OPINION: For the Good of Humanity – Towards a Culture of Caring

In this column, Andrew MacMillan, former director of the Field Operations Division of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and joint author with Ignacio Trueba of ‘How to End Hunger in Times of Crises’, argues that behind the so-called success of globalisation lie problems that are “taken for granted” and little thought is given to how it can be better managed to serve the interests of people.

By Andrew MacMillan
ROME, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

About a week ago my wife was taken to hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia. She was promptly treated with antibiotics and, wonderfully, is now on the mend.

What has struck me about this experience is not so much the high professionalism of the health workers or their up-to-date hospital equipment but the fact that she has become immersed in what can best be described as “a culture of caring”.

Andrew MacMillan

Andrew MacMillan

She and the other patients in her ward are looked after round the clock by an extraordinary team of state-employed nurses in a quiet, efficient and courteous way that inspires confidence.

I suppose that there is nothing particularly unusual about this. Caring for others is a very natural human trait. Everywhere, mothers care for their children; sons and daughters care for their aging parents; and neighbours rush to help each other when they hit problems.

Perhaps, however, “modern” societies – if one dares to generalise about them – are driven more by the quest for individual material wealth than by any widely expressed wish to do things for the general good of humanity.

Unless you live in Bhutan, your country’s performance is measured not in terms of the happiness of its people but by the growth of its Gross Domestic Product; bankers and businessmen reward themselves with salary bonuses rather than with extra time with their families; and those who enjoy the highest pinnacles of wealth vie with each other over the size of their fleet of private jets or the tonnage of their personal yachts.

The idiosyncrasies of the super-rich and celebrities would not matter much if they had not become the new role models for people who aspire to “do well” in life and if their wealth did not entitle them to a voice in the corridors of world power. It seems odd that Presidents and Prime Ministers flock each year in January to [the World Economic Forum in] Davos to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, but perhaps this is simply a tacit admission of the influence that the latter have.“I believe that most people, at heart, want to see globalisation bring greater fairness and justice
even if this comes at the partial expense of our own material well-being”

Much of the recent material gains all around the planet is the result of the processes of globalisation that have successfully combined inventiveness, capital, low-cost but increasingly skilled labour and cheap transportation in new ways that have flooded the world’s markets with an amazing array of tantalising goods.

This apparent success of globalisation, however, may distract political attention from the idea that it could perhaps work better in everyone’s interest.

It seems absurd that 6 billion mobile phones have been produced and sold but 800 million people still go hungry every day; that, as people travel further, faster and more frequently, diseases such as Ebola spread more rapidly and more widely but the institutions responsible for protecting us from increased threats remain desperately under-funded; and that governments hesitate to upset their voters by acting to trim greenhouse gas emissions while, as predicted, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events is repeatedly wreaking havoc upon the unfortunate.

We tend to take these problems for granted rather than face up to the need to identify how to best manage globalisation in the interests of humanity.

I believe that most people, at heart, want to see globalisation bring greater fairness and justice even if this comes at the partial expense of our own material well-being.

I do not think that there are many people who, if asked, would want to see others starve for lack of food, who welcome greater weather instability or who think that it is right that their children should suffer from the environmental damage that results from our unsustainable lifestyles.

In a sense, President Lula of Brazil put this idea to the test during his successful 2002 campaign. Breaking out of the normal political mould, he did not promise his voters higher incomes but simply pledged that all Brazilians would enjoy three meals a day by the end of his term in office.

He unveiled his Zero Hunger Programme on his first day as President, with the State assuming the responsibility for assuring that all the poorest families in the country could fulfil their right to food. There was huge outpouring of popular support for his efforts to create the more just and equitable society that has now emerged.

What many of us would like to see is the emergence of a new international consciousness of social justice similar to that proposed by Lula and embraced by Brazilians twelve years ago.

It must be founded on a growing public recognition of the unique role that multilateral institutions have to play in ensuring that globalisation is harnessed to benefit all people, especially the poorest of the poor. It must also assure greater inter-generational fairness in the use of our planet’s scarce resources.

Nowhere is the need for greater fairness more apparent than in the realm of food management – where we face a crazy situation in which, though ample food is produced, the health of more than half the world’s population is now damaged by bad nutrition.

It is fitting that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, should have launched his personal “Zero Hunger Challenge” in Brazil in 2012 when he called for the elimination of hunger “within my lifetime”.

The fact that the current Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – the United Nations agency that that oversees global food management – is José Graziano da Silva, who was the Brazilian architect of Lula’s Zero Hunger Programme, inspires confidence that it will do all in its power to bring about a world without hunger.

We can already see a renewed FAO in action – committed to ending hunger and malnutrition, more focused in its goals, working as one and embracing partnerships for a better present and future. Four more years will allow Graziano da Silva to consolidate the transformations he has begun and realise their full effect to the benefit of the world´s poor and hungry.

Hopefully 2015 will be a year in which the world’s leaders will become the champions of the justice and fairness – the caring society that my wife has experienced – to which so many of us aspire.

At the very least, they should pick up the thought that, as in Brazil, it should be a perfectly normal function of any self-respecting government to ensure that all its people can eat healthily.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

Haitians Worry World Bank-Assisted Mining Law Could Result in “Looting”

The road to Baradares in north central Haiti. The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector. Credit: Lee Cohen/cc by 2.0

The road to Baradares in north central Haiti. The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector. Credit: Lee Cohen/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

With Haiti’s Parliament possibly set to dissolve by Tuesday, civil society groups are worried that the Haitian president may move to unilaterally put in place a contentious revision to the country’s decades-old mining law.

