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tv   Witness History  BBC News  November 19, 2021 2:30am-3:01am GMT

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many of tennis' leading stars have expressed concern for the top female chinese player, peng shuai, who hasn't been seen since accusing a senior chinese official of sexual abuse two weeks ago. chinese state media has released an email attributed to peng, but doubt has been cast about its authenticity. rescue teams in canada are trying to reach over 18,000 people who are stranded by floods and mudslides in the western province of british columbia. although water levels are starting to recede entire towns remain cut off and many roads are blocked. a us state governor has halted the execution of prisoner, juliusjones, hours before he was due to be put to death. jones was sentenced to death in 2002, for killing a man in a carjacking incident. after several appeals, his sentence has now been commuted to life imprisonment,
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now on bbc news, we have a special edition of witness history to mark cop26. hello, and welcome to this special edition of witness history with me, claire marshall. we're in the gardens of london's environmental college, capel manor. this time, we're getting first—hand accounts of some important moments in environmental history. coming up, the man who fed the world as crop pioneer norman borlaug was called. how saddam hussein ordered the destruction of iraq's great marshes. and we hear about the fight to escape a neighbourhood built on 20,000 tons of toxic waste. but we start here in the uk, which was one of the first countries in europe to ban lead from petrol in cars. the move followed a successful campaign showing the lead was poisoning children and leaving them permanently brain—damaged.
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witness history spoke to doctor robin russell—jones from the campaign for lead—free air. chanting. lead—free petrol now! i am protesting against this company because the lead in the petrol is brain damaging my child. excuse me, can i give you one of these to read, please? - it's about lead in petrol... to these leeds parents who've recentlyjoined the anti—lead campaign, it seems common sense that 10,000 tons of lead must find its way to people one way or another. the sort of effects that occur in children who have this sort of level of exposure manifest themselves as behavioural disorders. these children tend to be very impulsive, they have difficulty concentrating, they're easily distracted, they're easily frustrated. a major campaign to ban lead in petrol was launched today. it's called clear,
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which stands for the campaign for lead—free air. it reached a maximum in 1971, i think about 400,000 tons of lead were added worldwide to petrol. the attitude of the government in this country has been to resist the evidence as it becomes available. the americans, the russians and the japanese have all taken action against lead emissions. all i'm saying is that i do believe that the risks, which i believe we are talking about, is being grossly exaggerated. the argument was that lower class children were more likely to be living in houses with peeling paint or old pipes or near to highways.
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so then the argument was, well, the relationship between high lead and low iq is because there's a social class difference. but i mean, that's where the animal studies were very important, and because it demonstrated that that didn't explain it. these are the animals we've been using to study the effects of chronic lead treatment on behaviour in brain chemistry. there's a great deal of fighting among these animals, and they're very hard for experimenters to catch, which is another indication of reactivity and aggressiveness in them. a letter written by sir henry yellowlees, the government's chief medical advisor, has been leaked
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to the press in the last few days. in it, he says there is a strong likelihood that lead in petrol is permanently reducing the iq of many of our children. that was complete dynamite. so we took that to the editor of the times. . automated voice: this is an unlettered pump. are you sure your vehicle requires unleaded petrol? if not... they finally, in '89, _ introduced a tax on leaded fuel and unleaded became cheaper. and then of course within six years, lead levels in british i schoolchildren had fallen by 80%. - singing. and, in fact, the campaign has been so successful, that in 2021, algeria became the final country in the world to halt the sale of leaded petrol. in 2004, the kenyan environmental campaigner wangari maathai became the first african woman to win the nobel peace prize. she spent much of her life trying to protect
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kenya's forests. witness history went to the karura forest on the edge of nairobi to talk to her daughter, wanjira maathai. my mother was often asked, "were you afraid? you were fearless. how can you do all these things?" and she said, "no, i was afraid," but she said, "what needed to be done was so compelling that i had to do it." she grew up surrounded by nature, surrounded by the beauty of nature. i also remember her describing her mother being a farmer. her mother grew all the food that they ate. and then she goes away to school, to university out in the united states, and she comes back and joins the university as a very young member of academic staff. she was struck by the issues that were being presented by women who were very much like her mother.
