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Global food and financial crisis – what can we do?

Thursday, October 23, 2008 by Marianne Elliott

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We've all been watching the global financial crisis with various degrees of interest. Some of us might be wondering what it all means for us. But maybe you've also wondered what this means for people who already live in poverty and insecurity? Further down this post you'll find a joint statement by Oxfam, Amnesty, World Vision, Greenpeace and Plan International that explains exactly what it means.

The key message is that there is a massive disparity between the scramble to rescue the wealthiest institutions in the world from the current crisis and the continued failure to keep international promises on aid, poverty reduction, human rights and climate change. The prognosis for much of the world is dire. But don't read it and weep. Do something about it.

People often ask me what they can do to make a difference in the face of these massive injustices. So here are my suggestions for you to take action.

1. Vote

If you are American or Kiwi you get to vote in the coming weeks, so make a vote for social justice at home and abroad. On the websites of various NGOs (including Oxfam) you can find out more about the policies of candidates and parties on issues that could make a difference to global inequalities.

The survey I did for Oxfam on NZ political parties is here

But if you are in the States then you can check out Oxfam America's campaign to tell your representative about your concerns about the food crisis.

2. Support/ donate

You can also financially support one of these organisations. One effect of the financial crisis is that a lot of people stop giving to organisations like Oxfam. The terrible irony is that at times like this communities in vulnerable and fragile states can least afford to lose our support. So now is a great time to make a donation.

Here is a YouTube clip about Oxfam's approach to poverty alleviation, if it appeals to you then please think about supporting Oxfam NZ. 

You can find more information about supporting Oxfam here

Here is the joint statement: Billions in bailouts for the wealthy

Last week the US government provided another bailout of $37.8 billion to the giant insurance company, AIG, bringing the total of rescue loans to that one company in the last two weeks to nearly $123 billion. This is $18 billion more than the annual amount of aid to poor countries and twice that needed to achieve the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals. In Europe the bailouts have continued. The UK government has thrown in a further £50 billion to recapitalise the UK banking sector – which is roughly what's needed for poor countries to adapt to climate change each year.

The urgency shown by rich countries to tackle the financial meltdown stands in stark contrast to their foot-dragging and broken promises over aid and poverty alleviation, human rights and climate change.

It is too soon yet to predict exactly how badly the poorest countries will fare in the financial crisis and resultant economic downturn. But it is clear that reduced demands for exports to developed countries and lower foreign investment will mean less growth and government revenue for already-fragile social protection and services.

For millions of the world's poorest citizens, it is literally a matter of life and death. In many countries social safety nets were dismantled under pressure from international financial institutions, leaving the vulnerable unprotected. In late September, while Wall Street was reeling from its financial failures in the glare of publicity, a meeting organized by the United Nations in another part of Manhattan revealed that very few governments will meet the targets set by the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty by 2015, and that rising food and energy prices have wiped away much of the progress made so far.

The human rights prognosis is not good. Not only are economic and social rights – including the right to housing, health and education – coming under increased pressure, there is a risk of more human rights violations. As the economy shrinks and countries tighten their belts, migrants and refugees could be pushed back to untenable situations. Social tensions could increase, leading nervous governments to clamp down on dissent and impose tough public security policies, curbing civil liberties. Already fragile states could be further weakened by the current crisis and slide back into instability and violence.

Worse could follow if rich countries decide to use the financial crisis as an excuse to cut aid and trade. History gives us cause for concern. During the 1972/3 recession, global aid spending fell by 15 per cent to just $28.8 billion. In 1990/3, aid donors slashed their spending by 25 per cent over a five-year period to $46 billion, and aid did not return to 1992 levels until 2003. Humanitarian aid – what we spend to help people hit by natural disasters and conflict – also fell sharply and over a similar time as a direct result of the 1990-3 recession (only the years of the Rwanda and Kosovo conflicts bucked that trend). In terms of trade, for instance, countries reacted to the 1929 Wall Street crash and global depression by erecting tariff barriers and world trade fell by two-thirds.

A replay of that in 2009 would be a disaster for poor exporting countries. Reduced aid and trade flows could mean that the people in the poorest countries pay the highest price for the profligacy of the credit bubble in North America and Europe.

Human rights are not a luxury for good times. Inaction in the face of climate change is not a viable option. Global poverty does nothing for global stability. Rich countries will be following a myopic and self-defeating strategy if they ignore the most pressing challenges of our times and focus solely on narrow financial interests.

This is not just about money. It is about sustained attention, international collaboration and clear political will to tackle big issues. The signs of concerted action by the G7 finance ministers and the Eurozone finance ministers to address the financial crisis are welcome but they are not enough. Governments must reduce the volatility in energy prices, food prices and the financial markets by ensuring sensible regulation, adequate protection for the rights of poor and vulnerable people, and long-term environmental sustainability. Governments must show decisive leadership to build a global economy that is green and where better lives and livelihoods for all is more important than a system that rewards a privileged few.

Joint statement from:

Dr. Dean Hirsch, Chief Executive Officer, World Vision International

Irene Khan, Secretary General, Amnesty International

Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director, Oxfam International

Tom Miller, Chief Executive Officer, Plan International

Gerd Leipold, International Executive Director, Greenpeace

In the lead up to Christmas this year I'll be posting more ideas about what we could all do these holidays given the global situation. Maybe you, like me, feel uncomfortable with the idea of lavish Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners when most of the world are suffering from the food crisis? Well I don't think that means we have to lose the spirit of the holidays. On the contrary I think it gives us even more chance to explore what the holidays really mean to us and to find creative ways to make a difference using these events as a springboard. 

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Gandhi: "Be the change you want to see in the world" 


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7 Responses to "Global food and financial crisis – what can we do?"

  1. Nice article. Unfortunately, I am afraid during this days most of the people think only about themselves. We are fed by media with apocalyptic stories and many people are panicking about their future. But this situation we call “crisis” is nothing compared to every day’s life in Africa, South America or some parts of Asia. They are living their “crisis” from cradle to grave – and still are able to be happy. We should understand we are still among the wealthiest citizens of Earth, with crisis or not…
    Take care

  2. Brian Hunt says:

    A great supporter of World Vision is is a dual-purpose site for building an English vocabulary and raising money for under privileged children in the most impoverished places around the world.
    Check it out at

  3. Harry Rud says:

    Was thinking of you as we drove past your old compound on the way to the airstrip in Chagcharan…
    One suggestion as to what people can do is give loans through Kiva – – an online Micro-Finance Institute that passes on loans to people in developing countries. Can’t make any personal claims for it but it seems like an interesting idea, and kinda appropriate given the credit crunch.

  4. Lubna says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post and more so for what you are doing/have been doing. You sure are brave, wish there were many more like you.

  5. Juliana says:

    Your writing, your photos, your depth of your own experience being shared: I find my moral compass steady when I am exposed to your work. I look forward to your future posts to root us more in the truest spirit of what the holidays can be for all us of that live with “so much”–I know that I personally need to hear your voice.
    Thank you.

  6. Peter says:

    Based on the previous economic crisis-es, aid agencies expect a drop of 30% of ODA funding for next year:

  7. John Mullis says:

    G’day Kiwi – Good to finally discover your new page (we met through Heba or Laila’s blog comments I think) and the fact you have a real name. Yes, I too have wondered how come we can find this bottomless pit of bail-out money and how come it was never available to fed, house, cloth and educate the worlds poor and suffering? Perhaps there’s just no profit in it?
    Wa Alaikum ElSalam

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