Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Future of Poisoned Children

By Romeo F. Quijano, M.D.

My grandson, David, stays in our house 2-3 times a week while his parents are at work. It is my wife who usually does the babysitting but I often have the chance to do the babysitting myself whenever I am at home. Despite my many travels abroad and to Mindanao, I get to spend quite a lot of time with David, enjoying every moment of it - playing, showing him some simple tricks, singing songs, listening to music on line and dancing (he's such a good dancer!), playing my mandolin to him, feeding him, assisting him in the toilet, putting him to sleep, etc, etc. I began to teach him about healthy diet, organic fruits and vegetables, and the dangers that pesticides bring to children's health when he was about 3 years old. I even taught him the scientific names of fruits and vegetables he ate and some medicinal plants. He is such a fast learner that now his knowledge of science is far advanced of his age (he is now 5 yrs old) and he now knows the scientific names of at least 20 fruits and vegetables. Whenever I am not home, he always asked my wife where I was and whenever I come home he hugs me, tells me he missed me and then shows me his drawings and scribbles about me when I was away, all showing pure love and affection. He is such a lovable and intelligent kid who would undoubtedly be a valuable contributor to the society of the near future to which he belongs and which would be beyond my time.

When I think about David's future, and the future of all children, I feel sad and angry but at the same time, deeply motivated and hopeful.  I feel sad because I know that despite my best efforts to protect David from toxic chemicals, he is still exposed to a variety of pesticides and other toxics and all I could do is try to reduce that exposure.  There is hardly any person or any place on earth that is left uncontaminated and not poisoned to some degree. Children are the hardest hit. The health of children worldwide is worsening. The incidence rates of developmental abnormalities, asthma, diabetes, certain cancers and other diseases in children have increased. This has serious implications for the future wellbeing, not only of the children, but of the future society as a whole. Pesticides and other toxic contaminants in air, water, and food have emerged as important causal factors. I have personally studied and observed this unfortunate situation in my 38 years of work in the academe and in various communities in many countries as a medical professional. In banana plantation communities in Mindanao, in palm oil plantations in Malaysia, in a cashew plantation in India, in garbage dump communities in Manila and Cebu, and in many other areas, I have examined children harmed by pesticides and other toxic chemicals. In addition, having participated in many international meetings and negotiations pertaining to toxic chemicals and related issues at various international fora, my personal experiences were affirmed by information exchanges and discussions with numerous experts in toxic chemicals from various governments, international agencies, research and academic institutions, public interest groups and even from the chemical industry.

I feel angry because big business continue the irresponsible manufacture and use of highly hazardous pesticides and other toxics with the complicity of governments, international agencies, corrupt bureaucrats and prostituted scientists that promote or allow profiteering from toxic chemicals at the expense of health and environment, putting our children's future in serious jeopardy. Corporate interests and political expediency are the dominant considerations influencing regulatory decisions pertaining to pesticides and other toxic chemicals especially in Third World countries where socio-political circumstances are conducive for powerful corporations to exert influence and manipulate public policy.

These mixed feelings of sadness and anger, however, keeps me deeply motivated to continue fighting to eliminate or at least restrict, as many as possible, highly hazardous pesticides and other toxics and to continue supporting community struggles against corporate aggression in various forms.  People's resistance against corporate imposed unsustainable and toxic agriculture is increasing and offers hope and optimism. Biodiversity-based ecological agriculture and non-pesticide approaches are being practiced more widely by tens of thousands of farmers across Asia and other parts of the world. These farmers and their children not only lead healthier lives but have improved livelihoods. Landless peasants, consumers and other sectors are organizing themselves and coming together in broader coalitions to assert food sovereignty and to resist agrochemical TNCs. Indeed, the growing people's movement against imperialist imposition and for social liberation is a reason to be optimistic and to be hopeful that the future of poisoned children may not be so bleak after all.