"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Poverty is History, Poverty is the Future

Dear Editor,

Dominant news seems to ooze trust for Tony Blair. The man that we, now officially (9), know led his country to war on false pretences, is endowed with yet more praise for helping save Africa from poverty.

Perhaps the publicity provided by Geldof's Live 8 will "genuinely enhance awareness about relieving basic poverty and help to maintain pressure on G8 leaders to give leadership in tackling it," but is it also a possibility you have gone to far in saying "British prime minister Tony Blair, who chairs the summit, is determined to pursue the agenda." (1)

The G8 has hit an obvious stumbling block in it's apparent quest for African relief, it's members are not behind it. "The US and Germany are sceptical about the benefits of extensive debt relief." (5) Market freedom would be a more preferable route, unfortunately not one that will change anything for the poor. The same type of market freedom's that have halted the production and distribution of generic drugs due to the effect on pharmaceuticial companies profits. While thousands die of treatable diseases, politicans recieve a pat on the back for supporting business's suppression of the poor.

Aid is a complicated thing, but our intentions are not always reciprocated within the rhetoric of those in power. When countries facing famine in southern Africa are told they should accept genetically modified (GMO) food or risk death for millions of its people (8) one has to wonder whos interests are at heart. Africa cannot rely on handouts and donating food stuffs that don't offer seed for future harvests is providing an unsustainable relief, causing reliance and continuing the cycle of poverty.

It is probably fair to say that awareness has increased recently with regard to the level of global poverty, "
up to 20 million Britons are expected to protest against world poverty as part of the biggest mobilisation against global inequality ever seen." However there seems a sense of trivialization occuring in this new knowledge. Popstars and celebraties working alongside politicians, reaffirming our belief that we are doing everything possible. While change in Africa is imperceptible. This is evidenced best in Oxfam's shambolic handling of its Make Poverty History wristbands, which it has ordered five million more, after selling three million. (4) The bands have been produced in Chinese factories accused of using forced labour, while the bands themselves have become more fashion accessories than the symbol of solidarity they were intended to be.

New Labour's public backing of Make Poverty History and it's close ties with Oxfam have caused concerns that "the movement's demands [have been] diluted and the message become virtually indistinguishable from that of the government." In 2004 Bono dubbed Tony Blair and Chancellor the "Lennon and McCartney" of poverty reduction, (3) causing widespread embarrassment among aid agencies. The fact remains, whether Mr. Blair makes passionate speeches about reducing poverty and combating aids, it's relevance should be determined by the actions he carries through, not his public oration.

UK minister for international development Hilary Benn's quote that "surely it is better that we are talking about the situation, than if we are not" (6) in relation to the problems facing Africa is only a half truth. The problem is, if we are talking about it without action, the problem becomes harder and harder to address.

To understand how the present UK government addresses poverty and its trappings in a situation which it can actively address, one has to look no further than Iraq.

"Acute malnutrition rates among Iraqi children under five rose late last year to 7.7 per cent from four per cent after the ouster of President Saddam Hussein in April 2003, said Jean Ziegler, the UN Human Rights Commission's special expert on the right to food.

Malnutrition, which is exacerbated by a lack of clean water and inadequate sanitation, is a major child-killer in poor countries. Children who manage to survive are usually physically and mentally impaired for the rest of their lives and more vulnerable to disease.

Acute malnutrition signifies a child is actually wasting away." (2)

1. The Irish Times
2. http://www.commondreams.org/
3. http://www.newstatesman.com/nscoverstory.htm
4. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/politics
5. http://www.guardian.co.uk/hearafrica05/
6. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/
7. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45/246.html
8. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45/235.html
9. Timesonline