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From: The Socialist issue 376, 15 January 2005: Cancel the debt

Search site for keywords: Tsunami - Aid - Mozambique - Indonesia - Relief

Will the West's aid ever arrive?

THE GENEROUS response of people worldwide to the plight of the tsunami victims is a graphic example of human solidarity and internationalism. Donations of people in advanced capitalist countries in Europe, north America, Japan, Australia, etc, shamed world leaders like Blair and Bush into vastly increasing government aid to countries hit by the tsunami.

However, how much of this aid promised by governments will actually be delivered? If previous disasters are anything to go by, the surviving victims of the tsunami could stay impoverished for years.

When, for example, hurricanes devastated central America in 1998, 4.8 billion was pledged by governments, but only 1.6 billion (33%) was delivered.


After floods struck Mozambique in 2000, 214 million was pledged but only 107 million (50%) was delivered. Today, roads remain unrepaired and many people still have no access to clean water. According to The Independent (7 January): "No sooner had the floodwaters receded than the aid dried up".

When an earthquake razed the Iranian city of Bam in December 2003, killing 31,000 people, around $1 billion was pledged but only $17 million (2%) was delivered. Some 150,000 survivors still live in tents or small containers.

UN officials say some pledges for Bam that were fulfilled were for items no longer needed. They ended up in warehouses, or may have been siphoned off by the Iranian government.

But when the disaster hits closer to home and, moreover, is of political importance, then the wallets of capitalist politicians are opened wide.

The US state of Florida is run by George Bush's brother Jeb Bush. It was a closely fought battleground between Republicans and Democrat in the 2000 presidential elections. So when Hurricane Charley tore through Florida last August, just three months before the 2004 presidential election, George Bush wasted no time in allocating $3.17 billion in federal and state disaster assistance.

By December 2004, 97.2% of those eligible applications for housing and related needs had been processed and approved. George Bush was, of course, comfortably re-elected in Florida.

Arms dealers still prosper

HUGE GOVERNMENT subsidies for arms companies still dwarf any gifts to the tsunami victims. In Britain, the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), underwrites all arms deals, usually with unsavoury and often unstable regimes. If a bank lends money to an exporter whose customer fails to pay, the ECGD can give them a 100% refund.

British taxpayers and service users paid 400 million, under ECGD guarantees, to Britain's biggest arms firm, BAE for an Indonesian arms deal which collapsed when the regime could not pay for fighter jets that BAE persuaded them to buy.

Even after former Indonesian dictator Suharto was thrown out by a popular uprising in 1998, the ECGD was still bailing out arms firms who sold military equipment to Suharto's regime. In the last six years, the taxpayer has paid 645 million to arms firms for failed deals with Indonesia.

So firms aiding the Indonesian government's war in areas like Aceh get more support from Britain's government than the people of Aceh itself after the tsunami.

BAE allegedly had a 20 million slush fund to bribe officials of the reactionary regime in Saudi Arabia, one of its biggest, most profitable customers. The government, it seems, has secretly agreed to pay BAE 1 billion through the ECGD if that regime collapses.

Small change from top bosses

BRITAIN'S CORPORATIONS have been falling over themselves in donating to the tsunami relief fund. But before congratulating their directors, take a second look at their donations compared to their profits.

Vodafone: 1 million donations plus agreeing to match all its staff's donations. Last year's profits, 10 billion. Tesco has sent food, water and hygiene goods but its 100,000 is miserly compared to its 1.7 billion profit.

Retail magnate Philip Green, owner of Arcadia and Britain's fifth richest person, gave 100,000 in cash and 1 million in clothes. But that's small change to the man who received a 460 million bonus last year and who, thanks to a tax dodge, paid no tax at all on it!

And being seen as generous does wonders for the corporate image. All that publicity for a tax-deductible charitable donation!

But stinginess isn't only a corporate affliction. Rich people in general, according to the Charities Aid Foundation, only give 0.7% of their household expenditure to charity, whilst the poorest 10% allocate 3% of theirs.

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