Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fish or fowl?

Last night, I saw "Darwin's Nightmare", a documentary by the French film-maker Hubert Sauper, on the Nile perch trade and the misery it seems to be creating in the regions around Lake Victoria. It is some years ago I read about how the introduction of this species of large predatory fish was wreaking havoc in the ecosystem of the African lake. I had no idea (ignorant European that I am) about the breadth of the humanitarian disasters linked to it: none of the filleted fish is consumed locally, two million Europeans eat it daily. The locals are left with the skeletons and heads of the catch, which in African conditions begin to deteriorate rapidly. The village communities around the lake consist of young fishermen working for the fisheries. Women, it seems, are reduced to handling the rotting carcasses prepared for local consumption, or - you guessed it - prostitution, their customers being both the foreign pilots of the freight planes and the local fishermen. HIV/aids spreads, people die, orphaned children live on the streets. Apparently, the freight planes fly in arms for various warring factions, returning then to Europe full of fish fillet.

I am aware that all may not be quite as the director makes it seem. I found some very annoyed online comments on the film, including these as samples: this viewer's review ripped into the film, denying the socio-economical misery in the area is caused by the fisheries. Also The Tanzanian Embassy in France wrote an articulate and indignant response to it, too. However, no-one is denying - or indeed can deny - the misery itself exists. It's not as if I have been unaware of poverty and global inequality till now, of course, but the imagery in the film was, at times, pure Dante, and the peoples' stories were tales of an unfairness of unbearable magnitude. It has left me feeling disturbed, helpless, guilty.

No comments: