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Archive for the tag “globalisation”

Haiti: Microcosm of the crisis of development

Pambazuka – Haiti: Microcosm of the crisis of development:

Haiti is a tragedy for us all. It is a tragedy for you and me. It is a tragedy for Africa, for the poor countries of Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. An earthquake is a global phenomenon, it can happen anywhere. It can happen in the US, in Europe and in Japan. So why then is it so destructive in its effects in the countries of the South? It is because of the failure of development. Haiti is a microcosm of the disastrous outcome of the failed so-called ‘development’ policies of the last thirty years in the South, and the destructive effects of foreign interventionist policies in the affairs of the poor countries of the South – from Somalia to Bangladesh to Haiti.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, in his passionate book, The Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization gives a graphic account of what happens when local economies and local initiatives of a poor country like Haiti are subordinated to the will of global finance and corporate power masked by the ideologies of ‘free trade’ and ‘development aid’. ‘In a world oriented only toward profit, it may be difficult for us to hear God’s voice among the din and the racket of the moneychangers who have filled the world’s temples’, he writes.

Organisations trying to bring aid to Haiti after the earthquake two weeks ago have criticised the actions of the US government, saying it looks more like a muilitary occupation than disaster relif, and some have said that priority has been given to bringing in armed sodiers, and humanitarian aid has been delayed.

Haitians Dying By The Thousands As US Escalates Military Intervention:

CNN’s Karl Penhaul reported from Port-au-Prince General Hospital, where US paratroopers have taken up positions. He said that Haitians questioned why so many US troops were pouring into the country. “They say they need more food and water and fewer guys with guns,” he reported.

He also indicated that American doctors at the hospital seemed mystified by the military presence. “They say there has never been a security problem here at the hospital, but there is a problem of getting supplies in.” He added, “They can get nine helicopters of troops in, but some of the doctors here say if they can do that, then why can’t they also bring with them IV fluids and other much needed supplies.”

There was much criticism of former US President George Bush for his tardy response to the devastation caused Hurricane Katrina a few years ago. Perhaps Presdent Barack Obama has learned from this, and was quick with the rhetoric and the photo-ops, but such action as there has been has been criticised as inappropriate.

Haiti: An Unwelcome Katrina Redux:

President Obama’s response to the tragedy in Haiti has been robust in military deployment and puny in what the Haitians need most: food; first responders and their specialized equipment; doctors and medical facilities and equipment; and engineers, heavy equipment, and heavy movers. Sadly, President Obama is dispatching Presidents Bush and Clinton, and thousands of Marines and U.S. soldiers. By contrast, Cuba has over 400 doctors on the ground and is sending in more; Cubans, Argentinians, Icelanders, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and many others are already on the ground working–saving lives and treating the injured. Senegal has offered land to Haitians willing to relocate to Africa…

One Katrina survivor noted that the people needed food and shelter and the U.S. government sent men with guns. Much to my disquiet, it seems, here we go again. From the very beginning, U.S. assistance to Haiti has looked to me more like an invasion than a humanitarian relief operation.

New NATO: Germany Returns To World Military Stage

New NATO: Germany Returns To World Military Stage:

‘If somebody had announced in 1989 that, well, the Berlin Wall has come down, now Germany can unite and send military forces back into Yugoslavia — and what is more in order to enforce a partition of the country along similar lines to those it imposed when it occupied the country in 1941 — well, quite a number of people might have raised objections. However, that is what has happened, and many of the very people might who have been expected to object most strongly to what amounts to the most significant act of historical revisionism since World War II have provided the ideological cover and excuse.’ [6]

The campaign was not without effect in Germany as subsequent events have proved and has been accompanied by the rehabilitation, honoring and even granting of veteran benefits to Nazi collaborators, including former Waffen SS members, in Croatia, Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine in recent years.

Yesterday Yugoslavia, tomorrow the world!

By successfully demonifying the Serbs, and transferring the guilt of its Nazi past to them, Germany has succeeded in perpetuating the past rather than burying it.

Load-shedding a human right violation: SAHRC

It looks as though there may soon be an independent investigation into Eskom:

IOL: Load-shedding a human right violation: SAHRC:

Eskom must give answers about the ongoing electricity crisis, the SA Human Rights Commission said on Friday.

In a statement, the SAHRC said it and the Public Protector could soon work together in an investigation to establish why Eskom had instituted power cuts to the extent it had recently.

Earlier this week, Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana sent a letter to Eskom saying he was considering investigating the power cuts because they were having a devastating effect on service delivery by government.

