they don’t plan to return home in the near future. Some of them are worried there may still be pockets of high radiation. Hideyuki Tsuboi says his parents will return home. Tsuboi, his wife, and their three young daughters will stay in temporary housing in another part of Tamura.

Hideyuki Tsuboi:
It’s our responsibility as parents to ensure a safe life for children. That’s the main reason we decided not to go back.

Reporter:
Government officials plan to give dosimeters to people moving back to the neighborhood.  More than 80,000 people from the evacuation zone still can’t return home.

The government is in charge of removing radioactive substances from the evacuation zone around the nuclear plant. The area includes  all or parts of 11 cities, towns and villages. But the cleanup effort doesn’t include a zone with high radiation.  As we mentioned earlier, officials on Tuesday lifted the evacuation order for the city of Tamura. Environment minister Nobuteru Ishihara says the government also  finished clean up work in two other towns and a village on schedule.

Nobuteru Ishihara:
We will continue monitoring radiation levels to  confirm that the effect of the decontamination work lasts. We will do our best to rebuild those areas We will also do all we can to speed up decontamination of other areas to complete the work on time.
 
 

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Pakistan May Negotiate a Ceasefire with the Taliban
The Pakistani Taliban wants to extend a ceasefire with the government. The ceasefire was declared to allow negotiators to try to find an end to seven years of horrific violence. Here’s Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK.

Reporter:
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with negotiators for the Pakistani Taliban earlier this month in the capital, Islamabad. The government has been in talks with the largest insurgent group since February. One March 1st, the Pakistani Taliban unilaterally announced a month-long ceasefire. Youssef Shah, a negotiator for the Taliban told AFP on Tuesday that the top priority for the next phase of talks is to extend the ceasefire. It’s due to run out next week. Experts remain divided over the real motivation for the Taliban sudden announcement. Just beforehand, the Pakistani military launched massive air strikes against the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan. Some analysts say the Taliban opted for a ceasefire as a ploy to buy time to prepare counter attacks. Pakistan has long been a terrorist hotbed, but with multi-national combat troops due to withdraw from neighboring Afghanistan by the year’s end, experts say stability in Pakistan is extremely important for the whole region.
 
 

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Japanese Architect Shigeru Ban Wins 2014 Pritzker Prize

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is being honored for his innovative work..He’s won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, often called the industry’s Nobel Prize. He’s been devoted to humanitarian relief efforts, designing and building temporary structures using easily obtainable materials like paper tubes and sand bags. For more on Shigeru Ban, here’s Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK.

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Reporter:
Jury members announced their decision on Monday. The US prize honors living architect who make a significant contribution to humanity. Ban's works include the Centre Pompidou-Metz in France. He's designed other cultural facilities and residences in countries around the world. But jury members made special note of Ban's creative designs for disaster situations. He used paper and wood, for example, to build a temporary cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand. The original building was devastated by an earthquake three years ago. In the same year, Ban turned shipping containers into multi-storey housing units for people in northeastern Japan. They had lost their homes in the earthquake and tsunami. Pritzker prize jury members said Ban creates quality architecture to serve society's needs.

 
 

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Fishing for Secrets: Glimpsing the World's Biggest Dolphin Hunt

The car glided swiftly out of Lima, skimming past brightly-lit barrios before plunging into the darkness of the desert road. We were heading for a midnight rendezvous with a shark fishing boat. The owner of the rough and ready vessel had agreed to show us how they catch sharks in Peru: by killing dolphins and using the bloody chunks as bait.

Rumors of an illegal dolphin harvest have swirled around Peru for years, a secret slaughter involving thousands of dolphins, dwarfing the high seas drama of the annual whale hunt in Antarctica.

Known as "sea pigs" by fishermen in Peru, dolphins are reportedly harpooned and diced up on deck, before being skewered onto hundreds of hooks strung out on long-lines at sea to attract sharks. It's a bloody business - but it can save fishermen hundreds if not thousands of dollars in costly fish bait every trip. Dolphin meat is particularly enticing to sharks, and while substitutes are available, to the hard-bitten men who brave these high seas, all that matters is that it is free.

