We own the world, we ignore the children

Published on Monday, September 30, 2002 by CommonDreams.org
Theme Song for 21st Century Famines:
“We Own the World, We Ignore the Children”
by Zeynep Toufe

“The situation in Zimbabwe hit you guys hard, I suppose” said my neighbor to the young woman who had just sauntered out of the customs area at the airport. She was from Malawi, he was trying to make small talk about the famine ravaging her country. She was resignedly nodding till he mentioned Zimbabwe.

With a puzzled look, she squinted in his direction: “What?”

As usual, we hear a lot about the side issue and almost nothing about the fundamental questions: hence the puzzling remark.

She probably didn’t know that a good chunk of the media coverage in the United States regarding the famine that threatens six Southern African states and 12 million people concentrated on the fact that Zimbabwe’s government is trying to oust couple thousand white farmers from the most of the productive lands, most of which they control as a legacy of the white supremacist colonial rule. The truth is that this is but a side issue; the evictions haven’t helped the harvest; however, the hard reality is that rainfalls are down 75 percent in Zimbabwe. And Zimbabwe is but one country threatened by the famine.

While it is true that this famine, as with most famines, is the result of a combination of bad weather and bad policies, the real tragic story is that both the bad policy and the bad weather were severely exacerbated by the rich world.

That would be us.

It often seems that God perennially deals a bad hand to Africa. Remember Ethiopia in the eighties? The massive famine that came at the end of an almost ten year drought, the images of starving, wide-eyed, swollen-bellied children with the accompanying tune of “We are the World, We Are the Children”?

The song should be remade: “We Own the World, We Ignore the Children.”

It’s turning out that the Africa’s ‘bad luck’ is us.

Some scientists now believe that the Ethiopian drought in the eighties may have been triggered by “tiny particles of sulfur dioxide spewed by factories and power plants thousands of miles away in North America, Europe and Asia.” (http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/0721-07.htm)

In other words, pollution from industrial nations.

The current drought cycle is also quite likely aggravated by global warming and the general change in climate patterns due to human activities. In the report released last year by United Nations Environment Program, “Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” UNEP scientists predicted that, in terms of droughts, southern Africa would be one of the hardest hit areas from global warming and industrial pollution. The report talked of a ‘century of hunger’ and predicted that ‘lack of rain, warmer temperatures and increases in evaporation could reduce yields by a third or more in these areas.’

Africa’s share of the global population is 14 percent but it’s responsible for only 3.2 percent of global CO2 emission.

It gets worse.

Probably unbeknownst to my neighbor in the airport, Malawi, under the ‘advice’ of IMF, World Bank and other international lenders and donors, was forced to cut fertilizer and maize subsidies to its millions of subsistence farmers. The lack of subsidies made it hard for poor farmers to buy fertilizer and seeds — and subsistence farmers constitute almost 70 percent of Malawi’s population. Meanwhile, back at the ranch in the rich world, farmers are heavily subsidized. The 2002 Farm Bill in the United States will provide $190 billion in new subsidy money over the next 10 years to US farmers, which constitute only two percent of the population — and most of that money will go to the wealthy, corporate agribusinesses. European Union too heavily subsidizes its own farmers.

None of that for Malawi.

And, as Challis McDonough of Voice Of America reported, most farmers in Malawi could not borrow the money to buy fertilizer and seed since the interest rate on loans from commercial banks were incredibly high, about 55 percent.

My neighbor in the airport waiting lounge was probably also not aware that just two year ago, Malawi had a bumper crop and wanted to keep a chunk of in its strategic grain reserves to guard against famines.

The insolence.

Countries such as Malawi do not get to make their own policy, with the best interests of their people in mind. This little country with an annual per capita income less than $200 and a life expectancy of 38 (yes, thirty eight, 3-8 as in two times nineteen) already owes $1.5 billion, about 90 percent of its GDP, to various financiers.

Malawi’s President Muluzi gave an interview he gave to BBC on April 9th, 2002. In the interview, Muluzi explained that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank “insisted that, since Malawi had a surplus [of maize] and the (government’s) National Food Reserve Agency had this huge loan, they had to sell the maize to repay the commercial banks.” The ‘huge loan’ had been taken to establish the reserve. Its repayment meant that the maize in the reserve was sold off. Why was this done at all, you might ask. I didn’t do the research, I don’t know. However, I do know that a familiar pattern is well established with IMF bail-outs and loans and Heavily Indebted Poor Country initiatives and what not — quite likely, some bank in New York, Paris, London Zurich or Tokyo made some money from the transaction itself with commission, interest, consulting fees… (http://www.cepr.net/paying_the_bills_in_brazil.htm)

So, onward, they starve.

