Site C: A Narrative of Resource Conflict, Economic Disparities, Marginalisation, and Social Injustice.

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Source: www.y2y.net

We have become the cash register for the province … .Now our way of life is going to be interfered with again.”  ~Treaty 8 Tribal Association Chief Liz Logan

A quick visit to the Site C Clean Energy Project website will tell you everything you need to know about this mega-hydropower project… or will it?  Check it out here: https://www.sitecproject.com/about-site-c/project-overview

sitecmap1_160107

Source: www.straight.com

According to the website, Site C is a third dam site proposed in the Peace River Valley of BC, which will provide new, “clean and renewable electricity for more than 100 years”.  Even more importantly, it will be ‘affordable’: “ratepayers will save an average of $650 to $900 million each year, compared to alternatives”.  Finally, the website promises that new jobs will be created.[1]  All of these benefits sound too good to be true – and, perhaps they are…

bc-hydro-site-c-dam-map-2

Source: www.warriorpublications.wordpress.com

The website makes it clear that “consultation opportunities” are taking place with Aboriginal groups and interested stakeholders.  According to BC Hydro, these consultations are in addition to required environmental assessment processes.  While this sounds fantastic, the reader is not told that the “consultation opportunities” with First Nations are a legal requirement.  BC Hydro is not going ‘above and beyond’ in informing communities – they are simply stepping through each required checklist to receive government permits to complete the project.  Most importantly – most of the First Nations groups which BC has had the “opportunity” to consult with do not support the project!

site_c_clean_energy_project

Source: www.vancouversun.com

BC Hydro has been involved in ongoing negotiations with First Nations communities, regarding Site C, since the 1970s.  The area where Site C is to be built is part of Treaty 8, a treaty made with several communities in 1899.[2]  The impacted communities include the Doig River, Halfway River, Prophet River, and West Moberly First Nations.[3]  These Nations fall under the Treaty 8 Tribal Association.  As a whole, the Treaty 8 Tribal Association is opposed to the Site C proposal, and has made their objections known during 2013 and 2014 Joint Review Panel hearings.  These objections include many negative impacts on cultural values, wildlife, fish, medicinal plant harvesting, and infringements on original Treaty rights.

site-c-dam-map-from-the-point-of-no-return-amnesty-report

Source: www.ecocidealert.com

Despite these conflicts, BC Hydro believes they are engaged in all necessary consultation with First Nations.  David Conway, community relations manager for BC Hydro, states “We’re committed to working hard with Aboriginal groups to address their concerns, and identify opportunities for them to benefit from the project”.[4]  BC Hydro, the Province of BC, and the Federal government all seem determined to make the Site C project a reality – despite lack of public support, conflicts with First Nations, and protest actions.  Over 300 well-known scientists have written reports showing concerns for negative impacts of Site C, environmentally, economically, and socially.

Prime Minister Trudeau has now announced that two key permits for Site C construction are approved.  The Canadian Federal court believes that BC Hydro has completed all Aboriginal consultation requirements. This has left many wondering how such a conflict-ridden plan can get the go-ahead to build, and many First Nations communities are now promising future protest and legal actions to protect their territory and Treaty rights.  If the First Nations have been adequately consulted, why is there still so much conflict?

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Source: www.greenpeace.org

The answer to this question lies in how ‘meaningful consultation’ is interpreted in the first place.  The Constitution Act of 1867 made it possible to exclude First Nations from land and resources.  The Federal government was given responsibility for “Indians and their lands”, and this relationship remains in place today.[5]  Understanding this, then, it is clear that First Nations communities are not equal stakeholders in resource use negotiations.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the duty to consult with First Nations:

In Canada, one of the government’s responsibilities to First Nations lies in a legal ‘duty to consult’.  In this context, there have been problems in British Columbia with successful consultation and accommodation.[6] All too often, this duty has become one of informing, rather than consulting. Under Canadian law, the government is not required to come to an agreement with the specific First Nations group.  Instead, consultation is designed to ‘reconcile’ conflicts between the community and the actions of the government, especially when those actions may impact Treaty rights.”  For more on this, check out https://spatialintegrity.co/2016/05/

BC Hydro has entered into consultation with First Nations, already determined that Site C will become a reality.  The Provincial and Federal governments are supporting this position, believing that the dam project is necessary to provide for future economic growth and increased energy use. Where, then, do First Nations have the opportunity to engage industry and government in meaningful consultation, as equal ‘partners’?

