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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

April 1, 1994

Air Date: April 1, 1994


Preparations for Population Conference Heat Up / Amy Eddings

The United Nations is trying to set up an agenda for the population conference in Cairo. Shaping the event is doubly difficult since many argue that population isn't the sole problem. Some blame consumption patterns, misdirected family planning programs or the need for greater empowerment of women. Amy Eddings examines the issues and conflicting viewpoints of population policy. (06:09)

NGOs Forge Ahead, but Still Lack Clout Against Population Problems

Non-Governmental Organizations — NGO's — are crucial to sustainable development projects in many countries. Host Steve Curwood talks about the growth of NGO's with Julie Fisher, author of The Road from Rio. While many NGO's have helped to ease the conditions of poverty and environmental degradation that led to their creation in the first place, lack of international funding has prevented them from tackling population-related problems on a large scale. (05:47)

Call for Input and Listener Comments


Sun-Powered Ovens / Louise Tunbridge

Louise Tunbridge reports from Nairobi, Kenya on the slow but successful spread of solar ovens. In a country where deforestation and wood smoke are serious problems, solar cookers offer a low-tech, environmentally sustainable alternative to cooking over wood fires. (07:34)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Thomas Lalley, Jill Hoyt, Lee Garnett, Amy Eddings, Louise Tunbridge
GUEST: Julie Fisher

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. As the United Nations gears up for a world summit conference this fall in Cairo to address development and rising population, some say that it's over-consumption, not sheer numbers, that threatens our future.

FADOPE: We can't measure the quality of life by how much people consume. We measure the quality of life by what kind of contribution we make into the world to make the world a better place to live.

CURWOOD: Some activists are encouraging growing populations to tread more lightly on the earth. One East African group is promoting the use of solar ovens.

KAMAL: We have this technology of the solar cooker, something that is safe for the environment. Something that cannot harm you in terms of the usage at home. And people started writing in: how can we get that solar cooker?

CURWOOD: This week on Living on Earth. First news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news. Lawmakers expect to wrap up the reauthorization of the Marine Mammal Protection Act after the Easter recess. The new measure extends more aid to the sagging fishing industry, but environmentalists say it comes up short. From Washington, Thomas Lalley explains.

LALLEY: The Act was passed in 1972 as a way to regulate sea mammal populations. Environmentalists have criticized some aspects of the reauthorization bill, including a lifting of the import ban on polar bear trophies. But a deal worked out between the House and Senate mandates a scientific study to track the polar bear population. After 2 years the secretary of the interior would then decide whether to reinstate the ban based on the study's findings. Environmentalists are also angry that the bill does not set out stricter rules preventing the accidental death of marine mammals in fishing nets. The ailing fishing industry will also receive $20 million in Federal money to carry out conservation measures. For Living on Earth, this is Thomas Lalley in Washington.

NUNLEY: A link between occupational exposure to electrically-generated magnetic fields and an unusual type of leukemia has been confirmed. A 20-year study of utility workers in Canada and France showed that workers who had high rates of exposure to magnetic fields were 2-1/2 times more likely to develop the rare disease known as acute non-lymphoid leukemia. The study tracked more than 30 types of cancer but found no other links to magnetic field exposure.

Increasing amounts of air pollution could cut into food productivity early in the next century. Researchers writing in the journal Science predict that rising amounts of ground-level ozone will curb yields of many grain crops such as wheat and soybeans. Although projected crop yields may drop by only a few percentage points, the study says the impact could be significant. The authors fear the shortfalls will occur just as increasing numbers of people put pressure on world food markets. They say the ozone problem is most pronounced in the northern hemisphere, where most of the planet's pollution and food is produced.

A Federal judge has ruled that the 8 dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers threaten endangered Chinook and Sockeye salmon. From Boise, Idaho, Jill Hoyt reports.

