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					                              Journey to Planet Earth!

„A written summary of the Television Series „Journey to Planet Earth‟ of which Parts 1 and 2 were
recently shown on the South African DSTV Animal Planet channel. It was produced by Emmy Award-
winning filmmakers Marilyn and Hal Weiner in association with South Carolina ETV- and some 300
hours have aired on the American PBS Television Channel .The series was narrated by Actor: Matt
Damon.‟ A common thread runs throughout all the programs – the necessity to achieve a balance
between the needs of people and the needs of the environment.

                                      Freshwater Ecosystems:

All organisms on the planet need water to survive!

Freshwater systems are created by water that enters the terrestrial environment as precipitation and
flows both above and below ground, toward the sea. These systems encompass a range of habitats,
including rivers, lakes, and wetlands, and the riparian zones associated with them.

This analysis concentrates on the terrestrial water that is most accessible to humans: The water in
rivers, lakes, and wetlands. Humans also rely heavily on groundwater, which is the only source of
freshwater in some parts of the world.

· The world‟s freshwater systems are so degraded that its ability to support human, plant and animal
life is greatly in peril. As a result, many freshwater species are facing rapid population decline or
extinction, and an increasing number of people will face serious water shortages.
· Although water in rivers, lakes, and wetlands contains on 0.01 percent of the world‟s freshwater and
occupies only one percent of the earth‟s surface, the global value of freshwater services is estimated
in the trillions of U.S. dollars.
· In 1997, 7.7 million metric tons of fish were caught from lakes, rivers, and wetlands a production
level estimated to be at or above maximum sustainable yield for these systems. Since 1990,
freshwater aquaculture has more than doubled its yield and now accounts for 60 percent of global
aquaculture production.
· While many regions of the world have ample freshwater supplies, four out of every ten People
currently live in river basins which are experiencing water scarcity. By 2025 at least 3.5 billion people
or nearly 50 percent of the world‟s population will face water scarcity.
· Water-borne diseases from fecal pollution of surface waters continue to be a major cause of
mortality and morbidity in the developing world.
· In the United States, which has the most comprehensive data on freshwater species 37 percent of
freshwater fish species, 67 percent of mussels, 51 percent of crayfish and 40 percent of amphibians
are threatened or have become extinct.

Source: World Resources 2000-2001

Rivers of Destiny:
Journey to Planet Earth examines the health of four of the world‟s river systems – the Mississippi, the
Amazon, the Jordan and the Mekong.

The first stop is the small town of Grafton Illinois, one of the many to suffer devastating damage when
the upper Mississippi River flooded its banks in 1993. Journey to Planet Earth shows how massive
construction efforts earlier in this century to control the river‟s flooding have profoundly affected the
entire Mississippi basin.

In Brazil, fish snatch fruit from the boughs of trees along the Amazon River deluged with up to 30 feet
of flood water during the six-month rainy season. It is a vast, enchanted underwater forest supporting
an incredibly diverse ecosystem. But recently, settlers have plundered these flooded rain forests at an
alarming rate. „Journey to Planet Earth‟ visits the village of Sao Miguel where fishermen, ranchers and
farmers have begun working together to preserve the integrity of the river‟s natural resources.

Compared to the mighty Amazon, the Jordan River is an insignificant trickle, but to the desert nations
through which it flows, it is all-important. „Journey to Planet Earth‟ visits an Israeli Kibbutz along the
Sea of Galilee, where the river‟s waters have brought prosperity. They also visit the parched West
Bank of Palestine and the biblical city of Jericho, whose Arab inhabitants denied access to the Jordan
River, must make do with ancient springs and meager supplies of underground water. As former
Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres said in an interview, “the equitable distribution of water may
prove to be the only key to a lasing peace in the Middle East.”

In Vietnam‟s tropical Mekong Delta, we visit a society long dependent on the river‟s bounty. Decades
of regional war and political unrest have left the Mekong one of the least developed rivers of Asia. But
peace and prosperity are now bringing change to the Delta, not all of it beneficial.

The last stop is the city of New Orleans, whose very existence is a testament to human engineering
ingenuity. Not long ago the Army Corps of Engineers stepped in when the Mississippi threatened to
change course away from New Orleans. The city‟s economy was saved but „Journey to Planet Earth‟
investigates the devastating consequences to the Mississippi Delta where 25 square miles of
coastland are now lost to the Gulf of Mexico each year. Now Louisiana‟s bayous are turning into salt
marshes and open water, and the Cajun way of life is fast disappearing.

