In an unguarded moment, I allowed myself to watch television, and found myself watching this campaign advertisement from Oxfam.
The first thing I felt was empathy with the unhappy woman shown in the opening sequence, as the narrator told us that her baby had just been washed away by floodwaters. How dreadful for her. How awful for her child.
The second thing I thought was how shocking it was for an aid and development agency to use this person’s grief as a marketing tool.
The third thing I thought was to ask myself why the makers of the appeal didn’t mention the aggravation to the environment caused by Climate Change, but instead just refered to “more people than ever are dying because of floods, drought and lack of clean water”.
The next thing I wondered was why the man building a flimsy roof out of really inadequate materials looked so happy.
And then it dawned on me that the message of the advertisement was really garbled, which probably explained by the voice of the narrator was so unsure.
“Floods have swept away her home. And her baby.” Presumably the baby died, but towards the end of the advertisement, the narrator goes on to say, “We can work side by side with people and help them get their lives back.” Well, judging by the fact that the poor bereft mother is shown at the end of the advertisement again, I doubt her child got its life back.
And when talking about natural disasters, the narrator intones, “In a world where more people than ever are dying because of floods, drought and lack of clean water, who’s there to help them get back on their feet ?” And I wanted to say, but you can’t get dead people back on their feet, can you ?
Putting these illogical issues aside, I think some more.
Why does Oxfam need to spend part of its hard-won donations on urgent advertising for further donations ? Probably because both the economic climate and the atmospheric climate are getting worse, making conditions difficult both for those who are victims of natural disasters, and those who are having their consciences plucked to finance their rescuers.
And come to that, why does Oxfam need to be there in the first place ? Hasn’t the world pledged itself to the Millenium Development Goals and isn’t the world going to come to the rescue of the Climate by creating humungous international funds for Mitigation of and Adaptation to Global Warming impacts in the Global South ?
And then I remember : the world hasn’t lived up to its meagre commitment of 0.7% GDP for international aid. The Millenium Development Goals are not being pursued with any great sense of financed vigour. And aid is frequently magically transformed into loans, with terms and conditions. And Africa and Asia are still reeling from the trading regime imposed by the Global North, forced to sell raw resources and labour at incredibly low prices. And it’s not been so many decades since the industrialised countries were still running most of Africa and Asia effectively as slave colonies. And then there’s the matter of the immoral debt repayments that many poor countries are forced to continue shelling out for.
Judging by this history of disregard, it seems highly unlikely that the world’s rich nations will support international Climate rescue funds.
But why do we have to save Oxfam ? Why do I have to be provoked with emotive language to spend money to save hurting people ? Why is there not international political will to sponsor and resource aid and development ? Why does it have to be done by charities and other Non-Governmental Organisations ? Why are the governmental departments of development treated with such scorn by their respective treasuries ? Why does aid have to be pleaded for ? Why does development have to be such a privatised activity ? Where’s the national alms-giving ? What about our corporate obligation to our fellow woman ? Where’s the love ?
It’s only going to get worse. As dangerous Climate Change starts to bite and create high levels of instability, emergency appeals will get louder and shriller, until the aid and development agencies can no longer afford to scream into our television ears. We shall stop caring, even though it was only ever because of our guilt.
Then, please, will the global impoverished be good enough to go off and die quietly in intense hunger, or suffer silently in bush hospitals as they expire from malaira, or drown politely in the seasonal torrents and encroaching inundations, out of our sight and out of their minds ?