30 Dec 2015

Developing Partnerships With The Poor

Moin Qazi

The perception that the poor do not have skills or would not be able to survive on their own is a myth. My experience with development finance has demonstrated that we have to encourage strategies that ensure wider participation of poor in schemes aimed at ameliorating their problems. It is the unleashing of such social energies and, not hackneyed government programmes and tiring lip service of politicians, which will make India’s development ambition a reality. All that the pro-villages rhetoric does is to pay lip service to the people who still live there without electricity and running water. All that you have to do is to provide them access to capital and opportunity and see them take off.
During all these years of my association with the rural sector, I have come to know that development is fuller when put in women’s hands, especially the poor, who know best how to use the little money they have. The first generation leaders of Independent India believed that economic justice would be advanced by the lessons of cooperation where common efforts to achieve the common good will subsume all artificial differences of caste, community and religion. Increasingly, these dreams have been dashed against the shoals of politics, bureaucracy and disregard for the fundamental principle of cooperation. They are all part of a virus sweeping the country, a malaise called dishonesty. Much of what the leaders promise is empty rhetoric and much of the harvest that false promises could reap was owing to the gullible public who saw quicksilver in mirages.

Although there is so much discussion in public forums of involving the stakeholders for appropriate development of the society in which the poor live , poor people rarely get the opportunity to develop their own agenda and vision or set terms for the involvement of outsiders. The entire participatory paradigm illustrates that people are participating in plans and programs that we – outsiders – have designed. Not only is there little opportunity for them to articulate their ideas, there is also seldom an institutional space where their ingenuity and creativity in solving their own problems can be recognized, respected and rewarded
Today the most important need for a development worker posted in a rural area is the need to listen. The best advice one could ever give to new entrants in the field of rural development is to listen to what the people want instead of trying to assume to know what the problems and solutions are. Economic development and social change cannot be imposed from without. They must be sought and grasped by the individual pursuing opportunities for self-realization. That well-meaning people should have the open mindedness to listen to those who work in the field and live the day-to-day challenges. That respect opens many doors. Lasting change comes about so slowly that you may not even notice it until one day people and Individuals don’t want to be taken care of – they need to be given a chance to fulfill their own potential .If we can inspire people around the world to think differently about what it means to be poor, then we will have made a real impact. When we design solutions that recognize the poor as clients or customers and not as passive recipients of charity, we have a real chance to end poverty. And I believe we can do that in our generation. This logic comes from the importance of empathy—not one that comes from a place of superiority, but one born from a profound humility.
Rather than just facilitating and providing the mental and physical space for the poor to develop themselves, the drivers of the project make the poor puppets, not equal partners. The early 1980s taught me that the village did not need to plan its growth on the model designed by the urban intelligentsia alone. In fact, urban India needed to learn from villages as much or more than it needed to give. There was need for a genuine dialogue between two equals. Gandhiji's rural bias became clearer. The idea or principle underlying it was fully acceptable, even if the details were not.
If the primary focus is really ending poverty, we must establish partnership between poor communities so that they learn from one another and share traditional, practical knowledge and skills. Importing expensive, unworkable ideas, equipment and consultants simply destroys the capacity of communities to help themselves. That model encourages colossal falsification of figures, the excessive hiring of private consultants and contractors, conflicts of interest and a massive patronage system.
To fresh entrants in this field of development work, I can only suggest that it is important living in a village rather than dropping by for the day, if one really wants to get full insight. I think the main reason why many of our programmes have gone awry is because development workers particularly the senior bosses never had the patience to understand the problems and needs of villagers. During their official visits, they move through villages as if they are passing through revolving doors, rarely interested in dropping into a villager’s house, afraid of catching infection if they are made to taste the villager’s hospitality . Remarks like, ‘ I am a farmer myself’, ‘ you can’t pull wool over my eyes’ and ‘I was born and brought up in a village’ ‘ I know rural problems better than anybody else’ are a sign of arrogance and will not go down well with the people with whom you want to work.
It is only through long and close contact with the poor themselves and through our work with them that we are able to gain a deeper understanding and a more balanced view. In this way our experience is not that of a typical non-governmental organization (NGO) many of which work from within the confines of the project enclave or are based in urban centres from where excursions are made out into the villages by jeep. Such brief or sporadic encounters are unlikely to give any great insights into the lives of the poorest. Sadly, many NGOs are far removed from the realities of poverty and often fail to reach those most in need. For me the most surprising thing has been the simple human-to-human connection that has let me overcome both language and culture barriers.
We should not forget that poor villagers are not just statistics but people like you and me, and apart from the poverty that they share in common, there is as much variety of humankind among them as anywhere else in the world: the hardworking, the lazy, the shy, the outspoken, the honest, the devious, the intelligent and the dull, the improvident and the enterprising. Amongst the people with whom we worked, whether Muslim, Hindu or Dalit, were all of these, though, in my experience, the positive characteristics almost always stood out.
Villagers may be uneducated, but they are extremely clever and very good at telling an outsider what they think they want to hear. The truth of a village can come out only slowly, with time — time for trust to build between the villagers and outsiders, and time for the outsider to peel away all the layers to get at the truth.
In his reflections on fieldwork the doyen of Indian anthropologists, Professor M.N. Shrinivas, has talked of successful ethnography as having to pass through three stages. An anthropologist is ‘once-born’ when he initially goes to the fields, thrust from familiar surroundings into a world he has very little clue about. He is ‘twice –born’ when, on living for some time among his tribe, he is able to see things from their viewpoint. To those anthropologists ,fortunate’ enough to experience it ,this second birth is akin to a Buddhist urge of consciousness ,for which years of study or mere linguistic facility do not prepare you. All of a sudden, one is about to see everything from the native’s point of view –be it festivals, fertility rites or the fear of death.

