the Disillusioned kid: What Is To Be Done?
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Saturday, January 01, 2005

What Is To Be Done?

The humanitarian catastrophe which comes in the wake of Sunday's tsunami has brought much worthy rhetoric from various world leaders, but the five million people who the World Health Organisation estimates are at dire risk of disease don't need rhetoric, they need help and lots of it. Now and for the foreseeable future.

The Indonesian region of Aceh was won of the worst hit in the country with tens of thousands already dead. The region has seen a long running separatist campaign waged by GAM (Free Aceh Movement) and activists familiar with the conflict have expressed concerns that politics on the part of the Indonesian government might be put before the needs of the region's inhabitants, although a ceasefire was called by both sides. Unfortunately, I now see, via Lenin's Tomb, that the Indonesian government intends to continue its war against GAM. This can only impede humanitarian efforts and add to the already gargantuan death toll. The response from our wonderful humanitarian leaders? Nothing as far as I can tell.

On another front, Canada has announced a debt moratorium for disaster struck countries and the Paris Club of debtors is apparently planning a similar, coordinated move, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has advocated the idea openly. This is a good start, but as Chris Spannos argues, we could and should go further:
[R]ather than a moratorium, immediate cancellation of all debt, with no obligation to ever pay it back should be the outcome. First for those countries hit by the tsunami. Then for countries suffering the same scale of disaster, wether man made or natural, like Darfur in the Sudan. Then for all third world countries who have suffered similar disasters in recent years. Then finally, once these transitions have become manageable, a cancellation of all third world debt.
The need for such a cancellation is made clear by the Jubilee Debt Campaign in an FAQ written prior to the tsunami:
Poor countries need a lot of investment and giving aid, whilst simultaneously enforcing debt repayments, is to give with one hand whilst taking with the other. In fact, debt cancellation is more reliable than aid, as it can't be switched off when the political climate changes. The reality is that poor countries need both debt cancellation and increased aid to meet the huge challenges they face.
The campaign for debt cancellation has had many successes, but should now step up a gear.

Under The Same Sun meanwhile has an innovative suggestion for how to generate money for Asian relief efforts which demonstrates the importance of ensuring that promised aid actually gets sent to the people for whom it is ostensibly intended.

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