They do not!

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Source: www.albertaonrecord.ca

It is clear that BC Hydro, the Canadian government, the Province, and the affected First Nations communities have very different agendas and desires regarding Site C.  In many ways, it appears that these agendas were decided long before BC Hydro began ‘consulting’ with First Nations in the Peace River Valley.  It seems like the concerns of these communities are not being adequately addressed, and that  BC Hydro is spending the majority of their consultation time working to convince key communities that the project is a good idea, and coercing them into agreeing… no matter what the future costs are to them.

protestsitec

Source: www.redpowermedia.wordpress.com

The conflicts between these First Nations groups, industry interests, and environmentalists are not going away, simply because BC Hydro has ‘won’ their necessary permits.  Until ‘duty to consult’ is seen as a way for two different Nations to be heard and considered – rather than as a legal hoop industry must complete on their checklist – these resource conflicts will continue long after Site C has been constructed.  Perhaps the time has come to redefine our resource relationships with First Nations: Now and into the future.

bc-hydro-site-c-protest-sign

Source: www.warriorpublications.wordpress.com

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the Invisible, Visible!

 

[1] https://www.sitecproject.com/why-site-c/project-benefits

[2] http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100028805/1100100028807

[3] http://treaty8.bc.ca/about-site-c/

[4] http://bit.ly/2bJ5b3i

[5] http://carleton.ca/politicaleconomy/wp-content/uploads/Miranda-Cobb_FinalMRP.pdf

[6] New Relationship Trust. 2009. Best Practices for Consultation and Accommodation. Meyers Norris Penny LLP.

Environmental Racism: A Story of the Aamjiwnaang and Ontario’s “Chemical Valley”

‘Environmental Racism’ is often used to describe the way marginalised communities (i.e. Blacks and First Nations) are forced to live in spaces which are dangerous, polluted, or ecologically unstable.  This could include living in floodplains, near toxic landfills, or next to large-scale mining areas, nuclear power plants, and petro-chemical facilities.  In Canada, a perfect example of this can be found in Sarnia, Ontario.

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Source: https://greatlakesenvironmentaljustice.wordpress.com/aamjiwnaang/

Over 40% of Canada’s petro-chemical refining and production occurs in Sarnia.  From here, refined oil, natural gas, and chemical products are sent into the U.S. and across the world, traveling via railroad and tankers through the Great Lakes.  Great quantities of corn are also grown here, and are used to produce ethylene co-products which are used in natural gas products.  Other countries send petrochemical products to Sarnia for further refining, to be used in many of the products we depend on – synthetic rubber, vinyl, and industry-grade plastics.[1]  Petro-chemicals even play a part in the ‘foods’ we eat, such as chewing gum!  Some of the synthetic materials found in gum are produced in Sarnia – including synthetic rubber compounds, petroleum wax, polyethylene, and synthetic paraffin wax.[2]

chemicalvalley

Source: www.greatlakesenvironmentaljustice.wordpress.com

The concentration of petro-chemical facilities in Sarnia’s chemical valley comes with some severe costs.  These costs include noxious odours, releasing toxic chemicals into the environment, increased volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, greenhouse gases, acid rain risks, land and water contamination, spills, and storage mishaps.[3] In Sarnia, the Aamjiwnaang First Nation carries the brunt of these costs.  Environmental racism is alive and well here!

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Source: www.nationalobserver.com

Up to the late 1880s, Aamjiwnaang traditional territory covered a vast area of land around Lake Huron and Lake Erie.  Their population numbered over 15,000 people.  The French knew them as Ojibwe, while the British called them Chippewa.[4] War between the British and the French, cholera and smallpox took its toll, and by 1827 the Aamjiwnaang population was reduced to 440 in Ontario and 275 in Michigan. Their territory was reduced to around 25,000 acres.  Today, the Aamjiwnaang are primarily confined to a small parcel of land in the Sarnia area which is surrounded by petro-chemical facilities.  The community numbers around 800 people, although many members are living off-Reserve.

