Monthly Archives: July 2010

Haiti- six months on, what can we really expect?

First published for Oxfam at

Americanisation is often seen as damaging to other nations’ cultures.

But the US’s influence on what the world considers important can only have helped Haiti after the earthquake six months ago.

Hundreds of Haitians have escaped poverty for fame in the United States, as sports stars, models and musicians.

And with the island’s close proximity to the superpower and the sheer force of the disaster, fundraising happened on a massive scale.

But half a year on the BBC has begun asking whether stalled progress, shown by news outlets here, will deter such a concerted response in the future.

Why so little progress?

Before the earthquake, Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the world.

Nearly half the population did not have access to clean drinking water, 86 percent of people in urban areas lived in slums and 83 percent of people had inadequate access to toilets.

Less than half of the 2.8 million people living in the capital Port-au-Prince had access to electricity.

Social services were similarly poor, with many children not attending school, 38 percent of the population over the age of 15 illiterate and unemployment at 30 percent.

No amount of aid, especially in a crisis, can change the structure of a country overnight.


The death toll of 222,570 means there are hundreds of thousands of people still experiencing grief, hardly great circumstances to face rebuilding their lives.

Another 300,000 were injured, and presumably family members are now caring for them, another, often invisible drain on human energies.

One and a half million people are living in temporary housing- tents, corrugated iron and tarpaulin- amongst the 19 million cubic meters of rubble from the collapse or damage of 188,383 houses, 3,978 schools and 30 hospitals.

A quarter of the civil service were killed in the disaster and government buildings were destroyed- the very people and resources necessary to co-ordinate the clean up.

So will it deter response?

For people to give, they must appreciate the extreme circumstances that a natural disaster presents- it could happen to any of us- and go into it with the knowledge that rebuilding large areas of a country takes time.

Adding to that the context of poor infrastructure, which increased the scale of destruction, means time for planning a useful and permanent build is equally understandable.

True picture

To make sure that people are not deterred from giving in these kinds of situations, coverage must be balanced between holding donors to account with showing what progress has been made.

Having raised $90 million, Oxfam is helping more than 440,000 people gain access to clean water, sanitation, education, shelter, and support for livelihoods.

Stories are still coming out of families surviving against the odds to become reunited.

But Jean Renald Clerisme, a presidential adviser, claims that less than 2 percent of the aid pledged has been received.

A BBC news report showed a church group digging themselves out of the rubble.

Is this community empowerment, or an example of a lack of help from the outside world?

With expensive foreign news bureaus closing, it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to get a true picture of the world.

Ultimately the BBC has the pleasure of being founded in a country that doesn’t experience emergencies of this scale.

Maybe, all things considered, six months is too early to ask.

What do you think?

Pay 2p more to garment workers, selfish Western companies

First published for Oxfam at

According to a report released by ActionAid on Monday 5th July, a £4 t-shirt bought from Asda provides the retailer with £2.80, the supplier £1.18½, and the worker who uses their bare hands to assemble a throw-away item to a Western consumer- just 1½p.

The week before, garment workers across Bangladesh, where Asda has five factories, took to the streets.

The Bangladesh Sun said: “low wages, poor working conditions and non-compliance of past agreements by employers have resulted in recurring industrial violence”.

The Guardian explained that: “lower paid workers earn a minimum monthly salary of 1,660 taka, equivalent to less than £18. They have demanded an increase to 5,000 taka. Owners said last week they could pay no more than 3,000 taka a month.”

ActionAid actually sets the “living wage” in Bangladesh at 10,754 taka.

Photographs have emerged of police, working on behalf of the government, apparently hitting children during the riots.

Like low-paid workers across the world, most of the garment makers in Bangladesh are women.

At first, the government shirked responsibility. There was not a problem.

According to after the riots began, the Information Minister Abdul Kalam Azad announced plans to introduce a new law to target “yellow journalism”.

He is reported as saying: “newspapers and television and radio channels that are making false and misleading news to tarnish the image of ministers, lawmakers, the government and the country are in fact doing yellow journalism”.

Bad, “yellow” journalism? Or reporters capturing images of violence that bring the police, and possibly the government into disrepute?

Now, according to several English language Bangladeshi newspapers, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has promised an early pay revision for the ailing sector, saying current levels were “too little to meet the basic needs of life”.

It is unsurprising the Prime Minister has made such a move. The garment industry accounts for more than 80% of Bangladesh’s £10bn annual export earnings, according to commerce ministry data.

The Bangladesh Daily Star reported that European Union delegates led by the EU Ambassador Stefan Frowein have visited the region.

Not to help mediate, or call Western companies to account for taking profits over fairness, but to express “concern” from European consumers about the unrest.

But has anything been vocalised on the British High Street about a scarcity of fashionable garments? Do most people even know this is happening?

