Development and CSR Consultant
"Prakriti Rakshathi Rakshitah"
(Nature Protects When Protected)
The article has three parts .The environmental crisis facing Mother Earth is described in the introductory part. The second section Sustainability and Spirituality is a summary of the "meditations" on sustainable cultures and cosmologies in Asia and the associated writings of Nadarajah in his seminal, visual-textual book Living Pathways. The final part looks at the expected role of social work profession in the environmental justice movement and the disappointing reality.
Mother Earth is the only planet that supports life .Scientists estimate that the Earth came into being about 4.6 billion years ago (Ignacimuthu, 2010) .Three concepts are used interchangeably in the discussion on the planet Earth: nature, environment and ecology. Nature refers to the physical world comprising all living and non-living components. All living forms from microbes to human beings including plants with diverse shapes, sizes, statures and colours constitute the living components. Light, air, water, soil, temperature, energy and a whole host of things are the non-living components. Environment means all those components that surround us and affect us in many ways. Ecology refers to the scientific study of living beings, their habitation, and the interaction between and among the living and non-living components .Environment is an integral part of all human beings. We need to breathe air, to drink water, and to eat fruits, vegetables, etc for our survival. We depend on plants, animals, minerals, which, in turn, depend on the Earth. Abuse of even a fraction of the environment will have far reaching effects on our lives by upsetting the equilibrium in the interdependent relationship between the living and non-living components of the Earth. Destruction of the environment causes serious human suffering. Our Earth continues to tolerate disappearance of forests, degradation of land, desertification, extinction of plants, birds, animals and other species; and pollution of air, water and land. The environmental crisis is caused solely by the behaviour, greed and consumption of the humans. The present environmental crisis is as much a socio-economic and socio-political problem as much it is an environmental one.
Sustainability and Spirituality
Our "business as usual" approach in our social existence hides a dangerous crisis engulfing us; that is, the "crisis of sustainability", says Nadarajah (2014). A quintessential sociologist, an uncompromising social activist, a crusading journalist, and a creative documentary maker, Nadarajah has devoted his entire life working on the interconnected issues of development, urbanism, culture, communication, environment and sustainability. A serious student of historical materialism, Nadarajah found the class-reductionist explanation of Marxism inadequate in understanding non-class issues like ethnicity, culture, feminism and environmentalism, and in addressing the complex problems of contemporary local and global societies. Based on his extensive research, he proposed a "non-workerist model of historical materialism", and the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) awarded PhD to Nadarajah for his thesis. His pathbreaking dissertation was published as a book titled "Culture,Gender and Ecology: Beyond Workerism" in 1999. Dr.Nadarajah contributed numerous columns to the print media in Malaysia and wrote books on urban crisis, culture, politics and other themes including one co-edited volume for the UN University at Tokyo. In this volume, the "Urban Crisis", he proposed the "Kanazawa Approach" to the role of culture in the sustainability of cities. The Asian Public Intellectual Fellowship of the NIPPON Foundation in 2005 took him to many ethnically and religiously diverse and culturally rich communities in Asia on what Nadarajah terms as a serious "research pilgrimage" leading to the publication of a classic volume LIVING PATHWAYS. The book contains beautiful photographs of the splendour of nature as well as its painful dimensions captured imaginatively by the lens of Nadarajah, a gifted photographer. The book comprises uncaptioned photographs on one side and text on the other side. The text is divided into different sections or "meditations" on the "cosmologies" of the Asian region, which the reader may use for self introspection and social analysis, while the photographs may help as aids to "look into" rather than as mere pictures to "look at". The photographs add intensity to the meditations.
Gratification of human needs of the ever increasing global population steadily led to the mindless use of the environment. But the last two and a half centuries after the industrial revolution witnessed humongous destruction of the environment because of the rambunctious consumption patterns in the developed Western societies led by the United States, and also because of the efforts of the developing countries to be in the "high consumption club". Alarmed by the deterioration of the global environment, the United Nations constituted the World Commission on Environment and Development with the then Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland as its chairperson to study the global environmental impact of development and industrial activities. The Commission's report known as Brundtland report was brought out in 1987 with the title "Our Common Future". The UN document on sustainable development recognized that environment and development are inseparable entities. The three cornerstones of this recognition are economic growth, environmental protection and social equity. "Intergenerational equity and justice" is underscored by the UN sustainable development report. However the report placed the major onus of sustainable development on big business and governments, thereby exposing the soul of sustainable deveopment to agents of abuse.
