shifting gears

Watching ABC news last night, there was a report on the massive drought and subsequent famine affecting millions of people in the horn of Africa at the moment. People are having to walk more than 50 kilometres just to find some drinkable water for themselves and their livestock. As a result, tens of thousands of people are dying and their animals are dropping around them. There is nowhere near enough aid going in there to make the slightest dent in the situation. You could not help but be moved by the pictures, and I found myself wondering if there was anything we could do, or if we were doing enough.

The next story, introduced with the words “now, from the other end of the spectrum”, recounted the sale of a Fred Williams painting for the sum of $1,987,000. Someone paid almost 2 million dollars for a slab of canvas with some paint slapped over it, while children died a horrible, drawn out death for lack of drinking water. The shift from one story to another could not be exaggerated; it made me physically ill.

I’m not naive; I know this happens all the time, whether it’s reported or not, and in some ways it’s good to juxtapose unjust images like that to make a point. But putting stories like that together in the news shows the exact kind of callous disregard for human life and dignity that we demonstrate as a society. It only serves to further numbs to the reality of people’s suffering.

On a related note, did you know that less than 5% of the money dedicated to foreign aid in the Australian budget goes to NGOs like TEAR and World Vision? Neither did I, until Tim Costello mentioned it at the Jim Wallis thing. Mostly it goes to Australian companies to help build infrastructure in various countries, instead of relieving poverty. In fact, AWB got 5 million dollars of our 0.28% of GDP aid, of which it appears about one million disappeared into the pocket of Trevor Flugge. So you think it’s bad that we only contribute 0.26% of GDP to aid projects when Howard has pledged 0.36, and our fair share is more like 0.5? We’ve got a long way to go.

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