On the Brink:
On the Brink focuses on case studies that link armed conflict and political crises with environmental
issues such as the loss of grasslands, spreading disease, deforestation, soil erosion, water scarcities,
surging population and global climate change. The program features the work of scientists,
community organizers and political leaders, as they grapple with the fact that the world‟s political
security may be bound up with the quality of the land, air, and water. In this episode we travel to
India/Bangladesh, South Africa, Peru, Haiti, Mexico and the United States. For American audiences, it
is particularly important to understand that struggles over natural resources can lead to instability in
regions critical to the well being of the west.
In Calcutta, fourteen million inhabitants overwhelm the resources of this Indian metropolis. In the
densely populated and crime ridden slums, unemployment is high, and those fortunate to find jobs,
work long back-breaking hours as part of the city‟s unskilled and cheap labour force. Over the last two
decades, impoverished Bangladeshis have come here seeking a better life. The story of Bangladeshis
fleeing their homeland to live in Calcutta‟s slums is about poverty, anger and violence.

Fortunately there are places in the world where much is being done to ease the pain of environmental
inequities – Examples of this are seen in Alexandra, South Africa and Lima in Peru:

South Africa is dominated by the timeless rhythms of natural rolling hills of endless green. Despite the
victory of independence in 1994, the legacy of apartheid left hundreds of rural villages without
significant opportunities due to a racist policy that located heavy industries way from the countryside.
Large urban areas served as indentured work camps that today have been replaced by urban centers
like Alexandra. This is a vibrant city of nearly half a million people has become a success story – a
place that makes the makes the most of post apartheid freedom. What makes it different from the
cities of Bangladesh is its ability and commitment to cope with environmental pressures.

Thanks to an increase in tourism, the city of Lima has undergone a restoration of the colonial look that
always distinguished Peru‟s capital. But the urban renewal never reached Lima‟s slums – the shanty-
towns that line the city‟s perimeter. Built atop one of the world‟s driest desserts this is not an easy
place to live. Yet it is home to half of Lima‟s population. Most are unemployed immigrants – forced
from the remote highlands of the Andes by violence and warfare. Unless the issue of environmental
inequities is resolved, millions of Peruvians have very few choices.

In a world where recent waves of violence have touched all countries, rich and poor we cannot ignore
the fact that the environment has become a major foreign policy issue of the 21st Century. In the end
the fate of those living in places like Bangladesh, South Africa and Haiti, in Mexico and Peru, will
directly affect the security and well being of people everywhere.

Country Profile – Haiti
Haiti, situated in the Caribbean, is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere; Haiti has
been plagued by political violence for most of its history. Over three decades of dictatorship followed
by military rule ended in 1990 when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president. Most of his team
was usurped by a military takeover, but he was able to return to office in 1994 and oversee the
installation of a close associate to the presidency in 1996. Aristide won a second term as president
and took office early in 2001. However, a political crisis stemming from fraudulent legislative elections
in 2000 has not yet been resolved.

Nearly 70% of Haiti is mountainous and the soil is hard to hold in place. Eighty years ago 60% of the
country was covered with trees. Today less than 2% remain. Uncontrolled logging and the conversion
of forests into farmland have contributed to an environmental nightmare in Haiti. The problems of
deforestation and poverty are addressed; the people of Haiti are no different than millions of others
around the world – those who seek refuge from severe economic environmental degradation.
Urban Explosion:
Explore a major dilemma of the 21st Century: how to sustain the world‟s exploding urban population
without destroying the delicate balance of our environment. Locations: Mexico City, Istanbul,
Shanghai and New York City. For the first time in history, more than half the population of the world
now lives in cities, the need to shelter and sustain this population without destroying the delicate
balance of the environment is a major dilemma for the coming century.

Bustling Mexico City has become a symbol of all that could go wrong with urban development. The
city‟s air is so thick with smog that 8 out of 10 days are declared hazardous to human health. The
city‟s center has sunk 30 feet in the last 100 years as the city depletes its once abundant underground
water supply, squeezing the ground like a sponge. Raw sewage flows through open canals, carrying
disease to surrounding farmlands. Journey to Planet Earth looks at what went wrong and at some of
the community-based efforts to find solutions.