UN's sustainable development is a highly contested concept that has many meanings and implications. Sustainable development has become a "political compromise" between growth and environmental sustainability that is acceptable to the pro-growth delegations at the United Nations and that works within a neo-liberal agenda according to Nadarajah.The sustainable development orientation in practice does not dramatically change business practices for the better. On the other hand, it opens new ways of commodification to organize business within a "sustainable development regime". Thus the "mainstream" explanation of sustainable development fits well within the anthropocentric, procapitalist market growth model asserts Nadarajah. He adds that the UN definition of sustainable development does not at all encompass an understanding of Asian concerns and traditions as this definition has been borne out of Western experiences in dealing with the problems caused by commodification, exploitation, profit motive and alienation characteristic of capitalist growth-oriented development.
Nadarajah argues that increasing urbanization; moving out of the youth from the villages to embrace the shiny facade of urbanism breaking the "cultural transmission line"; chasing the "American dream"; growing influence of the American way of life ; and the attraction to conspicuous, vulgar consumerism and consumption have made serious inroads into the sustainable cultures of Asian societies. "Americanism" as a concept and practice has many positive features: a love of freedom, the pursuit of happiness, the dignity of labour, and justice for all. Unfortunately, these positive features have been reshaped by the negative consequences of nationalism, American exceptionalism and predatory corporate capitalism dictated by the market and military forces. American state and its education system overtly and covertly promote the view that the American culture is superior to other cultures. Nadarajah asserts that jingoists strongly believe in the concept of "social Darwinism"; that is, the stronger superior cultures will overtake the weaker inferior cultures in a "survival of the fittest". American cultural imperialism continues to be a conscious and persistent "dark side" of the American dream.The "souls" of Asian nations have been integrating the ideals of the American dream, and this is clearly manifested in the numerous high-end upmarket sites all across urban Asia.
The environmental cost of Americanization of Asia and the rest of the world is enormous claims Nadarajah. At this rate, the Earth needs to be cloned several times if each one of us consumed as much as the average American does. Nadarajah strongly feels that Asia cannot simply afford Americanism as Asians cannot live a "mindless private life of mass consumption". The popular belief of the Americans that Earth has limitless resources for consumption leads to a silently destructive process. Asia inadvertently consumed the urban commodity culture of the West, but also their "hegemonic anthropocentrism", which is a form of philosophical ecology separating humans from the natural world in the most extreme ways. Urbanism has affected the relationship of human beings with nature. Nature is tamed, packaged and re-presented as commodities to us, says Nadarajah. Theme parks and artificial beaches are examples. The present shape of urbanism is pathological. Nadarajah feels that the mainstream urbanism is poised to grow into a "complex disease" if not addressed with urgency. The growth-oriented development strategies and urbanism affect natural balance in a drastic manner. For instance Japan has become a "super-aged society" with fewer children raising serious concerns of caring for the beneficiaries of longevity. Europe is also facing a "childless future". Childlessness is becoming a reality in Asia too laments Nadarajah. And without children, we do not really have a future.
Political emancipation is not accompanied by intellectual independence in Asian countries. Although many theoretical perspectives originating in Europe and the United States have not withstood in alien environments, these are widely followed in Asian Universities. Asian world of ideas and of practices has been hijacked. Even before countries in Asia could decide upon their modes of development, they were "suffocated" with imported solutions. The cultural hegemony of the West is a form of enslavement which has been presented intelligently as a liberating philosophy to the Asian societies with the sole purpose of material progress.
