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Fiddling While Infants Perish


Sometimes a headline is too surreal. You blink. You recoil. But there it remains. You haven’t imagined it.


A few weeks ago the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) – one of the two esteemed parents of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – demonstrated that common sense may be the scarcest resource of all.

Its executive director, Achim Steiner, took time out of his busy schedule to praise Rwanda for a bold and visionary move. You see, this impoverished country faces no shortage of challenges. According to The World Factbook, the Rwanda people are at “very high risk” of major infectious diseases. In addition to being plagued by malaria and AIDS, they’re likely to fall ill after drinking contaminated water.

Three out of 10 people aged 15 and over are illiterate. To quote the Factbook:

Rwanda is a poor rural country with about 90% of the population engaged in (mainly subsistence) agriculture.a majority still live below the poverty line of 250 Rwandan francs per day (about US$0.43).

In Canada, Australia, the UK, and Germany (the country from which Steiner hails) five infants out of 1,000 die before they reach their first birthday. In Rwanda 64 infants perish – nearly 13 times as many.

Yet a senior United Nations official thinks that Rwandan legislators should be spending their time worrying about plastic bags. According to the news story, he also thinks it’s his job to pester other impoverished nations about this matter:

“I’m still perplexed at how many countries are reluctant to act on thin film plastic bags,” Steiner said, noting that Kenya, where [UNEP] is based “has been discussing the issue for the past decade.”



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