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Aired July 13, 2003 - 16:00:00   ET


MONITA RAJPAL, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up on GLOBAL CHALLENGES: a journey back in time.

CHRIS CLARK, AMAZON ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT: It's like the way the world was 50,000 years ago, and I think that there aren't many places in the world left like that.

RAJPAL: But even life deep inside the Amazon is changing with the times.

When two worlds collide.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So this is what geothermal power is all about. Earth and fire.


RAJPAL: The underworld bursts onto the scene in one of Italy's most picturesque regions.

And the ultimate thirst quencher.

HECTOR LEON, AGRONOMIST: There is no water. There is no water. What are we going to do?

RAJPAL: When less really is more, and the locals savor every last drop.


Hello there and welcome to GLOBAL CHALLENGES. We're coming to you from amazing Mexico City and the hustle and bustle here is a great contrast to the location of our first story, which could hardly be more remote. We take you deep into the Amazon, where nature is the driving force behind everything, including the power supply.

Helena Cavendish De Moura took the long journey up the river.


HELENA CAVENDISH DE MOURA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Amazon's sprawling, hectic capital of Manaus is a stark contrast to the lush tranquility that envelopes the city.

Few rare species can be spotted here, although mankind is in evidence everywhere. Living in squalor, sailing up and down the Amazon's great rivers, trying to escape the hopeless abandonment and environmental degradation that plaques the interior.

But on board of the Vitoria (ph), which means "certainty" in Portuguese, the journey up stream is a trip back in time, away from the chaos of Manaus, towards the unspoiled Xixua£-Xiparin  Reserve, the home of the Caboclo people.

The voyage is long. More than 30 hours over the darkly resplendent waters of the Rio Negro, a soulful passage where the river reflects the skies.

As the hours drift boy, the tourists are starting to ponder, but to the homeward bound Caboclos, it's the countdown to a work in progress.

Spanish-born Chris Clark, who has been making this journey for 20 years, says the Xixua£ is his home and the community his family.

(on camera): So why are you so attached to this place?

CHRIS CLARK, AMAZON ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT: I think you'll understand once you've been there. It's a very, very rich area in wildlife. It's like the way the world was 50,000 years ago, and I think that there aren't many places in the world left like that.

DE MOURA (voice-over): Or in the Amazon for that matter.

Finally we arrive in the Xixua£, nature's own Venice. Its black, still waters gleam like an endless mirror, creating kaleidoscopic shades of green and endless optical illusions. This is where the flooded forest, floating meadows and hidden lakes give birth to the area's abundant fisheries and wildlife.

Even the piranha is plentiful. It's both feared and food.

172,000 hectares of protected forest. The Xixua£-Xiparin  Reserve is precious. To some, this is a vision of Eden. To others, a land of opportunity where communities are blossoming like the forest itself.

Managed and owned by the locals, the Caboclos have preserved their traditions while keeping an eye on the future, and with the help of the Solar Electric Fund, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, the Caboclos now have the first solar powered village with wireless Internet access in the forest, brought here to fill a much needed void.

(on camera): Traditionally, life has been very difficult for these isolated communities along he tributaries of the Amazon River. There needs ae often overlooked by politicians, the forest coveted by commercial loggers. But with a few incentives and some simple technology, the people of the Xixua£-Xiparin  Reserve have been able to change the course of their destiny.

(voice-over): To Chris and other members of the community, the new technology has not only helped them bridge the digital divide, it's quite literally changed the way they look at their world.

For generations, the Caboclo viewed their forest through predatory lenses. But here at the Amazon Association School children learn the importance of preserving the environment, whether in the classrooms or over the schools wireless, solar-powered Internet system. Here the cost of schoolbooks is not an issue and opportunities are endless.

Older generations see the benefits, some have even experienced them firsthand, but the change is daunting.

(on camera): So why don't you give it a shot?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): No way. I can't learn anything. You can't teach an old parrot how to talk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Not me. I have lots of hopes to learn new things. I used to know nothing, and now I know so much.

DE MOURA (voice-over): Luis (ph) is the village's jack-of-all-trades. He's a Merchant Marine, sometime snake-handler, and fulltime football fanatic.

But his greatest test has been his work as a registered nurse. With a little help in an area once afflicted by malaria and other tropical diseases, he's come close to performing medical miracles.

But even Luis (ph) has seen some relief with the arrival of telemedicine, a technology that will enable him to seek medical advice overseas and perform tests such as cardiograms, live on the Internet.

LUIS, NURSE (through translator): So now with telemedicine, this technology will enable me to tackle situations which are now beyond my means. I will be able to contact a doctor's office, and he will be able to give me guidance, to transmit to us an answer on what to do with a patient, and give us a proper diagnosis.

