Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Time for a re-think

One is wholly disinclined to join the chorus of second-guessers who, armed with 20/20 hindsight, argue that the Indian Ocean should have been equipped with a tsunami warning system on similar lines to that provided for the Pacific.

For sure, adequate warning would have saved thousands of lives and it is notable that the Kenyan authorities managed to raise the alarm, clearing tens of thousands of people off the beaches before the tidal wave struck.

But what's done is done and there is no point at this stage trying to apportion blame, if any is due, for the scale of the disaster we are watching unfolding on our television screens. One can only pray that the rescue and aid services do their work with maximum expedition and manage to save those people who so desperately need help.

With that, however, we must not allow this disaster to disappear once the immediate crisis is over, when the media has packed its bags and moved off to the next major global event.

Even the most superficial view of the television footage graphically illustrates that this tsunami has caused major damage to the structures and infrastructures of some of the most impoverished regions of the world, damage that is going to take years if not decades to repair.

Here, in the comfortable West, to make our donations and to express our concern is highly laudable, but it is not enough. We need to recognise that help is needed in the long-term, considerable help, way beyond the normal levels of humanitarian aid available through conventional programmes.

The level of funding required is such that we need, with utmost despatch, to rethink how we direct our aid to less privileged countries and how we are going to sustain the high level of aid needed over the years to come.

In this context, we should all pay heed to the words of Bjorn Lomberg on the subject of global warming and his views on the costs of Kyoto. According to his estimates, the best that can be achieved by the expenditure of between $150-350 billion a year is to slow down global warming by a six years of so, without in any way affecting the final outcome.

This compares with the total aid given each year to developing countries of about $50 billion, as against the estimated $200 billion that it would take once and for all solve the single biggest problem in the world. For that money, we could give clean drinking water and sanitation to every single human being on earth,

That calculation was made before the tsunami struck, but the thinking behind Lonberg’s arithmetic is now even more valid. It points to one thing. Kyoto is an expensive and unnecessary luxury that we – and in particular the developing nations - cannot afford.

In the days and week to come, therefore, we must consider quite how many people are to die, or live out their lives in poverty and disease because of the obsession with a formula that is based on cod science and is intent on wasting global resources.

At the forefront of this obsession is the EU which not only wants to saddle its own member state economies with massive, unnecessary costs, but wants nations like the United States and Russia likewise to wreck their.

Now is the time, therefore, to junk Kyoto and to put the money saved where it is really needed and will be for some time to come. And, if political constructs like the EU cannot or will not recognise this simple truth, it is time to junk them as well.

My colleague will be returning to this issue, and the general themes of aid and trade, in the near future - subjects which were never just academic but which have acquired a new urgency. They demand an expression of political will that, in the absence of political leadership, only we, the people, can articulate.

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