Latest Developments, August 4

In the latest news and analysis…

After controversy and delay, the UN Environment Programme has released the results of a 14-month study of the oil industry’s impacts on Nigeria’s Ogoniland region. According to the report, “there are, in a significant number of locations, serious threats to human health from contaminated drinking water to concerns over the viability and productivity of ecosystems. In addition that pollution has perhaps gone further and penetrated deeper than many may have previously supposed.” It goes on to say clean up could take decades and cost billions. Shell Petroleum Development Company, a Nigerian subsidiary of the world’s second largest oil company, says it ceased oil production in Ogoniland in 1993 and blames the majority of spills on illegal bunkering by local inhabitants. But Nigerian NGO Environmental Rights Action wants Shell to apologize to the Nigerian people and pay for clean up and compensation. It is calling for a $100 billion remediation fund and environmental audits of other drilling areas in the Niger Delta.

French oil giant Total, its CEO and a number of French politicians are being charged for their roles in a scandal involving bribe paying and the UN’s oil-for-food program which operated in Iraq from 1996 to 2003. French law allows for corporations to be “declared a legal entity and be prosecuted,” according to Radio France International. The trial is expected to begin next year.

Although much of the blame for the severity of Somalia’s current humanitarian crisis has been heaped on the Islamist rebels who have banned many foreign agencies from operating in the country’s south, the Guardian’s Xan Rice reports “delays in procuring food aid and raising funds” are every bit as much of a problem. A problem that makes the international humanitarian community look bad, according to one aid worker, given that warnings of a looming food shortage started months ago. A Globe and Mail editorial calls the current situation a crisis of unpreparedness, anarchy and sloth.

The Economist says “developing” countries have surpassed their “developed” counterparts – a division it call “more than a tad arbitrary – on a number of economic indicators. While the former still only account for 38 percent of global GDP, that figure is twice what it was two decades ago and when adjusted for purchasing-power parity, it climbs to 54 percent. These same countries also accounted for more than half of foreign direct investment inflows, energy consumption and mobile-phone subscriptions. But in none of these categories does their share equal their proportion of the global population.

US President Barack Obama has issued a directive establishing a new “standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board” in order to remedy the fact that “66 years since the Holocaust and 17 years after Rwanda, the United States still lacks a comprehensive policy framework and a corresponding interagency mechanism for preventing and responding to mass atrocities and genocide.”

Oxfam’s Duncan Green points out some of the things World Food Programme head Josette Sheeran left out of her TED talk on ending hunger: “Globally, apart from an oblique reference to food subsidies, there is little mention of rich country policies on biofuels, or cutting aid to agriculture, or land grabs, or driving risks down the value chain to small farmers, or failing to do anything on climate change, which all contribute to the problem.”

Reuters’ Barry Malone writes about the predictable nature of the food crises he covers. He laments “that every few years we’re faced with an “emergency” that could have been prevented, that aid groups must frantically try to raise money to respond, that journalists need to find emaciated babies at death’s door and film and photograph and write about them before the world gives a damn.” And he is sceptical of foreign charities that “talk about long-term plans to help people become self-sufficient but they’ve been failing to achieve them for 20 years.” Saving perhaps his harshest criticism for his own profession, Malone quotes an Ethiopian girl who was moved to tears while watching foreign journalists interacting with a Somali woman in a refugee camp: “All she had left was her dignity,” the girl tells him. “And then they took that, too.”

With the EU currently looking into establishing rules on corporate transparency, Christian Aid’s Joseph Stead argues it should draw inspiration from US legislation requiring oil, gas and mining companies listed on American stock exchanges to divulge how much they pay to foreign governments, thereby making it easier for citizens of poor countries to hold their elected officials to account. But Stead believes the EU should go a step further by requiring European businesses to disclose their profits, sales and number of employees on a country-by-country basis. These requirements, unlike the US ones, would address the two main ways the inhabitants of poor countries miss out on the benefits of resource wealth: In addition to bringing to light government corruption, the information Stead suggests “would also help identify suspected corporate tax dodging. The latter is a problem that Christian Aid estimates costs poor countries $160bn a year – much more than they receive in aid.”

In a wide-ranging Q&A, City University of New York’s Talal Asad talks about the fear among many Western observers that the Arab Spring will eventually hand the reins of power to Islamist groups, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood: “I don’t think, in principle, that just because a movement declares itself to be religious, it should be made the object of special suspicion. In my view, one shouldn’t trust anyone who hankers after state power, whether they call themselves religious or secular. The modern state is at once one of the most brutal sources of oppression and a necessary means for providing common benefits to citizens. Whether it is secular or religious seems to me much less important than the fact that it is a state. If we look back over the twentieth century and this should become obvious.”

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