Friday, June 24, 2005

Blinded by the light

Alongside 80,000 fans on 19th June 2005 we waited for hours for U2 to present their amazing light and sound show at Twickenham Stadium, UK. Why so many hours? There are three main reasons: Parking (!), a desire to get into the mood and being a bit unclear on what time U2 would come on stage.

The atmosphere was electric with countless people of all colours and creeds united under one roof. Temperatures began soaring to 30 degC and the queues at each extortionate food, drink and merchandise stall were long and sticky. For many hours people scurried backwards and forwards onto the main pitch area. Our seats were on the west wing and we too had people edging between each other talking turns to buy food and drink.

One of the highlights of the 2.5-hour show was when the main giant video screen scrolled-up the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Each article appeared and was read out. Then U2 sang 'One' with its closing chorus extending to ‘One love, One blood, One life, You got to do what you should, One life, With each other, Sisters, Brothers, One life, But we're not the same, We get to, Carry each other. Carry each other,…

The sentiments were strong and many held-up their lighters. N.B.I assume that these lighters were not all owned exclusively by smokers, especially in a non-smoking auditorium - but available near the stalls before the show started for a special price. The effect created by the swaying lights of hope created an awesome fore-drop against the clear darkening skies and dimmed stage lighting,
As June 19 marked the 60th birthday of Nobel Prize winner and Myanmar’s incarcerated democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, at one point Bono sang Happy Birthday to her. Suu Kyi's latest incarceration began in May 2003. Incidently, in October 2000 U2 released their 10th album All That You Can't Leave Behind, which contained a song titled "Walk On" dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi. It was banned by the military junta.

Songs and music fests have the power to unite us all but are we truly connected, especially as it appeared to me that many present did not acknowledge their fellow human being standing within inches of each other? Many may have swayed their arms in unison or sung songs demanding change, but what have we physically changed. Torture and inhumane treatment still exists and with power remaining in the hands of those that fear the loss of their stranglehold.

I’d like to end on a positive. Sure, the morning after a gig we feel tired and mentally exhausted but together we have learnt more about the plight of others. I suggest that we do not fall into the trap of staying blinded. Instead, we should take a greater interest in understanding organisations that are helping to put pressure on those perpetrators of human abuse. Some great suggestions can be found at Amensty International's website,

We’re on this Earth for a short while, the least we can do is offer equality and freedom to each other.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Will Live8 succeed this time?

Following on from last weeks article, this question has been asked a number of times in the Media.
On Question Time (BBC1,UK : Thursday 9th June’05) a Mail on Sunday columnist suggested that corruption was rife in Africa and raising money would be questionable. Jane Fonda, also appearing as one of the panellists declared that any demonstrable public emotion in the form of mass demonstration could change the minds of politicians.

There are two related themes here with the common link being fixing the cause for hunger and ensuring that there is no apathy in the west. Live8 hopes to raise awareness but it is sad that the mobile phone companies appear to be profiteering from the call charges!

It is important to note that in the west governments in the past have never been questioned over arms sales to African nations. If aid is escaping from the needy into the hands of those with Swiss bank accounts why are commercial banking organisations allowing this to take place right under their noses. It is a bit similar to watching someone choke when very easily you could pat them on the back to relieve them.

Although Tony Blair has attempted to secure a debt relief agreement with GW Bush, there is a danger that Live8 could flop. For example, although the G7 finance ministers are currently meeting (w/e 11th June), in London in an attempt to agree a deal on African debt relief, these talks are just one month before of anti-poverty campaigners - converge at Gleneagles for a G8 summit. It is great that Britain has vowed to make poverty reduction a key theme of the summit but world mobilisation of support is needed. It is now time for people to stand-up and demand change.

Debt campaigners are concerned that only 27 poor countries have qualified for debt relief and would benefit from any such initiative. 62 countries, including large debtors like Nigeria and Indonesia, should be included. Some countries, for example : France, Germany and Japan are even more reluctant to fully write off debts. Instead, they propose that rich countries take on the debt- servicing costs, rather than write off the debts entirely.

Removing Debt is essential. Currently, approximately 80% of the debt is to rich country governments, but African countries also owe money to private sector lenders. If debt payments were removed these debt ridden countries could use invest their money on resources help reduce poverty. Among the most common priorities are basic health-care, education, and improving roads in rural areas - which is where poverty is often at its worst.

That said, countries that have already been through the current crop of debt relief initiatives are still paying about $2.5bn to service their remaining debts.

I have suggested in the past that multi-national commercial organisations also have a lot to answer for. Their ethos is self-centred and not community centric. Viewing many countries Gross Domestic Product (A common equation for GDP is consumption + investment + exports – imports). Vs. their recommended UN contribution to charity is embarrassingly small. Unfortunately, no rich politician is shamed into admitting this or doing anything to increase rich countries contribution to helping the poor. Now Live8 has a chance to remind them.

STOP PRESS : A debt relief agreement has been reached with over $50B being cleared. Let us also hope that even some of the developing African countries are not excluded in order for them to collectively reap the benefits of renewal. In addition, continued support through a suggested plan of consistency. There is still much to do to feed and help the world today.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

G 8 2 Many

Back in early February 2005 (‘No time for apathy’ article) I wrote about attending the ‘make poverty history’ rally in Trafalgar Square. I remember listening to Nelson Mandela saying: ‘In this new century, millions of people in the world's poorest countries remain imprisoned, enslaved and in chains. They are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free.’

