Best kept secret
Thank you for ‘Comic Logic’ in the July 1983 issue. However, you failed to mention Church World Service/ CROP in your wrap-up entitled ‘What Can We Do?’ The Office of Global Education of Church World Service provided the financial backing for the Food First Comics.
In addition to backing this project, CWS/CROP is active throughout the United States (there are 25 Regional Offices), engaging in education and fund-raising work to help fight hunger. Both domestically and overseas Church World Service responds to human needs as part of a world-wide net-work.
Within the agency there is an often repeated quote to the effect that Church World Service is the world’s best kept secret. Unfortunately your article served to perpetuate that secret. Better luck next time!
Heart transplant or 200 black children?
Your excellent issue ‘Justice in Health’ inevitably brought to mind that classic example of Western medical extravagance and Third World medical poverty in one country - South Africa. Things have not changed there since an honest South African doctor commented almost 15 years ago that the £9,000 spent on Dr Blaaiberg’s heart transplant could have saved the lives of 200 starving black infants for a whole year.
In fact, apartheid in medicine so uniquely reproduces, side by side, the enormous and unjust geographical gap between North and South, that the two extremes of Food, Water, Infant Mortality and Life Expectancy illustrated on page 10 of your September issue are almost identical to figures for black and white South Africans respectively. But in South Africa, despite outrageous lies in government
publications, such as ‘All our health services are available to all, irrespective of race’, their own official figures prove that apartheid provides more than 20 doctors for every 10,000 whites, but less than one doctor for every 10,000 blacks.
While your excellent cartoon feature on world food problems illustrates many of the causes of hunger. it is (I think) surprisingly irrelevant to the hungriest continent of all - Africa. In Africa, land is not a scarce resource and ownership is not usually indicative of wealth (wives, camels or cars are the symbols). Here in Southern Nigeria there is plenty of land and few restrictions on ownership. And yet the region imports food - not only rice from the USA and Thailand (yes, Thailand... ) but also yams, a traditional Southern staple crop, from the more arid North. There are two reasons for this. The first is a traditional antipathy towards agricultural work in an area where Nature has in the past needed minimal assistance to provide abundant food, while the second and much more important reason is the rapid urbanisation. Low food prices and (relatively) high wages encourage people to move to the towns. The same low food prices mean that rural incomes stay low and make it uneconomic for farmers to produce food for sale in the markets. At the same time, growing urban populations put pressure on services but remain politically articulate against an official rise in food prices. which would go a long way towards easing the problem.
However, the current recession and the damp-down on imports is having its effects on prices. An outbreak of spider-mite and mealy-bug diseases has hit the cassava crop, extensive bush-fires early in the year have made plantains very scarce and the late arrival of the rains has delayed the new yams. At a rough estimate prices of the staple - rice, yams, plantains and cassava have risen by 200 per cent in the past five months.
It remains to be seen whether these increased prices will actually boost local production, or whether the Government will continue to import cheap American rice for the immediate comfort of its urban citizens.
Black and white
One cannot help approving of the general trend of the articles on Justice in Health. I feel however, that the issues are presented in a form which is too black and white: modern, hospital orientated medicine is wholly bad, preventive medicine alone is good. I am as dedicated to prevention and health education as anyone but I cannot accept this dichotomy. There is no clear dividing line between the two systems. At some point prevention breaks down and cure must be applied.
It is the intensive study of disease in hospital and laboratory that has lead to our understanding of nutrition, maternity and child welfare, the infectious diseases, cancer and heart disease. This knowledge can then be applied in prevention. The success of preventive medicine depends upon adequate investment in nutrition, water supply etc. We must sadly acknowledge that it is unlikely that primary health care for all by the year 2000 will be achieved and that the need for curative medicine will persist. Your case for preventive medicine will be all the stronger if the curative system is fairly portrayed.
Dr A. Poteliakhoff
May I invite your readers to help us find a worthy winner of the 1983 Media Peace Prize which is awarded annually by the UK United Nations As sociation, This year’s prize is of £1,000 and a trophy of Caithness glass.
It will go to the person, team or organisation whose work in the printed or broadcast media is judged to have made the most notable contribution to international understanding and harmony during 1983. Certificates will be presented to runners-up.
We seek nominations from members of the general public so that we may have a wide view of the effectiveness of the media in 1983 in presenting the issues of peace and justice in the world. The participation of your readers will therefore be greatly valued.
Nominations may be made for a single piece of work or a range of work in the media whether at national, regional or local level. Non-professional contributors are eligible as well as media professionals.
Nominations can be made at any time on nomination forms obtainable from UNA Media Peace Prize, 3 Whitehall Court, London SWiA 2EL. The closing date is December 31.
There seems to be a problem trickling through you New Internationalist, NI 126. At first you say the trickle-down theory has been ‘long-discredited’ and not worthy of respect. Then you include in a list of titles ‘worth reading on aid’ Real Aid: A Strategy for Britain, a report whose proposals for a new aid programme are based largely on that very theory.
Trickle-down is practice not just theory in ODA, the non-governmental aid agencies and New Internationalist in the way that women are or are not seen as recipients of aid. The trickle-down theory has not been discredited but, on the contrary, is fully subscribed to by many influential development aid ‘experts’ like Harry Hapgood. The result of this is that most often aid is given by men to men whilst women are expected to wait for the benefit to trickle their way. Little has.
Almost universally women are expected to wait for second-hand progress. To reinforce their low status is hardly developmental and to call it aid is a nasty joke. The majority of ‘the poor’ are female and their needs and priorities are not necessarily those of men. Until the agencies come to terms with this in all aspects of their work - here and abroad - most of the poor will stay poor.
Stones from glass houses
What a sad tale Ashok Mitra has given us about the slum evictions in Bombay (July). Strange, therefore, that Dr Mitra has not yet expressed himself on the subject of slum clearances in Calcutta. In this city he is not just a journalist lamenting the evils of the world but also Minister for Finance in the State Government that has ordered the evictions.
In mid-June The Telegraph of Calcutta reported that ‘at least 500 families were rendered homeless when the police, in a massive drive to evict squatters, demolished about 550 huts on the eastern metropolitan by-pass.’
At least Vipin of Bombay had the benefit of a ‘government truck’ to help him remove his belongings. No such facility was offered in Calcutta by Dr Mitra’s Government.
In spite of protests, further evictions are still being reported. By August 2nd the same paper reported that 2000 families have been made utterly destitute at a time when the monsoon makes a roof, however frail, a basic necessity for survival. Reports of deaths among the children did not prevent Calcutta’s ‘minions of law’ from swooping again on the same people that had been evicted at the beginning and taking from them some plastic sheets distributed by a local voluntary agency.
Of course, no-one is blaming Dr Mitra for this. No doubt he has good arguments why he could not or should not do anything. No doubt he has given such reasons to his friends - but he has not done so in public.
I wonder if he can be persuaded to break his silence and give us the reason why what is bad for Bombay should be good for Calcutta?
Ashok Mitra replies: Of course the Bombay case is not unique, but the Calcutta episode referred to is not analogous. Some land speculators had encouraged a group of families to illegally occupy government-developed land in the hope of making a killing; they have since been removed. In a free enterprise economy, the poor can be used for many purposes.