Monday 30 January 2017

The Poor to the Rich: Stand by Me

Posted by Tioti Timon *
The debt of developing countries refers to the external debt which is incurred by their governments, typically in amounts beyond their governments' ability to repay. Therefore there have been ongoing calls for lifting this burden of debt, with significant debt cancellation having been granted in 2006.
However, it is not merely a matter of lifting the burden of the debt which poor nations have towards the rich.  I argue here that the rich nations have a debt towards the poor, on the basis of the disastrous effects of those activities which have made them rich.  The subject is vast, and the debate is obscured by many factors.  I begin therefore with a description of my personal experience, which reflects the overriding concern of my own Pacific nation. 

Casting my mind back over many years, the palm trees where I once played and climbed as a child have gone. What little fresh water there was is now contaminated by salt. There is no rain, and all the low lying land is being washed away. With a lack of fresh water, our children suffer from dysentery. The graveyards of our relatives are being swallowed up by the sea. For the old people this is very hard. Our culture and our history is being washed away. 

It is a story which may be told in many different forms, in many different places.  Life is degraded through the so-called progress of humanity, and those on the receiving end find themselves helpless.

As the world merges into the technological age, what future is there for the powerless, innocent people struggling to get on with life?  Whom shall we blame, and would the perpetrator accept their being blamed?  Or is blame even necessary to motivate compassion?  Parliamentarians speak easily of justice, peace, security, and a higher standard of living in their campaigns.  Is it bringing justice to the lowly and powerless who have no say?  Everything in this world is a race to be seen, and be ranked at the top of all human powers. 

Why do developed, rich countries give aid to developing countries, yet fail to make the changes which matter most?

Are there any lessons we can draw from traditional Christian teachings? When Jesus came to the world, He brought justice with a new set of rules.  Love one another as you love yourself—a new commandment not only for the individual, but to level everyone on the hierarchy of standards, and to bring peace within the world nations.  Many of the global countries profess to be Christian countries, whether through heritage or through living faith.  Why not use the new commandment of Christ, and care for our helplessness on washed out islands during these times?

The people of Kiribati, who are at the top of the list of nations endangered by global developments, cry for the world to have compassion, and to think of us, a Third World struggling nation who have no say, and have no power to protect ourselves from the side-effects of the technological age.  The fact that our government needed at all to beg the larger countries at Copenhagen shows the ignorance of the world with regard to their tiny younger brother begging for help in times of need.

A cry for justice may be scoffed at with ignorance, as our cry would hold back bigger countries in their race for the most powerful position.  Our cry is a mere bump on the road for them, but we pray to our loving heavenly Father that someone will emerge with a plan, to convince our big brother nations to help and stand by us this time.

We call for nations not merely to think in terms of others’ debt towards them, or the neutralisation of that debt, but to think of their own debt towards others.  I conclude by quoting the preamble of a statement by the Australian Uniting Church on Human Rights: 
‘We believe that God has given humanity gifts and skills for the benefit of the earth and humanity itself. These gifts include the capacity for love, compassion, wisdom, generosity, and moral choice.  They come with the responsibility to ensure the health and wellbeing of present and future generations and the earth.’

* Tioti Timon is a bishop in the Kiribati Uniting Church.


Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Thank you Bishop Timon. I think the way that we live today has literally become inconsequential, which is to say, we have lost our connection with the consequences. I think of a man who stumbled with a bucket of petrol in Betio, in your own homeland. Thousands of people lost their water supply that day, as it seeped into the fresh water lens. Here, from where I now write, I could pour a bucket of petrol into the street, and nobody would know or care. Cumulatively, it is our loss of connection with the consequences, with our world, that is wreaking havoc.

Tessa den Uyl said...

Looking around, I think a large group of persons does care. These persons will not make up the majority but however this group is not that small. I think the problem is to not know how to care.

Whether large - (government) or small (family) systems, care often reduces to a form of manipulation. As long as care is a form of resistance, of forced action, of personal preference, what can care mean?

In cinese there is the expression: Woe Wei, which means without causing. Meddlesomeness is a human trait. Strained action has lost harmony in that very moment of resistance. For example to cut the tree for not liking where it stands, instead of seeing the shade it can provide (to build a bower afterwards).

Today, the loss of connections in regard to the consequences (as Thomas points to) is something maybe not even possible to reconnect. How can we recognise what will happen when we are completely entangled? Contamination is part of us. Men has lost self-control, and with that, I think, care as well.

Keith said...

You give excellent voice, Tioti, to the many environmental degradations already endured by your home of Kiribati: the disappearance of palm trees, a paucity of fresh water caused by salinization, absence of rain, land inundated and washed away by sea rise. The kinds of existential threats staring many communities, big and small, directly in the face.

Yet, all appearances are that the world still hasn’t mobilised in serious-enough ways to push back globally against anthropogenic climate change. For example, the most-recent activity by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change seems woefully underwhelming. Sure, the Paris agreement, finally ratified last year, sets out ostensibly noble targets. Among them, to limit the increase in global warming to no more than 2°C (or better, 1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels. But given the current emissions momentum and visible, measurable effects of climate change, the target’s do-ability seems called into question.

The Achilles’ heel of the agreement, it would appear, is this: It leaves to each country to set out what changes it chooses to implement to help the world reach that aggregated goal—what are unabashedly called ‘nationally determined contributions’. Does the perception of (nonbinding, unenforceable) ‘contributions’ by the 190-plus countries have a sufficient ring of urgency and accountability? Is the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’, distinguishing between developed and developing countries, delineated firmly enough? In this context of ‘contributions’, what the Paris Conference labeled as a “historic turning point” in reducing global warming, therefore, perhaps really isn’t.

To that point, the voluntary nation-by-nation ‘contributions’ may make it too seductive—especially in light of projected costs of climate-change mitigation to industry and government alike—to fudge and let the other guy bear more of the burden. The repercussion that countries face for falling short, say, of significantly meeting their ‘contributions’ is to be ‘named and shamed’. Will all parties to the agreement be incentivized to prove honest brokers? We’ll see.

What all of that—and, of course, much more!—means not just for the Kiribatis of the world but for all nations, large and small, looms as a patently conspicuous question mark. Your country, Tioti, is clearly among those on the immediate front lines, already paying dearly for what many people would paint as the world’s environmentally consequential mismanagement. Just as the causes were multidimensional, so will be the remedies.

docmartincohen said...

The post really starts with an economic issue: that of debate and debt-repayments. I'm not sure how it helps to get into the question of whether scientists can now decide the world's temperature - or not. (I believe not.) The author writes after some wider discussion too recently about Western 'aid' - which has raised the question of how much is really charitable and how much is self-interested. Even private foundations which do intend to be charitable risk making social inequalities worse, as I'm sure Tioti Timon will be able to say better than me.

The point is, I think, that power lies with the rich world, and with power is responsibility. To the extent that this responsibility is not only not discharged, but is misrepresented as charitable interventions is part of a political discourse founded on deception.

One example of this dishonesty is the argument that the inequalities suffered by communities within the rich world should be set against the 'aid' to the developing countries. The reality is that both groups are victims of the same amoral instrumentalism - that values neither peoples nor the planet.

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