Eskom certainly needs to be investigated, but I’m not sure that the Human Rights Commission is the best body to do it. The way the Eskom crisis affects our constitutional rights is just one aspect of its managerial incompetence, and the other aspects need investigation too. Rather than doing its own investigation, the Human Rights Commission should throw its weight behind calls for a wider investigation, and prepare evidence to present to such an investigation.

Lots of people are blogging about the power cuts, and the Mail and Guardian is even running a special feature on Who do you blame? Unfortunately people seem to be more concerned with finding a scapegoat than a solution.

Obviously there has been poor planning on Eskom’s part. One of the things an investigation would need to determine would be whether that was the fault of Eskom’s planners, or whether it was the fault of top management, who failed to heed the advice of the planners. Eskom has obviously invested a lot in distribution infrastructure over the last 10-15 years, but equally obviously their generation capacity has failed to keep up.

For such incompetence heads must roll. But that is not enough. To solve the problem means that incompetent managers must be replaced by competent ones, and not merely other incompetent ones.

An investigation would also need to take account of political pressure.

Was the Eskom management under political pressure to make electricity available to as many people as possible so that all new investment in infrastructure was channelled into distribution, and not enough into generating capacity?

As I have travelled around rural areas over the last few years, I’ve seen many small communities that now have electricity, which did not have a few years ago. I found this encouraging evidence that the new South Africa was working. Ordinary people did not just have a right to have a say in the election of their government once every five years sor so, but their quality of life was improving. Perhaps it was, in part, a fulfilment of the ANC’s election promise of “a better life for all”. I didn’t then suspect that failure to plan for adequate generation capacity would render such advances illusory.

The warning sign was the Coega aluminium smelter proposal. That was certainly not planned to benefit the poor or the “previously disadvantaged”. That was calculated to benefit the previously and currently advantaged fat cats of Alcan:

Alcan has secured a long-term supply agreement with South-African energy firm, ESKOM Holdings Limited, for the purchase of up to 1355 MVA of electricity for the proposed 720kt greenfield COEGA aluminum smelter project, which will have a total estimated cost of US$2.7 billion. The agreement provides for a 25-year supply, set to begin in 2010.

“Alcan is engaged in successfully developing some of the most attractive smelter projects for primary aluminum production in the world, including this potential smelter in South Africa, all characterized by secure, competitively priced, long-term energy supplies, and leveraged by our world leading technology,” said Dick Evans, President and Chief Executive Officer, Alcan Inc.

Think about those “competitively-priced long-term energy supplies” for a moment. Where are they going to come from? And who is going to pay for them?

Most of South Africa’s electricity supply comes from coal-fired power stations, and many of them are situated in “Kragveld” — Western Mpumalanga, where the power stations have been built at coal mines. Most of these power stations are now fairly old, and cause unnecessary pollution, which causes acid rain, which in turn damages crops and buildings and poisons fish in rivers. Coal is a fossil fuel, and therefore not a renewable energy source. What is used for smelting aluminium tomorrow will not be available for lighting, heating or cooking the day after tomorrow. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

When I learned geography at school, one of the things we learned was that smelting aluminium consumes huge amounts of electricity, and that was why it was cheaper to build aluminium smelters in places where cheap electricity was available, and transport the ore to there. And that is why Alcan is in Canada, because Canada has lots of water and lots of mountains which makes for cheap hydroelectricity. And hydro-electricity, unlike electricity from coal, is non-polluting and is a renewable resource.

Why, then, does Alcan now want to build a smelter in South Africa, where electricity is produced from coal, which is less efficient and normally more expensive?

Because they’ve been promised a subsisdy, that’s why.

And who is going to pay the subsidy?

Why, you and me and all the “previously disadvantaged” who have just been connected to the electricity supply, of course. We will pay more money for less electricity, because you can bet your last cent that Alcan’s load is one that will not be shed.

So yes, Eskom’s poor planning does have quite a lot to do with human rights, but it also has to do with the environment, and a lot more besides. And perhaps the terms of reference of an investigating commission should be broad enough to ask why Canadian hydro-electricity has suddenly become too expensive for Alcan.

We have been told that the Coega aluminum smelter scheme will “create jobs” — but balance that with all the jobs that will be lost because of lost productivity caused by load-shedding, when shops and offices and factories close down because there is no electricity, and people sit for hours in traffic jams because robots aren’t working. Will the jobs created by the Coega scheme compensate for that?

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