Friday, January 24, 2014
French village in 'Asterix-style battle' to be mobile network-free zone
Residents of a tiny rural village in the heart of the Ardèche region, southeastern France, are fighting an Asterix-style battle to remain the country's "only mobile network-free zone" and a haven for sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
With its ancient fortifications, winding streets and picturesque red roofs, Pailharès, population 280, looks like a village lost in time and space, cut off from the outside world by mountains.
Indeed, it is so isolated that some residents claim Pailharès is the last remaining "white zone" in France – a village almost totally devoid of electromagnetic waves.
"We are bit like Asterix's village of Gaul, the last in France to resist an invasion of mobile phone masts. We will fight to the bitter end," said Isabelle Nonn-Praya.
The 53-year old chemist from Lyon never realised just how drastically modern technology would change her life. Seven years ago, she was inexplicably struck down by a debilitating illness that saw her body all but shut down, causing her terrible headaches and dizziness.
She eventually realised the symptoms, which meant she had trouble speaking or thinking clearly, got much worse when she approached mobile phone masts, and that she has electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS).
"When I'm in a zone or a town or village with lots of electromagnetic waves due to masts, mobile or wireless phones or wifi, my health instantly deteriorates," she told The Telegraph.
After years of searching for relief, a friend told her about Pailharès and she moved in three years ago.
"Since then, I have regained my health. I can finally think, write and speak normally and exchange people. I can walk again," she said. Another sufferer has now moved to the villager, and many more have made inquiries.
However, the local authority has decided to put an end to Pailharès' wave-free status by erecting a mobile mast on a hill outside the village that will finally provide blanket reception.
"We have conducted a survey and 80 per cent of villagers are for this mast," said Richard Taton, deputy mayor. "We are in an isolated area where there is a lack of work, where the rural exodus is plain for all to see as there are no more young people in the countryside. We absolutely need access to new technologies to keep it alive."
Under the banner "Rayon Vert" (Green Ray), a group of villagers have rallied around Miss Nonn-Praya, launching a legal appeal on the grounds the mayor had no proper building permit. They lost an initial appeal to stop the works, but another is still pending.
Jacques Vey, its leader, disputed the mayor had majority support, saying he had rejected their request for a referendum.
"There is already limited mobile reception here: we are not totally cut off from the world. But there are very few waves. If the mast is switched on, people who suffer from the EHS syndrome will have nowhere to go. There are no more villages like ours in France."
Mr Taton said there was no scientific proof mobile masts are dangerous, adding: "Today, the mobile phone in France saves many more lives than it ruins. I don't see why if everyone else in France is entitled to such technology, the residents of Pailharès should be deprived of it."
Sweden is the only country in the world to recognise EHS as a functional impairment. However, on Thursday, the French parliament ordered a special report on the causes of EHS, and inscribed in law the principle of "sobriety" when exposing the public to mobile and Wifi waves.
Miss Nonn-Praya said there are around 1,000 people suffering from her condition in France. "Some only have mild symptoms, but around 200 are currently forced to move around in search of havens, either living in their car, a tent in forests, in undignified conditions."
She said the new mobile mast would spell "disaster" for her and mean "I may well have to take up my rucksack and hit the road again".