DE MOURA: And life appears to be thriving along the waters of the Xixua£. Chris tells us a story of an incident last year, when a commercial fishing boat captured 10 giant otters near the reserve.

CLARK: And we started hearing all these giant otters call. They were making an enormous racket, these giant otters. It was like 10 giant otters, and they're all screaming.

So we came back here (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

DE MOURA: But the Amazon Association is struggling to be heard, especially by some members of the political elite who see environmentalists as a threat.

CLARK: One of the other benefits of having brought Internet here is that I think we can finally give the people of the forest a voice now, because all decisions made concerning the Amazon tend to be made outside the Amazon, in distant cities like Brasilia or San Paolo or Rome or Washington, without consenting local people.

DE MOURA: As with nature itself, creation is a work in progress, and the community has as many challenges as hopes for the future.

CLARK: I would like to see the whole (UNINTELLIGIBLE) turned into a preserved area, where we can run projects of sustainable development with the communities. I'd like to see the children and the people here becoming teachers, and teaching the future generations.

DE MOURA: Helena Cavendish De Moura, CNN, on the Xixua£-Xiparin  Reserve, in Brazil.


RAJPAL: In just a moment, a look at Tuscany's underworld.

We'll be right back.



For generations, Tuscany has provided inspiration to artists and sparked awe among visitors. Its natural beauty is a wonder for all to see, but scratch below the surface, you'll find something more.

Alessio Vinci explains.


ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Beneath the surface of picture-perfect Tuscany lies one of the region's least-known riches. Not a special grape for winemaking, nor a hidden architectural treasure, but hot steam gushing out of the earth.

In the land of "Dante's Inferno," there is an entire underworld bubbling at temperatures up to 300 degrees Celsius, sizzling heat which for almost a century people here have been turning into energy.

Guido Cappetti has spent years studying and developing this alternative source of energy, known as geothermal power.

(on camera): So this is what geothermal power is all about. The earth and fire.


VINCI: And this is an example of how the energy comes from the center of the earth.

CAPPETTI: Exactly.

VINCI: . bubbling up.

CAPPETTI: Bubbling, and this is just a small geyser.

VINCI (voice-over): In 1904, for the first time ever, geothermal energy was used to generate electric power. It happened in this area of Tuscany, once known as Valley de Diablo, or Devil's Valley.

Today Italy produces 1/10 of all the geothermal power generated worldwide. 1/4 of Tuscany's electricity comes from its underground steam, a resource also used to supply heat to about 2 million households.

But geothermal power in this part of Tuscany is not just an alternative source of energy. It is also part of people's everyday life.

In this small time of Larderello, the local swimming pool has reopened after many years, thanks to a brand new geothermal heating system. Nearby, newly-built greenhouses are directly heated by a small plant run by geothermal energy, reducing operating costs by 30 percent, plant workers say.

And virtually every resident here has a strong bond with it.

"It has created jobs in the entire area. To us, it is our life," says Anna Maria Cerve (ph), who worked for Italy's giant energy provider, Enel, for years.

Today a pensioner, she enjoys washing some of her laundry by hand, using natural hot spring water.

"Look at this water. You see it?" she says. "It cleans. It cleans really well."

Nearby, another retiree, Paolo Chere (ph), likes to spend most of his time in the garden where he built a makeshift greenhouse just above one of the many sources of heat ducting this breathtaking landscape.

He grows vegetables all year round, he says proudly, when other people have to stop in the winter.

"I'll show you what it is like," he says. "Touch the stick. It's warm."

As with other alternative sources of energy, geothermal power is considered environmentally friendly. Clean, it doesn't consume fossil fuel, renewable, and virtually unlimited.

CAPPETTI: If you compare geothermic energy with solar and wind, geothermal can produce 24 hours a day, running all day, while when you say solar and wind, you can produce electricity in some specific hours, and therefore you need a reserve of thermal energy ready to start when is not available wind or is not available solar.

VINCI: Unlimited to the extent that you can afford the millions of dollars necessary to dig deep enough to reach underground steam. Because Italy was the first to harness geothermal steam to produce electricity, its shallow reserves of steam began to dry up in the late 50's. That led Enel to develop new exploratory techniques, searching for hot steam deeper and deeper into the earth, currently digging between 3,000 and 4,000 meters below ground.

FABRIO SABRATELLI (ph), ENEL: The total investment, including the steam-gathering lines and everything, is in the order of $50 million.

VINCI (on camera): $50 million. And how many families will eventually be able to benefit from that?

