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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Are Western lives worth more than African lives?

The past few days gave seen me learning more about the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan, which is located to the bottom left of Egypt.

Oxfam, the charity organisation that we have donated over £2000 pounds to, is working hard to bring clean water to over half a million displaced people. I read with delight that their brilliant hydrologists have just discovered another water source, which looks like it could hold enough reserves to keep the new community of refugees alive for some time. They are now working towards piping it to the camp to do away with the need for water tankers.

Last night I attended a meeting during which we watched an NHK documentary about the Darfur crisis. It was deeply disturbing, and I am ashamed that I had not educated myself on the situation there before now.

One thing in particular that struck me was the price of African lives compared to that of say, Americans or British.

September 11 saw a few thousand people died in New York city.

In the past 4 years, in addition to the 2 million people that have been displaced, over 200,000 have died as a result of the Darfur crisis - a number that continues to grow. We're talking about 197,000 more deaths than those on Sep 11th, and yet what kind of response have we seen?

Certainly nothing like the response to Sep 11th the world trade centre attacks, which I still believe were carried out with the knowledge of the Pentagon. A "War on Terror" held in its name. Trillions of dollars spent on killing people, sovereign nations invaded, international laws trampled upon by the world's superpowers in their rushes to secure oil reserves.


Darfur meanwhile has been pretty much ignored. At a key UN conference last year a mere two hours were given over to the discussion of Sudan - and most of this time was used to discuss economics, the genocide being dismissed as a minor regional conflict between warring clans.

After seeing that documentary, i decided to educate myself further on the wider situation in Africa, and developing countries across the globe. I bought a copy of a fantastic book published by Oxfam International and Water Aid, "In the Public Interest: Health, Education and Water and Sanitation for All" (ISBN 978 085598 5691). This is a fantastic publication, providing the reader with an easy-to-understand explanation of the problems that the developing world is facing, with graphs and charts offering graphic demonstrations.

The story is not a happy one. It shows just how appallingly we are treating these countries, countries whose modern-day problems have their roots in our colonial raping of their resources.

The raping, however, goes on. Not just of the 12-year-old girls in Sudan, but of essential service providers in many developing countries. Healthcare is a prime example.


- At least 75 countries do not have enough trained health workers to meet their needs.
- Of these countries, 53 have fewer than half the trained health workers needed.
- In ten countries, there are only enough health workers to cover 10% of the population.

Why the shortfall? One prime factor is the West's poaching of trained doctors. For example, over a 9 year period, over half of all graduates of Ghana Medical School left the country - and went to the UK to work.

(What won't help is that in Africa, 20% of health care workers are likely to die of Aids in the next few years_

Western donor nations are now insisting that recipient nations use the private sector to meet their nation's health care needs. In some places this has resulted in a doubling of the number of deaths in childbirth as people simply cannot afford to pay.

Unfair contracts drawn up by British, French and American private water utility companies have forced desperate countries into paying ludicrous prices for a basic human right - and then these companies have sued the countries, when governments have realised just how much they are being exploited.

When the Western nations do donate, those donations often go towards "technical assistance". This means highly paid specialists from the donor nation. This does not mean physical help on the ground where it is so desperately needed.

Let's take the worst offender, the USA, as an example.

Q. What percentage of the USA's spending on Education in poor countries goes on "Technical assistance"?
A. 100%

Q. What about Health projects?
A. 90%.

Q. Water and sanitation?
A. 83%.

Absolutely disgusting.

I'm feeling more and more that charity is going to feature heavily in my future life. In addition to donating large sums of money, I will help out physically as well. I'm thinking of going to Africa and getting some first-hand experience. I see this as being several years off, but it will happen.

I've mentioned this before, but I keenly feel the connection between 'us' and 'them'. After all, wasn't it a Brit that started all this in the Congo? That's where the landgrab began. The pillaging, the misery. We in the developed world owe our modern day success to the millions whose lives we have destroyed, and continue to destroy, in the name of progress. It's only right that we do whatever we can to help alleviate their hardships.

2 Comments:

Blogger Shari said...

I encourage you to read up on Bob Geldof's experiences in attempting to get aid to African nations before you judge everyone so harshly.

Solving these problems is very complex and difficult. There are political, logistical, and structural problems which the propaganda you've been exposed to (and yes, it is propaganda designed to elicit exactly the reaction you've had) may not address in a well-balanced fashion. I'd strongly encourage you to investigate the situation more thoroughly and make sure the actions you take are of real value in helping out.

There are serious problems but it doesn't mean the west doesn't value African lives. It's because our ability to do anything about certain problems is very limited. If your neighbor treats his kids like crap but doesn't do so sufficiently to break any laws, you are powerless to help those kids. The situation in Africa is quite a lot like that. We just don't have all the freedom in the world to help everyone who needs it.

Do what you can but make sure what you're doing matters and that you are as well-informed as possible from a variety of sources.

2/6/07 13:51  
Blogger Joseph said...

Shari,

many thanks for your comment and advice. I have ordered a copy of the BBC's documentary "Geldof in Africa", and look forward to watching it later this week.

My attitude has been shaped primarily by a Reuters / NHK documentary and a fair amount of literature produced by well-respected charities such as Water Aid and Oxfam who are familiar with the situation. Jeffrey Sachs' arguments also features strongly in my thinking.

I think at the end of the day though, it is my feeling of frustration at people's sense of powerlessness that is making me feel so passionate about the subject.

I desperately want to see huge changes, and I believe these changes are perfectly possible if only people would believe that they are.

I'm a little tired tonight to write more, so I'd just like to thank you for prompting me to seek other sources for my information. At times it is only too easy to get swept up in a particular story, and forget that there may be two sides to it.

4/6/07 00:58  

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