Should the EU, with its growing influence as a global actor, be trying to find those who can make the workers pay up to a “living wage”? So the “market”, a sterile word that masks suffering at the bottom of the supply-chain, need not be disrupted again.

Oxfam explains: “Through the World Trade Organisation and regional and bilateral trade agreements, corporations now enjoy global protection for many newly introduced rights.

“As investors, the same companies are legally protected against a wide range of governments’ actions.”

Ultimately, it may not be the Bangledeshi government’s call.

So, is it clear who should be making the sacrifice?

Asda, the UK’s second biggest supermarket, behind Tesco, with desires to over-take Primark as the cheapest clothes retailer made profits of half a billion pounds in 2008.

Walmart, its US parent company and the third-biggest company in the world, made a £16.3 billion profit from sales- equivalent to the economic output of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka combined.

From a £4 t-shirt, nearly three quarters of that goes right in ASDA’s pocket, and the shareholders who get that money won’t have sewn a stitch

ActionAid believes that if ASDA paid just 2p more on every t-shirt it buys from developing countries, its workers could afford to feed and clothe their families.

A drop in the bucket for the ‘family-friendly’brand.

When are we going to eliminate the future need for aid?

First published for Oxfam at

Promises are like babies: easy to make, hard to deliver

The UK, under Blair and Brown came out of the 2005 G8 summit at Gleneagles with renewed hope of all G8 nations (minus Russia) finally delivering a generation-old promise of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on aid.

Lost tourists or world leaders?

Lost tourists or world leaders?

But it appears that some of the wealthiest nations in the world had no intention of keeping it, and others will not be able to.

David Cameron, the new boy at the helm, has not managed what many believe Gordon Brown would have- to hold these failing G8 nations accountable.

France and Germany have managed only a quarter of their pledges, and Italy has actually reduced the amount of aid it gives by sixty per cent.

Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy as Lady Marian and Sheriff of Nottingham at the G8 in Canada

Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy as Lady Marian and Sheriff of Nottingham at the G8 in Canada

Max Lawson of Oxfam said: “This year the headline is maternal health, last year it was food; every year we get a new G8 initiative.

”But with overall aid flatlining, they are just moving money around.”

While it is easy to look on it as a disaster, a huge blow for those who campaigned on the streets in 2005 to ‘Make Poverty History’, the G8 is merely an informal grouping, labelled “increasingly ineffective” by the Guardian.

Does this prove that this is not the place to hold governments to account, and that the UK, with its diminishing status on the world stage, is not the country to do it?

Still, the last five years have not been without success.

ONE, the organisation set-up by Bono to monitor progress on the promises made at Gleneagles said in its annual report that with 93 per cent, the UK has almost met its target.

Canada and Japan will both exceed their admitedly modest pledges, and the US will boost aid by more than 150 per cent.

Thanks to international financial support to its health budget, Mozambique has seen the number of mothers dying in childbirth falling by more than 50 per cent since 1995.

In Ghana, because of financial aid for development put to good use, the government abolished all primary school fees in 2003. Over two academic years, 1.2 million more children were able to go to school.

More aid than ever, if not enough, is going to Africa; by pushing for “smarter aid” and promoting “good governance” results are coming through; there are more and more examples of African civil society groups reclaiming the right for African people to prosper.

For example Fair Play for Africa is a pan-african coalition of over 200 organisations from 10 African countries campaigning to make sure that health for all becomes a reality for all Africans. African civil society is growing at least as much African economies are.

David Cameron was quick to say he would narrow the remit of the G8 when the UK hosts it again in 2013. Could this be a shrewd indication that the G20, with its increased membership is better placed for the 21st century?

I think so. Instead of assuming defeat, the new focus on the G20, and the UN’s 2015 goals, will ensure this progress has not been in vain.If we look at the future, with developing nations powering ahead despite the recession, the OECD predicts that “by 2030 developing countries will account for nearly 60 per cent of world GDP”.

Ban Ki-moon, speaking ahead of the September UN Summit to discuss the 2015 Millennium Development Goals is incredibly positive that the world is still on target to cut in half incidence of extreme poverty.

But, he also admitted, “that improvements in the lives of the poor have been unacceptably slow, and some hard-won gains are being eroded by the climate, food and economic crises”.

While the G8 appears to have been read its rites, poverty isn’t history.Today there is a food crisis in West Africa threatening the lives of more than 7 million people, the same as the population of the North West of England.

In this area, Niger, the world’s poorest country has a GDP of £3.6 billion. The North West in the UK alone has a GDP of £120 billion.

Aid is still greatly needed, and much has been promised. Its ultimate goal, as Mo Ibraheim, a Sudanese-born British telecoms mogul, told ONE, is probably to “eliminate the future need for aid”.