Monthly Archives: August 2010

Pakistan Floods: The Politics of Aid

Why has the international community been so slow to help Pakistan?  There is no doubt that that there is a genuine disaster underway.   Some 20 million people have now been affected and reports suggest somewhere between 1600 and 2000 people have lost their lives.

Predictably, a scout around online forums finds some people ranting that ‘our lack of response’ is an ‘anti-Muslim’ thing.  “There would be a far bigger deal if we didn’t lump Pakistan in with terrorists”.  Equally predictably in forums, we find people with the opposite world view advocating that we not help precisely because “Pakistan is Harbouring Bin Laden”, “Pakistan can still afford a nuclear program”, “Pakistanis play both ways in the War-On-Terror”, etc.   You find a strange mish-mash of some truths, some half-truths, some falsehoods and some outright racism.  And that is before you add in the obligatory “We have enough problems of our own at home and a financial crisis” to the mix.

So, is Britain either consciously or sub-consciously doing less than it should to help Pakistan?  A look at the figures would suggest not.  The stark fact is only one other country on planet Earth has thus far done more to provide aid for the disaster –

Q. Who is this mega donor?

A. The supposedly ‘Muslim Hating’ United States.

As at 17th August 2010 the US has provided approaching $100m which is 38% of all relief money.  The UK is at number two having provided 16% of all money (circa $40 million).  You can see the full list here.

What is very curious when you look at this list is the absence of any co-ordinated response from fellow Muslim countries.  On the face of it you would think these countries are beyond any ‘anti-Muslim’ charge.  It is true that there have been gestures by both Kuwait and the UAE but neither registers in the top ten.  Islamic States such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Oman, Qatar, Jordan and Libya do not even register on the donor list despite many having breathtaking petro-wealth.   This does beg a question as to why?   What has Pakistan done to so alienate itself from its brethren?   – theories I’ve heard knocking around are:

  • The Pakistani President swanning round Europe at the start of the disaster sent a message that the disaster wasn’t that bad
  • Ironically, a sense by some Muslim States that Pakistani government has sided too much with the US and become a stooge.  (Talk about being between a rock and a hard place!)
  • No sense of scale/drama.  Circa 2000 dead wouldn’t yet put the disaster in the ‘Top 10’ disasters for the last decade if you measure these things only by fatalities.  There is an element of compassion fatigue.
  • A knowing lack of faith that in a corrupt state any aid donated will reach the intended recipients
  • Some subconscious or conscious racism by Gulf States?  Pakistanis may be Muslim but they are not Arab.  Likewise with Sunni/Shia divisions….

I’m not going to pretend to know the answer or how much store to put into any of the above.   I’m also going to knock on the head the idea that the above should be used as some kind of perverse evidence for making the case the UK has already done too much.  What I do want to get across is that  we should be proud that we are leading the world in getting this tragedy on the global agenda rather than have some weird guilt-dripping angst that we’re part of a grand conspiracy to keep these people in misery.

Nick Clegg was right yesterday when he described the international response as pitiful.  He is absolutely correct to try and shame nations to matching our response.  We in Britain can and should stand tall for our doing the right thing when the innocent suffer.

As always it is also enhancing for us as individuals to help and not rely just on Governments to do the right thing.  With that in mind if you want to help the situation in Pakistan then this appeal is one of the charities where you can have a high level of confidence that your money will reach the needy.  The situation is bad.  Please give generously:  CLICK HERE TO MAKE UNICEF DONATION

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    Filed under Indulgent, Politics, UK Politics

    Cloned Cows in Food-chain: Where’s the Beef?

    One story in the press this week that had me frustrated was coverage of the revelation that two cows born from a cloned parent had their beef enter the UK human food-chain.

    The tone of all the coverage was outrage.  None of the stories went into depth about why we should be ‘outraged’ suggesting it is self-evident.  To me it was not.  That left me feeling a bit thick.  In my simple northern mind if you have a cow you would be happy to eat and you make a healthy clone then you should be happy to eat that too.  Probably 90% of the plant based food I have eaten in my entire life has been cloned and that seems to have caused me no harm and nobody seems to have lost sleep.  So is it different with mammals?

    Well, the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) has looked at the issue in some depth since 2007, they concluded that they could find no difference between healthy cloned animals and genetically similar animals produced by normal reproduction. (see here for the summary).  So what is the objection? After a bit of Googling it seems to boil down to:

    a)  Animal welfare:  the evidence is that cloned animals currently have an increased chance of birth defects.

    b) General Objections to bigger/more cattle:  Cows, particularly healthy big ones, eat a load of grain/grass to grow.  In a world of limited (and diminishing) agricultural space you could feed more humans if instead of growing food for cows and then eating the cow you simply grew food for humans.

    c) The absence of any evidence that something is a danger is not the same as evidence of it being safe.

    Now remember the trigger for the outrage is supposed to be that this beef has entered the food chain.  Argument ‘A’ is an argument against cloning full stop.  Argument B is an argument against eating cows full stop.  Argument C, whilst true, is also a crazy argument against consuming anything ever, full stop.  All three are interesting debates in themselves but at best they are only tangently related to concerns about meat entering the food chain.

    The truth is that the press know that ‘Outrage’ sells more than ‘Mild Debate’.   The media feeds off the frenzy of scare stories and they can manufacture more column inches in debate through their faux ‘outrage’.   It is self-serving waffle.   I guess we just have to accept that this is how the media works and all put on our own critical thinking hats whenever these stories break.  What worries me is that whilst in politics newspapers have their party political biases and you know that stories ‘spun’ sensationally in one paper will be counterbalanced with the opposite view in other mainstream papers – with science it increasingly seems to me that all UK papers (even so-called qualities such as the FT, Telegraph, Times and Guardian) are happy to run with the sensationalist spin or headline from the view point of the Luddite.    It sells papers.  Without the enlightened counter-balance though I really fear that the public is increasingly being pushed into being sceptical of and turning against scientific advance.  That’s dangerous.

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