Time for a new agenda
As well meaning as it may be, aid cannot solve the multi-layered problems of countries like Bangladesh (NI 332). First, because the aid givers have their own agenda and often decide the ‘whats’ and ‘wheres’ of a programme. Second, donor countries usually aim to institute social reforms in Third World countries within a short period of two to three years – reforms that were brought about over decades (or centuries) in their own country. And third, aid programmes often do not deal with fundamental problems such as the inequitable distribution of power, wealth and resources, the bedrock of social injustice.
It is by no means deplorable that First World governments have slashed their aid budgets. After all it is a well-known fact that at least three-fourths of the aid money goes back to the donor country via salaries of technical experts and specialist equipment (the annual wage of one technical advisor could fund the running of a 750-bed hospital in Bangladesh for at least three months). What is deplorable is that aid agencies have become the soft-approach-cultural-change agents opening the doors for economic globalization, as on the back of every aid programme arrive several businesses. What is even more deplorable is that the First World countries acquire Third World products at extremely favourable prices – products like tea, coffee, sugar and cocoa, all subsidized by the poor of the world. What people of Bangladesh and other countries of the South need is fair prices and fair wages – not charity or aid. They need scope for self-determination and self-reliance.
And yes (despite desperate conditions), there are successful examples here: the village of Panskitta, where people have combined to sustain an acceptable livelihood, community health facilities, sanitation and a strong sense of their own well-being. Or the very poor island of Hatiya, partly eroding into the Bay of Bengal, where a local NGO called Dwip Unnayan Songstha (DUS) has worked over the last 10 years to create mothers’ groups, mount health action days and grow nourishing plants.
Organizations such as these flourish on local/mutual support and are shining models of self-sustaining, ecologically aware local development, combining the best of traditional and modern initiatives. Policy-makers in Bangladesh and outside should pay heed.
Kosovo and Ireland
John Pilger claimed that the Kosovo conflict was a ‘civil war not unlike that in Ireland in the 1970s’ (‘The Crusaders’, Megalomedia NI 333). It might be instructive for your readers to judge this assessment in the light of the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic made by the UN war crimes tribunal (available at www.un.org/icty/ind-e.htm).
In the background to the indictment, the tribunal states: ‘The United Nations estimates that by mid-October 1998, over 298,000 persons, roughly 15 per cent of the population, had been internally displaced within Kosovo or had left the province.’ This was before the ‘official’ war even started.
The main indictment gives details of the wholesale destruction of villages and the displacement of over a third of Kosovo’s population. Those who claim that the West’s and the Kosovar refugees’ fears were unjustified conveniently ignore the strong evidence for the Milosevic regime’s complicity in the well-documented massacres in Bosnia. I would like to know, in the light of all this, how John Pilger justifies his analogy with Ireland? Even though I agree with much of the rest of his article, I don’t think he’s a credible commentator any more; sadly the NI’s credibility is diminished too.
So the Hill People of Chittagong are ‘an egalitarian people. Please don’t impose your notions of hierarchy upon us; these are alien to us.’ (NI 332) Profound words and ones worthy of applause. However, while the Hill People may not recognize hierarchies of nation-states, surely Amena Mohsin’s unnamed activist is not trying to suggest that they are an egalitarian society?
Please don't impose your notions of hierarchy upon us; these are alien to us.
For as the article goes on to explain, during the construction of the Karnafuli River dam: ‘Even the royal palace of the Chakma chief went under water – a huge psychological blow for the local population.’ What sort of egalitarian society retains notions of clan chiefs and royalty?
Ray of hope
I’ve been playing catch-up with past issues and I was delighted with the Africa issue (Africa United NI 326). I confess that over time since 1969 I had become one of the doubtful ones as regards the future of Africa. I worked in Kenya for three years and came home with a love for the people and their magnificent country. I was so naive in 1966 when I went there with an NGO. I learned so much and received far more than I was able to give, and it changed my life irrevocably. I’ll go to my grave being thankful for those three years.
Thank you for restoring some sense of sanity to my deep despair that they’ll never get it sorted. Of course they will. How dare I!
Kathryn E Moffat
I was interested to note in the ‘Hazard Merchants at Work’ poster (NI 331) that guns only aid right-wing militia groups. I was not aware that they had political leanings.
Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand
Great divide in the land of the free
With 30 million Americans going hungry and 1 per cent of the richest Americans owning 50 per cent of the nation’s wealth extreme inequality is not confined to Bangladesh (NI 332).
‘At the peak of the longest economic boom in our history, over 30 million [Americans] live in households that experience hunger and food insecurity,’ said Larry Brown, director of the Center on Hunger and Poverty at Tufts University, Massachusetts, in a report published recently. Some 20 to 30 per cent of workers earn so little that ‘they’re making choices between rent, medical bills and adequate diet’. Minimum wages have not kept up with inflation, Brown said, and many jobs no longer include paid benefits.
Children are disproportionately burdened by hunger, the study showed: 15 per cent of all households with children are hungry. More than 40 million Americans don’t have any health insurance. The remedial measures called for are more progressive taxation, higher minimum wages and greater spending on public housing and healthcare – all taboo in George W Bush’s America where tax cuts to the richest have become the priority.
Only after wealth can be more equitably redistributed in America and hunger eliminated in the world’s greatest producer of food, can the problem of inequality be addressed in the poor countries like Bangladesh.
Scotland scrapped it
I have just read and hugely enjoyed the Out South edition (NI 328). I was disappointed though that in her Keynote article Vanessa Baird gives the impression that no progress has been made in Britain on getting rid of Section 28 – the law forbidding ‘the promotion of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’ by local authorities.
Scotland has a devolved parliament which has been prioritizing equality issues of all kinds.
Scotland has a devolved parliament which has been prioritizing equality issues of all kinds, in a way that often contrasts with the British Government’s approach. The Scottish Executive repealed Section 28 last year – despite the homophobic sentiments whipped up by a well-funded campaign by a millionaire entrepreneur in alliance with the Christian Right. As a member of the (successful) campaign group set up to support the repeal and to challenge the public vilification of sexual minority people in Scotland, I was disappointed to find that the repeal of Section 28 in Scotland was not mentioned.
Tilting the scales
Oh dear. Almost a whole column in your Letters page (NI 333) defending Christianity and complaining about ‘digs’ against it, while asking for ‘more positive’ comments about religion. Yet most Christian countries have 52 days each year when their media mostly spread Christian propaganda (to the almost total exclusion even of fair information about atheism, rationalism or humanism, much less other religions). Add to this their indoctrination of their children with ‘the Bible story’ before their kids’ mental faculties are capable of reasoned thought. And the 100-per-cent bias of some of their schools (of which I had 12 years’ experience) with massive propaganda claiming Christianity as perfect and totally true, with not one word on its mass exterminations of ‘heathens’ or of its hostile insults to other religions.
Yet still Christians complain that they are not given a fair hearing, even in a well-balanced international medium like the NI!
Correction: a photo caption on Page 28 of the issue on Bangladesh (NI 332) claimed that the Chittagong Hill People's leader depicted was the late Manobendran Narayan Larma. It was actually his younger brother Shantu Larma. We apologize for the error.