HOYT: Tiny salmon smelts need rushing water to water to wash them out to sea before they change from fresh- to saltwater fish. But Idaho salmon often languish in slack reservoirs behind Federal dams. Currently, dam operators transport salmon in barges to the Pacific. But in his ruling, Federal Judge Malcolm Marsh found that that's not protecting the fish. Judge Marsh says the Federal system needs a major overhaul, and gave agencies 60 days to write a new plan. The suit was brought by the state of Idaho and 4 Indian tribes. Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus has repeatedly asked agencies to modify dams so migrating salmon won't die. Idaho Sockeye salmon are almost extinct, and only a few thousand wild Chinook are expected to return this year. For Living on Earth, I'm Jill Hoyt in Boise, Idaho.

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth. The State of Idaho is making it a felony to disrupt legal logging activities. The measure was recently signed into law by Governor Cecil Andrus in the wake of demonstrations at the site of a controversial timber sale. Lee Garnett of Northwest Public Radio reports.

GARNETT: Last summer more than 100 misdemeanor arrests were made during demonstrations against a Federal timber sale that would break up the largest roadless area left in the continental United States. Those convicted were given probation or only a few days in jail. The new law carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The timber industry says the new law will stop out-of-state agitators from disrupting logging in Idaho. Environmental activists say the law is an attempt to criminalize political protest, and they promise to test the new felony law when it goes into effect on July 1st. For Living on Earth, I'm Lee Garnett in Moscow, Idaho.

NUNLEY: Hydro Quebec says it will press on with the second phase of a controversial dam project in northern Quebec despite the cancellation of a major contract with New York State. The New York Power Authority backed out of the $5 billion, 20-year deal, saying it no longer needs the electricity. The Power Authority's new head, David Freeman, says there were also too many unresolved environmental questions about the massive James Bay project. The Great Whale Dam Project, as it's called, would flood vast areas of wilderness traditionally hunted and fished by the Cree Indians. Hydro Quebec is negotiating a separate $2 billion contract with Consolidated Edison to provide power to New York City.

Three California condors who researchers feared might lead the rest of their small population astray have landed back behind bars. The endangered birds bred in captivity had flown back to the site where they were originally released, which scientists now believe is too close to civilization. Several other condors died there after colliding with power lines or drinking antifreeze. Researchers fear the remaining wild condors would follow the renegades back to the dangerous area. The condors were captured and returned to the Los Angeles Zoo.

That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

Preparations for Population Conference Heat Up

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
The world's population is expected to double in the next generation, to more than 10 billion people. And almost all of these new souls will be born in the less affluent regions of the planet. Many think that the sheer numbers of people add up to what they call the world population crisis, while others say that population is only one element of a complex web of factors threatening the world's sustainability, among them poverty, environmental quality, reproductive health, the status of women, and consumption patterns among the world's wealthy. Since 1974 the United Nations has convened a summit conference every 10 years to look at population and development issues. The goal is to develop a consensus on how to bring the world's population into balance with its resources. This year the meeting is in Cairo in September. The agenda for the summit is being hammered out this month at the UN in New York, and as Amy Eddings reports, finding that consensus may prove to be elusive.

EDDINGS: The mood at the New York meeting is expected to be tense. Population issues cut across a host of sensitive topics like sex, gender, economics, and religion. How sensitive they can be was seen at the last population conference, held in Mexico City in 1984. There, the US delegation, directed by the Reagan Administration, withdrew funds for programs that offered abortion services. Without the support and leadership of the United States, many international population programs have languished. But with the election of President Bill Clinton, family planning and population issues have again become a priority. Tim Wirth, a counselor at the US Department of State and a member of the delegation to Cairo, coordinates US international population programs. He calls the Mexico City policy wanton ignorance, and says the time is right for the US to shake its past.

WIRTH: We may be at a time going into Cairo where the planets are lined up in the right way. I mean here we are in a situation with an administration in Washington, appropriations committee chairmen who are very sympathetic to this in the Congress, where the US can exercise the leadership that's expected.

