money does not smell. or does it?

in case you are among those, who wonder how the London’s properties have become so unaffordable to buy and if you wonder why in developing countries governments struggle to provide the basic public services to their citizens, here is one of the answers. Apparently, 2.25 sq miles of London property or in other words – 36,342 London properties – are held by hidden companies registered in offshore havens.

Find our more here. 

ti corruption

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Doing big things

“I was not looking for a big stage, but i wanted to do big things”.

David Miliband as the CEO of International Rescue Committee in a very interesting interview with Bloomberg.

Rephrasing David Miliband, my wish to myself and all my blog readers in 2014 is: to dream big and to do big things you dont need a big stage but only a purpose, passion and belief in yourself. Have an inspiring, successful and happy New Year!

who should be benefitting from aid: receiver or giver?

I already wrote in April here about the controversial and ineffective US food aid programme, which delivers about 50% of all the international food aid. Today Foreign Policy Journal has published a great article on this matter illustrating the big dilemma US politicians face: to be effective (feed more people for the same amount of money) or save American jobs in agriculture and shipping industry sectors. Farm bill, which is currently under revision, is still an opportunity for food aid reform proponents to suggest/ make the long overdue changes, however lobbyists representing farmers and shipping industry may again kill this hope.

It is understandable that politicians are prioritizing interests of their citizens, but this is not what aid is about. Aid, which in essence is a voluntary transfer of resources from one country to another, should be given in a way which maximizes the benefits to the receiver not the giver. But at the moment US food aid is a substantial instrument to subsidize and support US agriculture sector (all US food aid should be produced in the US) and shipping industry (which is shipping all the food aid to the respective places around the world) rather than the actual beneficiaries. Moreover, up to 75% of funds spent on food aid may at the end stay in the hands of US businesses which eventually makes it very difficult to label this food aid as ‘aid’.

If all the food aid would be purchased/produced locally/ regionally and delivered based on the principles of efficiency, effectiveness and long-term empowerment only, it would:

  • improve local/ regional economies through employment, industrial and agricultural development, investment;
  • decrease the risk of harming/ crippling/ destroying local markets through dumping free food aid and creating dependency on free food;
  • improve carbon footprint, reduce transportation costs and deliver more environmentally-friendly aid;
  • improve local capacity and self-sufficiency to produce/ store/ transport and distribute food;
  • improve the quality of the food (countries and regions around the world have so diverse habits and traditions with respect to food; just imagine, if from tomorrow you, who loves pasta, had to eat lentils or corn and just that);

This is extraordinary example of hypocrisy and commercialization of aid undermining its core principles and aims.

Londoners speak up: safe cycling, Turkey and HUNGER!

UK is far from being a perfect democracy. There are lots of elements in its political governance which seem to me undemocratic, unfair and too elitist. However, it is certainly one of the countries with the most active civil society. It might have been just a coincidence, but yesterday (June 8) I happened to witness or be part of 3 protests and campaigns.

In Trafalgar square few hundreds were protesting against the Turkish government and protest Turkey Trafalgar squareexpressing solidarity with Turkish people. And, not every day i am stopped on the central London streets and surprised by hundreds of naked cyclists (apparently that was the London World Naked Bike Ride raising awareness of issues like safety of cyclists, oil dependence and London World Naked Bike rideplanet’s environment). But, in Hyde Park about 45 000 people gathered to protest against hunger and to demand the G8 countries with David Cameron in the leading seat to address issues like taxes, land ownership and nutrition.

Enough Food for everyone IF campaign, which is backed by more than 200 organizations, is demanding the world leaders to fix the food system as a result of Enough Food IFwhich about 2 million (!!!!! that’s the total number of Latvians on this planet!!!) children are dying every year. This campaign being supported by several celebrities (Bil Gates, David Beckham, Angelique Kidjo, Danny Boyle etc) is asking for more effective aid, action on tax dodging, transparency, sorting land issues (maintaining land for locals instead of selling it off to multinational companies) etc. Event in Hyde Park was sending to the world a clear message: poverty is a result of human action, mostly by men and if it can be created it can also be terminated. Fight against poverty is not a charity it is an act of justice. And, i particularly second the statement made by the former end tax havensMinister on Nutrition of Mandela’s government in South Africa who said: we need to replace the mantra of “more economic growth, more economic growth, more economic growth” with “food and dignity for all”.

There are also weaknesses of this campaign (one good critical article is here written by World Development Movement). Yesterday David Cameron held Hunger summit (Nutrition for Growth event) which in a way is a response to the IF campaign. Though the overall aims of this G8 micro-summit and its participants may be fine, the HOW is what matters here. As the focus is very much on public-private partnership, where ‘private’ very much means – big multinational companies which as a result of this summit and commitments will receive extra support from western (funding) as well as developing countries’ (permissions, access to land and favorable treatment) governments, this initiative can be detrimental to any efforts to make the developing countries self-sufficient and capable to escape the curse of poverty.

The real issue is not a lack of food, it is about the distribution, power and inequality. Moreover, it is also not about lack of capacity of developing countries to produce food. But, it is about:

  • access to resources (land ownership, tools, seeds, fertilizers),
  • access to market (competition with big global producers, subsidized import food stuff, physical infrastructure to sell and buy),
  • food prices (as long as commodities markets (banks betting on and profiting from global food prices) will be allowed, local farmers and people will be dependent on global food prices which directly affect affordability of food) and
  • overall investment in education and economic infrastructure thus building people’s capacity to have knowledge, skills, jobs and opportunities.

See also:

https://sandramartinsone.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/food-crisis-is-man-made-constructed-phenomenon/

https://sandramartinsone.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/will-aid-effectiveness-win-over-us-national-interests/

https://sandramartinsone.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/taste-the-waste/

will aid effectiveness win over US national interests?

International food assistance has been one of the areas with the most controversies regarding its effectiveness and side effects, therefore positively unexpected is this Obama’s proposal to reform USA food aid. As a result of this, i would say, revolutionary change the same amount of funds currently spent on food aid could feed extra 17 million people a year (!!!) and local food producers would become important actors of aid system and boost local economic development. The problem right now is that food aid given by USA should be produced in the USA and shipped to the respective countries by USA cargo ships.

Last year I already wrote here about problems with USAID and how in essence it functions as an US export industry promoter rather than an international aid instrument. Because of USAID’s massive budget (around USD 12 billion) a change proposal which Obama is putting forward would mean that food aid could be purchased locally which is more effective and rational, cheaper, quicker, environment-friendly (imagine all the cargo ships currently shipping all the food aid from the states to countries in need?) and most importantly – would help more people in need. Moreover, such an aid may enable more countries to get out of their vicious circle of dependence on aid; currently food aid is counter-productive in terms of developing/ advancing local food/ agriculture sector.

I will be closely following the 2014 US budget negotiations to see if this ‘better later than never’ proposal will be killed by US national interests (lobbyists defending interests of shipping, US agriculture, transport industry) or not..

why poverty?

Poverty. This uncomfortable word. It can be even intimidating. To some hearing about poverty may cause a sense of guilt; to some it’s a shame and a personal tragedy; to some it can cause compassion, anger, urge to do something. to some it’s ‘it is their own fault’.

when we think about poverty, very often we think about developing countries, starving children and refugee camps. But, nowadays, poverty is everywhere. Poverty can be found in the richest cities in the world. Yet, we may often prefer to ignore it, pretend as if we dont notice or see it, avoid it,  try to stay positive and not to screw up our mood. But it is still there.

Why poverty project has produced a series of short films and documentaries presenting the real face of poverty around the world. I recommend. Something to think about.

https://www.youtube.com/user/whypoverty