Marine biologist Stefan Austermuhle and his NGO, Mundo Azul, have  campaigned tirelessly on the issue of dolphin hunting in Peru for over a decade. And it was he who offered to help us in Peru finding a boat to take us out fishing. While I sat with my family in Brighton, I received the call from Stefan that I had been both hoping for and dreading: he was able to get a boat to take us out on a hunting trip, in exchange for help with fuel costs, and on strict condition of anonymity.

A week after receiving the call I found myself standing nervously on a quayside in a deserted fishing port at midnight on the Peruvian coast next to my friend cameraman Alejandro Reynoso. We were heading for a week in the Pacific ocean with illegal dolphin hunters, embarking on a voyage that would eventually prove that the hunt is real -- but that very nearly cost us our lives.
Jim Wickens/Ecologist Film Unit
Out of sight and out of mind, the Peruvian dolphin hunt carries on to this day. Photo: Jim Wickens/Ecologist Film Unit


A VOYAGE INTO THE UNKNOWN
 
Our vessel for the week was a tiny wooden 40 foot vessel, open-decked but for a little wheelhouse and a cramped hole in the bow with four tiny bunks for six people.

Far from the prying eyes of the police force or customs, the rickety boat crept out of port and into the heaving swell of the Pacific ocean. Despite the discomfort I slept immediately, adrenaline, jetlag and fear temporarily overcome by the lull and sway of the vessel as it began the 600km trek south to where the sharks lie.

By first light, all reference points of land and civilization had gone. I awoke disorientated in a grey fog of clouds, drizzle, waves and wonder; every hour that passed taking us south and into the storm swell that had closed the ports shortly after our departure. Overcome with seasickness, day and night slipped into each other. Somehow time passed: nauseous hours spent on deck, gazing at the blank horizon, or lying in my bunk, dreaming of better places.

When planning the expedition, I'd had naive visions of stringing up a hammock; reading books; or shooting clever images of the fishermen at work while we slugged our way out to sea. It was a hopeless fantasy against the cold, damp reality of life at sea on a Peruvian fishing boat: food twice a day in a dog bowl-shaped silver dish; nowhere to sit, nothing to do.

Peru's parched desert coastline cascades into the cold waters of the Pacific ocean; nutrient-laden currents providing sustenance to vast shoals of anchovy; which in turn attract whales, seabirds and sharks from across the Pacific to feed in these rich waters.

These waters produce 10% of the world's fish catch, predominantly in the form of Peruvian anchovy, a tiny oil fish and a cornerstone of the trophic pyramid that is sucked out of the oceans by the millions of tons every year for use in salmon, pig and poultry feeds around the world. Much of the meat and smoked salmon that we eat will have been fed on fish from the waters we are sailing upon. It is a controversial practice, a crucial ingredient to factory farming meat systems producing the world over, but one that is eroding the health of the ecosystem in Peru say conservationists.
 
Drawn to the cold upwelling of plankton, the vast shimmering shoals of anchovy create enormous buffets for other animals to thrive upon. Journeying through this great feeding trough of the Eastern Pacific, there were moments to lift the heart:  light pouring through the grey and illuminating one of nature's great feeding spectacles - thousands of seabirds dive-bombing anchovy shoals in the ocean while dolphin pods corralled and fed from around the sides; air and ocean-bound predators, utterly at home in the hostile grey waters. Fleeting companions in the isolation, they would merge back into the grey as quickly as they first arrived.

DOLPHIN HUNT

The crew kept busy, fixing ropes, scrubbing decks, storing food provisions, and preparing an enormous steel harpoon that lay on deck. We were settling into a routine, the days were ticking by. Then a cry came up that changed everything.

'Chenchos!'  screamed the captain from the wheelhouse, literally 'fat pigs'; the name that Peruvian fishermen give for dolphins and the plentiful meat that they can supply. It was our third day, and the boat was passing another shoal of anchovy under siege from diving seabirds and dolphins. Only this time a pod of dolphins had broken away from the feeding grounds, and was heading for our boat to bow-ride, half a dozen of them leaping in turns through the water racing to our boat. Within seconds the music in the wheelhouse had been turned down and the crew was poised. The captain stood on the bow clasping a steel harpoon tipped with a double-edged razor-sharp point, attached to rope held by another crew member on the side of the vessel. Ale and I leapt into position to film just behind the hunters. Waiting by the gunwale I could hear Ale on the bow behind the harpoon handler, cursing as he struggled to tried to tie himself to a rudimentary harness with one hand whilst holding the camera with the other as the vessel soared and sank in the lumpy swell.