Starting in 2013, that draft was written with technical assistance from the World Bank. Last week, a half-dozen Haitian groups filed a formal appeal with the bank’s complaints office, expressing concern that the legislation had been crafted without the public consultation often required under the Washington-based development funder’s own policies.“The process has been very opaque, with a small group of experts from the World Bank and Haitian government officials drafting this law.” — Sarah Singh

The aim of the new draft mining law appears to be a massive expansion of Haiti’s mining sector, paving the way for the entry of foreign companies already interested in the country’s significant gold and other deposits.

“Community leaders … are encouraging communities to think critically about ‘development’, and to not simply accept projects defined by outsiders,” Ellie Happel, an attorney in Port-au-Prince who has been involved in the complaint, told IPS.

“These projects often fail. And, in the case with gold mining, residents learn that these projects may threaten their very way of life.”

Haiti’s extractives permitting process is currently extensive and bureaucratic. Yet the new revisions would bypass parliamentary oversight altogether, halting even a requirement that agreement terms be made public, according to a draft leaked in July.

Critics worry that this streamlining, coupled with the Haitian government’s weakness in ensuring oversight, could result in social and environmental problems, particularly damaging to a largely agrarian economy. Further, there is question as to whether exploitation of this lucrative minerals wealth would benefit the country’s vast impoverished population.

“The World Bank’s involvement in developing the Draft Mining Law lends the law credibility, which is likely to encourage investment in the Haitian mining sector,” the complaint, filed with the bank’s Inspection Panel on Wednesday, states.

“[T]his increased investment in the mining sector will result in … contamination of vital waterways, impacts on the agriculture sector, and involuntary displacement of communities. Complainants are also concerned about the exclusion of Haitian people from the law reform process, particularly when contrasted with the reported regular participation of the private sector in drafting the new law.”

An opaque process

The complaint comes five years after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, and as political instability is threatening reconstruction and development progress made in that catastrophe’s aftermath. Elections have been repeatedly put off for more than two years, and by Tuesday so many members of Parliament are slated to have finished their terms that the body would lack a quorum.

On Sunday Haitian President Michel Martelly indicated that a deal might be near. But the leftist opposition was reportedly not part of this agreement, and has repeatedly warned that the president is planning to rule by decree.

The Inspection Panel complaint, filed by six civil society groups operating under the umbrella Kolektif Jistis Min (the Justice in Mining Collective), contextualises its concerns against this backdrop of instability. “[T]he Haitian government may be poised to adopt the Draft Mining Law by decree, outside the democratic process,” it states.

Even if the political crisis is dealt with soon, concerns with the legislation’s drafting process will remain.

The Justice in Mining Collective, which represents around 50,000 Haitians, drew up the complaint after the draft mining law was leaked in July. No formal copy of the legislation has been made public, nor has the French-language draft law been translated into Haitian Creole, the most commonly spoken language.

“The process has been very opaque, with a small group of experts from the World Bank and Haitian government officials drafting this law,” Sarah Singh, the director of strategic support with Accountability Counsel, a legal advocacy group that consulted on the complaint and is representing some Haitian communities, told IPS.

“They’ve had two meetings that, to my knowledge, were invite-only and held in French, at which the majority of attendees were private investors and some big NGOs. Yet the bank’s response to complaints of this lack of consultation has been to say this is the government’s responsibility.”

The Justice in Mining Collective is suggesting that this lack of consultation runs counter to social and environmental guidelines that undergird all World Bank investments. These policies would also call for a broad environmental assessment across the sector, something local civil society is now demanding – to be followed by a major public debate around the assessment’s findings and the potential role large-scale mining could play in Haiti’s development.

Yet the World Bank is not actually investing in the Haitian mining sector, and it is not clear that the institution’s technical assistance is required to conform to the safeguards policies. In a November letter, the bank noted that its engagement on the Haitian mining law has been confined to sharing international best practices.

Yet Singh says she and others believe the safeguards do still apply, particularly given the scope of the new legislation’s impact.

“This will change the entire legal regime,” she says. “The idea that bank could do that and not have the safeguards apply seems hugely problematic.”

A World Bank spokesperson did confirm to IPS that the Inspection Panel has received the Haitian complaint. If the panel registers the request, she said, the bank’s management would have around a month to submit a response, following which the bank’s board would decide whether the complaint should be investigated.

Parliamentary moratorium

Certainly sensitivities around the Haitian extractives sector have increased in recent years.

Minerals prospecting in Haiti has expanded significantly over the past half-decade, though no company has yet moved beyond exploration. In 2012, when the government approved its first full mining permit in years, the Parliament balked, issuing a non-binding moratorium on all extraction until a sector-wide assessment could take place.

Meanwhile, Haitians have been looking across the border at some of the mining-related problems experienced in the Dominican Republic, including water pollution. Civil society groups have also been reaching out to other countries in the Global South, trying to understand the experiences of other communities around large-scale extractives operations.

Current views are also being informed by decades of historical experience in Haiti, as well. Since the country’s independence in the early 19th century, several foreign companies have engaged many years of gold mining.

That was a “negative, even catastrophic, experience,” according to a statement from the Justice in Mining Collective released following the leak of the draft mining law in July.

“Mining exploitation has never contributed to the development of Haiti. To the contrary, the history of gold exploitation is one marked by blood and suffering since the beginning,” the statement warned.

“When we consider the importance of and the potential consequences of mineral exploitation, we note this change in the law as a sort of scandal that may facilitate further looting, without even the people aware of the consequences.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org