Culture, Education And Human Solidarity

John Avery

Cultural and educational activities have a small ecological footprint, and therefore are more sustainable than pollution-producing, fossil-fuel-using jobs in industry. Furthermore, since culture and knowledge are shared among all nations, work in culture and education leads societies naturally towards internationalism and peace.
Economies based on a high level of consumption of material goods are unsustainable and will have to be abandoned by a future world that renounces the use of fossil fuels in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, a world where non-renewable resources such as metals will become increasingly rare and expensive. How then can full employment be maintained?
The creation of renewable energy infrastructure will provide work for a large number of people; but in addition, sustainable economies of the future will need to shift many workers from jobs in industry to jobs in the service sector. Within the service sector, jobs in culture and education are particularly valuable because the will help to avoid the disastrous wars that are currently producing enormous human suffering and millions of refugees, wars that threaten to escalate into an all-destroying global thermonuclear war.
Human nature may contain primitive tribal emotional elements which make it easy for demagogues to lead their populations into war; but humans also have a unique aptitude for cooperation. Our success as a species is due to the sharing and preservation of cultural achievements.
Human nature has two sides: It has a dark side, to which nationalism and militarism appeal; but our species also has a genius for cooperation, which we can see in the growth of culture. Our modern civilization has been built up by means of a worldwide exchange of ideas and inventions. It is built on the achievements of many ancient cultures. China, Japan, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, the Islamic world, Christian Europe, and the Jewish intellectual traditions all have contributed. Potatoes, corn, squash, vanilla, chocolate, chilli peppers, and quinine are gifts from the American Indians.
We need to reform our educational systems, particularly the teaching of history. As it is taught today, history is a chronicle of power struggles and war, told from a biased national standpoint. We are taught that our own country is always heroic and in the right. We urgently need to replace this indoctrination in chauvinism by a reformed view of history, where the slow development of human culture is described, giving credit to all who have contributed. When we teach history, it should not be about power struggles. It should be about how human culture was gradually built up over thousands of years by the patient work of millions of hands and minds. Our common global culture, the music, science, literature and art that all of us share, should be presented as a precious heritage - far too precious to be risked in a thermonuclear war.
We have to extend our loyalty to the whole of the human race, and to work for a world not only free from nuclear weapons, but free from war. A war-free world is not utopian but very practical, and not only practical but necessary. It is something that we can achieve and must achieve. Today their are large regions, such as the European Union, where war would be inconceivable. What is needed is to extend these.
Nor is a truly sustainable economic system utopian or impossible. To achieve it, we should begin by shifting jobs to the creation of renewable energy infrastructure, and to the fields of culture and education. By so doing we will suport human solidarity and avoid the twin disasters of catastrophic war and climate change.

