I’m not really following the Copenhagen conference on global warming. My specialty was public health, and I see both the problems of chemicals and pollution destroying people’s health, but I have worked enough in third world countries to think that a little pollution might be worth it if it helps poor people live a bit more comfortably and safely.

One problem with these conferences is that they all act “as if”. “As if” means to pretend all these leaders have their own people’s welfare at heart, and “as if” all countries were run by honest politicians who are open to logical argument.

The problem with “as if” is that it just ain’t so: Like parable of the Emperor’s new clothes, unless one allows a bit of cynicism, a lot of people will be throwing away money that is meant to help people into the bank accounts of corrupt politicians.

How bad is corruption? One whistleblower turned states evidence when he found that the kickback for a major contract between China and the Philippines would be 40 percent instead of the usual 20 percent.  Indeed, the recent massacre in the Southern Philippines was not about insurgency, but about which clan will be in charge of the province: a lot of foreign aid money gets invested there, and everyone “knows” that some of this will be diverted into the hands of the politicians and their families.

A sad example of this can be found in today’s headlines.

Headlines one, from the New York Times:

Zimbabwe: Red Cross Seeks $32 Million

The Red Cross says it needs $32 million to feed more than 200,000 Zimbabweans who have no access to hard currency in their country’s collapsed economy. The Red Cross’ Zimbabwe representative, Stephen Omollo, said Wednesday that markets had food, but that people could not afford to buy it. The Red Cross is distributing food vouchers that vendors can later exchange for cash…

Headline Number Two, from the Zimbabwe Independent:

Mugabe, PM Set for Costly Foreign Trips

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe will next week take a 59-member delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark, while Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s delegation will comprise 19 people putting a further strain on the country’s financial resources….

This comes at a time when Finance minister, Tendai Biti, when presenting the 2010 budget decried the country’s total expenditure on foreign trips which was put at US$28 million at the end of November.

Sigh.

And this is just Zimbabwe. How many other small, corrupt countries are using the trip so their wives can buy expensive clothing or as a gift to their political cronies?

The propaganda by the NGO types here in the Philippines are all pointing fingers to the “rich” countries to blame for the terrible poverty here.

The fact that these “environmental disasters” have a huge man made component cannot be ignored, and the link between the man made contributions and corruption is obvious to all of us who care about both people and the environment.

To name a few causes of the devastation in the Philippines from the recent typhoons and flooding:  releasing water from dams in the midst of the typhoons, not beforehand, contributing to flooding downstream; deforestation allowed by bribing local politicians leading to mudslides; building a middle class housing development in land below flood level despite warnings that the land should not be used for housing; inadequate sewers in Manila; no regulation of fishponds that contributed to the Laguna flooding; a lack of decent housing for the poor, so squatters build shacks on floodplains.

Before the world decides to throw more money into the bank accounts of crooked politicians, maybe they should read the 2oo5 editorial by  Fredrik Erixon (of Timbro, a Swedish think tank) at the BBC website explaining why aid made Africa poorer rather than richer. By funding projects that only increase the power of the inefficient and corrupt politicians, the end result is more poverty for ordinary people, the destruction of alternative economic development in the private sector, and the destruction of the institutions of civil society.

In other words, if the transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor countries is not done properly, the end result will not only be economic hardships for the middle class of the first world, but a growing kleptocracy that destroys the hope of getting out of poverty for the third world.

As for the Philippines: no, I can’t find how much money is being spent to send our 20 person delegation there. But at least the delegation is headed by the lovely Senator Legarda, who has a record of knowing about green issues.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician  living in the rural Philippines. She blogs about human rights at MakaipaBlog.

 

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