War: Shit Street!



  • Refugee camp

Is there shelter from the storm? Most people know that war is hell; others have been desensitized by movies and war games. However, there is no fiction in reality. Those who have witnessed it know it is no fantasy. In recent years war has come to affect people in every country in one way or another.

An article in the www.nyt.com/2015/20/06 taking its information from the UN (UNHCR) tells us that there are around 60 million refugees in the world. The Economist uses the same figure but gives it a concrete context by linking it to the population of Italy; that’s a lot of people. Side Bar:

  • The new term for refugees is ‘displaced persons’. Displaced is a nice word but does not give sufficient gravity to the situation. Running from hell is not exactly being displaced; it’s fleeing for your life. We are not talking of a set of keys that you know will turn up.

There is no shortage of war zones. Middle East: Syria, Yemen and Iraq with the spread of Islamic revolution by ISIS. Sub-Sahara Africa with: Somalia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, with another Islamic group Boko Haram. The surprise area for some will be Columbia in South America.

Why is there such a fire burning around the globe? A main reason is political power as in Syria where the dictatorial Assad regime is in conflict with groups seeking more democratic rights. The consequences are that nearly 50% of the population has been forced to flee their homes. Many have simply fled within the country but some 4 million have scattered abroad.

Neighbours, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and war torn Iraq have taken many Syrians in. The NYT suggest Egypt has 138,000; the Economist says Turkey has 1.7 million. It’s important to get the numbers right as aid being sent to the accommodating nations requires solid numbers to meet the need.

  • ISIS has driven an approximate 2.6 million Iraqis from their homes.

The civil war in Syria has affected 5 / 6 of its neighbours directly. However, the ramifications go much further. Thousands have made a dash for Europe or America. For Europe they have travelled to Libya, which itself is in turmoil, to find passage across the Mediterranean Sea. There is not a warm welcome in Europe because in their travels they meet up with other refugees from various parts of the world who are also escaping hell.

It is understandable that they want to flee the hell of their home nations to find the perceived stability elsewhere. The problem is that America is trying on a daily basis to stem the flood of migrants from South America. Europe, in a period of austerity, and a history over the last 20 years of conflict in the Balkans and presently in Ukraine, is panicked by the flow.

The influx of migrants has caused a political storm in Europe, which has seen a rise in radical parties. Politicians can’t ignore this trend. Hungary, is debating whether to construct a 100 mile fence to stop migrants crossing over from Serbia as numbers have increased from 30,000 to 100,000 in the past year. There is a huge cost in both political and financial terms in trying to cope with increasing numbers.

There are many poor people in the UK; some estimates suggest upward of 2.7 million families are affected. A large influx of economic migrants can have a direct impact on the poor by forcing wages down, putting pressure on housing and waiting lists for doctors, dentists etc. Thus little surprise that most poor people will not welcome migrants.

th67LNBAFYIn sub-Sahara Africa an estimated 15 million refugees have been forced from their homes. Ethiopia, houses an approximate 665,000 mainly from Somalia and South Sudan. An interesting point made by the NYT report was that most African refugees stay in Africa. Another point raised by the Economist is that 85% of refugees have sought shelter in developing countries.

It may appear cruel on those fleeing hell but developing nations often don’t have the resources to cope with an influx of refugees. Ethiopia is such a case. This country is still a recipient of foreign aid of over £200 million just to sustain their own population.

Unfortunately, those fleeing horror face further danger of exploitation. Even if they manage to reach the UK or USA they are used as cheap labour or forced into the sex trade. When it comes to humans there is no depth to their barbarity. The continued struggle in Columbia has caused the uprooting of around 6 million, 136,000 in 2014 alone. A further 360,000 have fled abroad to adjoining nations or perhaps trying to reach the USA.

If only there was an easy solution but being tied to politics, fear and cost there is no straightforward option. It is at a time like this that we witness the selfish gene come to the fore and this gene can be very erratic, and cruel.

