Can We Balance our Books on the Backs of the Poorest*

In this article, CIVICUS' Ingrid Srinath spoke with Justin Kilcullen of Trócaire at “If We Were Brave – Leadership Beyond Budget Cuts”, the first Masterclass organised by DTALK Learning, the Irish Aid mandated development training centre at Kimmage Manor Development Studies Centre.

RTE’s Frontline on May 30th pitted overseas development aid against the plight of carers and families facing the devastating consequences of healthcare cutbacks. The vulnerable versus more vulnerable spectacle was the continuation of a debate initiated earlier that day on Today with Pat Kenny when Friends’ First’s Jim Power made the case that Ireland can no longer afford its overseas development commitments. Frontline brought on another “expert” in foreign affairs arguing that at least some of the €675 million spent on overseas development in 2010 – down from €722 million the previous year - would be better spent on “special needs teachers or citizens.” Afterall, as the programme continuously repeated, charity begins at home, particularly in a recession.

 

Not surprisingly, Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation (based in South Africa), doesn’t buy this “red herring of an argument”. The former advertising executive turned social justice and rights advocate sees that the child in Ireland left without special needs assistance and the child in Malawi left without a school are both victims – victims of globalisation and the huge imbalance in world consumption. Srinath, who formerly headed up Children’s Rights and You (CRY), India’s best known children’s charity, was guest of honour at a masterclass on development and leadership run by DTALK Learning on June 7th in Dublin. “We talk constantly about the war against poverty, but the war we really need to fight is the war against excess,” she said. “There are two sets of people in today’s world. Those who have benefited from globalisation – including myself - and another massive set who have not had access to engage in the opportunities of the new global system.” 

 

 “The battle lines are not geographical ones, North-South, West versus developing world. The battle lines are really between beneficiaries and victims, internationally and nationally. We need to close this gap rather than simplistically pitting one vulnerable group against another. This argument is only being pushed by those who want to go back to the bad old days of neo-liberal economics and the Celtic Tiger – those who benefit from inequality.”With a Northern European christian name and a Southern European maiden name, Fernandes, a reminder of the Portugeuse time in India, Srinath knows first hand the reality of living in a world of two halves. As a corporate executive, she was very much part of the burgeoning Indian economy that is now the tenth largest in the world by nominal GDP and the fourth largest by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). But, India is also home to one quarter of the world’s poorest people with over 260 million living below the poverty line and 30% of the population living on less than a euro a day. A child is born in India every 1.25 seconds but 63 out of every 1,000 of them will die before reaching their fifth birthday. Worldwide, the story of India’s poor is repeated much more than the story of its new air-conditioned boardrooms. Out of the 1.9 billion children in the developing world, one in three are without adequate shelter, one in five have no access to safe water and one in seven have no access to health services. Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease before his or her fifth birthday – that’s two million preventable deaths a year. While Irish people are being encouraged to measure their expanding waists, nearly a billion people in the world are undernourished, with malnutrition responsible for one third of premature deaths and disabilities.

Against this reality, however, Ireland, and the world in general, has slipped back in its aid commitment and on realising the eight anti-poverty Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), which were introduced by world leaders with a fanfare in 2000 and were to be achieved by 2015. Srinath believes that to be brave and effective, particularly in the current economic climate, Ireland must use its moral and relatively strong financial muscle to pressurise other OECD countries to keep their commitments to overseas aid and the realisation of these MDGs. “While Ireland has cut its aid budget over the past few years, it is still outdoing the OECD aid average,” Srinath said. “Even if it holds the current level of 0.52% of GDP, it makes many other wealthier countries look bad. The real ticket that this provides is the right to a seat at the decision making table when it comes to world development. Ireland needs to take this on and to start influencing the type of world we can have.” That, she said, is what should be understood as charity beginning at home.

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