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The Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia’s south end is sandwiched between two oil refineries, Suncor Energy in the foreground, and Shell Canada at top. Glenn Ogilvie. Source: http://www.thesarniajournal.ca

On Sunday, August 21, I had the opportunity to participate in the community’s annual ‘Toxic Tour’ and Aamjiwnaang Water Gathering event.  The community holds this event each year in order to educate others on what is happening here.  These are some of the pictures I took during the day:

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A view of refineries located near the sacred burial grounds of the Aamjiwnaang.  Today, these facilities keep cameras and warning sirens in this space – even though the Aamjiwnaang believe it is disrespectful and dishonours their ancestors.  It is clear that the cultural needs of the community are not being recognised or considered!  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

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This plaque memorialises the workers (mainly French) who lived in the Blue Water community.  These residents were relocated when it became clear the area was too dangerous for them to live in.  Residents of the Reserve did not receive this same help, and are forced to live here to this day, despite the fact they are living in the same conditions!  Interestingly, the back of this plaque contains the names of every Blue Water resident – even though they had not died, and only moved into Sarnia… Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

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One of the many views the Aamjiwnaang ‘enjoy’ looking out from their Reserve borders.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

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The old steel-workers plant and stack can be seen here.  The land this plant is built on has been proven to be stolen native land.  Despite this, the Aamjiwnaang are unable to reclaim this property.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

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Shell facilities feature in the background, as seen from the Aamjiwnaang resource centre and past primary and pre-school located on the edge of the Reserve.  The school was moved when it was recognised that benzene emissions were causing many respiratory and asthma problems for the children.  Despite this move, Shell failed to report excessive emissions in 2013, and many of the Aamjiwnaang children were taken to hospital – where they were misdiagnosed with simple influenza.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

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The Imperial Oil refineries can be seen here.  These facilities are the oldest in the area – Imperial Oil first established itself in the Sarnia area in 1880.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

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The Shell refinery, as seen from the Aamjiwnaang Reserve (marked by the painted wooden stakes).  Shell remains problematic for the community, due to inadequately announced spills and emission releases.  The Aamjiwnaang live in daily fear of hearing sirens announcing containment failures.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

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Many of the containment tanks surrounding the Reserve are unmarked and/or outdated.  The materials being held here are not public knowledge.  Transparency remains a tantamount issue for the Aamjiwnaang community.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

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The old school on the Aamjiwnaang Reserve, with the Shell Refinery in the background.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

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The abandoned Welland Chemical facility, located on the Aamjiwnaang Reserve.  This company produced anhydrous aluminum chloride.  Workers there suffered high rates of cancers, due to improper storage and exposure to dangerous chemicals and asbestos.  High levels of copper, nickel, lead strontium, and cobalt can still be found in the foliage and water surrounding the area.[5]  In 1995, Welland closed its doors due to prolonged labour disputes.  They left behind a toxic landscape which remains contaminated and unusable.  A tailing pond in the rear of the property was filled weekly with goldfish, in order to show that no further cleanup was needed by Welland.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

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Ankijig pond, located in the Aamjiwnaang Reserve.  This pond, like Talfourd Creek is being actively tested for high rates of mercury, hydrocarbons, and heavy metals.  Vanessa Gray, a member of the community, has been testing local waterways with the help of organisations like Greenpeace and the Council of Canadians.[6]  The community has placed signs on the Reserve waterways warning residents of the health dangers from these contaminated waters.  Image Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

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Members of the Toxic Tour 2016 participating in prayers and tobacco offerings to the water at Ankijig Pond.  Image Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

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Sign at the Aamjiwnaang community center, established in 1972.  Source: Paul Stephany, 2016.

The Aamjiwnaang Reserve is surrounded by more than 60 petro-chemical facilities.  Markers designating pipelines are too numerous to count.  Some of the better known companies include Imperial Oil, Dow Chemical, Shell, Suncor, NOVA, Praxair, Enbridge, and Bayer.   Community members live daily with the threat of sirens indicating spills and accidents.  The smell in the air is overwhelming, carrying overtones of rotten eggs and petroleum.  Carcinogenic benzene compounds in the air remain a constant threat to everyone.