There are many trajectories of development in the Asian countries. But it is the mainstream mega - metropolitan development that Asia proudly exhibits to the world instead of the micro-developmental sustainable initiatives in different regions. The projection of this achievement and Asian triumph is at a great cost warns Nadarajah. He adds that Asians have become "blind citizens" of urban centres and mega-cities, and this "becoming" is taken for granted. The recycling of Western images in the form of Asian urban life, with its inherent "blind" speed, impacts human beings in various negative ways accelerating the stress levels leading to suicides, mental illnesses and crimes. Asian societies want to move from the "periphery" to the "centre" of mainstream development; that is, to move from Asia to America. The present form of urbanism, the "empire of now", is based on a dangerously erroneous assumption that the resources that are being consumed indiscriminately will never run out. But when these resources are finally used up, what then asks Nadarajah.
Consumption is the end of a complex process, and sustainable principles have to be part of each stage for "real" sustainable consumption to be possible. Nadarajah's search took him to Asia's indigenous societies which managed their consumption sustainably in contrast to the urban-centred capitalist societies. He adds that deep within the Asian context, there was no notion of sustainable development. On the other hand, these cultures engaged themselves with the practice of sustainability, which is intimately integrated with spiritual practices. The difference between sustainable development and sustainability is like the difference between "having" and "being".
Sustainability is a way of life within an indigenous "cosmology of sustainability" that promotes the concept that each human being is organically a part of the larger narrative, explains Nadarajah. He says that the future of emancipatory politics is sustainability, and the future of sustainability is spirituality. Spirituality is not the same as religion. Spiritual sustainability encourages non-materialism and non-materialistic development. A holistic cosmology once framed the world view and world feel of human beings, there by establishing an intimate relationship between nature and human beings. But a mechanistic cosmology now dominates human societies and life has become a struggle for survival and domination.
Nadarajah explains the cosmology of sustainability as a "triadic relationship of fundamental realities" comprising: Human world (relationships and society), Natural world (flora, founa and non-living things), and Spiritual world (gods, spirits). In Asia's indigenous communities, the cosmologies of sustainability are nurtured by the triadic relationship of fundamental realities. Another component of cosmology of sustainability is the conception of personhood, specifically the belief and practice of inter-being. This belief suggests that there is no "atomised individual" as viewed in the Western construct, but only "interconnected individuals", who are dependent beings interwoven into a web with "neither beginning, nor end".
Nadarajah is of the view that sustainability and spirituality are two sides of a single reality: one side looks inward and the other side looks outward. If one reframes this reality, the issue of sustainability is a spiritual crisis instead of a crisis that revolves around mere consumer goods and production values. Cosmologies of sustainability are inherent features of Asian history and experience, which go far beyond the mainstream discourse of sustainable development and which are still preserved among Asia's indigenous peoples. The voice of the indigenous culture is the most global in spirit, perspective and practice. It is "cosmovision" (Dankelman, 2002). Cosmovision refers to ways certain population groups interpret life, the world around and the cosmos. The relationships between the social world, the natural world and the spiritual world are central to people's cosmovision.
The global crisis of sustainability is a multi-dimensional crisis which is felt more by the "poor" communities across the world. For them, it is a "permanent crisis". Nadarajah observes that even for academics and analysts, there will never be a situation without the poor among us. The suffering of the poor is never seen as the crisis that is. Instead, it is taken as a natural part of the system and the society of the non-poor is not shaken by it. Foor the poor, crisis is the way life is, and they deal with that on a day-to-day basis.
Nadarajah advocates for a new cosmology, a cosmology of sustainability. The root of our inability to deal with our unsustainable behaviour really lies in the domain of the routinised, taken-for-granted "every day-ness" of our lives. We are often both the perpetrators and victims of the world we have created by conscious action or silent acceptance. Science and technology alone cannot help solve the crisis created by the development pathways chosen by us, because science and technology developed by us are inherent components of the root causes of the global crisis of sustainability. Instead of the growth-oriented capitalist wisdom of the "weak sustainability approach", the proponents of the "strong sustainability approach" argue that we transform our needs to sustain the Earth rather than trying to transform Earth to suit our needs. This approach moves away from "anthropocentrism" to "biocentric egalitarianism". Many Asian communities offer simple and beautiful messages of and for life. The only thing preventing these simple messages from becoming our ways of conscious self-development and social organization is the lack of individual and collective will —cultural, social and political—to nurture them against imperialistic and hegemonic materialistic and hedonistic cosmologies.