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they were talking about lack of fuel, lack of water and lack of nutritious food. and everything they described, she felt was connected to a degradation of the landscape, and so, why not plant trees, she asked them? the women here till the land, so it is important that they know how to conserve this soil. she founded the green belt movement in 1977 to help women plant trees and, at the same time, begin to understand how to heal the land themselves. it's 50 million trees now and counting. very quickly, the green belt movement became more than just about planting trees, because we had an extremely dictatorial government, and we had a one—party system. public land was being parcelled out to the friends of the administration of the day, and so protecting these spaces necessarily becomes political. whistle blows.
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karura forest was by far one of the scariest battles. people are showing a lot of anger because nobody knew the extent to which the forest is actually destroyed. it was vicious. she got very physically hurt, she was in hospital. but she survived. and so whenever she survived, she knew it was time to go back and finish the work of saving the park. we are here in karura forest, one of the most beautiful urban forests in the world, and it is thanks to the green belt movement and the efforts of my mother at the time that saved it. but she also was a human rights activist, a women's rights activist. i have no idea where these policemen are taking me now. hmm? — i have done nothing! to challenge the president and the party of the day, that was gutsy.
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an ecologist from kenya has become the first african woman to win the nobel peace prize. wangari maathai has spent more than... she just didn't believe that it was her. i think for a while there she probably felt maybe it's a mistake! i don't know. but it was one of the most amazing moments to see her enjoy the spotlight and the platform in a way she'd never had before. i think the whole day she sort of spent saying, "i didn't know anyone was listening." my mother died on september 25, 2011. she's left quite a legacy, i think. certainly for us, as kenyans, as women, as africans, to believe in the power of one. i think the fact that one woman from nyeri in the highlands of kenya could be such an important force for change remains one of the most inspiring things for me.
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wangari maathai's daughter, wanjira, there. and now to iraq where, in the early 1990s, saddam hussein commissioned a huge engineering project to drain the largest wetland in the middle east. our next witness, iraqi engineer azzam alwash, told us about his memories of the area as a boy, and the impact the draining had on an ancient way of life. the marshes, to me, are associated with times alone with my father. and there's this slowness, riding along in these narrow streams surrounded by reeds, i have memories of going over the side of the boat and looking at the clear water and seeing the fish scatter.
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it's a place of serenity. but the vast majority of iraq is desert and you are in the middle of this waterworld. it is later on, much, much later on when i found out that these marsh arabs were living in a way that is very similar to how the sumerians lived. their houses are still made out of reeds, they fish in the same way. they are literally our link to the great old civilisation. you know, i didn't realise the treasure that we have. to that extent, it's notjust mine alone. to that extent, it's yours, it is humanity's heritage. it doesn't belong to iraq alone. it belongs to the rest of the world. this is where i think was invented, this is where abraham was born.
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the marshlands of southern iraq are the hiding place of the refugees from the shiite revolt against saddam hussein. it was here that the iraqi army manoeuvred in its war against iran. now, iran says the troops are back, massing to attack the half million people or more estimated to be living in the marshes. saddam knew that if he allowed the rebels to continue to exist in the marshes, they will be then used by the west and by iran to undermine his rule and maybe even advance to baghdad with time. so at a time when saddam was not allowed to sell a single drop of oil in the market, he put the entire gdp of the nation into a magnificently large engineering project called 'the draining of the marshes�*. a project that the united nations called the worst engineered environmental disaster of the last century.
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but the engineer in me — i repeat, the engineer in me — is in awe of the idea that you can drain an area as large as these marshes. it's impossible. yet the iraq engineers did it. in a period of three years, the marshes that used to live for 50,000 years were no longer. and the marsh arabs that lived out off the marshes lost their way of life. i have learned one thing from nature is that all we need to do is get out...let the water flow and get out of the way, and she will recover effectively very much. she doesn't need us, she's seen this before and she will be here after we're gone too.