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Source: www.vice.com

Numerous studies over the past several decades have shown that the Aamjiwnaang suffer much higher than acceptable rates of cancers, respiratory ailments and reproductive disorders.  Women on the Reserve have a 39% miscarriage rate.  Community members remain unable to engage in traditional fishing and hunting activities, due to concerns over chemical contamination.  An extraordinary number of children and adults suffer from asthma.  Despite all of this, life in Sarnia is business as usual.  Chemical companies continue to jockey for new facilities and more space.  For more on these issues, check out  http://www.chatelaine.com/health/canadas-toxic-town/.

The needs and concerns of the Aamjiwnaang are largely ignored.  Environmental Racism continues to show its ugly face.  New efforts for petro-chemical growth now include Line 9 construction efforts.

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Source: www.pinterest.com

As Canadians, we need to make some hard decisions!  Is the convenience of products such as chewing gum, foaming shaving cream and chapstick worth the harm on the environment and people they cause?  Do we really need to use our cars for that trip to the corner store?  Does the economic value of new tar sands pipelines, including Line 9, Keystone, and Northern Gateway overshadow the potential for environmental degradation and harm to marginalised communities? As long as we continue to use our resources without thought to what our actions will do to others, communities like the Aamjiwnaang will continue to suffer needlessly.  If this blog speaks to you at all, please take some time to learn about the issues surrounding Line 9 here in Ontario.  For more information, start by checking out this link:  http://www.stopline9-toronto.ca/index.php.

line_9_peoples_map_11.8

Source: www.rabble.ca

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity, making the Invisible, Visible!

 

[1] https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/chemicals-chimiques.nsf/eng/bt01135.html

[2] http://nca.files.cms-plus.com/residentcourse/week1/rescoursewk1ch5agum.pdf

[3] https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/chemicals-chimiques.nsf/eng/bt01135.html

[4] http://www.aamjiwnaang.ca/history/

[5] https://archive.org/stream/phytotoxicologys2072vasiuoft#page/n3/mode/2up

[6] http://www.theobserver.ca/2015/07/28/vanessa-and-lindsay-gray-have-received-25000-for-their-study

Global Poverty Reduction: Is There a Solution?

“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” ~Nelson Mandela

unnamed Source: www.hakikazi.org

We tend to objectify poverty.  We see the poor, not for who they are, but as a ‘condition’.  Poor people become ‘things’ which we must deal with and take care of.  As a society, we often understand poverty through poverty myths which have been with us for hundreds of years.  Our social programs are created through these long-standing myths.  We believe that poverty can be eliminated simply by providing charity and financial aid to people unable to take care of themselves.

Policies which deal with poverty as a stand-alone condition tend to treat the poor the same way across the world.  It is clear that all communities have different needs, however!  The many conditions which lead to poverty are different in each community.[1]

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Source: www.barthsburgery.com

The Developed World has created poverty reduction strategies which benefit corporations and multi-national industries.  Agencies like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), charitable Christian Missions, and the World Bank can cause more harm than good, because they institute polices which promote ‘hidden agendas’. These agendas often benefit the corporations more than the communities.

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Source: www.cdm.me

Some institutions, like food banks, can serve to increase poverty, rather than reduce it.  Food banks can increase health problems in poor individuals. Highly processed food options which many food banks provide can increase obesity, diabetes, and malnutrition.  This results in decreased capacity to work.   Social welfare programs become more costly.  More taxes are needed.  More laws are needed.  More administrative offices are needed to manage increased paperwork and tracking systems. The system becomes unwieldy and inaccessible to people who need help.  Most importantly, the poor are made to feel that they must take whatever is given them – after all, “beggars can’t be choosers”.

ab20

Source: www.newdeal.feri.org

Before receiving assistance, the poor must prove they are ‘worthy’ of help.  Food recipients are interviewed to make sure they aren’t taking advantage of the system.  In some cases, they have to prove they are not using drugs or abusing alcohol.  In other cases, applicants must agree to attend classes or religious workshops before they can get help.

Poverty myths are at play here.  Poor people are seen as uneducated con artists who would rather receive handouts than engage in meaningful work. They are weighed, measured, and judged to be worthy or not.  The poor exist on the fringes of ‘proper’ society. They are dehumanized and ‘undesirables’ who must be taken care of.   We seem to have progressed very little from the policies of Victorian England.

