TOKYO -- With attractions ranging from humanoid robots to mammoth fossils, the World Exposition in Aichi, Japan, the first of the millennium, opens its doors on Mar. 25 with the intention of promoting economic development in harmony with nature, organisers say.
Under the theme ''Nature's Wisdom'', the Expo has drawn presenters from 122 countries and territories, grouped by region in six ''global commons'' set up in several cities of Japan's central Aichi province.
There are also representatives from the private sector, the United Nations and 200 non-governmental organisations with exhibits that feature their own unique national environmental themes. The event lasts through Sep. 25.
''The Expo marks the beginning of a new movement because we have worked closely with citizens groups to bring forward the message of economic development that is in harmony with environment. Humanity has reached a turning point,'' said Toshio Nakamura, secretary general of the Japan Association for the 2005 World Exposition.
The event's theme was chosen to emphasise sustainable development over the current global trend of mass consumption that is blamed for destroying the environment and causing global warming and desertification.
Kenya's Deputy Environment Minister Wangari Mathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, gives a speech during the opening ceremony of the Aichi EXPO 2005 at EXPO Dome in Nagakute in Aichi prefecture, central Japan, Thursday, March 24, 2005. The six-month world's fair, participated by 120 nations and four international organizations, opens Friday, March 25. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Each participant will present a unique viewpoint on environmental issues. For example the Chinese pavilion represents harmony between nature and urban areas achieved through technology. The site includes a video room with lotus-shaped seats where visitors can watch a circular plasma screen displaying traditional calligraphy and paintings.
The Russian pavilion features a life-size model of a leisure spaceship that is expected to be in operation within a few years. ''Passengers'' at the Expo will be able to experience simulated space travel.
The African pavilion is a joint effort of 29 countries. The large structure is designed so visitors can experience the ''African Odyssey'', which focuses on the continent as the birthplace of humanity.
Central America will also have a joint pavilion, while Mexico will have the largest site of the Latin American countries, covering nearly 1,000 square metres. With the theme of ''Weaving Diversity'', the Mexican pavilion underscores the importance of ecosystems like the Mexican Caribbean reef, indigenous cultures and the situation of threatened species like sea turtles and the gray whale.
But it is the host country that has the largest stage at the Expo, the Japan Pavilion Nagakute, a giant ''cocoon'' made from bamboo. Experiments exhibited on the site will focus on energy conservation, including the much-touted technology of eliminating the use of air conditioning in summer, which involves bamboo material, photocatlaytic tiles and diffused water.
Among the special attractions of the Japanese exhibit are 63 prototype robots, including live-looking and life-size humanoid robots that could one day play the role of caregivers for children or the elderly -- the latter being a rapidly growing proportion of the country's population.
Alongside the technological breakthroughs, Japan will display the remains of a perfectly preserved mammoth unearthed from the permafrost in Russia's Siberian region.
But according to organisers, rather than being a showcase for advanced Japanese technology, the Expo in Aichi serves as a platform to emphasise the country's commitment to the global environment.
''Aichi is a landmark for Japan because it carries the message that we can play the role of being the centre in solving the world's environmental problems," Ayumi Okamoto, an Expo organiser, told Tierramérica.
A quarter of the Expo area is forests and lakes, and even transportation is environmentally friendly, with the ''Intelligent Multimode Transit System'', made up of low-emission buses and fuel-cell hybrid vehicles using compressed natural gas that will ferry visitors amongst the various event locations.
The message of harmony in living with nature will also be conveyed through new energy systems based on recycling and the use of alternative natural sources.
More than 15 million people are expected to visit the World Expo this year, including such luminaries as Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and French president, Jacques Chirac, as well as Cedza Dlamini, grandson of former South African president Nelson Mandela. Dlamini is a youth spokesman for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
Despite its theme of protecting nature, organising the Expo was not free of environmental conflict.
Aichi organisers had to reduce the scale of the site as a result of protests that the construction plan would destroy forests and threaten the already endangered nesting goshawk, a bird species native to the local ecosystem.
Aichi residents also complained about the construction of a aerial gondola system, citing environment destruction and loss of privacy. But Nakamura defended the gondola, saying that more than 200 environmental assessments by the government proved otherwise.
Originally published Mar. 19 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.
Copyright © 2005 IPS-Inter Press Service