EDDINGS: But great care must be taken if this year's conference is to avoid the mistakes of the past and overcome their legacy as well, and many believe the first way to start is by overhauling international family planning programs. Critics say they've been narrowly focused on population growth control, where success was determined by numbers and quotas. This approach often meant the neglect of a woman's overall reproductive health. Poor counseling, inappropriate contraceptive use, infections, and side effects were common. Bici Ogunleyi is the head of the Countrywoman's Association in Nigeria.

OGUNLEYI: Any population policy or family planning program that doesn't count or take care of the woman's reproductive health is not in favor of the woman.

EDDINGS: Another major conflict is over the relationship between population and the environment. Many in the industrialized world see population growth as a threat to the carrying capacity of the earth as natural resources, arable soil, and wildlife habitats are depleted by ever-increasing human numbers. For these groups, population growth rates must be curbed to protect the environment, but developing countries see environmental degradation and overpopulation as essentially problems caused by underdevelopment and poverty. Mitra Vashisht, a counselor for the Indian Mission to the UN, says her country needs economic assistance in addition to family planning programs.

VASHISHT: Because of our poverty conditions and overpopulation, we have to see it as a package of other measures which is alleviating poverty. Because without this starting point, I don't think we see this issue as ever being related to development.

EDDINGS: Others go further still. They argue that population isn't the problem at all; it's consumption patterns, especially those in developed countries. Although the developed world houses one quarter of the world's population, it consumes three quarters of its energy resources. So far, the United States hasn't addressed this issue as it prepares for Cairo. And Cece Modupe Fadope, spokeswoman for the US group Women of Color for Reproductive Health and Rights, says consumption patterns must be addressed.

FADOPE: The present model of development, the consumer confidence, consumer index, we want the focus to change from consumption to a holistic approach to human development. We can't measure the quality of life by how much people consume. We measure the quality of life by what kind of contribution we make into the world to make the world a better place to live.

EDDINGS: Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the international conference on population and development is dealing with the charge that population policies are really ones of population control targeted by the rich white nations primarily at the poor and people of color. Whether or not that was true, US delegate Tim Wirth says that that's not the case for the United States as it heads for Cairo.

WIRTH: What we are about is not telling anybody about population control. It is not the north telling anybody what to do. What we're about is a wonderfully American idea, and that is give people the opportunity to make choices and have an impact on the future of their own lives. Obviously, it's not going to happen unless a country wants to do it, and unless that country establishes effective programs from the grassroots up, predominantly women-centered programs.

EDDINGS: But there are likely to be many more kinks in the agenda. For example, abortion's place in family planning and the resistance to some contraceptive methods from the Vatican and other conservative groups. Or how the UN will enforce the policies that are approved in Cairo. And most importantly, who will foot the bill for them. Whatever comes out of the prep com will go to Cairo in September, and may ultimately lead to the successes or failures that the next conference will have to grapple with in the year 2004. For Living on Earth, this is Amy Eddings in New York.

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NGOs Forge Ahead, but Still Lack Clout Against Population Problems

CURWOOD: For many involved in development and population issues, the key to sustainability is not so much what governments do as what Non-Governmental Organizations do. NGOs, as they're often called, have blossomed in the last 2 decades, bringing citizens together in ventures ranging from cooking cooperatives to international lobbying campaigns. Julie Fisher is a scholar in residence at Yale University, who describes this peaceful social revolution in her book, The Road from Rio, written after the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro 2 years ago. Fisher says the NGO movement really got started in the late 1960s.

FISHER: There was an increased availability of voluntary as well as official foreign assistance, at the same time that there was high-level unemployment among well-educated people in the developing countries. And this combination caused many of them to create what are now called NGOs, or Non-Governmental Organizations, that work with groups in villages that are promoting what we now call sustainable development. My estimate is that there are approximately 35,000 intermediate-level NGOs - by that I mean the groups formed by professionals and others - and there are probably well over 200,000 grassroots membership groups that they work with in villages and urban neighborhoods.