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Please, sir, I want some more…” Source: www.thirdforcenews.org.uk

Our social policies are based in poverty myths.  These myths must be abolished before we can hope to eliminate poverty.  People are not ‘things’, and poverty is not a “thing”.  The conditions which cause poverty are different and unique to every individual.  UN SDGs[2] may not be met, because poverty is addressed as a stand-alone condition in the world. We cannot address poverty as a stand-alone condition.  We must work with each community to find out what is causing their poverty.  The real question remains – “How do we do this?”

Two things must happen if we are to make the “elimination of poverty by 2030” a reality.  First, we must overcome our personal poverty myths.  We must understand that the conditions which lead to poverty are not the result of individual shortcomings.  Poor individuals are often victims of circumstances well out of their control.  They are people worthy of assistance – each with an important story to tell.  Next, marginalised communities are comprised of unique individuals.  Because of this, no two communities are the same, even when located in close proximity to each other.  The International Development community must recognise this, and collaborate with each community to discover their unique stories, experiences and needs.  Community members must have a lead role in the planning and implementation of projects!

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Source: www.creativecommons.org

In a previous blog series, I introduced the idea of a four C’s checklist (http://bit.ly/2bntwen) which can be used to work with marginalised communities – communities which don’t have access to the resources they need to sustain themselves.  The four C’s include:

 

Consult

Collaborate

Clarify

Commit

Any poverty reduction strategy which involves each of the four C’s has greater potential for helping, rather than harming, a community.  One strategy which may serve impoverished communities on a global scale is currently being used in Ontario.  Community hubs are a strategy which is collaborative and based in the understanding that every community has unique needs.

CLTS_triggering_process_in_the_Volta_Region_of_Ghana

Source: www.en.wikipedia.org

In 2015, the Ontario government outlined a strategic framework and action plan to help impoverished communities within the province.[3]  This plan established a nine-member advisory group for establishing community hubs.  Each community hub is a centralised access point which provides social and health services, while also working to create special cultural, recreational, and green spaces for each community.  Most importantly, each community hub is uniquely different – and depends on the specific needs of the community.

Community hubs will not work, however, unless there is complete cooperation everyone involved!  Barriers to income and food security (unjust laws, lack of infrastructure, and social inequality) must be removed.  It takes everyone involved to accomplish this.

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Source: www.www.karegivers.org

Poverty cannot be addressed as a stand-alone ‘condition’.  Poverty is caused by specific barriers which are unique to each community.  Barriers to sustainability, social equality, food security, and access to resources must be addressed differently in each community.  The community hub model can be successful, as long as everyone involved has an equal say in what happens.  We must accept that poverty-stricken communities have the capacity, knowledge, and willingness to improve their condition.

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the Invisible, Visible!

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Source: www.flickr.com

[1] http://www.povertyinc.org/

[2] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300

[3] https://www.ontario.ca/page/community-hubs-ontario-strategic-framework-and-action-plan

The Poverty Industry: Does it Help or Hinder SDGs in Global Poverty Reduction?

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Source: http://www.sagaciousnewsnetwork.com

“As usual, in every scheme that worsens the position of the poor, it is the poor who are invoked as beneficiaries.”  ~Vandana Shiva

An important event occurred in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside (DTES) in 2014.  This event highlighted all that can go wrong when government agencies offload responsibility for the poor to private enterprise. In a Globe and Mail article, the DTES was described as the “epicenter of the poverty industry.”[1]  It is a space marked by extreme poverty and homelessness.  More than a hundred social agencies can be found here – each one is dedicated to helping the poor.

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DTES “Paint-In”. Source: www.news1130.com

The Portland Hotel Society (PHS) is one of these organizations.  The PHS manages housing for the homeless.  Some of the programs PHS offers are very controversial – including vending machines which disperse cheap crack pipes and workshops for teaching alcoholics how to brew ‘safe’ beer.  PHS receives funding from the Federal government.   In 2014 Mark Townsend, the executive director of PHS, was audited.

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Source: www.straight.com

Audits showed that Townsend and his wife used government funding for expenses which included trips to Paris and Vienna.  He and his family took trips to Disneyland, ate at expensive restaurants, and took a Danube cruise – all at the tax-payer’s expense. Although Townsend defended many of his expenses and admitted to making mistakes, his actions raise an important question:

“Do privatized, profit-driven corporations always act in the best interests of the poor they are funded to help?”  The answer is a resounding “No”!

