Coronavirus hasn’t affected everyone equally. We’re sharing stories of what lockdown and life under coronavirus looks like across the Asia Pacific. Hearing from those who are among the worst affected, and how they are taking action.

Malaysia: Fisher-folk switch to direct distribution #covidsolidarity

Due to the covid-19 restrictions, Malaysian fisher-folk were suddenly unable to sell their fish as usual. Restaurants, hotels and some markets were forced to close, and middlemen were no longer buying their landed catch. Fishermen lost their customers and their income. The distruption to supply chains led to a spike in the price of fish for ordinary people.

However, a few fisher-folk took the initiative to work out new supply chains. They started selling their fish directly to consumers. This helped to stabilise the price of fish, and ensure that consumers could directly benefiting from it.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia / Friends of the Earth Malaysia is now working on ways to support the fisher-folk in setting up a new delivery system called ‘from fisher to consumer’. Short food supply chains like this can bypass the traditional role of middlemen, wholesalers and retailers.

“We are helping to build a network among local communities and consumers and also take orders online. This system will improve the livelihood of fishermen, promote local food security, and reduce household expenditure for consumers.”

Azrul Faizal Mohamed, from Sahabat Alam Malaysia / Friends of the Earth Malaysia

Philippines: Pandemic used to shut down protest – #covidsolidarity

In the Philippines, coronavirus is being used to shut down protest. The government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been to impose a lockdown on the general population – but not on forestry or mining industries. This means that questionable contracts and industry activities are still carrying on, but any community resistance to these damaging deals gets shut down. The police and the military are called in under the guise of upholding quarantine guidelines.

During the indigenous peoples’ barricade at OceanaGold’s mining site in Nueva Vizcaya, community members were threatened with arrest for allegedly violating the quarantine rules. After nine months of peacefully blockading the mine without police interference, the comunity was overwhelmed by the large police presence violently dispersing the barricate – and their leader Rolando Pulido was actually arrested on the grounds of supposedly violating coronavirus restrictions.

The community’s barricade follows the expiration of Canadian-Australian mining company OceanaGold’s mining permit and is a lawful expression of the indigenous peoples of Didipio, local governments, and solidarity groups (including Friends of the Earth Philippines) in support of a local government order suspending OceanaGold’s operations. OceanaGold’s operations have depleted ground water and contaminated nearby rivers of Nueva Vizcaya and displaced countless families.

“Oceana Gold is an Australian-Canadian owned mining company which is being opposed by many in the local community. We stand with the community – whom must be protected in these troubling times – and support the call for local authorities to enforce the suspension of operations of Oceana Gold whilst legal proceedings continue.”

Cam Walker, spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Australia spokesperson

Friends of the Earth joins international calls for President Rodrigo Duterte to shut down Oceana’s operations and cancel its request for extension.

Russia: Not a nuclear dump! – #covidsolidarity

Russia and Germany have taken advantage of the coronavirus crisis to resume shipping radioactive waste to dump in the Urals and Siberia in northern Russia.

When Russian environmental groups discovered, in autumn 2019, that Germany was exporting radioactive waste from it’s nuclear power stations to Russia, via the harbor of Amsterdam, they directly organized protests in the three countries. Those protests had success, and the transport by rail and sea of uranium – a waste product of nuclear fuel production by Urenco Germany – was put on hold. That was before the coronavirus crisis hit.

But in March 2020, when Covid-19 lockdowns restricted people’s right to protest in Russia even further, the shipments of radioactive waste were set to resume. BBC news reports that twelve rail cars carrying 600 tonnes of depleted uranium left Germany bound for Russia earlier this week.

“This radioactive waste is being sent to the Urals and Siberia. There it will be stored in containers above ground posing a direct danger to the environment and people living in the area. Disguised as a commercial transaction between Rosatom and Urenco, Germany exports its radioactive waste problem.”

Vitaly Servetnik from Russian Social–Ecological Union/Friends of the Earth Russia

In response, the Russian Social–Ecological Union/Friends of the Earth Russia and other environmental and human rights groups organised a digital action. Images of activists holding signs reading “No uranium tails!” and “Russia is not a dump!” flooded social media.

We can and must build on these powerful expressions of solidarity that demonstrate people and communities have their own power.

For more information contact:
Emma Harvey
Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific Communications Coordinator
Email: emma.harvey@foe.org.au

View the original stories and more on the Friends of the Earth Europe website here.

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