Thursday, 19 May 2005

Backpedalling Furiously

Oh here we go. Not even a month after the elections in the UK and already there is the threat of badly broken promises.

The EU is apparently unhappy at the UK's pushing for debt relief etc for poor countries. Particularly as it has been an agenda campaigned for by NGOs and celebrities. Huh? It seems to have failed to register with the EU that NGO workers and celebrities are also, in fact, human beings, and voters at that. People who are more concerned with the inequalities in the world than with yet more crippling trade agreements. Oh but of course, regular people are just not qualified to have an opinion about such things, are they?

I am currently writing another batch of publicity material for our NGO, and really struggling with just which part of how awful things are, people globally are failing to grasp. Or perhaps they really just don't care, as long as it's not in their back yard.

Some refresher points:
  • With a life expectancy of just 33 years, Zambians die earlier than people anywhere else in the world.
  • 1 in 5 people is HIV+.
  • The Ministry of Health expects half the population to die of AIDS.
  • Zambia now has the world's second-largest population of orphans.
  • In Zambia, debt repayments to the IMF alone cost more than the budget for education, despite 40% of rural women being unable to read and write.
  • Zambian students struggle to learn in classes containing 70 pupils on average.
  • But IMF restrictions means that the Zambian government cannot appoint more teachers, despite the fact that thousands of trained teachers are currently unemployed in the country.
  • In 2004 pupils in some rural areas did not even see a single teacher for the entire year.
  • IMF rules also insisted on large-scale privatisation and the introduction of user fees at medical establishments. Privatisation led to widespread job losses, and coupled with user fees, last year up to 45% of people in the Copperbelt region could not afford to take their children for medical treatment.
  • Despite their adherence to crippling conditions Zambia has to date only received 5% of the debt relief promised to it under the HIPC initiative.
  • Zambia's external debt is 128% of its GDP, compared to Britain's at 42%.
  • Debt repayments are making it impossible to respond to the health, educational and economic challenges facing Zambian people.

It would cost about US$300 Billion to cancel the debts of the world's poorest countries. In the USA US$350 Billion is spent on gambling every year.

But none of it matters so long as the EU and others can keep making unfair trade agreements and subsidies.