Sustainability and Social Work
About 3.7 million years ago, Laetoli, a site in Tanzania, had Hominin footprints on its soil, which are still preserved in volcanic ash. But in a short span of about two hundred years, and more specifically during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the development strategies and technological processes adopted by humans, whose footprints had spread across all parts of the globe, have caused grave threat to the environment and human life on Earth. All industrial nations are big polluters of air, land and water. Enormous tracts of tropical rainforests are destroyed. Deserts are spreading in all parts of the world due to deforestation and land degradation. Ozone layer is being depleted exposing living organisms to excessive ultra-violet radiation. Bio-diversity is disappearing at an alarming rate. The other forms of environmental destruction are legion. These problems loom over our planet and affect all living beings. Devastation of the environment affects all regions, races and cultures as it is a universal threat. Because of the globalization of the market economy and corporate practices all natural systems on Earth are disintegrating. The present crisis is caused merely by the behaviour of the humans. Mahatma Gandhi cautioned: "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not to every man's greed". Human greed is at the root of the existential crisis of the twenty-first century humans.
An illustration of the environmental crisis in God's Own Country, Kerala, is the "Endosulfan Tragedy". The state-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala preferred endosulfan aerial spraying of its cashew plantations from 1978 to 2001 despite protests from environmental activists. The tragedy of families exposed to endosulfan is heartrending: children born with bone deformities, epilepsy, mental retardation, congenital malformation, hydrocephalus, congenital heart diseases, neuro-behavioural disorders, etc in many villages in Kasaragod district. Abortions, cancer, and other illnesses were reported for adults. More than 4,000 deaths took place during this period due to the harmful effects of endosulfan.The state government was guilty of laxity and apathy though people's protests were mounting. Finally, the collective pressure from the media, civil society, political parties and other groups made the government to put an end to the endosulfan pesticide use. Judicial intervention sealed further adventurism from the officialdom.
The pesticide-induced tragedy in Kerala is not an isolated event. It is one of the countless environmental disasters causing enormous loss of human lives in all countries in the world. Behind these lie the current levels of consumption which are not at all sustainable by the Earth, and these vary between economically developed and economically developing countries. According to ecofuture.org ,if all countries in the globe were to match the current levels of American consumption, then it is estimated that the Earth could sustain only one-half billion people, while at current African levels the Earth could sustain 40 billion people. Human population and consumption continue to grow at a fast pace, while the resources of the Earth are finite. If we fail to take cognizance of this ecological crisis and to act on it appropriately, that inaction will result in the destruction of the very Earth that sustains human life.
The "critical condition of the planet and the impoverishment and destitution of an increasing proportion of the world's population are rooted in a global economic system devoted to profit, growth, and monopolization of resources by fewer and fewer players—namely transnational corporations and the international financial systems that support them" (Hoff,1997). A sustainable approach to development should encompass different types of sustainability linked as an integrated whole. Nadarajah (2014) suggests five categories and their concerns.
• Biological diversity
• Population management, resource planning, space use management
• Inter-species equity
• Dematerialising the economy, market alternatives, appropriate technologies
• Efficient resource allocation, foot print management, use/waste management
• More equitable access to resources for all
• Glocalism (that is, the adaptation of a product or service specifically to each locality in which it is marketed )
• Human rights
• Democratic development, multi stakeholder participation
• Good governance, accountability, transparency, trust
• Improved income distribution with reduced income differential, both locally and globally
• Gender equity and equality, equity and equality for indigenous peoples and people with disabilities
• Social investment in health and education, and in the family
• Emphasis on people's participation and empathy Cultural Sustainability
• General sensitivity to cultural factors, enlightened localism
• Cultural diversity and dialogical transaction
• Values contributing to non-anthropomorphism / dematerialisation
• Long term time sense and holism
The environmental justice movement in the world for ensuring the human rights of all people to live in a clean and healthy environment has a history of over five decades initiated by the United Nations and its related agencies and divisions. The environmental human right is the right to live in an environment free from toxic pollution and to have control over local natural resources (Hancock, 2003 ). The UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972 was the first global conference on environment and its declaration, popularly known as the Stockholm Declaration, was a landmark document which stated in no uncertain terms the right to a healthy environment, and led to the formation of the United Nations Environment Programme. The Earth Summit (UN Conference on Environment and Development) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 stated that poverty as well as excessive consumption by the affluent place damaging stress on the environment (un.org ).