There are so many examples today where the Poverty Industry has harmed the poor.  Last week, I discussed the example of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  The government hired private industries to assist in recovery and rebuilding.  People who could afford supplies and services benefited, while residents of the lower Ninth Ward were marginalized and forgotten in the aftermath.  The poverty industry also harms the poor on a global scale.

 

In 1978, U.S. pig farmers became concerned by an outbreak of African swine flu in Haiti.  The U.S. gave $23 million to Haiti to exterminate and restock their pig population.  Haiti killed over 1.3 million pigs by 1984.  Once again, the U.S. stepped in to ‘help’, and replaced the previous population with Iowa-born pigs.  This plan demanded that new pigsties were built to U.S. standards.  Many poor farmers could not afford these standards.  Even worse, the Iowa pigs could not withstand the Haitian environment and either died or required expensive food.  In the end, thousands of Haitian farmers were left with no pigs – and Iowa hog farmers were better off for it…

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“Pigs for Kids in Haiti”. Source: www.internationalministries.org

In 1986, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned $24.6 million to Haiti.[2]  The Haitian government had to agree to reduce trade tariffs on rice in order to get the loan.  U.S. rice farmers were allowed to export rice to Haiti. The livelihoods of local farmers were destroyed.  Haiti now imports most of its rice from the U.S.  Poor Haitians can no longer afford rice.  The U.S. provided food aid, but most of that money went to U.S. farmers and companies.  The poor became poorer. U.S. agribusiness became richer.

In 2010, Former President Bill Clinton made a public apology to Haitians for the role the U.S. had played in destroying the livelihoods of Haitian rice farmers.  Explaining that “we made a devil’s bargain”, Clinton stated,

“Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake.”[3]

usaid-haiti

Source: www.globalresearch.ca

Canadian industry is guilty of harm to the global poor as well.  In the 1970s, Canada began a $45 million wheat farming program in Tanzania. This program was designed to help poor farmers.  The result was anything but helpful!  First, over 60,000 acres of land was taken from the Barabaig people.  Members of this community were migratory cattle farmers who needed the land for grazing. Next, costly and mechanized farming methods were used.  These methods required purchasing expensive equipment from Canadian corporations.  Finally, these methods produced unimaginable soil erosion. Tropical downpours soon produced deep gullies in the landscape.  Even more money was spent trying to fill in these gullies.  In the end, Tanzanian farmers were producing less wheat than before.[4]  Once again – the poor became poorer… and Canadian agribusiness was lining its pockets.

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Barabaig woman. Source: www.flickr.com

Many other examples of the harm the poverty industry causes the world’s poor exist.  I discussed some of these examples in a previous blog post titled The Four C’s of Social Justice: Creating a Foundation for Change.  Check out www.spatialintegrity.co to read this blog (and many more).  It is clear that the poverty industry has been counterproductive to the mission of today’s UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Things need to change if we want to really help the poor!  Next week, I will discuss some of the things we need to do if we are committed to eliminating poverty by 2030.  Private enterprise can help the poor, but only if important changes take place!  Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!

[1] Margaret Wente. 2014. The fall of the poverty entrepreneurs. Globe and Mail. www.globeandmail.com. Accessed 8/3/16.

[2] http://www.fourwinds10.net/

[3] http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/1/clinton_rice

[4] https://www.tzaffairs.org/1986/05/and-a-canadian-aided-wheat-scheme/

A Story of Disasters, Poverty Myths, and the Birth of the Poverty Industry

“It’s going to all be private enterprise before it’s over… They’ve got the expertise. They’ve got the resources.” ~Billy Wagner, emergency management chief for the Florida Keys

Canada spent $5.8 billion toward International assistance efforts in 2015.  These tax-payer dollars went to helping the poor with disaster relief, food aid, and military assistance. Despite the billions spent, however, many communities remain poor. The question is, “Why?”

Aid programs can harm more than they help.  Poverty seems to increase rather than decrease.[1]  The poor are often blamed for program failures. They are judged to be lazy and irresponsible. Lack of ‘proper’ education is seen as a primary reason the poor remain poor.  It becomes the responsibility of ‘more knowledgeable’ people to take care of communities incapable of taking care of themselves.

