Visit Polunatic

Friday, January 07, 2005

Giving in the post-tsunami world

Giving in the post-tsunami world - Polunatic

A lot of good arguments can be made about why issues around aid - disaster and development - are crucial issues for progressives to make noise about. International solidarity is among them. For many of us in North America, international solidarity has fallen off the radar scope.

Yes, there are plenty of groups - some large, most small – some mainstream, some on the left - already active around issues of development, disaster relief and human rights. They slog away at the most daunting and unglamorous challenges and should be acknowledged for working on the daily tsunamis known as underdevelopment, poverty and repression.

But what's missing, even from much of the discussion around "globalization", is an understanding of how wealth actually flows from the poor countries to the rich. This happens in a myriad of ways. Debt repayments. Cheap labour. Resource extraction. Trade imbalances. IMF/World Bank austerity "reforms".

Providing relief and aid should not be simply reduced to generosity and charity. It's also an acknowledgement that our higher living standards come, to some extent, on the backs of the "developing" world.

The outpouring of support from millions of individuals around the world is a sign of compassion and solidarity at its most profound level. It is that same humanity which expects and demands that our governments, with their vast resources, make generous contributions to both relief and ongoing development aid.

That is a good thing even if it is seen mainly as charity and not as solidarity (for now). One role for progressives, is to make the links between third world exploitation and first world wealth. Clearly, not everyone in the "west" benefits to the same extent from this exploitation. Poverty is also a problem within Canada, the US and parts of Europe. One would be hard-pressed to argue that First Nations communities gain much of anything from exploitation in Sri Lanka. But there is a general link between living standards here and abroad. Think of those cheap Walmart commodities for starters.

We should be most vigilant about not letting those with anything warmer than ice cubes in their hearts to hijack that spirit of generosity in order to excuse governments from their responsibilities. That rates along with scabbing as about the lowest form of civilized behaviour.

So then, how do we quantify government “generosity”? What gauges can we use? What is measurable? Let’s start with criteria like the ability to pay, the "west's" record on providing aid and the depth of the needs.

Here it’s important to distinguish (at least while there’s not enough money in the pot) between ongoing development aid and disaster relief. Let’s start with the former because it speaks to our countries’ records in assisting people with the same kinds of problems (food, water, shelter, infrastructure, etc) but outside the glare of the headlights of a natural disaster.

When looking for a “number”, it seems that the easiest one to use right now is the UN's recommended contribution of 0.7% of gross domestic product (annually) for development aid.

Canada, along with most of the richest countries in the world, has not come close to that figure. This is no time to pat ourselves on the back.

Let’s have another look at this Official Development Assistance (ODA) chart which shows that Canada only contributed 0.26% of GDP in 2003. Only the Scandinavian countries met their 0.7% obligations. The US is at the bottom of the heap with 0.14% even as its total dollar contribution is highest. Even the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) says it's not enough.

So let's start by lobbying and pressuring our governments to meet their (our) UN commitments? For Canada, that would come to about $700 million (adjusted annually for growth) according to Statistics Canada which puts our GDP around a trillion dollars. Here's a list of Canadian MPs and US Congressmen. Give yours a call.

Given that there’s not enough money for international development, there’s certainly no significant global savings account for disaster relief. In this case, I’ll pick a number out of the air and say that Canada should contribute at least 10% of last year's $9 billion budget surplus for relief and redevelopment aid. This speaks to our ability to pay and the urgent needs.

Since Canada is one of the few countries to run a budget surplus last year (and this?), activists in other countries will have to find a different formula to gauge generosity.

For those of you who might be thinking, "that's a lot of money, where are we going to find it?”, all I can say is, you're living in the pre-tsunami world.

Related Posts from Polunatic:
The Post-Tsunmai World
Canada should give 10% of surplus for tsunami relief
Tsunami Terror
Tsunami Sixth Sense Saves Wildlife


Post a Comment

<< Home