The World Summit on Sustainable Development (Earth Summit 2) held at Johannesburg in 2002 endorsed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for specific change in 8 areas by 2015 in all countries:
1. Poverty and hunger,
2. Primary education,
3. Gender equality,
4. Child mortality,
5. Maternal health,
6. Disease (particularly HIV/AIDS and Malaria) control,
7. Environmental sustainability, and
8. Responsibility of developed countries towards developing countries.The goal of environmental sustainability (Goal 7) specifies four targets:
1. To integrate the principles of sustainable development into policies and programmes of the governments,
2. To reduce biodiversity loss,
3. To halve the proportion without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, and
4. To achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.
Goals 1 to 6 are closely interlinked to Goal 7 (The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2008).
Social work as a helping "profession" arose as a humanitarian response to the excesses and adverse effects of capitalism experienced at the levels of individuals, families and communities. Implanted from the United States in many countries including India, social work has global presence, but the professional recognition and focus of practice areas of social work have substantial difference between the developed and the developing countries. The present discussion on social work is, therefore, centred around the practices in the West. The early phase of social work practice was heavily dependent on psychoanalysis. In time, influenced by sociology and ecology, social work shifted to the Person-in-Environment (PIE) perspective which is based on the acceptance that a person and his or her behaviour cannot be understood adequately without the analysis of the different aspects of the person's familial, temporal, social, economic, spiritual and physical environment. Harriett Bartlett (1970), medical social worker by practice base, was the first to modernize the construct Person-Interaction-Environment to reinforce PIE as the common domain of social work practice any where in the world. Social work steadily took upon itself the tasks of ensuring social justice and protecting human rights.
Five types of sustainability were explained in detail earlier (Nadarajah, 2014). Social work profession has all along been concerned with social sustainability, and has been giving minimum attention to economic, political and cultural sustainability ;and almost ignored environmental sustainability. Dewane (2011) is critical of social work profession for its long neglect of "environment- in- person" although it was governed by the "person-in- environment" principle. It was only in 2010, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) declared sustainability as the social justice issue of the new century at its 56th annual conference. Coates (2003) states that "....the environmental crisis has remained largely outside of social work discourse, and the profession has instead played a largely mitigating role in addressing social problems". Environmental inequity exists within industrialized countries also, with poorer segments of the population disproportionately living in environmentally degraded conditions. But the overwhelming influence of economic forces puts greater value on profit than on ecological or social well-being. Besthom (2002) observes strongly that the Western focus on humans as the centre of all ecosystems, called anthropocentrism, is at the root of racial and gender oppression, and is responsible for exploiting both humans and the environment while increasing poverty and ecological devastation. The Life Model of Social Work Practice was the first social work approach to incorporate the natural world by putting "problems in living" in an all inclusive environmental context (Hawkins, 2010). Though proposed in 1980, the Life Model was dormant till 2008. The purpose of the Life Model is to "improve the level of fit between people and their environments especially between human needs and environmental resources to influence social and physical environmental forces to be responsive to people's needs" (Gitterman & Germain, 2008).
Social justice and human rights are presently not within the practice areas of social work profession in India. Only in 2012, a statement of intent was declared at the end of a national consultation of social work educators organized by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences committing themselves to the cause of social justice. Environmental justice has never been discussed in the occasional conferences of social workers or educators. Like social justice issues, environment related action has been an individual initiative in India. An illustration is the Timbaktu Collective by a couple.