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after saddam was overthrown, the marshes were partially reflooded, but they remain under threat, both from climate change and dams further upstream. remember, you can watch witness history each month on the bbc news channel or you can catch up on all our films, along with more than 1,000 radio programmes in our online radio archive. head to bbc. co. uk/witnesshistory. next, in 1970, the american agricultural scientist norman borlaug was awarded the nobel peace prize for his work on disease resistant crops. at the time, famine and malnutrition were claiming millions of lives across the world. but borlaug's green revolution enable countries like india to become self—sufficient. witness history spoke to professor ronnie coffman, a student and friend of norman borlaug. if the field is uniform, you get a general picture
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of what it is likely to yield. the man who fed the world. norman borlaug, praised for saving more lives than anyone in human history. we were in the field, hard at work, and we looked up and saw a car coming down through the field on the other side of a major irrigation canal, and doctor borlaug said, "whoa, that looks like margaret!" margaret was his wife. and she gets out, she says, "norman, you won the nobel prize!" chuckles. he didn't really believe it. he comes back and we go back to work. i first met him as my professor. i was the first phd student and while i was working for him, he won the nobel prize, so then he was too busy to take students so i was the last student also.
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obviously, lam personally honoured beyond all dreams by this election but the obligations imposed by the honours are far greater than the honour itself. he grew up on a farm in iowa, coming of age during the great depression. he saw a lot of bread lines, a lot of people out of work. he saw a lot of poverty. i think that set him on his career to do something that would benefit society. he started his work in mexico in the 19605, developing high—yielding, disease—resistant wheat that boosted harvests in what would be known as the 'green revolution�*. he was trained as a plant pathologist, trying to protect plants from diseases and, specifically, to do something about the rust disease which was wiping out the crop in mexico. what is rust disease? it's a fungus. it's carried in the wind.
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it is the worst plant disease in the world. so he set about to develop rust—resistant wheat varieties. i was in my 20s at the time, he was in his 50s, but i had trouble keeping up with him. he was a dedicated, extremely hard—working person. there are those who now say that "food is not the problem". i say it will be a continuing problem. india is especially concerned — over half its population - extremely vulnerable to famine. india didn't have a chance of feeding their population. tens of millions of people were dying from hunger and malnutrition, so it was considered, at the time, a hopeless situation. the green revolution essentially eliminated famine. this did not necessarily solve all the problems of hunger, but it gave india a chance.
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his techniques did attract critics. the plants, it was said, were too reliant on chemicals, the farming too intensive. there are a number of criticisms of the green revolution, and some of them have validity, butjust imagine in the absence of the green revolution what might have happened. the figure that was always used was that doctor borlaug saved a billion lives, and i think it's probably true. professor ronnie coffman there on the green revolution. finally, the love canal neighbourhood in niagara falls was built on the site of a dump containing over 20,000 tons of chemicals. in the late 1970s, the toxic waste began to bubble into local streets and gardens.
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former love canal resident luella kenny told witness history about the fight to be evacuated. my street had 15 houses on it. out of that 15 houses, there were nine with mastectomies. chanting: we want out! we want out! _ the only thing we could do was to keep fighting. we had an ultimate goal, and that ultimate goal was to be evacuated, and we would not accept anything less than that. for over 20 years, hooker and other companies used the basin of an unfinished canal in which to dump the chemicals they had no further use for. the old waterway was called love canal and, at the time, no—one live nearby. what followed next is perhaps the most astonishing part of the story. the education board bought from hookerfor the price of $1 all this land. some of it, they sold to residential developers
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to build houses on and on the rest of it, they built a school. in 1969, we found this beautiful home in the city of niagara falls. we thought it was ideal. in 1976, there was this big newspaper article about the chemicals that are buried there. my initial reaction was that niagara falls was a chemical city and i didn't think too much about it, unfortunately. however, later on, the chemicals started running down the storm sewers and they were emptying out into my backyard. exceptionally heavy rainfall two years ago began a horrifying process which led to pools of foul—smelling chemicals bubbling up to the surface of the ground.