This is the weekend of IMF / World Bank protests in DC. One of the key demands is ‘to cancel all impoverished country debt to the World Bank and IMF.’ IMF and the World Bank as well as most governments of the rich world are opposed to what they call debt forgiveness, mostly claiming that it breeds irresponsibility. They have come up with various schemes that are supposed to provide some debt relief while providing accountability — most of these schemes have so far required that these countries take on fresh debt.

I, too have a proposal about debt forgiveness: let’s cancel the debt and hope they find it in their hearts to forgive us.

Zeynep Toufe is a doctoral student in Austin, Texas. She can be reached at zeynep@tao.ca

The Irish Times: John Waters 8 Jan, 2007

A drop of sense in a small world
Wells for Zoë, water for life. Zoë we’ll come to. The other key words here – wells and water – are in Africa synonyms for life. Wells for Zoë is an Irish charity, established two years ago, to bring water to some of the poorest people in Malawi. It is one of a wave of Irish-run initiatives now transforming the relationship between the world’s richest and poorest.
I first heard of it a month ago, days after returning from making a TV documentary about the developing relationship between Ireland and Zambia through Irish Aid. That film will be screened in April, but meanwhile my head was full of impressions from my first real immersion in Africa. Like many people in the “first” world, I had hitherto met that continent’s problems with vagueness, evasions and occasional generosity, but overall regarded them as intractable and remained secretly grateful for their distance.
I returned from Zambia convinced they are neither intractable nor distant. The problems are indeed many – poverty, disease, lack of education, poor infrastructure and, always, the corruption and inefficiency that seem to make impossible any attempt to treat these problems in a systematic way. But in the communities and townships, the difficulties are more elemental. In the Zambian villages we visited, what is termed “water” is usually a most awful disease-carrying substance, between a liquid and a sludge, and everywhere people tell you that, if they had clean water, they could deal with most of their other problems themselves. The ridiculous thing is that, in many parts of Africa, the water is just a few metres under the ground, but the people lack the technologies or resources to get it up. Often all they need is a little help joining the dots of their own capacities to get started.
Something else I came away with is that Africa is not immune to changes in the wider world. New technologies – mobile phones, broad­band etc. – make many parts of the continent increasingly accessible to direct intervention, offering the possibility of dissolving the guilt-infested immobility of outsiders who might help if they could find a meaningful way. Hitherto, the powerlessness of the African was mirrored by the powerlessness of the European, who, other than by occasional, haphazard fits of charity, could see no role for himself. It seems unthinkable that the avoidable daily destruction of African humanity should continue while, through the spread of technology, the continent is drawn ever nearer to the developed world.
Two years ago, John Coyne and his wife Mary visited Malawi and, like others before them, were struck by the absurdity of people dying for want of something that was just a few metres under their feet. John searched around and came across a stunningly simple plastic pump that could bring water to the surface from 22 metres down. They have returned several times and have initiated a water project, Wells for Zoë, concentrating on a small number of remote areas where they have created what they hope will be lifelong relationships.
Wells for Zoë is not an aid organisation, but operates on the principle of “a hand-up not a hand-out”. You might call it a sustainable development organisation. The deal is this: the village chief must donate a piece of land for use as a village garden, and there must be equal participation by men and women. When these conditions are met, Wells for Zoë supplies pumps, tools, irrigation and farming know-how, and pays the villagers to work, to enable a community to establish a commercial organic vegetable operation with which it will eventually repay the cost of the pump and materials. The first crops are due in early March and next month Wells for Zoë will establish a micro-credit, interest-free loan scheme to enable participants to jumpstart their own initiatives. A manufacturing facility will be established in Mzuzu in April to make the pumps there at a radically reduced cost. To date, the Coynes have been using their own money but Wells for Zoë is now up and running and is open for donations, volunteers and even those looking to piggy-back on the operation with a view to establishing their own initiatives (check out wellsforzoe.org). Wells for Zoë operates a principle of everyone paying their own way, so all financial resources go directly into the projects.
Half a lifetime ago, John Coyne was my science teacher in school. Today, he is one of a growing band of pioneers in a newly-forged relationship between the first and third worlds, in which two forms of powerless-ness are dissolving into a virtuous cycle of mutual self-mobilisation. Africa is no longer a remote problem, but one in which we in the prosperous north can intervene on a personal basis, to create partnerships based on equality and co-operation rather than charity and condescension.
Zoë was the only daughter of Richard and Sue Cansdale. Richard is the inventor of the amazing Wells for Zoë pump. Zoë died in a motorcycle accident, aged 22. Her name, too, is now a synonym for life.