The dolphins were under the bow, taking it in turns to surf the wake that the boat was creating. In other circumstances, a beautiful sight - but this time would be different. The crew member clutching the harpoon stood silently, arms outstretched and ready to strike, familiarizing himself with the rhythm of the dolphins as they surfaced for air. A momentary pause, then he threw it down - 30kg of razor sharp tubular steel plunging into the arch of a dolphin's back as it swam alongside the bow. A cry went up in excitement from the crew, and seconds later everyone was scrambling about, Ale and myself gazing on in horror as the line flew from the boat. A dolphin beak emerged 50 yards from the boat, tugging at the taught rope, trying to swim away, it's efforts diminishing as it became gradually enveloped in a thick cloud of its own blood. Two of the crew dragged the line in, the dolphin still desperately kicking its fins, but there could be no miracle escape from its bloody fate. As the boat drew closer, a shiny steel gaff hook was plunged into the soft skin of the dolphin's head, and it was hauled aboard, intestines pouring out of its twitching body. A crew member sharpened a knife and casually began to slice off the fins, tossing them into the sea before peeling the skin off the dolphin's back in long strips, amidst a thick puddle of bright red dolphin blood.

The engine revved up and the crew resumed their work. The salsa music came back on the speaker and a cry for lunch came up from the cook. Crouched next to the warm skinless carcass, a crew member handed me a bowl of soup. I vomited, struggling to contain my emotions amidst the intimate brutality of what I had just witnessed. Ale and I gazed at each other in silence, making eye contact from across the deck, but unable to communicate how we felt about the killing or portray any emotion. To do so could be dangerous, even lethal in the tiny tinderbox-like conditions of the fishing boat 100km from shore. Our vessel ploughed on, sailing ever further south into the dreadful grey swell, parallel to the desert coast en route to the thin sliver of temperature gradient on the chart that was the best fishing ground for sharks. The boat had its dolphin bait.

 

Jim Wickens/Ecologist Film Unit
A Peruvian fisherman slicing up dolphin meat for use as sharkbait. Photo: Jim Wickens/Ecologist Film Unit.


THE PERFECT BAIT

As we neared the fishing grounds, the crew became more focused. The deck was hosed down, supplies repacked and ropes carefully coiled before the bait could be cut up. The dolphin lay flensed in the corner, a long section of the corpse sliced out of it and carefully chopped into long slivers ready for the bait box. While one team diced the dolphin, another pair cut up the fish they had brought with them, salted mackerel, bought at considerable expense, that would be halved before being tossed in with the dolphin in the bait box. Our captain explained the benefits of using the dolphin as he watched over the proceedings from the wheelhouse.

"Dolphin meat is effective for the blue shark. When you cut it, it bleeds a lot. And the blue shark likes fat, and the dolphin is pure fat. I understand that to hunt the dolphin is illegal. But for me, it's a necessity, I do it to keep my bills down. I can minimize my costs, because the bait for shark is very expensive. The majority of boats that fish shark carry the spear gun with the spear ready to use".

We had watched one being killed. But the captain was planning to kill at least two on this trip if he had the chance, one of a dozen voyages for sharks over the year that he planned to undertake. With over 1000 shark boats across Peru at the last count, the figures for this illicit dolphin hunt clock up to almost unthinkable numbers. It's hard to tie down a figure, but experts suggest at least 10,000 dolphins may be killed every year in Peru alone, making it by far the biggest cetacean hunt on earth, almost 10 times higher than the Japanese dolphin drive in Taiji for example, made infamous in 'The Cove.'

An upsurge in shark meat consumption over the last decade within Peru, the high price paid for shark fins from the Far East combined with the ever-rising cost of mackerel for use as fish bait - another species exploited for use as a feed ingredient in factory farms - all play a part in beginning to understand the prevalence of the widespread Peruvian dolphin hunt today.

SHARK HUNT

By dawn we had arrived. With a signal from the captain the first buoy was dropped into place and two crew members crouched in the stern, carefully skewering salted mackerel and bloody chunks of dolphin intermittently on the leaders attached to miles of longline, as the boat slowly chugged away from the first buoy. Two hours later and the hooks - almost a thousand of them - were spread out in the water.  Everyone slept, crammed into the bow as it lulled with the engine off, floating alongside the longline 100km from shore. In the light of the setting sun, the crew donned Waterproofs, welly boots and drank soup enriched with Maca, an energy-giving Peruvian root, to prepare themselves for the night ahead. Shakira soundtracks serenaded us from the wheelhouse speakers, and the crew took up positions ready for the haul.

Ale and I watched in the darkness, cameras ready, as the longline, leaders and empty hooks were picked up and coiled by the crew until the first shout came up. The engine slowed and spotlight shone down into the dark waters below. Our first shark. A svelte, silvery-blue shape gradually appeared in the waters; half-drowned the blue shark appeared drunk, lazily kicking away at the line which drew it ever-closer to the surface. Swimming underwater, the blue shark is astonishingly beautiful, an archetypal ocean wanderer, whose soft-fin features, blue tubular torso and wide eyes endow it with a gentle elegance rarely afforded to sharks.  Hauled over the gunwale, the four foot shark slammed on the deck surface, thrashing in the waterless environment for an instant before the team set upon it. Brandishing a knife, a crew member pinned it down with his knees before slicing off the snout just below the shark's eyes. Its entire jaw had been cut away beneath its soft wide eyes. A long thin rod was rapidly inserted inside the gaping hole all the way down its spinal column and the thrashing ended. Its belly was cut, the insides washed away and the shark was tossed to the leeward side of the deck, the first of a dozen sharks they would catch, kill and butcher during the night. Far from the romance afforded it in recent years from a spate of celebrity chef food programs, I saw in that instant that industrial fishing is little more than a seafood slaughter line, and a bloody brutal one at that.

An hour into the haul the engine slowed amidst excited shouts from the deck hands. All four of them dropped their work to help tug in the line. Excitement built until a vast black shape appeared from the depths. A full grown thresher shark, several hundred kilos in weight with an elongated tail fin 6 feet on it's own. A football sized crater shone deep red in it's head, a wound that I took to be another shark feeding on the line, but was in fact caused by humboldt squid, a large and aggressive species rising from the Pacific depths at night to feed close to the surface, an animal that the crew told us they quietly feared more than the shark.

By three in the morning, an hour when reality begins to slip, Ale and I found ourselves crouching by the mast, fighting sleep and the cold winter wind. Then the cry for squid came up. Struggling to pull the monofilament, the crew grappled and swore, heaving until a dark mass came into view. A humboldt squid in the flesh. Elusive hunters from the deep, this one had risen to feed and had ensnared itself on one of the hooks. As soon as it reached the surface the 6 foot squid began to hiss, it's flailing tentacles ready to pounce. The crew made us move back, carefully approaching the creature as it lay rolling on the deck, it's ghoulish beak opening and snapping ready to bite its attackers. Within minutes it was butchered, sliced and thrown to the back of the boat, a slab of calamari dispatched to the growing pile of carcasses at the lee of the boat. 

Another blue shark came up to the surface, smaller this time but very much alive and thrashing in the water; but in a cruel torturous twist, it had vomited up its swim bladder. Rapidly sliced and diced, I watched as the belly was opened up. Dozens of perfectly formed baby sharks slid out of their mother's entrails, writhing in the waterless expanses of the deck. It was too much for Alejandro and I, having sat back for days and passively observed proceedings on the boat. We both waved at the crew, pleading with them to put the live baby sharks in the sea. It became a comedy for the crew, a novelty as the baby sharks were rounded up and tossed over the side, a torchlight following their first clumsy movements in the ocean.
 