CURWOOD: Why the explosion of these groups?

FISHER: People are up against survival. A generation ago, maybe they could migrate to the cities. Maybe they could get a job. It was tough a generation ago, but it was not impossible. And what has happened is that no one can advance themselves simply as an individual any more. So we're talking about the destruction of the resource base, escalating poverty, and escalating numbers of the poor. So what they're discovering are ways to create an overlap between the collective and the individual interest. I'll give you an example from Peru. In Peru, there are community kitchens: in a squatter settlement or a very poor neighborhood, a group of women get together, create an organization, start buying their food in common and start cooking their food in common. Because there's no other way for their families to survive. They are on the edge of starvation, and they have found that this makes the vital difference.

CURWOOD: Now this movement is born out of desperation. Where is it headed?

FISHER: I think it's headed in a horizontal direction at the grassroots level. These organizations are almost spreading by contagion, if you will. Many times when they start it takes them a year to better their condition by only a tiny amount, but they learn that they can and that's the psychological change that's vitally important. My concern is that they're racing against time. In the long run, poverty, environmental degradation, and concern for the population issue have to be integrated, and unless the world as a whole starts paying attention to that problem, even the dramatic success of this movement is not going to be able to keep up.

CURWOOD: In your book The Road from Rio, you talk about how these grassroots organizations are going like gangbusters in the area of environmental degradation and in poverty. But when it comes to population, they're not doing so well. Why the failure in the population area?

FISHER: Because a) the international community is still struggling with this issue. The international community has put this issue on the back burner, and the international funding is the major source for the intermediate NGOs, which are in turn the major source of funding for the grassroots groups. Secondly, I think it's very tough for a grassroots group to be able to afford to set up a clinic, to be able to afford access to family planning without some outside help. In contrast, if a grassroots group wants to start a business, and they get a little help that's pretty inexpensive, they can begin to do that.

CURWOOD: How can the population question be addressed by these grassroots organizations?

FISHER: I don't think it can initially be addressed, but the results of what happens will have to depend on the grassroots level. In other words, I think what first needs to happen is a realization that the resources necessary to make a dramatic impact on fertility worldwide are fairly modest, perhaps $10 billion a year, and that would include everything that's already being spent plus some more resources. The Third World countries themselves, the governments, are spending $3 to $4 billion at this point.

CURWOOD: Next September there's going to be a world population conference in Cairo. What kind of financial commitment do you think that the world's governments will make population after this conference?

FISHER: I'm not very optimistic. I think it requires rethinking. Let's look at the US government, for example. We're talking about a $14 billion foreign aid bill for next year, approximately. Of that, for population, the largest figure I've seen is from one Congressman, who's talking about $700 million, not even a billion dollars. And yet, we're still dealing with a huge budget within foreign aid for military assistance, a legacy of the Cold War. We're still tied down to a huge percentage of the foreign aid budget going to Israel and Egypt. We definitely need to think beyond just, can we afford the money for population? We need to think about the money we're already spending, and say what are our real priorities in the long run? And I think the population issue should be way up there as a security concern.

CURWOOD: Julie Fisher is author of The Road from Rio: Sustainable Development and the Non-Governmental Movement in the Third World. Thanks for joining us.

FISHER: Thank you.

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(Music up and under)

Call for Input and Listener Comments

CURWOOD: What do you think? Just how much of the bill for the world's population needs should the US pay? Give us a call on our listener comment line at 1-800-218-9988. We got these calls from listeners to last week's show.