Going, and coming back GREEN

Over the past year we have sown 8000 Acacia seeds which are now planted out as tree seedlings. We have planted some for firewood more for construction poles and a large portion to enable us to erase our global footprint. The Acacia is a fast growing species and will help a little with deforestation, and also alleviate the hardship for women and children traveling long distances for firewood. We have also planted 1000 Moringa tree seeds, for research purposes.
The practice of planting trees is part of our village development programme, helping with soil improvement and water retention, and has the added benefit that the leaves absorb CO2 .
Traveling to Malawi necessitates travel by air which makes a significant contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.Carbon dioxide is, of course, also produced through the use of fossil fuels for other reasons, driving cars, travelling on public transport or heating and lighting homes.

Emissions vary from country to country. Here in Ireland, for example, each resident would need to plant about 15 trees, to absorb our annual carbon dioxide emissions. Planting trees won’t eliminate global warming. However, it will make a small but significant contribution to the global environment. And it will have an enormous impact on the lives of disadvantaged communities in Malawi.
It is possible, to estimate your emissions and take appropriate action.
For example, I am told that if I drive 12,000 miles a year in a 1.4 litre car this will produce 3.36 tonnes of CO2 a year, which can be offset by planting five trees.
A flight to Mzuzu from Dublin return, produces of 2 tonnes of CO2 , emission each. You can have a carbon neutral flight by planting 3 trees.
It is assumed that the tree will mature and have a lifespan of 80 years

At Wells for Zoe we believe that we can offset some of the effects we are all having on climate by planting much needed trees in Malawi and trading them for our guilty consciences.
It’s a win, win, win situation. Us, Malawi and the Environment
We are now in the process of producing Carbon Neutral luggage tags for flights.
You do the flying and we’ll do the planting.
You pay for the tree planting and we send you the tags and plant the trees.
The land is there, the seeds are there, the labour is there.
The cost: from €1.20 per tree planted, depending on species

Actions to reduce global warming
1. Use fossil fuels more efficiently.
2. Plant trees when you travel at roughly the following rate
• 1 tree every 2,000 miles (3200 km) by car
• 1 tree every 1300 miles (2000 km) by plane
• 1 tree every 100 gallons of gasoline
• 1 tree every 1000 kilowatt-hours of Electrical energy

UN report says Malawi poverty worse

Poverty in Malawi is worsening according to this year’s Human Development Report which has shown the country dropping from 10th to the 11th poorest nation in the world.
The report, launched yesterday in Lilongwe, ranks Malawi at position 166 out of the 177 countries of the world. Last year the country was ranked at 165.
Malawi is grouped with 30 other countries as having a low human development index.
The report, whose theme is ‘Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis’, further estimates that over 65 percent of the country’s 12 million people live below the national poverty line of less than one US dollar (about K140) a day.
According to the report, the maternal mortality rate—which is over 1,100 per 100,000 live births, increased poor sanitation, lack of access to clean water and child mortality are some of the distressing indicators.
The report calls on countries to spend a minimum of 1 percent of their GDP on water and sanitation and ensure that water is a human right to meet the basic needs of drinking, cooking, washing and farming for food security.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative Michael Keating said Malawi has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the world, high dropout rates for girls, and between 27 to 30 percent of the population has no access to clean water.
He said lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation have accounted for high child mortality, affected school enrolment and increased water-borne diseases.
Keating, however, said Malawi is doing well in adult literacy.
Launching the report, Irrigation and Water Development Minister Sidik Mia said access to water supply and sanitation remain a great challenge which, he said, pose a great impediment to the socioeconomic development of the countryAccording to Mia, only 60 percent of people have access to clean water and 27 percent to improved sanitation.
“Having such a large population without access to proper water and sanitation apart from being socially unacceptable poses impediment on the socioeconomic development of the country due to the impact this poses on health, education and agriculture, among others,” said Mia.
The minister, however, said government has placed water development among its priorities, manifested in increased budgetary allocation