World Watch Magazine: March/April 2003


THE ENEMY WITHIN — AIDS IN THE ARMED FORCES

Washington, D.C.—Armies all over the world are threatened by a deadly enemy lurking within their own ranks: AIDS. Soldiers are among the most vulnerable to the disease, and in many countries HIV infection rates are several times higher in the military than among civilians, reports the March/April 2003 edition of World Watch, a bi-monthly magazine published by the Worldwatch Institute.


“ It’s ironic that HIV threatens the security of the very institutions charged with maintaining security and stability,” says author Radhika Sarin. “Senior military officials and national defense ministers are finally beginning to recognize this emerging threat, but there are considerable differences in how militaries are approaching such issues as HIV testing among soldiers.”


HIV prevalence in the armies of sub-Saharan nations from Angola to South Africa ranges between 10 and 60 percent. High levels of HIV infection have been observed in militaries elsewhere as well. The practice of posting military personnel far from their homes and families for long periods is a primary factor that facilitates the spread of AIDS. Fifteen percent of U.N. peacekeepers returning after three years of duty were HIV-positive, compared to 7 percent returning after one year of duty. In war-torn communities where peacekeepers are usually posted, HIV rates can already be high as a result of the increased incidence of rape during wartime. There is also an “explosion of commercial sex work” near peacekeeping installations, spreading the virus even further.


Measures taken by the U.N. and national militaries to address the problem vary widely. They include HIV awareness training, testing, and shortening the length of assignment periods. A brand of condoms specifically marketed to the Cambodian military has increased condom use with commercial sex workers from 54 to 70 percent. The “Sentinels of Health” program of the Bolivian armed forces allows demobilized soldiers to become health educators. But lack of good data on AIDS prevalence, soldiers’ knowledge of HIV/AIDS and their sexual behavior make the evaluation of anti-AIDS measures difficult. Moreover, the resources available for HIV/AIDS programming are limited.


Many militaries consider publishing data on AIDS prevalence among their troops a safety hazard. In unstable regions, even the perception that a neighboring military’s strength is compromised by AIDS could trigger wars. But AIDS also has wider implications for international security. HIV-positive soldiers without access to proper treatment might engage in smuggling to earn extra money. This could become a problem in Russia, for example, where a failure to regulate nuclear materials might give desperate soldiers access to that material.


CLIMATE CHANGE: UNCERTAINTY STILL DOES NOT JUSTIFY INACTION

The changing of the guard at the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has not changed the group’s basic message on climate change, according to Janet Sawin in “Long-Range Forecast.” In Sawin’s interviews with the IPCC’s new president Rajendra Pachauri and his predecessor Robert Watson – ousted as a result of political pressure by the Bush administration in 2001 – both agreed that the world cannot afford to wait for more scientific certainty before starting mitigation measures. Yet, neither of the two scientists disputes the need to reduce scientific uncertainty by doing more research on local and regional climate change projections in order to develop a better understanding of specific impacts on certain sectors in each part of the world.


MAP CONFIRMS HYPOTHESIS ON BIODIVERSITY

A new map confirms a hypothesis long held by environmentalists: cultural and biological diversity go hand in hand in Central America and southern Mexico. Produced by the Center for the Support of Native Lands and National Geographic Society, the map represents “one of the most remarkable mapmaking efforts of recent times.” Mapmakers gathered data for 15 months and then superimposed a map of indigenous territories on another one showing forest cover. The correspondence between indigenous and forested territories may have a historic reason: Native groups did retreat to densely forested areas to avoid extermination by conquistadors. But it may also indicate better native stewardship of natural resources.


ALSO IN THE MARCH/APRIL ISSUE
· Interview: Sandra Thurman, AIDS czar under President Clinton, speaks out.
· Book Review: Justice on Earth by Tom Turner.
· Environmental Intelligence: Fuel-cell cars hit the road; half the Earth remains wilderness; cell phones and microchips leave heavy footprints.

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