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APIA, Samoa (March 1, 2000 – Samoa Observer)---Cartons of tinned fish or "Eleni" have continued to represent a big portion of government import spending over the years, as the demand for them has kept increasing. This is not only because they have become a perennial part of the daily diet in the villages, but because they also play an essential -- albeit costly -- role in Samoan fa'alavelave (cultural ceremonies.)

Like fine mats, cartons of "Eleni" -- hundreds of them -- are a common sight during such traditional ceremonies as funerals, title bestowal, weddings, church meetings, matai gatherings, and whatnot. They are given away as gifts in exchange for other gifts in accordance with the traditional way.

But the huge amount of cartons of fish cans being imported has been a big concern to the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP), which early last year set out to see where the empties ended up. In its quarterly newsletter of January-March 1999, SPREP says, "In 1998 alone, over nine million 'Eleni' cans were imported into Samoa. This means that in five years, more than 39 million waste cans were discarded - but where?"

SPREP's newsletter goes on to say: An environmental slogan well known in the days past of long chimneys, the cloud cover in industrialized countries "was out of sight out of mind."

By building those chimneys so high into the sky, it was thought that whatever was in the concoction of smoke coming out of them would disappear into the sky and be lost forever. It was thought, no harm will be done to the environment where people live.

However, it was later discovered that an old law -- discovered by Sir Isaac Newton -- is very true: "What goes up must come down." Research unveiled that mixed with the smoke were harmful chemicals (containing sulphur dioxide and nitrogen compounds) that combined with other chemicals in the "sky" returned to earth in the form of acid rain.

Acid rain did a lot of damage to the natural environment, such as the rivers, forests and to the human-made environment, such as buildings and so forth in European countries. Action was then taken to combat the problem. This is just one example. Now, what fate awaits us in Samoa as a result of what we are burying -- ("herring") -- for example, a heavily demanded canned product for food and for our faalavelave (cultural expression of giving and taking)?

Cans (48x #Cartons)

Yes, we are talking millions and it makes shocking news.

In 1998 alone over 9 million (9,000,000) "Eleni" cans were imported into Samoa. If all these cans were not taken out of the country again, which is highly likely, then this means that in five years, more than 39 million waste cans of eleni were discarded - Where?

"We don't see them, but 39 million cans are scattered around our nation out of sight. But one thing is for sure, it should definitely not be out of mind."

As for the cost of these imports, the figures are astounding. The Samoa Observer estimates that in today's prices, the wholesale cost of 819,660 cartons of "Eleni" imported in 1994-98 comes to about $69 million. During 1998 alone when 195,244 cartons were imported, the total wholesale cost was about $16 million. That is about 5.6 per cent of the country's total imports of $286 million for that year.

For additional reports from the Samoa Observer, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Samoa Observer.

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