Mozambique flood crisis has exposed Britain and the US
Too slow and too mean to save lives
AT EVERY stage in the crisis in Mozambique New Labour has put balance sheets before saving lives. It has been too slow and too mean in sending aid, too enslaved to the market to help a country recover from a fearsome natural disaster. Chancellor Gordon Brown's surplus money is earmarked for tax cuts, not for dragging Africans from a raging flood. How different it would have been if it was a war with Western interests at stake.
A year ago New Labour's foreign secretary Robin Cook said there were "no limits" to spending on the war against Yugoslavia. But there has been an almost total bar on spending for Mozambique. Ordinary people in Britain have donated �12 million to help Mozambique. Their generosity far outstrips the money from the government. Floods first hit Mozambique on 6 February. The Mozambican government appealed for aid on 10 February.
It took the governments of the rich nations three weeks before they even started to respond to pressure from public opinion and the media. At the start of last week New Labour ministers at last decided to send four helicopters to help. Yet these were delayed after a dispute over which government department should foot the bill.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) told Clare Short's Department for International Development that it would charge �2.2 million to send the helicopters to Mozambique.
Short replied that she would look for cheaper options-although the MoD eventually went ahead anyway. New Labour then boasted it would provide �70 million for aid. But newspapers revealed that planned aid before the flood was �76 million during the same period-more than the "emergency" budget. The promised aid was hastily increased. But after the TV cameras have moved on from southern Africa millions of people will be left without food, shelter or clothing. Even before the floods one in 16 Mozambican children died from malaria alone. That number is set to double. Tens of thousands more will be hit by cholera or tuberculosis. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank still refuse to cancel Mozambique's debts. They seriously expect a country with a million homeless and perhaps 40,000 dead to keep paying almost �1 million a week in debt repayment. There were abundant resources across the world to save Mozambicans and rebuild the country.
But they are in the wrong hands. The rich, the multinationals and the governments that support them have capitalist priorities-and that means caring comes last.
PEOPLE IN Mozambique were being condemned to death while government departments were quibbling over �2 million. Yet it was revealed last week that the Ministry of Defence handed over the same sum to do up Prince Edward's mansion in Bagshot Park, Surrey.
SUN columnist Richard Littlejohn used the crisis in Mozambique as an excuse to attack "the kind of people who wear their compassion on their T-shirts and the full time charity workers who make a handsome living out of suffering". He added, "The next thing you know we'll be told we have a duty to accept thousands of refugees from Mozambique and furnish them with food, benefits and council houses."
Don't worry, Richard. The old people and new born children will have drowned, starved or died from disease long before they even get to think about receiving help here.
Many helicopters, no political will
THOUSANDS OF people could have been rescued from a horrible death if the many helicopters around the world had been made available.
- The British military has 90 helicopters. They include 33 Puma helicopters which, according to the RAF, are "designed to be capable of being airlifted in a variety of transport aircraft with the minimum of work". Several of them are earmarked for royal use. Others were "busy" on military exercises in Norway or Northern Ireland.
- The US has around 1,000 helicopters that could have been loaded in pairs into a C-17 Globemaster III transport plane with only minimal dismantling. The US has 80 C-17s. According to the US Department of the Air Force the C-17 is there to meet "potential armed contingencies, peacekeeping or humanitarian missions worldwide. It was designed and built with the New World Order in mind." If only half of the C-17s had been mobilised there would have been 80 rescue helicopters available in Mozambique within hours.
- There are 35 helicopters at Diego Garcia, the US military base in the Indian Ocean which is just three hours flying time from Mozambique.
- The US has almost 500 helicopter pilots, surgeons and "para-rescuemen" on permanent standby at an airbase on the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. They are ready to fly super-fast helicopters with the latest medical equipment in case a US pilot is downed during one of the bombing missions against Iraq. The semi-official Airman magazine reports, "One of the helicopter pilots said, 'We're all dressed up with nowhere to go.' "The squadron flies sorties daily but they are eager to do more than just train. They want to save lives."
- Western multinationals have 60 helicopters based in Africa for transport, freight handling or the movement of executives.
These vast resources could have rescued trapped people, and dropped food, water and medicines across the country. There was only one thing missing-the political will to save lives when neither oil, military power nor trade were at stake.