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Monday, 2 September, 2002, 05:53 GMT 06:53 UK
Summit diary: Getting silly
Delegate passes giant model of the world in South Africa
A "creeping daftness" seems to be taking over the conference

On day nine of Alex Kirby's diary from the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg he is increasingly bemused by the antics of delegates and colleagues.

I didn't think it could get much worse than the confusion of last week (when we were confused about what was happening in the conference hall).

Protester dressed as a toilet holds a sign calling for delegates to
Some of the protesters are equally unusual
But it has. Many of us are increasingly confused about how we are going to last till the summit ends.

There is a creeping daftness that seems to be taking over the conference.

One eminent colleague arrived at the security gate on his way into the media centre.

He was not standing exactly between the white lines which mark the spot where you present yourself and your bags for inspection.

He was told curtly by a United Nations guard (an American, not a South African) to move to the prescribed place.

And when he protested that he was pretty close anyway, he was manhandled and accused of insulting behaviour.

Bizarre clashes

There was a protest involving the distribution of sugar sachets around the complex.


For what it spends on subsidies to farmers, the EU could pay to fly every cow in Europe around the world - in first class

Summit attendee
It was to underline the argument of some campaigners that the European sugar industry is squeezing the life out of developing countries' farmers.

The rumour doing the rounds now is that one of the sachet distributors has been turned out of the conference in reprisal.

Then there was the clash of Titans between a proponent of genetically-modified crops and one of their sternest critics, Vandana Shiva of India.

The pro-GM man thought he would show his poor opinion of Ms Vandana's arguments, so presented her with two balls of elephant dung.

It was a bad choice. As a committed organic grower Ms Vandana was delighted with her gift, which she plans to put to good use.

Toilet trouble

As argument raged over farm subsidies, there was the advice I was given on the simplest way to remember the real cost of the European Union's common agricultural policy.

"What it boils down to is this", a colleague said.

"For what it spends on subsidies to farmers, the EU could pay to fly every cow in Europe around the world - in first class."

The latest preoccupation to grip the media centre is a suggestion that we shall be stuck in here for the entire day once the heads of government arrive.

There is a serious flaw in this otherwise unobjectionable suggestion: the media centre has no toilets.

A colleague, on reaching his fortieth birthday, was advised by his news editor: "Forty? Remember two things, then: never run for a bus and never pass a public toilet."

There are quite a few of us who won't see 40 again. It should prove an interesting couple of days.


Read earlier instalments in Alex Kirby's summit diary:


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02 Sep 02 | Africa
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