A NARROW ESCAPE

At dawn the captain agreed to take us back to shore before carrying on with their two week fishing trip. The mood lifted as we neared the coast, the crew chattering away in their bunks about the best chicken restaurant they planned to briefly dine at before returning to sea, and no doubt relieved at the prospect of being finally rid of the camera team who had filmed their every move for the last five days. As land neared, two humpback whales surfaced by the boat, we cheered and the light dropped.

About three km from land, I stood on the bow scanning the horizon while the crew lay in their bunks chattering away. What looked like two more whales appeared 100m in front of us, their silhouettes just visible amidst the dying light. My heart dropped. Not whales. They were rocks. I shouted and the captain turned the vessel sharply left and summoned the crew from their bunks.  We motored gently forward. Then a distant roar sounded. Sensing what was about to happen, the captain turned the boat hard to port as the outline of a towering wave appeared in the searchlights of the boat, building up ever higher over a submerged rock directly in front of the bow. The enormous wave rose high above the vessel and broke on top of us. We were all thrown off our feet. A moment of watery silence sliding around in disbelief, and then terror. The crew began to scream. The boat lay limply in the rocky waters, waterlogged amidst a shoal of rocks and pitched at a horrible angle.

Another wave built up and broke onto us, smashing through the wheelhouse windows and throwing the vessel onto rocks. My shoes and glasses has been ripped off by the force of the breaking waves, and in the panicky blur I rushed to Ale who was struggling to hold on to the torn remnants of the steel derrick. We interlocked arms ready to be thrown into the water with the next wave. I looked around in the darkness calculating as best I could. Cold dark waters, unpredictable currents and a host of predators that I had spent the last week documenting, lay within. I rushed to the stern of the boat and made a soggy phone call to Stefan on land. The crew were using poles to lever themselves off the rocks and then, mercifully, a smaller set of waves lifted us off the rocks - floating us away from the danger into the night calm as suddenly as we had being thrust upon them. We scanned for more rocks while the crew frantically dug through the stores, ice, salt, fish thrown overboard in a desperate bid to locate and patch up leaks in the hull. Cold, wet and bruised, unpredictable waves of shock ran through the people on the boat, fighting for our lives amid anger that the captain had brought the vessel so carelessly into rocks, silence from the horror of the giant waves and pain from the torn muscles ripped from holding on to the boat with each crashing wave.

Eventually a small boat appeared on the horizon, skillfully summoned by Stefan to guide us into the port and onto shore. One hour later we bade farewell to the crew. Dolphin hunters, deep sea butchers and now, strangely, friends as well, we hugged and bade the briefest of farewells; before being ushered into a waiting car and driven out of the eye of the port authorities into the silence of the desert.


The author would like to gratefully acknowledge Stefan Austermuhle and Mundo Azul for their enormous help whilst in Peru, and also The Foundation for Deep Ecology, Blue Voice, the Pulitzer Centre for Crisis Reporting and the Victoria Stack Family Trust whose financial backing and assistance helped make this project happen.

 

 

About Jim Wickens:

 

British journalist Jim Wickens helped set up Ecostorm, an environmental investigative unit in 2003 that has pioneered undercover and investigative reporting techniques around the world.

 
 

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China's Fishermen Set down Their Nets and Pick up Arms
The long-simmering territorial dispute between China and its neighbors over the South China Sea is about to get hotter. China is giving some of its fishermen military training so they can help defend China's claims to three quarters of the sea. Here’s  Japan’s NHK.
--
Reporter:
This is Tanmen, a fishing village on Hainan Island in southern China. Local government officials are spending almost 17-million dollars to improve infrastructure They are making this village a base for China's maritime activities.

Here fishermen who build boats are eligible for local subsidies.
If certain requirements are met, they must fish for at least three months in waters in the South China Sea, south of this line.To encourage them to do that, the government also pays a fuel subsidy.
Fisherman Chen Zebo receives this payment and another financial incentive.

Chen Zebo:
I receive the special daily allowance for fishing in the South China Sea. I receive about 300 dollars a day for my boat.