World Poverty: And Latin America.

thCAW6GJQ3Latin America is a land of extreme contrasts. According to thCARS9HJEthe World Bank (WB) poverty in Latin America has dropped significantly. The United Nations (UN) joins the flag waving celebrations for a major reduction in poverty between 1990 and 2010, down from 48% to 31%. That means there are only 177 million poor people in Latin America now. Figures of a similar nature allow the WB to claim, “Today we can safely say that moderate poverty in Latin America has dropped by 73 million since 2003.” The figure is significant and should be celebrated but with a dash of caution.

A few issues can be raised here; we already know that the $1 a-day threshold is, (upped to $1.25 in 2005) by the Bank’s own admission a ‘very frugal’ means of measuring poverty and, some would say quite unrealistic. Unfortunately, until we have a universally agreed criterion for measuring poverty all figures issued by the various bodies are suspect, or to be blunt, unbelievable. The second point to be raised here is the use of the term ‘moderate’. This differs from the WB usual catchphrase of ‘extreme’. The drop in poverty is good news and the Bank it would seem just wanted to join the party.

What constitutes ‘moderate’ poverty?  By the WB own definition anyone living on less than $2 a-day, which contrasts with the less than $1.25 a-day threshold of ‘extreme’ poverty. The difference between the two figures is such a pittance that it is a concern that they are used to measure a person’s place in society. I am sure that in the ‘favelas’ of Brasil there are folks living side by side, sharing the desperate struggle to survive on slightly different incomes. I would surmise that in every shanty town and slum throughout the developing world and in slums everywhere a similar situation prevails. Does the extra few cents mean that those who have it get better access to health, education and a higher standard of living? They share the slum but statistically one is in a superior position vis-à-vis the other? Should I laugh or cry?

In Brasil the annual cost of living increase in the minimum wage contrasted with the static $1.25 a-day threshold raises a serious question:

2009 – R$ 465                 2010 – R$ 545,      2012 – R$ 622,                    2013 – R$675.

How realistic and reliable is the ‘threshold’? Surely over a period of time the minimum wage will surpass the $1.25 a-day?   As the ‘threshold’ will remain constant until 2030, it’s inevitable that most will have moved above the threshold but not out of poverty because prices will have continued to rise. Nonetheless, statistically they will be out of poverty according to the World Bank. Go figure!! A further point needs to be considered and that is inflation; in 2009 you would get 60 centavos in exchange for the US$, in 2013 you only receive 45c.

thCAF7XZLLWealth distribution is a key element of many economies in Latin America. Whilst some nations may lay claim to a reduction in poverty rates the income disparity makes them divided societies. “Latin America is the most unequal region in the world.” (Wikipedia.org). In 2007 the WB itself pointed out that the richest 10% earn 48% of income whilst the lowest 10% manage 1.6% of the regions income.

A case in point is Chile, which according to the statistics is on an industrial surge. Unemployment is reported as 6.4% and the poverty rate as one of the lowest on the continent. Foreign investment of just over $28bn is a 60% increase on previous years. To add to the glowing picture the growth rate between 2003/ 2012 is a healthy 5% annually and inflation is presently at a low of 2.8%. (CIA)

The downside is the income distribution, with the lowest 10% earning 1.5% of the nation’s wealth, while the top 10% have 43% of income. This lead the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to remark that the, “severe income inequality ranks as the worst…” of its members. Access to education is just as unequal as the distribution in wealth. These two factors will in the long run prevent Chile from sustaining its growth. To survive the country will have to accept greater equality or widespread intellectual migration and pray that the export market remains buoyant.

In Argentina the situation has already reached catastrophe level for the poor. It is reported that the inflation rate has surpassed the 25% mark. Thus unless wages and other forms of income are keeping pace then survival has just got desperate. “Inflation and import taxes have rendered many goods in Argentina overpriced.” It does not help the situation when the government, “…doctors its official economic statistics.” www.economist.com/blogs/americasview

There is hardly any point trying to analyse economic data if it has been doctored!

