Against the grain
'THEY didn't have to do much in the Food for Work Programme, just move around a little and they knew that they would get their food in the afternoon. The main thing was to get through the day.'
This is a Guatemalan farmer's view of the way in which food aid was used after the 1976 earthquake. And it just is one of hundreds of examples quoted in an important new study of food aid by Tony Jackson of Oxfam*.
In theory, food aid is the perfect form of international assistance: surpluses in the West going to feed the hungry in the Third World. And at times of disaster, if the harvest has failed, shipping in grain may be just the answer.
But such emergencies play only a very small part nowadays. Food aid has become institutionalised an end in itself and what it achieves for the poor is not the most significant consideration.
Farmers and grain merchants see more direct returns.
Food aid is a big business. Around two billion dollars worth goes to developing countries each year mainly from the United States, the EEC, Australia, Canada and Japan.
Of this, 70 per cent is given to Third World governments or sold to them on concessional terms. They in turn usually sell it on the open market to produce revenues for their own activities. So its value is no greater than the trust that you have in the government of Indonesia, say, or South Korea.
But 30 per cent of food aid is also designed to be handed out free to the poor. This is called 'project food aid' because it is distributed through specially designed schemes, like food for-work programmes and nutrition education classes. And it is the analysis of project food aid that makes up the bulk of Against the Grain.
The problem seems to be that it is food 'push' rather than project 'pull' which determines the nature of the programmes. There is more food than there are sensible schemes to absorb it.
As a report on India from the US Agency for International Development put it: 'projects were often allocated without adherence to a criteria of economic need' and this was justified by the 'difficulty of finding viable projects'.
As a result large landowners can often get free labour to improve their land through the construction of dams and roads and thus consolidate their position of dominance.
Jackson's clearly argued, and carefully documented conclusion, is that food-for-work programmes can only succeed under very special circumstances. But these conditions, he says. 'exist only rarely, and to introduce food aid into projects which cannot handle it properly has been shown to be positively detrimental to the poor'.
The same kind of problems arise with another major use of food aid in mother and child health programmes (MCH). According to the experience of an Oxfam Field Director in Africa:
This report is the product of six years' interest in food aid by Tony Jackson - during which time he has been something of a thorn in the side of the agencies concerned.
On past experience however they are unlikely to be the source of any radical reforms. More effective pressure might come from tax-payers who find themselves funding this bizarre exercise in oppressive philanthropy.
A bacterium discovered by chance on dead mosquito larvae in an Israeli pond about three years ago is today the cause of considerable excitement in the World Health Organisation.
'Bti' can kill the larvae of mosquitos and other insects like blackflies which spread the dreaded disease of river blindness in West Africa. It can, therefore, be used to replace environmentally-damaging chemical insecticides like DDT malathion.
The bacterium was first used on a large scale in West Africa in November last year. But because at present it is more expensive than chemicals, it is more likely to be used where insect resistance has already proved a problem and where cost is a matter of less concern.
But the formulation technology is complex. And the pesticide firms who are already manufacturing it are so secretive that often they do not even patent their formulations since this would divulge some of their know-how.
For blackflies. for example. very specific formulation characteristics are required. Blackflies breed only in fast-flowing rivers. So, Bti has to be formulated in a manner so that it not only floats but can also flow for miles at a stretch. While a formulation prepared by Sandoz has been found to be very good, the concentration of the active ingredient was not found to be high enough to cope with the fast flow of a swollen river during the rainy season.
There is a US $2 million annual market for anti-blackfly pesticides in West Africa. This is big enough market to keep the interest of these companies in Bti going. says Dr. Hamon, Assistant Director-General of the WHO. Another company in California, Abbott Laboratories, recently announced a pre-commercial Bti formula.
An important question for developing countries specifically is: Will they be able to produce this new bacterial insecticide themselves? Broadly speaking any country with experience in brewing should be able to produce bacterial insecticides; it could even become a cottage industry. Developing countries have to import chemical insecticides at considerable cost in precious foreign exchange.
Anil Agarwal CSE
Arabs to Israel
This is partly because of land confiscations by the Israelis, but also because of restrictions placed on the drilling of new wells by Palestinians.
The result has been a steadily increasing flow of Arabs travelling into Israel — for such daily work as construction, fruit-picking and street-cleaning. Even the kibbutzim, with their long-lingering reputation in the West as models of socialist organization, now employ cheap Arab labour.