Reporter:
Some fishermen like Chen also serve in the militia, performing maritime assignment for the local government. They receive military training including how to fire weapons. The maritime militia is set up on certain parts of southern and eastern China’s shores. It's estimated that several million Chinese serve in both the sea and land militias.

Members of the militia from Tanmen served in the war against Vietnam and other conflicts. They carried weapons and gave other non-combat support for the regular army.
Now, just over two hundred belong to the militia in Tanmen. They aren't usually armed, but they are required to radio the Chinese authorities as soon as they sight foreign ships or fishing boats.
President Xi Jinping visited Tamnen last year. He ordered the militia to gather information from the open sea and help with construction on remote islands in the South China Sea.
Chen once fished in the region where China and the Philippines are embroiled in territorial disputes. Philippine authorities detained him for short time. But he still believes it’s his duty to protect this area of the sea.

Chen Zebo:
If anything happens in the sea, I'll notify the Chinese authorities right away. If it weren’t for the fisherman of my village, the South China sea would've been occupied by some other countries."
A government run Chinese institution, that researches the South China Sea says, this militia activities play a important role in upholding China’s sovereignty.

Wu Shicun:
This undertakings are ways to protect China's maritime interests. Fishing and economic activities in the South China Sea are an important means of demonstrating China's presence.

Reporter:
In return for generous government incentives, these fishermen sail to the South China Sea to cast their nets. And while there, their unofficial duty is lookouts for their government. These activities send a clear signal that China is determined to assert itself in the area.
 
 

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Want to Join the KCETLink Team? Become a KCETLink Ambassador!

 2014 KCETLink Ambassador Program
June 9 - August 15, 2014

Summary
Thanks to a generous grant from the Freeman Foundation, the KCETLink Ambassador (formerly LinkAsia Ambassadors)  program will enter its second year in Summer 2014.  This is a year-long fellowship program, with an intensive 10 week internship period,  that provides undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in asian studies  the opportunity to apply their academic learning in a professional journalistic setting. The program provides year-long mentorship, leadership development, journalism training, and hands-on experience creating a dynamic weekly television series. Offered to 4 college students each year, the program includes a two-day intensive workshop in San Francisco, followed by a ten-week paid summer internship at KCETLink’s San Francisco or Los Angeles offices. During this summer experience, fellows will develop an action plan for engaging their communities around Asia through the relevant KCETLink content like LinkAsia, SoCal Connected, and Artbound when they return to their individual campuses.

Please feel free to circulate this posting through your networks. EXTENDED SUBMISSION DEADLINE: Monday, April 14, 2014.

How to Apply

  • Submit your resume and cover letter explaining why you want to be a Student Ambassador to LinkAsiaAmbassador@linktv.org. Indicate in your letter which KCETLink office in which you would like to work.   
  • Include a self-made video explaining in both English and your primary Asian language (if applicable) the reasons for your interest in this internship. Please post to YouTube or other video hosting site and provide a link in your cover letter. 
  • Submission deadline (updated): Monday, April 14, 2014.


Qualifications
- Bilingual strongly preferred (English and an Asian language)
- Must be able to travel to San Francisco, CA or Burbank, CA  and arrange housing independently.
- Must be able to make a 10-week commitment ( June 9th-August 15th, 2014)
- Freeman Scholars highly encouraged to apply, Non-Freeman Scholars and bilingual Asian language speakers are also welcome.

 



Job Descriptions
KCETLink is looking for qualified students to become Student Ambassadors in Summer 2014 in both our San Francisco and Los Angeles offices. Students will be expected to work 40 hours per week for 10 weeks, and will be paid $10.74/hour.


All ambassadors will attend  a 2-day workshop in San Francisco  that will include orientation, grassroots leadership training, shadowing staff, guest speakers and technical instruction. They will receive the unique opportunity to work in editorial selection, translation, production, script writing, and creating blogs and pieces for broadcast during their 10-week tenure at KCETLink’s offices. After the 10 week internship, ambassadors are asked to volunteer their time towards engagement activities on their campuses working to create awareness of KCETLink’s programming. During their tenure, ambassadors will be provided with mentorship from a KCETLink staff member, who will serve as a resource throughout the year, helping to craft individualized action plans to raise awareness about KCETLink on their campus. Examples include: organizing a guest speaker to visit their campus, hosting a screening, or reposting LinkAsia materials on social media.