Northern_Uganda_Africa3_034

Source: www.en.wikipedia.org

There are several prevalent myths regarding the poor. These myths have influenced public policy for hundreds of years. The most important myths include:

(1) The poor are lazy.

(2) The poor are drug addicts.

(3) The poor are uneducated.

(4) The poor are criminals.

(5) The poor will always be poor.

Current poverty reduction programs rely largely on these five myths.  It seems little has changed over the last hundred years!  The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 illustrates how these myths influence financial aid and poverty reduction programs.

One of the hardest hit areas during Hurricane Katrina was the Ninth Ward, located in New Orleans.  For more information, check out this link: http://archive.oah.org/special-issues/katrina/Landphair.html

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1870s Map of New Orleans. Source: www.en.wikipedia.org

Prior to 2005, the Ninth Ward had become a place of unique culture and community.  By the late 1800s, over 17,000 people lived in the Ward.  This was a neighborhood which encouraged collaboration and mutual aid.  The geography of this area also served to separate and isolate the space from the rest of New Orleans. This isolation was increased in 1918, when the city constructed a new industrial canal.  Many officials thought this canal would promote economic growth.  The canal ran through the middle of the Ninth Ward, because officials saw the space as “uninhabited”.  This canal created two separate spaces which were divided by class and race.  Poor, mostly African-American families remained in the Lower Ninth Ward.  Wealthier white families moved into St. Bernard’s Parish on the other side of the canal.

New_Orleans_17th_Street_Canal_filling

Canal dividing lower and upper Ninth Ward. Source: www.en.wikipedia.org

By 2003, the media listed the lower Ninth Ward as “The murder capital of the murder capital” in the U.S.  The Ward was a “dangerous backwater pockmarked with blight where one’s life was always at risk”.  The people who lived there were “underclass” and “unwed, live-off-the-dole welfare mothers”. In short, the residents of the lower Ninth Ward were lazy, drug-addicted criminals who lacked proper education or will to help themselves. The five poverty myths were in full play.

After Hurricane Katrina, many city and State officials discussed the future of the Ninth Ward.  Col Terry Ebbert (Department of Homeland Security) said,

“There’s nothing out there that can be saved at all”.

The lower Ninth Ward was built on unstable flood plains, and officials discouraged rebuilding there.  The wealthier St. Bernard suburbs were allowed to rebuild, even though they lived in the same flood plain, however. After the mayor announced that the cost of rebuilding would be the responsibility of residents, it was clear to many that race and poverty were primary variables in recovery efforts.  Instead of being helped after the disaster, the lower Ninth Ward community was marginalized, segregated, and stigmatized.  Many residents felt they were victims of discrimination based on race and class.

Low9JustAintRight1

Source: www.wikipedia.org

Even more importantly, the government transferred much of their power and responsibility for helping to private industry.  Author Naomi Klein calls this phenomenon “Disaster Capitalism”.[2]  Klein feels that Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of the problems the poverty industry has created.  In a Time Magazine interview, she explains that the government betrayed the poorest people of America.  Government aid dollars remained unspent, and private industry was allowed to choose who they helped.  Profits became the driving force behind disaster relief.[3]

BrokenPromises_JohnFekner

Source: www.en.wikipedia.org

In New Orleans, people who could afford to pay for the ‘service’ were rescued first.  The poor remained on roof-tops and in buildings with no food, water, or power.  Residents who could afford to pay quickly recovered. People in the lower Ninth Ward still do not have adequate housing!  Meanwhile, tax dollars dedicated to disaster relief remain unspent.

No_Loitering_Banksy

Banksy art in lower Ninth Ward.  Source: www.en.wikipedia.org

Hurricane Katrina is one example of how poverty myths and the poverty industry undermine the success of current poverty reduction programs.  Next week, I will take a closer look at the Poverty Industry, and how it is adversely affecting the global poor.  Until then, this is Spatial Integrity – making the Invisible, Visible!

KolkataFlowerMarket

Source: www.en.wikipedia.org

[1] Sanderson, S. 2005. Poverty and Conservation: The New Century’s “Peasant Question?” World Development. 33(2). 323-32.

[2][2] http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine/resources/disaster-capitalism-in-action/tags/hurricane%2Bkatrina

[3] http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1666221,00.html