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A wider environment.

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AA 02 035 18 Jun 2002

A Wider Environment

Environmental damage does not recognise national borders. Destruction of forests in one country can affect the rainfall of others; water pollutants do not need passports to flow from one underground water source to another; greenhouse gases affect the prudent just as much as the improvident.

For several months in the late 1990s, Brisbane and Darwin were blanketed by grey smoke. The cause of this unexpected phenomenon had nothing to do with anything happening here in Australia - it was smoke blown south from Indonesia, where farmers were clearing land through uncontrolled burning. Asthma suffers in Australia paid the price.

Developed countries have a humanitarian obligation to assist development and the alleviation of poverty in developing countries. Because environmental disasters cannot be contained, it is also in their own interest to help developing countries protect their environments and avoid the mistakes of the past.

In 2001-2002 Australia's aid program has funded more than $70 million worth of activities that directly address priority environmental concerns. Funding for activities not specifically for environmental protection, but with positive environmental effects - such as clean water and sanitation - has been around $140 million.

On top of this, our agricultural support for developing nations is helping to reduce the environmental damage caused by ineffective and/or destructive farming practices.

In places like Papua New Guinea, for example, a five-year project with PNG's National Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection Authority, has meant Australian overseas aid has helped reduce, and in some cases remove, the threat of pest and virus invasion.

Seventy percent of jobs in East Asia and the Pacific rely on forestry, agriculture and fisheries. As part of our aid program, Australia provides expertise to developing countries on sustainable agriculture and sound environmental practices.

Land degradation, deforestation and the destruction of fisheries all directly undermine the livelihoods of people in developing countries. By assisting communities in developing countries with sound environmental practices, the productivity of the land is maintained and the people remain on the land.

Maintaining people on the land not only ensures families are provided with food, it is also a way of staving off conflict and further social and environmental destruction.

Too often, when farming becomes unsustainable, young men move to the cities where faced with already high unemployment, they find activity and status by joining the local gangs or

unofficial militia.

It was for precisely this reason that the Australian aid program provided emergency agricultural assistance to the people of East Timor immediately after the violence of 1999. In that case, more than 32,000 farming families were immediately provided with seeds and farming tools to help them rebuild their farms.

What makes Australian expertise so effective in dealing with environmental damage in the Asia/Pacific region is the fact that we know what we are doing. Australian farmers know all about drought, floods and insect pests. We also know about the costly environmental and health effects of over-fertilisation and chemical use.

In Vietnam, Australian expertise is being harnessed to help local farmers move away from the use of costly and environmentally dangerous pesticides and move instead toward natural bioherbicides. Just outside of Hanoi, Australian and Vietnamese scientists, funded by Australian aid, are currently testing a weed-eating fungus that they hope will diminish the spread of the weed barnyard grass throughout the nation's rice crop.

Our commitment to agricultural support for developing nations has helped, and is continuing to help, reduce the environmental damage caused by ineffective or destructive farming practices.

From Australia's perspective, aid is an investment in our own future. By reducing poverty in recipient countries, we help create a stronger, stable region with more opportunities for trade. In working in developing countries on environmental problems, Australians also develop their skills and increase their expertise in this area.

Perhaps it is time to acknowledge and feel a sense of pride in Australia's role in addressing environmental problems within our own region.

As an affluent and influential member of the Asia/Pacific region, our ability to use aid as a means of environmental influence isn't just 'good', it makes good sense - for our neighbours and us.

Media contact: Craig Bildstien (Parliamentary Secretary's Office) 02 6277 4840/ 0407 604 437


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