SABRATELLI (ph): Around 50,000 families can use the energy that is produced from a typical project like this.

VINCI (voice-over): But if there is a downside to geothermal power, it is above the ground.

The high pressure steam travels through giant snaking pipes, a curious site for a land famed for its unspoiled beauty. And the large cooling towers, some of which are no longer in use, look just like those of nuclear-power plants.

What's more, this type of energy production also generates an unpleasant sulfuric smell in the air. New plants are being built with much sleeker designs and industry specialists say they are working on ways to reduce the odor problem.

Yet even this year is considered part of the original heritage.

RALPH TRAMILLO (ph), ENEL: When you drive into the valley for the first time and see all the pipes crossing, et cetera, it does seem like something out of science fiction, but the locals, ironically, are very attached to this, because it's an industry that was born here, and for 150 years, geothermal energy has been the basis of the local economy. So they're very proud of it.

VINCI (on camera): So proud, in fact, that some people here hope that one day these giant pipes will become as attractive to tourists as some of Tuscany's best known treasures. After all, they say, somehow this is art as well.

Alessio Vinci, CNN, Larderello, Italy.


RAJPAL: From underground Tuscany to a technology that's resurfacing in Mexico.

Stay with us for that.


RAJPAL: Welcome back to the show.

Sometimes when faced with a daunting challenge, it's best to look to the past for inspiration. Here in Xochimilco, the Aztec's used an ingenious system of growing crops without wasting a drop of water. It's a method that literally is sprouting up again in other parts of Mexico and the world.

Harris Whitbeck has more.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than a decade without any significant rainfall. The drought in several states in northern Mexico has been so severe that thousands of cattle ranchers and tens of thousands of farming families have seen their livelihoods dry up, just as the rivers and lakes of the region.

The state of Chihuahua has been particularly effected. A large part of its economy is dependent on agriculture and cattle ranching.

(on camera): So two years ago, the state government decided to look for radical ways of dealing with the crisis, and it happened upon a form of agricultural technology that is actually thousands of years old.

(voice-over): Hector Leon might be considered Chihuahua's minister of hydroponics. It is not an official title, but it illustrates the crucial role this agronomist has played in improving the outlook for this drought- stricken state.

HECTOR LEON, AGRONOMIST: Normally the people do not have an idea what they're going to see when we go to the greenhouses. As soon as we open the door, they say, "How? What is this?" you know.

WHITBECK: Row upon row of lush tomato vines, thousands of cucumbers cooling flourishing, smack in the middle of one of Mexico's hottest deserts.

LEON: The amount of water that we need is given in intervals of 5 minutes, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the time of the year, and there is a very small amount of water, but in that water is the nutrients that plants need, you know. It's a balance of all the nutrients.

WHITBECK: Hydroponics. Legend says it was first used in the hanging gardens of Babylon in ancient Mesopotamia. The technique was later used by 12th century Aztecs in the floating fields of Xochimilco.

Today it is providing hope to the inhabitants of a parched land.

LEON: There is no water. There is no water. What are we going to do? There is no water. But this, with 2 liters per second, you can grow one entire greenhouse and up to 600 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of tomatoes. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WHITBECK: The state has built a huge hydroponics park to attract growers interested in selling produce to the United States, which is a four-hour truck ride away. The idea is to stimulate the economy and to create new jobs.

LEON: As soon as you start building the greenhouse, you start with the crops (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Parallel with that, you start training people for the greenhouse. That is an integral project, you know. Housing, jobs, participation, training.

WHITBECK: But the technique is also being used to help individual farmers. Francisco Aguirre (ph) raises goats. He nearly lost his entire herd due to the drought.

"Water is vital," he says. "Here there are few alternatives."

Water and lots of land to build the alfalfa and corn sprouts used to feed the animals. But Dr. Leon designed a small and simple hydroponics greenhouse that Aguirre (ph) is now using to feed his goats.

One of these greenhouses produces 700 kilos of forage, and it is small. It is only 13 meters by 9. Small spaces and little water produce huge results. A greenhouse this size costs about $12,000 but its possibilities are huge, especially for communities that lack food or access to economic growth.

LEON: Small ones that can be used for many things in small towns, or so many places that people can use to produce its own food.

WHITBECK: With arable land and accessible land becoming increasing scarce in many parts of the developing world, an agricultural technique first used thousands of years ago might be a way of insuring the future of some of the world's neediest.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Chihuahua, Mexico.


RAJPAL: And that is it for this edition of GLOBAL CHALLENGES, from Mexico. Thank you so much for joining us. We'll see you next time.



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