Columbia is similar to Chile in its income disparity. The World Bank warns that the country’s Gini coefficient at 0.587 in 2000 and 0.559 in 2010 gives it the dubious honour of being one of the most unequal places in Latin America by wealth distribution. A Gini coefficient of above 0.4 was deemed a dangerous level.

th[10]While Chile is experiencing a growth spurt, Brasil is having a bit of a downturn. The industrial growth rate for 2012 was thCAJC5OGO-0.3%. However, a more telling point economically comes from the figures for GDP, 2010 = 7.5%           2011 = 2.7%        2012 = 1.3%. The trend is notably downward. Another damning figure is the one for people living below the poverty line given as 21.5%. That is a high number by any standards. The situation is chronic in the north-eastern region with a reported 60% in poverty.

Official government figures take a more positive approach by suggesting that only 4.2% of the population live in ‘extreme’ poverty. Furthermore, a study by the Strategic Affairs Secretariat (SAE) in September 2012 maintains that 50% of Brasilians are now middle class. This is based on an income of: R$ 291 – R$1019, with the basic minimum wage running at R$675 it’s hardly surprising.

In contrast, a study by the Department of Statistics and Socioeconomics Studies makes the point that an income of R$2825 or 4 times the minimum wage is the minimum required for a basic living standard in Sao Paulo. It is also pointed out that food and drink prices increased by 13.5% between March 2011 & March 2012. Another increase was reported on the ‘basic basket’ in all but two cities. And to add salt to the wound industrial prices rose by6.8% over the past year. Fuel costs are also up.

Which study would you believe? Herein lies the problem with statistics and with government spin. Politicians can make statistics dance like a puppet at the hands of a master puppeteer. Every country can and do set their own poverty line. Our dilemma is who do we believe? What we can say is that millions of people are still living in poverty in Latin America and it does not look likely that their situation will change any time soon. That leaves the question as to how the WB will achieve its target of 3% or less living in ‘extreme’ poverty by 2030.

Brasil is renowned for the Mardi Gras and its football; both great to watch. Only a few years ago the future looked ever so bright as the country rose to be the sixth largest economy in the world. From the outside there was great expectations of Brasil, now it seems to have floundered somewhat. With such a high poverty level Brasil is going to find it very hard to grow its economy and for that growth to be sustained. Without a strong home base for its goods the country becomes more dependent on the export market.

The riots currently taking place throughout the country, with an estimated 1 million participating indicates just how fragile the situation is. A 20 centavo (6p) rise in bus fare was the decisive slap in the face for the people, who watched R$ millions being spent on prestigious programmes such as stadia for the world cup 2014. In 2007 the government promised that “…not a cent…” of public money would be spent on such projects, then changed tact and tried to force the people to pick up the tab.

It did not take long for the Government to reverse the transport price increase but this has not stopped the protests. The dam has broken and the peoples’ pent up anger lets the government know that the electorate want a better standard of living. There is a panic in the Brasilian government, evidenced by how quickly they responded to the bus fare hike and now promises of better transport throughout the country. More promises will follow if the protesters continue with their action.

Demands for better health care, better education, an end to corruption and greater transparency in government all point to a society of much higher standards of living and a democracy where people count. That is how Brasil will solve its long term economic problems; not by adhering to the narrow vision of the wealthy few. Listen!                       The protesters are speaking for the poor of the world.

The protests fit in with the Gini coefficient of the country which stands at 0.543, which takes it into the danger zone.  Not only is Brasil unequal in wealth distribution but is also a much divided society racially. Of those earning on or below the minimum wage 63% are black and 34% are white, this is also a considerable disparity. Unless significant changes are honed from the present demonstrations then it would seem that the favelas that surround all the major centres will be with us for a long time to come.

Based on the figures that have emerged, Latin America, it would seem, is more likely to explode in revolution than have a massive industrial surge that will slash poverty on a sustainable basis. The World Bank may be hopeful that their figure of 3% or below living in ‘extreme’ poverty can be achieved by 2030 but will life be any better for those in the poverty trap? The demands of the protesters in Brasil are the demands that should be universal for all people and until we achieve that goal world poverty will remain a plague!