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Environment and resources

One of the most effective locally managed Web sites belongs to the Third World Network (TWN). This is an international network of organizations and individuals involved in development, Third World and North-South issues, including the environment. Its Web site is managed from its Penang-based Secretariat, and since its setup in 1997, it has been scoring an average of 120,000 hits a month, said Webmaster Kanaga Raja.

Updated weekly, the site aims to keep other NGOs and government bodies abreast of decisions made by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations. "Their reports come out daily and most missions can't keep track of developments; those in developing countries are very small, so this Web site is a valuable way to keep them informed," said Kanaga. The Web site also attracts interest from academics and researchers all over the world, particularly the U.S.

WTN also posts articles on several list servers such as the WTO's, and is now looking into selling not just its publications but reports online. "I think we're pioneering that here, where people can download individual papers, pay for that and immediately access the material," said Kanaga. "We'll probably base payment on U.S. surveys on e-commerce that show a going rate of US$1 to US$5 per report."

However, smaller local NGOs claim they cannot afford the luxury of dedicated Web site managers. The respected Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), whose print publications can be found even in obscure bookshops throughout the island, has only selected articles posted online via WTN, some over two years old.

"We do not have the resources or the people to go online," explained Lim Jee Yuan, publications officer.

Leela Panikkar, director of Treat Every Environment Special Sdn Bhd (TrEES), a grassroots level organization, said they have has little time to spend on the Web site because "we're barely covering operating costs". But she concedes the Internet is good way to reach out to the youth. "A lot of schools have been using our Web site as a resource. For us, it's a cheap way to spread information. So we have to go with the times--except we lack expertise and people." The site has articles on recycling and sustainable development.