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Who killed Sajida Khan?

As the World Bank plans its launch of a new carbon fund at the United Nations climate conference in Bali, activists worldwide will pay tribute to the woman who spent her last breath resisting one of its most controversial projects. Sajida Khan won the struggle against the project when the Bank pulled out of the toxic South African landfill. But sadly, Khan passed away on 15 July 2007 in her Durban home.

Aged 55 her fragile but vibrant, uncompromising life endured several bouts of debilitating cancer. The dump that the government promised to close in 1987 is still open and thriving. Indeed, plans for new carbon financing were sealed by the South African government even before the Bali conference. The Bali conference is likely to generate a lot of hot air as it searches for climate solutions, but as government delegations debate yet more market-based policies for the post-Kyoto era we should pause and reflect upon who really killed Khan?

Meet the suspects and consider their motives:

1) Bisasar Road’s original design team of apartheid bureaucrats who in 1980 dumped what became Africa’s largest formal garbage heap in the middle of a nature reserve in the mixed-race residential neighbourhood of Clare Estate.

2) Operators of the illegal medical waste incinerator parked at Bisasar during the 1990s, sprinkling toxins onto Khan and her neighbours until its belated closure.

3) Durban Solid Waste for not terminating the dump as repeatedly promised. It runs a methane incineration system that spews yet more cancerous ingredients - dioxins, lead, cadmium — into the toxic soup around Bisasar.

4) The World Bank team who met Durban officials in 2002, persuading them that the dumpsite should remain open for seven to twenty more years. The reason? To capture carbon credits by selling investments in Bisasar methane-to-electricity operations to global polluters, who in turn will face less pressure to cut their own emissions.

5) The Kyoto Protocol – meant to turn the corner on climate change – is thus also a suspect. It established a ‘free market’ in carbon credits that would permit polluters in the North to purchase shares in ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ projects like Bisasar, instead of reducing their own greenhouse gases.

6) Major international polluters ranging from Big Oil to the Dutch government, who are the buyers of this “privatised air”.

7) Other landfill sites in Durban’s Marianhill and La Mercy suburbs, which are also supported by the World Bank’s Prototype Carbon Fund.

8) Who can forget the role of the [South Africa’s] national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism? According to the National Climate Change Response Strategy, citizens must understand “up-front” how the “Clean Development Mechanism primarily presents a range of commercial opportunities, both big and small. This could be a very important source of foreign direct investment’. Khan and her Durban Group comrades considered this position a form of eco-prostitution equivalent to accepting toxic waste for a pittance.

9) Then there’s the South African economy itself, addicted to fossil fuels and the world’s cheapest energy. The US is the world’s largest CO2 emitter in absolute terms, but in relative terms SA emits 20 times more of that gas than the US, measured by each unit of output per person. That in turn has made Pretoria aware of the need for even rotten offset projects like Bisasar, so as to market SA’s feeble attempts to cut back on greenhouse emissions.

6 December 2007

This blog is drawn from an article published in Alter-Eco, which is being produced by groups who have come together to make a unified call in support of real solutions to climate change and against the false market-based solutions that are being implemented under the Kyoto Protocol.

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