CALLER: I appreciated your recent report on development pressures on New England forests. As a forester in a heavily-populated region, I'm very concerned about any threats to our dwindling forest resources and ecosystems. However, I was disappointed at how you ended your report with an indictment of the timber industry in Maine. You diluted what I felt should have been the war cry of the day; that is, the devastating impacts that uncontrolled residential and commercial development are having on our forests and future generations. As the current remaining forests of New England attest, forests grow back after logging. Forests are irretrievably lost to development. Thank you.

CALLER: Hi, my name's Emily Masse and I'm calling from Miami, Florida. I really appreciated your piece on the US military bases and how they contribute to biodiversity, because I am an environmental science major. And I will soon be an officer in the United States military and I appreciate that you all showed some good things that we do. Because I constantly hear that we're the bad guys, with good cause in some situations but we do some good things. And so I appreciate you all recognizing that. Thank you very much.

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CURWOOD: We'd like to hear from you. The number again is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $10.

(Music up and under)

Sun-Powered Ovens

CURWOOD: The movement of Non-Governmental Organizations thrives on the hope that by helping people to help themselves, sustainable development can become a reality. An example of how much this can work is taking hold in East Africa, where rapid population growth is straining many resources. Whole areas, for instance, have been stripped bare of vegetation, as more and more families struggle for firewood to cook their meals. But while East Africa is extremely short on trees, it is rich with sunshine, and now there is a growing movement to harness that solar power for the kitchen. It's helping to free many women from the drudgery of searching for wood, while protecting the region's forests and human health at the same time. Louise Tunbridge has our report from the Kenyan countryside, originally broadcast last fall.

(Women conversing as firewood is chopped)

TUNBRIDGE: As the sun loses its afternoon heat, women from a rural village in southeastern Kenya begin their daily task of chopping and collecting firewood. In Kenya, some 60% of energy consumed comes from wood, and most of that is used for cooking.

(Pots clanging in a hut; continuing conversation)

TUNBRIDGE: Inside a smoke-filled hut, so smoky it makes your eyes tear, a woman stirs a pot of beans on a 3-stoned wood fire, cooking in the centuries-old African tradition. Environmentally, the consequences of this reliance on wood in the developing world are enormous. At least one third of all greenhouse gases emitted comes from woodburning. Forests are being destroyed faster than they can be replenished. And once fertile land is being reduced to near desert. But is there an alternative?


TUNBRIDGE: Daniel Kammen thinks there is. He's heading a project in Kenya for the American organization Earth Watch. Here, project volunteers construct a solar oven in a workshop at Nairobi University. Daniel Kammen describes how this simple box cooker works.

KAMMEN: Everything is available in Kenya, produced locally. We would never use materials that come from outside. There's glass, 2 sheets of glass for the top of the oven. All the wood that goes into building this outer box - and basically the oven is a wooden box surrounded by cardboard or another wooden box, with insulation between - is a sheet of plywood. We then use cardboard to make the inner walls. We use glue, we use paint, we use nails, and we use a metal sheet on the floor of the oven. And we find that it takes people who have never seen the ovens before, like this group here, about 3 days to put one together, and after that 3 days they know all the tricks. So this technology really does transfer in a hurry.

(Sounds of solar box construction)

TUNBRIDGE: The Earth Watch team has come to the village of Mangelete, in a hot and dusty part of the country 150 miles southeast of the capitol. The purpose of the visit is to hold a seminar in which the volunteers will impart their newfound skills of solar oven construction to a group of local people from the tribe.

KAMMEN: It is first most important. We will start with building the ovens, but we want to also teach how to cook. Because this is different than with the giko, yeah?

TUNBRIDGE: Kammen explains that while the oven won't burn food, it is slow. It can take up to 8 hours to cook the local staple dish, ugali, a mixture of maize meal and water.

(KAMMEN lecturing: "...the giko, it cooks slowly. It will not burn food..." Villagers ask questions.)

TUNBRIDGE: But on a very hot day, it will boil water for tea in under an hour. His audience, a group of some 40 villagers gathered 'round a model oven, listens intently. Inevitably, they're curious. Can the oven work at night? What type of foods does it cook? Will it taste the same? Kammen is careful to dispel their illusions while retaining their interest.

