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The tsunami aid farce: aid, debt and trade justice

It took a natural disaster that killed hundreds of thousands of people to mobilise our politicians and media in aid of the destitute. Kofi Annan has called for $1bn to be raised immediately to help them, following days of individuals' donations outstripping the efforts of their governments.

Praise have been lavished on the world for it's response. It is a nonsense. Whilst the donations of lower and middle class citizens of the world should not be denigrated, the pathetic efforts of our super-rich have only been beaten in their narcissism by our governments.

Vodaphone "generously" donated 1m, less than a day's profit for the corporation in return for some priceless PR. Other individuals throughout the West's rich states brought their nation's levels up into the hundreds of millions, a microscopic percentage of their wealth. Corporate donations are generally dwarfed by the costs of their executives' second homes, let alone their annual incomes.

Our government's donations are coming straight from the emergency portion of our aid budget, according to Clare Short, meaning that long-term development projects elsewhere may be cut to fund the relief effort.

The UN says a baseline figure for our aid budget should be 0.7% of our GDP. Britain manages only 0.34%, and the USA a paltry 0.15%. In comparison to the hundreds of millions the two nations have pledged in aid, our government spent $800m on the bombing of Iraq before the invasion began. Does this not seem wrong?

To make matters worse for the people hit by the Tsunami disaster, many of them have been repressed by our agents for decades. The people of Aceh, the worst hit part of Indonesia, have been slaughtered in their thousands, subjected to rape and assassinations according to leading human rights activists. All of this for the region's gas and oil, greedily bought up by Western companies.

What those hit by the disaster need is not a brief flirtation with aid. They, along with the other seriously under-developed nations of the world, first need unilateral debt cancellation - Indonesia alone owes US$136 billion, much of it "odious" debt accrued by Suharto's corrupt military dictatorship. According to the World Development Movement, "it would be obscene for rich countries to continue to receive billions of dollars of debt repayments in the midst of such suffering".

Blair and Brown, who have waxed lyrical about their commitment to the developing world for years without substantial changes in policy, found new pastures for their opportunism by announcing a set of goals for poverty eradication in 2005. To really help the least developed nations, and eradicate extreme poverty once and for all, would require a "complete change in policy direction" according to the World Development Movement.

Debt cancellation should be pursued without excuses; all trade subsidies and tariffs in the EU and other G8 nations should be stopped at once, allowing the poor countries' industries to export their goods at a fair price, and to compete internally without having subsidised Western goods dumped on their markets; poor countries should be able to impose trade barriers to foster nascent industries; transnational corporations should be forced to adopt certain codes of conduct under the aegis of UN; and the IMF and World Bank should stop their interference with countries' economic policies, ravaging public services like water, health and education.

The UK should also honour its pledge to fight the global AIDS crisis, itself a driving force for poverty and destitution. It should put more money into the UN's Global Fund, whilst campaigning for fairer intellectual property laws so that poor countries have access to treatment.

All of these goals stand in contrast to Brown's promise of a substantial increase in aid and vague suggestions related to "fair trade". Given the UK's record on international development and aid, marked more by its donations and soft loans to military dictators like Saddam and Suharto than by its progressive policies, those suffering from extreme poverty are likely to gain little from 2005.

The UK public have shown their deep concern for the wellbeing of those devastated by the Tsunami. It's time our government showed the same interest in the developing world.