Friday, May 20, 2011

Going it alone in a Changing Global Climate

For some time now proponents of the global economy coming from the industrialized world, pushed people from Africa, Asia and Latin America into dependency on global commodities. Products like corn, wheat, rice, coffee, tea, powdered milk, and vegetable oils are produced in Europe, North America and Australia and flood the markets of the developing world in both times of crises and times of stability. In times of crisis, these bulk goods are called aid and are meant to provide humanitarian relief to people who are facing famine or malnourishment. And in normal times, the governments of industrialized nations and international loan agencies like the World Bank and IMF dictate the terms of trade through pressuring the national governments in the developing world to remove protective tariffs for local food industries while simultaneously flooding their markets with the industrialized world’s bulk foods. With agribusinesses in the industrialized world receiving subsidies for their crops and the developing world slashing protective tariffs to their local food companies, this undermined the development of local food companies in the developing world and removes incentive for local producers to engage in agriculture. It is a subservient relationship that the developing world has with the industrialized world, one that keeps countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America vulnerable to food crises.

Lately, political international organizations are calling upon the developing world to establish national climate change policies in order to reduce the risks to natural hazards like drought, floods, and earthquakes when they occur. Despite the dilemma that most voicing this need are geopolitical agents coming from the industrialized world, there is also the expectation that the developing world will become ‘resilient’ to the natural hazards when they occur. The developing world already goes it alone when there are recessions in the world economy. This is one of the many factors that make a developing world country vulnerable when crises occur. But now they are expected to go it alone when a natural hazard takes its toll on regions and their citizens. There was a time when the industrialized world was there during a natural hazard with aid, granted tainted with the long-term problem of creating dependency on the commodities distributed, but still helping people and saving lives. Now with greater variations in global climate, the industrialized world is telling the developing world to prepare and go it alone when a drought, flood, earthquake or other natural hazard hits.

Aside from the problem that this is unjust given the entrenched dependency between the industrialized and developing world, there are two concerns to pushing countries in the developing world to plan out national climate change policies. One is whether or not countries that have well-written policies in place are favored in terms of receiving assistance and help when it is available from industrial countries while those that have poor policies or none at all are denied available aid. This is reflective of how development funds from the World Bank and IMF dictate development assistance in the past and present. The second is climate change is not restricted to the artificial boundaries of countries. Each country is likely to have their own ideas of mitigation and response during natural hazards that perhaps will be complimentary, but in all likelihood conflict if other countries do not have compatibility with their neighbors. In order to have an effective climate change policy in place, one that benefits and empowers the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, it is necessary for regional plans to be drafted and agreed upon by countries in the region. Any drafting of plans, too, needs the collaboration and input from the actual actors themselves, whether they are national or local. It is time to end the monopoly powerful actors from the industrialized world have over those from the developing world, and begin working towards equity in aid and development.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Money Crippling a Crisis Response

The latest crisis relief operations occurring in Somalia are not going well. There are reports of assistance efforts falling apart because supplies of water cannot be delivered due to ‘lack of funds.’ Once again the appeal for aid agencies, particularly international ones that have wealthy supporters, are asked to come to the rescue. While the world of aid waits for richer groups to save their aid efforts, 2.4 million Somalis are affected by the drought with another 1.4 million displaced because of the late or insufficient rains.

Since when does innovation and crisis response become so needy on money as the major factor motivating people to action? Since 1991, the destruction of Somalia’s social networks, when civil war pitted Somali against Somali, unraveled their society and peace. This breakdown allowed multinational organizations, like private companies, aid organizations and even terrorists, to enter Somali territory in order to advance their own agendas often at the cost of Somalia’s ecology, society and security. The response by Somalis to these intrusions were various with few collaborating, many abstaining, and some fighting against outside intervention. Civil groups resurface from time to time to help out in health, security and other social services but they remain weak and tenuous, vulnerable to falling apart when the next natural hazard or human crisis occurs. They cannot grow and become a secure social good when the time and commitment individuals bring to such services detracts them from their need to feed, cloth, and house their families and themselves.

There are parts of the world that are under serious crisis where people are volunteering their time and effort to help the common good, many times without financial compensation. The civil service workers backing the rebel factions fighting Qaddafi in Libya are a good example of this. Libya, however, is just starting out in a civil war. If the half-hearted efforts the United Nations provides to the rebels keeps them afloat and if Qaddafi is able to keep preying upon poor Libyans and other Africans to fight for his side, it will be no surprise years from now when Libyan society unravels and people watch various outsiders exploit their resources, like the petroleum fields lying inland and fish reserves off its coast.  The prolonging of this civil war only weakens Libya, like it did Somalia, for private corporations, geopolitical powers, and other international actors to take advantage of Libya when the violence recedes.

Disaster response is a money game that continues to keep Somalia and other parts of the world that are politically unstable, weak and dependent on the larger geopolitical actors. It is under-funded, it is a guessing game in effective coordination, and in the end it is shaped and exploited by larger powerful actors that have no affiliation or allegiance to the local people affected by the crisis. Throwing money at a disaster, while it has shaped Somali’s society for the past 20 years, will not solve the long-term problem of reconstructing Somali civil society. This is a project that needs Somalis themselves in shaping human response to disaster without the end goal constantly being monetary gain.