Waves of sympathy

With the spotlight on the world's poor after the tsunami disaster, Open Eye asks Open University academics how they would tackle global poverty - and what individuals can do to help
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Give developing countries more say

Give developing countries more say

Most developing countries have little control over their own policies. Major donors like the World Bank are heavily involved in policy-making in developing countries. One way they do this is through Poverty Reduction Strategies; in practice, these policies tend to make developing countries' governments more accountable to the donors than to their own citizens. As a major contributor Britain has a big say in how these donor organisations are run. Lobby your MP to make sure the Government honours its aid obligations, but does so in a way that doesn't make developing countries less accountable to their citizens.

Giles Mohan, lecturer in Development Policy and Practice

Link the world in cyberspace

The powerful images of the tsunami disaster brought to the rest of the world by digital video cameras and cell phones created a new sense of connection. The same technologies allowed effective warning to reach some communities - villagers in the Pondicherry area were able to recall fishing boats and evacuate the danger zone (see www.digital-review.org/aud16a.htm). Collective logging of events and monitoring of recovery efforts continues (see http://tsunamihelp.blogspot.com). The new sense of connection allows the development of mutual support and understanding across the "digital divide". With only basic skills, online activism could be no more than a click away.

Dr Steve Little, senior lecturer in Knowledge Management in the Open University Business School

Support an NGO

Of crucial importance are issues of trade, debt and aid. There is huge scope for change so that trade policy does not discriminate against poorer countries, the burden of debt does not strangle economic growth and aid is used not just to meet emergencies but for long-term development. It is vitally important that countries like the UK have strong, voluntary NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) such as Oxfam and Concern, able to work effectively with organisations in developing countries to campaign for change and implement aid and development policies. Choose an NGO that you think is particularly effective and support it in any way you can.

Chris Cornforth, head of the Public Interest and Non-Profit Management Research Unit, Open University Business School

Give the poor cash

Recognise that the poor are poor because they don't have money, not because they are stupid. The best way to end poverty is to give money to the poor. Studies show most poor people use their money wisely. Abolish the aid industry and just give everyone in Africa a simple cash payment, like child benefit in Britain. This was the basis of the successful social democratic transformation of Europe of the past 60 years. It would stimulate growth in Africa, but it would also benefit us, because Africa would import goods from Europe.

Joe Hanlon, research fellow in Development Policy and Practice

Use consumer power

Fairtrade campaigners want us to buy goods for which producers receive a fair, sustainable livelihood. The economic impact of fairtrade is only a pinprick on the pattern of world trade. But organisations as diverse as Traidcraft, the Fairtrade Foundation, Oxfam, Christian Aid and the Co-Op are trying to exert influence over governments and corporations and need to show that they have broad-based popular support. Buying fairtrade products is a way of being counted as part of this broader movement. And such small acts are often the first steps towards actively engaging in campaigns for trade justice or human rights.

Dr Clive Barnett, lecturer in Human Geography and leading research into the politics of ethical consumerism

Change the US

The best thing to happen for the reduction of global poverty in the long run would be for the US political system to change. Without curbing the overriding influence of the corporate world on US political life, little will be achieved in my view.

Grahame Thompson, Professor of Political Economy

Teach people to challenge inequality

We should demand that global commitments to achieving Education For All are met. All necessary resources to ensure free, good-quality schooling must be made available, including through debt relief. But learners need to be given the knowledge and confidence to challenge the ideas and practices that reinforce inequalities - gender, ethnic, linguistic or religious.

Martha Caddell, lecturer in Development Policy and Practice

Switch to a green electricity supplier

Global climate change is a potent symptom of global inequality. Per capita, Europeans produce ten times more carbon dioxide than Africans, five times more than Latin Americans and four times more than the Chinese. And yet it is the poorest nations who are among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. In less than 10 minutes the average UK household can slash its annual emissions by 30 per cent, simply by switching to a green electricity supplier. There is no easier, single step you can take to reduce global environmental inequality. See http://eeru.open.ac.uk/natta/scttshpwrad.html

Dr Stephen Peake, lecturer in Environment in the Design and Innovation department

Help curb climate change

The already precarious livelihoods of the South are likely to suffer increased water and food shortages, more disease, and loss of land, forests, wildlife and tourism, owing to climate change. We can help by conserving energy in our homes and offices, using renewable sources of energy, reducing our demand for car and air travel, and avoiding over-consumption of goods.

Robin Roy, Professor of Design and Environment

Join others in a pressure group

If many concerned individuals get together, they are a formidable force. One example is the debt cancellation campaigners in Birmingham in 1997. More than 70,000 campaigners formed a human chain around the G7 meeting of world leaders, asking for debt cancellation for overburdened developing countries. World leaders took notice and debt cancellation has been taken seriously ever since. The key is doing something. Apathy allows injustice to continue.

Helen Yanacopulos, lecturer in Development Studies

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