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people who walked in the pools found their shoes burnt through, dogs became sick and lame. underneath the ground, the drums containing the chemicals had rotted through. on august 2 of 1978, the first notice of evacuation came out for 239 houses that were sitting directly on the canal itself. they built a fence around the deserted houses to keep people away from the chemicals, but the poisons themselves are no respecters of boundaries. beyond the evacuated area, hundreds more families live in houses held to be outside the danger zone. my sonjohn was sick and i went busy, you know, just going back and forth to the hospital. he'd be sent home and as soon as he'd come home again, he'd be exposed to the chemicals and he would again have an attack. in october of 1978, john passed away unexpectedly.
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i became active with the love canal homeowners association. they called us the 'hysterical housewives'. well, yeah, sure, you're going to be hysterical when you see what's in front of you and they're telling you there's nothing wrong. beverly pagan, a cancer research specialist, began to map out the incidents of illness in the still—occupied houses round about. this is nervous breakdowns. we then plotted suicides. these pink dots are l hyperactivity, the red ones are epilepsy. we have here miscarriages - in the neighbourhood and then, these two pink- are stillborn babies. at that point, lois gibbs, who was the leader of the homeowners, she and another took two epa officials hostage. they held them all day long. finally, president carter said that he would discuss funds for evacuation.
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i think one of the biggest things about our legacy is the fact that you can actually fight government and you can win. chanting: we want out! we want out! _ the love canal residents inspired many grassroots environmental campaigns that followed and led to the formation of the superfund program in the us, which helps pay for the clean—up of toxic sites. that's all from this special edition of witness history. we'll be back soon with more first—hand accounts of extraordinary moment in history. but for now, from me and the rest of the witness history team, goodbye.
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hello there. who'd have thought, by the middle of september we'd still be experiencing temperatures during the middle of the afternoon into the mid teens? that's exactly what happened on thursday with temperatures peaking just over 16 degrees in parts of aberdeenshire. now for many, we are under this influence of high pressure and a south—westerly flow is driving in a lot of cloud, but a lot of warmth with it. yes, a weather front into the far north, but it means that we start off on an incredibly mild start this morning — these are more akin to daytime maximums at this time of year. so, double digits quite widely first thing. the cloud, however, thick enough for a spot or two of drizzle — quite a damp, murky start out to the west — and our weather front producing some heavy, persistent rain to the far north of scotland and the northern isles. top temperatures, though, with a little bit of brightness into eastern scotland, maybe north—east england, once again 14—15, maybe 16 degrees. however, that front will
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gradually sink its way south through the weekend. it's a cold front. it's allowing the wind direction to change to a northerly and to bring quite a different feel to the weather as we go through the weekend. so on saturday, it will weaken off considerably as it moves its way through northern ireland into northern england. ahead of it, we should get some sunshine. to the north of that, it will be a cooler feel with a scattering of showers — temperatures struggling to get into double figures by then. now, saturday night into sunday, the front continues to sink its way steadily southwards. we can track the isobars all the way back up into the arctic. that cold air is starting to take hold. it means in sheltered, rural parts of scotland, we could see a touch of frost first thing on sunday morning. sunday, there will be some sunshine but a keen northerly wind driving in some showers potentially along the coast. and factor in the wind direction and the strength, it is going to feel noticeably cooler, so temperatures struggling to get into double figures right across the country. but watch this — those clear skies continue through the night. temperatures are likely to fall away in scotland and the north of england. we are likely to see more
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of a frost as lows get down to —2 in one or two places, so a bit of a shock to the system in comparison to what we've had just lately. and in fact, to close out the month of november, it is going to stay on the cold side. the potential for some wintry showers later in the week with overnight frosts as well.
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welcome to bbc news. i'm mark lobel. our top stories: trapped on the edge of the eu: the desperation of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty as they try to seek asylum. we have a special report from the bosnia—croatia border. global concerns grow about the safety of the chinese tennis player peng shuai, unseen since accusing a senior government official of sexual assault. we're all pretty worried, given what's happened over the last couple of weeks and that, really, the right kind of contact and communication with peng shuai has not happened yet. tracing the origins of coronavirus: new information on patient zero. president biden considers a diplomatic boycott of the beijing winter olympics
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in protest against china's human rights record.

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