These workers converge from dawn onwards clutching a plastic pannier of sandwiches. As an Israeli contractor’s Peugeot van approaches, a group of men rush towards him fighting to earn about $5 a day; this is the unofficial market, now called the 'Slave Market'. Many Israeli contractors, particularly those who go to Gaza for their cheap labour, prefer nimble-fingered 12 year olds whose labour is more controllable, dismissable and even cheaper. The Israeli authorities turn a blind eye to widespread use of child labour.
These workers have no protection from arbitrary dismissal and are strictly forbidden to enter into Trade Union activities. In March of this year, the Histadrut, Israel's TUC, turned down a proposal to discuss the repeated administrative detention of West Bank trade union leaders. Meanwhile, the Histadrut was producing pamphlets condemning the suppression of Poland's Solidarity.
To avoid lengthy and costly daily journeys to work, many Arab workers from the Occupied Territories sleep near or on their worksite, although this is illegal unless the lodgings are locked from the outside. Recently, 50 Palestinians were arrested for sleeping in a three-roomed flat in Nazareth because they weren't locked in. they were sentenced by a military court.
New old story
DRAMATIC changes in the age structure of world population were revealed in a United Nations report for the World Assembly on Ageing in July.
The baby boom is finished and growth of the over-60s is now outstripping all other age groups. By 2025 there will be more than a billion people aged over 60 — and for the first time in history they will outnumber the young in many countries.
Only in the past few months have United Nations demographic experts discovered the extent of the ageing population explosion predicted for early next century.
This is the first time that worldwide projections of ageing have been taken beyond the year 2000. ‘Unlike many computer predictions,’ says the Assembly Secretary-General William Kerrigan, ‘these are based on known facts: the over 60s of 2025 are alive today— aged 17 and over— in huge numbers.’ And as birth rates drop so the proportion of over 60s will increase — topping 25 per cent in industrialised countries like Japan, France and the United Kingdom.
But the sharpest effects of population ageing will be felt in developing countries. Today their populations are strikingly young — with up to 50 per cent aged under 25. But by 2025, when nearly three quarters of over 60s will live in the Third World, countries like Bangladesh, Brazil,
The reasons for population ageing are simple: two decades of development efforts have successfully lowered fertility and mortality. As fertility drops and the children of the 'baby boom’ live longer, so the proportion of old people rises. In developing regions like East Asia, the shift will be breathtakingly rapid: the over 60s, who were about eight per cent of total population in 1975, will represent nearly 20 per cent by 2025.
REFUGEES have been pouring into the Sudan for nearly 20 years, crossing over from Zaire, Chad, Uganda and Ethiopia. There are currently in excess of 600,000, of which the Ethiopian/Eritrean group is the largest with 300,000.
Sudan’s humanitarian attitude, which comes partly from its moderate brand of Islam, is enshrined in the frequently heard phrase, Bayti Baytak — my house is your house. It is also modified by the country’s own recent experience of civil war, when many Sudanese were themselves refugees in neighbouring countries.
Sudan is one of world’s poorest countries and with a national debt of around four billion dollars it has no spare cash to spend on its guests. But what it does have is land, and a large number of sites has been made available for refugee camps.
As Ahmed Karadawi, Assistant Commissioner for Refugees, explained: ‘There was much resistance among our own people in the 60s to the refugees but we have overcome that by setting up camps next to existing villages. The services which we then provide for the refugees, like education and health care, also benefit the Sudanese.
Tawawa, which is a settlement of mud and thatch huts for about 10,000 people not far from the Ethiopian border, bears out his point People come not only from the nearby village but also walk the eight kilometres from the nearest town to get treatment at the Save the Children Fund clinic.
This is staffed by Eritrean refugees who are trained nurses and social workers. Articulate and politicised, they forcibly expressed their feelings about being refugees: ‘We want to work to earn a living but we are isolated here. If we go into the towns we are picked up by the police and have to pay something to be released. Why can’t we go to Europe or to the US where we could perhaps finish our studies?’
But it is Karadawi’s policy to keep the refugees away from the towns - and especially from Khartoum where unemployment is high. Khartoum, however, is full of refugees who have got through the net. Many work in the bars and hotels for the official minimum wage of $30 a month. For the young women it is prostitution.
Will the refugees ever go home? Karadawi remains hopeful: ‘We must think of voluntary repatriation as a possibility, no matter how long it takes.’ In the meantime he says that the Sudanese government wants to build up training schemes so that the refugees can become self-sufficient. But they haven’t got the funds. The UN High Commission for Refugees has had a permanent office in Khartoum since 1968. It’s present budget is $9 per year - about $15 per person.
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