Lying astride Europe and Asia, Istanbul, capital of 3 great empires, has long been a cosmopolitan city.
Economic and political refugees from Turkey‟s outlying regions pour into this ancient city at the rate of
500,000 newcomers a year. Bisecting the city is one of the busiest waterways in the world, the
Bosphorous. As shipping traffic increases, ferries and fishing boats share the narrow strait with
tankers loaded with flammable cargo, with occasionally disastrous results. Renowned photographer
Ara Guler takes Journey to Planet Earth on a tour of the changing face of his beloved city which now
sprawls into the green countryside that once surrounded it. A visit is made to the municipality of
Esenyurt, which is facing these challenges head on.

Shaghai is poised to recapture its role as the commercial capital of Asia. Already housing a population
of 16 million. The city is attempting to rebuild its infrastructure as it faces increasing problems with
pollution, water supply and waste treatment. Journey to Planet Earth looks at Shanghai‟s efforts to
deal with the environmental issues facing a city that has chosen industrial growth over agricultural

Surrounded by water and built of steel, New York City is an example of a matured megalopolis whose
explosive growth came long enough ago to provide clean air and safe drinking water for nearly all of
its inhabitants. Journey to Planet Earth visits the neighbourhoods of the South Bronx, Harlem and
Brooklyn‟s Carroll Gardens to explore ways to improve the quality of urban life.

Future Conditional:
Investigate the link between environmental change and the health of our planet as millions of people
must cope with the spread of toxic pollution. Locations: the Arctic, Mexico, Uzbekistan and the United

· The Arctic – a once pristine wilderness under siege.
· Mexico – living in the shadow of tariff free factories.
· Uzbekistan – caught between its silk road heritage and the realities of the 21st century. And
· The United States – a Latino neighbourhood celebrates an environmental victory, while a sanctuary
for biodiversity becomes a graveyard for millions of birds. Journey to Planet Earth investigates the
global link between the releases of toxic pollutants and the health of our planet.
We begin our journey in the Arctic, an isolated and vulnerable world of extremes. In many ways this is
the perfect place to investigate the future health of our planet – a future conditional on how we cope
with the spread of toxic pollution. The Arctic is a place dominated by the rhythms of nature and the
seasonal patterns of migration. It‟s a place of deep fiords teeming with life and remote fishing villages
governed by the endless cycle of strong tidal currents. However, the image that most people have of
the polar region a pristine unspoiled wilderness – is far from accurate. The Arctic, which has very few
sources of industrial pollution, is turning into a toxic sink. In a phenomenon, scientists call the
grasshopper effect, toxic pollutants released thousands of miles to the south evaporate in the warm
climate then ride the winds until they reach the cold air of the Arctic, where they eventually fall to

Thousands of miles to the south in Tijuana, the community of Colonia Chilpancingo suffered from a
much more local source of pollution. When it rains, a nearby creek is flooded with chemical wastes
from a deserted industrial park upstream. Lead oxides, sulfites, heavy metals sulfuric acid, and
arsenic travel in the contaminated waterway that weaves its way through the shantytown community.
It poisons everything and everyone in its path – including the communities only source of water.

Over the border just 17 miles north, the San Diego community of Barrio Logan celebrates its victory
over one of its neighbourhood‟s chief polluters, a small industrial factory called Master Plating.
Although the struggle against environmental threats to the community‟s health has lasted decades,
the price of not fighting is too high not to pay.

Over 7,000 miles away in the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan, the death of the Aral Sea has
become a never-ending nightmare. The rivers that fed the sea were diverted to increase the region‟s
cotton production, leaving behind a toxic dust that is poisoning the people.

Though scientists have concluded that it‟s too late to save the Aral Sea, it does serve as a graphic
warning for the people of Palm Springs who may live in the path of a potential storm of toxic dust. Just
beyond the Salton Sea is a vast network of generators that harness the power of the wind, providing
ample electricity but also serving as a reminder that high winds are a natural part of the local
environment. As the Salton Sea begins to recede, toxic dust storms will inevitably come off the dried
out lake bed. Despite this danger, the transfer of water from the Sea to the city of San Diego has gone
forward without an agreed upon plan or even adequate funds to remedy the situation. Could California
be risking a similar health crisis as the people of Uzbekistan?

This new reality presents us with enormous challenges for the future. It is a future conditional on
providing new ideas, new attitudes and new hope

The information used to make up this article was taken from their website- -
    of the producers, Marilyn & Hal Weiner, of this series – as well as from their website on the website, with permission. I would like to take this opportunity of thanking them and
especially Marilyn, with who I have been in contact, for all the assistance and interest she has shown
                                            in this article.

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