(KAMMEN lecturing: "It's not magic, yeah? It will work slow, but you will conserve wood. And there will be no smoke to hurt eyes of the children, yeah? And no fire." More sounds of box construction and conversation.)

TUNBRIDGE: The group is eager to learn. Agatha Kakuvi, the headmistress of the local primary school, has never done carpentry before, but already she's a willing solar student.

KAKUVI: It was said to me, I tell him I use firewood. And this one is all right, and it is cooking. It does not smoke.

TUNBRIDGE: The 8 solar ovens built by the Mangelete villagers are theirs to keep at the end of the seminar. The Earth Watch team also leaves behind tools and spare materials. If the solar oven idea is to catch on, then the village must take over the project and make it their own. This has begun to happen in Zombe, another Kamba village, first visited by Kammen's team a year ago. Christine Mwende is a member of the Zombe group, which has so far built around 20 solar ovens for sale. She uses hers most days, and has cut her fuel wood consumption by half.

MWENDE: (speaks in Kamba)
TRANSLATOR: Okay. So many people have been influenced by the cooking, such that even many want to buy, not even making, they want to buy then and have them for themselves.

(Music with narration: "A box solar cooker is a new and simple technology that may likely meet your energy needs...")

TUNBRIDGE: Another solar oven project has been running in Kenya by Transworld Radio, a Christian station whose Africa Challenge program is listened to by some 6 million people across Africa. They've gone one step further and have set up a mass production unit in Nairobi which has made and sold nearly 200 ovens. Program director Joe Kamau says only the pressure of constant information can break down people's natural resistance to change.

KAMAU: We started off by giving information. There is this technology; even before we constructed the solar cooker, we started giving information over our radio programs. That we have this technology of the solar cooker, something you can use. Something that is safe for the environment. Something that cannot harm you in terms of the usage at home. And people started writing in: how can we get that solar cooker? How can we get in touch with that box you are talking about?

TUNBRIDGE: These aren't the only technologies available. Another more sophisticated solar cooker has been developed in Germany. Using a system of pebbles and cooking oil, it enables heat to be stored overnight so that meals can be cooked after sunset. But the beauty of the simple box cooker, which sells at 2,000 Kenya shillings, or $25, is that it's affordable for many Kenyans. It's already been tried with some success by Daniel Kammen's team in Central America. He sees Kenya as a proving ground for its introduction elsewhere in Africa. With patience, he says, this simple technology could pay off.

KAMMEN: Solar ovens were first started in the 50s in a large way in India. The big drawback that was identified by the National Physical Institute there was that these people don't want to change cooking habits, and then there are these quotes over and over again about how cooking is something very basic and you can't change it. Well that doesn't make a lot of sense to me, because people were able to adopt microwaves as quickly as they found they were useful; they were able to adopt kerosene stoves here as quickly as they could afford them when they were useful. But it also has to be recognized that there's a time issue involved, and maybe one problem that's gone on in some projects has been that there's been a rush: do you want to see results in 12 months? You want to get in, your funding lasts so long, your energy level lasts so long, and then go out again. But if we get the people here to both be instructors and the people who are using them, I'm less worried about the time scale issue. So - I mean the good and bad are very much mingled together.

TUNBRIDGE: So the first small steps have been taken. But can solar ovens be a way forward in a country like Kenya? That remains to be seen. For Living on Earth, I'm Louise Tunbridge in Nairobi.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. The coordinating producer is George Homsy, and our director is Debra Stavro. Our production team includes Kim Motylewski, Chris Page, Jan Nunley, Colleen Singer Coxe, Jessika Bella Mura, Eve Stewart, and engineers Laurie Azaria, Keith Shields, and Bob Connolly. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation; all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid transmission and distribution deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against tape.


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