Back in November 2004 (‘Is band aid enough’ article) I wrote about the work of BandAid and how multi-national corporations are missing an opportunity to become more involved in offering aid and time off for staff to pursue volunteering.

Back in October 2004 (‘2005 will be 20 years since Band Aid’ article) I wrote about the need to contact your Member of Parliment, for us to work for charity events and to raise greater awareness locally about global issues.

Back in June 2004 (‘Does G8=Jee ate?’ article) I wrote about the last gathering of global leaders. Although key areas regarding for example the world HIV crisis was discussed and formed part of the agenda, I distressed over a newsreel showing a photo-call of the leaders in front of a beach with selective palm trees. Each leader dressed in their defined informal casual wear. Maybe that’s part of the problem? Maybe the world views such events as casual luxury hideaways? Maybe another way to run a G8 conference is to hold it at an HIV centre, amongst those that are in trouble today. How about in the middle of Sudan. I’m sure that security could be arranged.

You could argue that all these articles simply represent words but where are the actions? Well, words can lead to ideas and ideas towards personal actions & I hope a realisation to help.So a year later we are back to another G8 summit. Last week Sir Bob Geldof, one of the original founders of Band Aid finally agreed to a multi-national gig on 2nd July. The very same day that the G8 leaders will meet in Edinburgh. The event is to be called Live8.

Unfortunately, there are many that site scepticism about Live 8 in terms of what it can actually deliver for the poorest in Africa. Sir Bob Geldof and the team behind Live 8 suggest that is precisely why the objective this time is not fund-raising but awareness-raising. Tickets for the event will be available through an SMS lottery and I really hope that the airtime /telephone companies do not charge / profit with through the sms handling/service charges.

A massive rally is planned in Edinburgh on the 2nd July and many organisations have already started to mobilise the logistics for this event.

20 years after the original Live Aid event, there is still a struggle for life (food, sanitisation, education, health, corruption…) in many parts of the world. Recently it was reported that by 2020 an estimated 2Billion people in the world will be living in shanty and makeshift shelters.

I want to see a time when we write about the harmonisation that took place in the 21st century. When we all got together and demanded change rather than being patient pacifiers. If you get a chance to attend the Live8 event, enjoy it, but most of all yell for freedom from poverty, ‘NOW’!

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Suffocating the lungs of the Earth

In early May 2005, the Brazilian government announced that almost one-fifth of the Amazon has now been cleared by deforestation. If we look back at the unfortunate progressive destruction statistics, the future appears bleak for what some describe as ‘the lungs of the earth’. Why is Brazil losing so much forest? What can be done to slow deforestation?

Today deforestation in the Amazon is the result of several factors, including:

Clearing for cattle pasture - The devaluation of the Brazilian currency against the dollar has effectively doubled the price of beef in Brazilian currency and created an incentive for ranchers to expand their pasture areas at the expense of the rainforest. The eradication of Foot-and-Mouth Disease in much of Brazil has increased price and demand for Brazilian beef. In addition, Brazil’s recent road construction has gives developers and ranchers access to previously inaccessible forestlands in the Amazon.

Colonization -
A large amount of deforestation is caused by the subsistence activities of poor farmers who are encouraged to settle on forestlands by government land policies. This issue is combined with Brazilian squatter rights. - After five years the squatter acquires ownership and hence the right to sell the land. Up until at least the mid-1990s this system was worsened by the government, policy that allowed each claimant to gain title for an amount of land up to three times the amount of forest cleared. It has also been observed that poor farmers are using fire for clearing land. Every year satellite images pick up thousands of fires burning across the Amazon.

Commercial agriculture - Recently soybeans have become one of the most important contributors to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Thanks to a new variety of soybean developed by Brazilian scientists to flourish rainforest climate, Brazil is on the verge of supplanting the United States as the world's leading exporter of soybeans. Logging - In theory, logging in the Amazon is controlled by strict licensing which only allows timber to be harvested in designated areas. However, there is significant evidence that illegal logging is quite widespread in Brazil

What can we do? We could reduce our paper and wood consumption. N.B Over seventy-eight percent of the Earth's original old growth forests have already been logged or degraded. You can help by using both sides of each piece of paper when taking notes, using cloth napkins / towels and avoid using disposable paper plates and cups. In addition, when purchasing paper products, choose products with the highest percentage of recycled content.

The burning of oil, gas, and coal is the primary cause of climate change, a trend that is threatening the stability of the global climate. Scientists have predicted that if we stay on our current path, global temperatures will rise between 2° and 9° Fahrenheit in the next century.You can help alleviate oil's impact on the environment by reducing your own oil and gas consumption. Whenever possible, leave your car at home and instead walk, ride your bike or use public transportation.

What is difficult to comprehend is the fact that a country like Brazil is trying its best to come out of poverty. The hope of the country maybe that economic recovery can lead to a better life for those that have suffered in the past. However, the price should not be the devastation of the Earth. Instead, economic leaders should collectively decide on each country’s strengths and balance their contribution. For example, we know that deforestation is bad so what industries can countries compromise between them to specialise in. Unfortunately, in a competitive world country’s will do what they can to gain revenues. There must be another world attitude that is not based on pure capitalism!

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