Mary Vattamattam, a social work graduate, and her husband C.K.Ganguly, a commerce graduate, known as Bablu, were organizing farm labour in a non-governmental organization. Tired of their constant agitationist mode of work, they decided to do constructive work in villages in Ananthapur district, the second most drought affected area in India. They bought 32 acres of barren land in Chennakothapatti village in 1991. The soil in the surrounding villages was depleted and unproductive, and the hills were barren rock formations due to deforestation. The couple named their piece of land Timbaktu, meaning Sarihaddu Rekha in Telugu, that is, the last horizon where the earth meets the sky. In 1993, they set up the Timbaktu Collective. Inspired by the Japanese author and farmer Fukuoka Masanobu's seminal book on natural farming "The One-Straw Revolution", Bablu and Mary set in motion an ecologically and culturally sensitive process of development in association with some families in the village. The movement has spread to many villages in the area.
[One-Straw Revolution is one of the founding documents of the alternative food movement. This "do-nothing" approach to farming is revolutionary for growing food. Sustainable agriculture with no ploughing, weeding, and fertilizers, Masanobu's minimalist approach reduces labour time to a fifth of more conventional practices. Yet his success in yields is comparable to more resource-intensive methods. This method is now being widely adopted to vegetate arid areas and to reduce desertification. His method shows the crucial role of locally based agro-ecological knowledge in developing sustainable farming solutions].
The key ideological initiative of Timbaktu Collective is the Vikalp Sangam (Alternative Confluence) which is rooted in the notion of collectively questioning the dominant framework of the present economic and political system, which is unsustainable and inequitable. After twenty years the signs of change were remarkably visible. Some milestones are mentioned here. More than 250 water bodies and streams have regained life; more than 8,500 acres of common village land and 700 acres of reserve forest are regenerated; over 15,000 acres of agricultural land have been restored; and more than 1,800 smallholder families have been introduced to organic farming on 9,000 acres of agricultural land. Biodiversity of over 300 varieties of plants, birds, and other species has been accomplished (The Hindu, April 3, 2013). Swasakthi, a women's collective, has reached about 17,000 women with a capital base of INR 120 million. Dharani Farming and Marketing Mutually Aided Co-operative has been functioning actively to protect the farmers from the clutches of middlemen. Schools for children and collective of persons with disabilities have also been initiated. These are only examples of the quiet revolution taking place in the Ananthpur villages as a participatory ecological movement. If a couple can catalyze such a massive revolutionary change, the possibilities of a human service profession like social work are unlimited.
A paradigm shift is taking place around the world regarding sustainability and environmental justice. But it has not reached a critical mass necessary for global change, because humans have not yet responded decisively. Social work must actively join this movement if it has to stay relevant in the 21st century. "It is incumbent upon social work education to prepare students for this challenge, and for social work practitioners to embrace sustainability" (Hawkins, 2010).
The sustainability crisis that stares menacingly at the human race has evolved over decades by the predatory business practices and the insatiable consumption by the affluent, abetted by the development-obsessed governments. Human service professions, civil society, media and other groups have been mute or weak spectators of the enveloping environmental disaster as the "trade off" between environment and growth has been taken for granted. The present perilous crisis can neither be reversed nor arrested. A sustained spirituality-enabled sustainability movement alone can make an impact on the fast deteriorating environmental crisis. Social work, along with other groups, has a role to play in the sensitization of the growing younger generation, conscientization of communities, mass mobilization, and collective action, among other proactive initiatives, in the sustainability movement. But, being a profession, it has limitations as is evident from the global definition of social work approved by the general meeting of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the general assembly of the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) in July. 2014 (ifsw.org). "Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights and collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance well-being". In India, the commitment and competence of social work profession in environmental activism are doubtful because of its past performance record and the increasing privatization of social work education. Even in the pioneering school of social work in the country, sustainability is not a subject of study despite many social work degree programmes offered by the school in its different centres. Ritualistically, social action has been mentioned as a method of social action in the social work curricula. But after reviewing the literature for fifty years pertaining to social action by Siddiqui (quoted by Shankar Pathak in Social Work and Social Welfare, 2014 :207 ) for the Indian Journal of Social Work, he concluded that : "The changing social characteristics of social work, together with the reorganization of the work and the market situation of social work, seem to suggest that the scale of militancy in the profession will decrease rather than increase....Social action, as a method, therefore will remain on the periphery rather than become a central mode of intervention in India". No wonder that social justice, leave alone environmental justice, has been confined to some closed door discussions among social work academics and practitioners after the neo-liberal market economy has been dictating the social order.
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