Monday, 30 March 2009

That's a good question and I'm glad you've raised it

Protestors - what in the name of Mike do they want?

I volunteered for a while at Schnews, a Brighton-based newsletter for the protest movement - They were a funny lot. There was one very intense woman who was taking a forestry course in Lewes purely so that she could obtain a chainsaw license (crikey). I didn't gain a lot of insight while I was there, but I do remember being shaken by the depth of their loathing for Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth - I suggested contacting them for some help on a story. I might as well have shat in the fridge. There was a distinct flavour of the Judean People's Front about the place. Eeee, happy days.

I'm pretty sure there is no codified set of aims or beliefs associated with this movement. However, the most unifying theme is probably anti-capitalism. Mainstream environmental/development pressure groups tend to either accept or embrace capitalism, and work within its confines. The protest movement genuinely wants to participate in an old-fashioned revolution, in which for-profit economic activity will be shut down, international economic institutions will collapse, national governments will fall, and people across the globe will return to pre-lapsarian agrarian subsistence lifestyles, albeit with any modern technology that can survive in a non-profit model.

I think they know that this would result in extraordinary levels of upheaval and bloodshed in the short-to-medium term, but they believe that the long-term outcome (sustainable lifestyles and an end to economic inequality) would be worth it.

I do have a sneaking sympathy for their reasoning. You don't have to look far to find evidence that the governments of the West are motivated by nothing but self-interest, and that the obscenity of global inequality is only ever addressed as an afterthought. Capitalism can't prioritise the needs of developing countries - that's not what it's for.

Anyway, if you look at that Schnews link you'll see a pretty cogent explanation of their aims.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

The capering generalist

So, the G20 Voice people have set up a Ning site (no, me neither) for us bloggers to get to know each other. I'm beginning to wish they hadn't. All the other folks started blogging c. 1953. This is despite the fact that some of them are 12. They are all enthusiastically setting up pipetubes (that's for recreational drugs, surely) and RSS feeds (nope). They all run massively innovative carbon-capture schemes while working for the World Bank.

The G20 Voice people want us each to run a round table discussion in our 'area of expertise'.
Shall we make this a poll? We could do a poll, right?

My area of expertise could be:

a) things a four-year-old won't eat;
b) the circumstances in which you can legitimately add the possessive 's' after an apostrophe;
c) Welsh funerals (with special reference to gob-smacking displays of rapacity and drunkenness).

Thursday, 26 March 2009

An abbreviation a day. Maybe an acronym if you're lucky.

MNH: maternal and newborn health.
*A woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes every minute of every day
*Childbirth is the leading killer of young women worldwide
*Infants of mothers who do not survive the delivery are more likely to die within two years
*When a mother dies, enrolment in school for younger children is delayed and older children often leave school to support their family.
*Children without a mother are less likely to be immunized, and are more likely to suffer from malnutrition and stunted growth. The implications for girls tend to be even greater.

Millennium Development Goal #5 is to reduce maternal mortality rates by 75 per cent by 2015. It’s the MDG that has seen the least progress in the last decade.

The interventions that are needed are relatively low-tech and inexpensive: trained midwives at the local level, and obstetric care for emergencies. As far as I can make out, DFID has a fairly good record in this area; the country that needs to take a big lead is (inevitably) the USA. Its funding for maternal health programmes has consistently declined. The aim is to secure $3.9 billion per year for the next ten years (based on a World Health Organization estimate). This would enable significant progress towards providing universal access to maternal and newborn care.

The current orthodoxy is that to maximise effectiveness, the donor countries need to set up innovative funding channels so that, for instance, resources for countries or regions can be pooled. The High-Level Taskforce on Innovative International Funding for Health Systems met in London earlier this month to discuss such funding channels. The published note of the meeting contains some truly frightening predictions of mortality increases in developing countries as a result of the crash in the West. It also seems to place a depressing emphasis on the importance of the private sector, which has such a mixed record of providing vital services in developing country contexts.

Some of the proposals for raising the necessary funds are unedifying (optional levies on aeroplane tickets); some are potentially more interesting (an Italian proposal to ringfence a proportion of VAT income). The note also mentions a drive towards patent pooling of important drugs (such as the three drugs used to treat childhood HIV infection, each of which is currently under patent to a different company). Australia, apparently, is 'not interested in new taxes', but then I'm guessing most of its new mothers can confidently expect to return home with their babies in good health, so that's nice for them. The Japanese observer wisely emphasised the necessity for new funding, rather than channels that would simply replace existing development aid.

Governance and corruption... wait! Come back!

There’s an interesting blog here about good governance (in both developed and developing countries), and how governments get ‘captured’. Unfortunately, I have yet to find the page on which he provides a point-by-point explanation of wtf we should do about this. But I’m sure he’s written one, right? (He’s one of the other G20 bloggers.)

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


There I was, trundling along with my gobby opinions (some of them family heirlooms, some of them from out of my own brain), when the great goddess of handed me a golden bauble: a blogger's spot at the London G20 summit.

The idea of the G20 Voice blogger project is to focus attention on global poverty and climate change, rather than the self-inflicted economic woes of some of the developed nations. The agenda of the summit and its media coverage are overwhelmed by talk of the crisis in the West, and appropriate measures of fiscal stimulus (or not). Once again, the majority world will stand and watch while its future is determined, in passing, by others.

Will the G20 Voice bloggers be able to have any effect on this bleakly familiar scenario? I know that the summit outcomes will remain absolutely unaffected by anything we do. But maybe we'll get our talons into an understrapper or two. And maybe some folks will read the blogs and use the information in them to get their elected representatives into some stress positions.