Arts and Culture Ambassador - Burbank, CA
Ambassadors working out of KCETLink’s Los Angeles office will have the opportunity to work alongside experienced staff at all levels of production on award winning programs such as Artbound, Departures, CityWalk, as well as projects in development such as Dive into Ukiyo-e. Ambassadors will get editorial experience with opportunities to contribute to program blogs and social media,  as well as field and studio production experience. Candidates should have strong writing skills and be interested in Asian and Asian-American arts and culture.

LinkAsia Ambassador - San Francisco, CA
Ambassadors working out of KCETLink’s San Francisco office will be focused on the program LinkAsia. They will have the opportunity to monitor to write and shoot their own contributor pieces covering top stories in Asia, translate social media from China and Japan, and  blog about issues that matter to them. LinkAsia Ambassadors will work intensely on building their journalism skills.

 

 

 

About LinkAsia: From Beijing to Tokyo, from Seoul to New Delhi and beyond, LinkAsia takes viewers into media about Asia -- from Asia -- offering unfiltered insights into one of the most diverse, fast-paced regions of the globe. Each week, LinkAsia brings you a unique half-hour program that combines everything from the official state news from Asia's top television networks to the trends and conversations rising through Asia's blogs and social media. Viewers can access LinkAsia on LinkTV (DIRECT ch 375/DISH ch 9410), on KCET, on public television’s WORLD Channel, and online at www.LinkAsia.org.
##

About KCETLink
In December 2012, KCET—the nation’s largest independent public television station—and Link TV—the first independent, national television network dedicated to providing Americans with global perspectives on news, events and culture—merged to form KCETLink.  Our new organization took shape in 2013, and is dedicated to serving the audiences of our two main brands:
 
KCET:  On-air, online and in the community, KCET plays a vital role in the cultural and educational enrichment of Southern California.  Founded in 1964, KCET is the nation’s largest independent public television station, serving greater Los Angeles and an 11-county region of Southern California with the highest-quality public media.  KCET reaches one of the largest geographic areas and one of the most diverse populations of any public television station in the country.
 
For over two decades, KCET has been a leader in regional news production, previously with our nightly public affairs series, Life & Times (which ran for 16 seasons), and our statewide co-production, California Connected (which ran for five seasons), and now with our Peabody, duPont-Columbia and Emmy Award-winning weekly news magazine, SoCal Connected.  KCET is also committed to broadcasting news and information from around the globe, and has served since 2008 as the national distributor of BBC World News to public television stations around the country.
 
Additionally, KCET has become the primary producer of award-winning arts and culture programming for Southern and Central California.  KCET’s arts series include Artbound, which explores the intersection of arts, culture and community; Live @ the Ford, a showcase for multicultural dance and music performances; Open Call, a classical, contemporary and jazz music concert program; and Fine Cut, a broadcast screening series of student films.  Since 2006, KCET has also produced the award-winning online documentary series about Los Angeles’ diverse neighborhoods, Departures.
 
Link TV:  Founded in 1999, Link TV is the first nationwide television network dedicated to providing Americans with global perspectives on news, events and culture.  Our mission is to engage, inform and inspire viewers its audiences to participate in transformational, sustainable change on issues of global importance.  Link TV is available as a basic service on DIRECTV (channel 375) and DISH Network (channel 9410), reaching more than 34 million US households.  Link TV productions include the current affairs series, LinkAsia, which presents nuanced perspectives on under-represented issues in Asia, from Asian media sources; and the global environmental news magazine, Earth Focus.  In addition to original programming, Link TV broadcasts hundreds of documentaries from around the world; news reports from Deutsche Welle, France 24, NHK World and Democracy Now!; and the wildly popular Danish political drama, Borgen, and the Israeli TV sitcom, Arab Labor.

For information about KCETLink productions, web-exclusive content, programming schedules, and community events, please visit KCET.org or LinkTV.org.
 


 
 

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Chinese Women Swoon Over Their Love from the Star
 

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