Has the Rise and Growth of the Islamic State Benefitted Iran?

Kimberley Anne Nazareth

The recent attacks in Paris, triggered by the ever growing Islamic State (IS) has caused a great deal of concern not only among the Western nations but in the Persian Gulf as well. The event has questioned the success of the US-led coalition as well as the involvement of the regional countries, particularly Iran, in the battle against the IS. 
To that end, has the IS’s existence benefitted Iran in the regional as well as international context, and to what extent? 
Regional DynamicsIran is definitely a game-changer. It is deeply involved in the fight against IS in both Iraq and Syria. The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s support for the Assad regime is a double-edged sword. It acts as an enabler as it has kept the Assad regime afloat, and a constrainer as it a can influence the activities of the regime. Iran’s support for Assad has caused a clash between Iran and the West and the influence it potentially wields is a reason why the West should engage with Iran.
From a strategic point of view, the regional countries have the most to lose if the growth of IS is not curbed. Hence, a committed regional effort is required to dismantle its influence in the region. This includes Iran and the other gulf countries.
Though most West Asian countries have joined the international coalition, their degrees of commitment are questionable. Many of these countries are also part of the problem; and they have been indirectly responsible of the spread of the IS.
It also means that these countries too have to include Iran in the fold. The regional challenges in the form of proxy wars, flare-ups and sectarian conflicts between the countries have created a security dilemma – which  includes the war in Yemen, the Saudi–Qatar unease, the Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry etc.; these rivalries have obstructed the effective functioning of the coalition forces as well as creating a parallel crisis in the region.
The threat posed by IS has given Iran an upper hand in playing a greater role in regional security issues – reaching out to its nemesis, Saudi Arabia, is one way. But the sectarian and regional flare ups are creating a dilemma. The Gulf States and the others are wary of Iran’s influence, especially in the Shia dominated or ruled countries in the region – which includes Iraq and Syria. Syria has been especially supportive of Iran’s enhanced role in the region. Iran has never backed down from supporting Shiite organisations, especially in its fight against the IS.

International Community

If the regional countries seem complacent, the international community, dominated by the Western powers, are in a worse position. They lack a clear strategy. Their complacency was witnessed in their procrastination to form the coalition. They have also been divided on a roadmap to tackle the Assad situation. There is more that divides them, than unites them especially when Russia is thrown into the mix.

The main question is as to whether Iran should be part of the coalition. There are many like Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution who advises against such a coalition. Conversely however, strategically, some sort of partnership would be prudent as both Iraq and Syria are not hostile towards Iran, as well as face the common threat of the IS. However, other complications have arisen and Iran and the US are now embroiled in a fight for influence in the region, with Russia who is friendly towards Iran rather than its ‘frenemy’, US. Though their goals do converge, there are other factors, such as Iran’s support of groups like Hezbollah that impede a working relationship.

The US’ battle against the IS has proven to be futile in spite of President Barack Obama’s repeated attempts at reassuring his citizens as well as the international community. The Paris attacks are a clear indication that the IS is still expanding its influence beyond the areas it controls; and that the strategy of the coalition is under-equipped to deal with them.

Iran’s Regional and Global TrajectoriesThe threat posed by IS will not disappear in the near future, and as predicted by many, the crisis will continue for a longer term. It creates a window of opportunity for Iran as a regional powerhouse to play a leading role especially in the Shia-dominated states. However, the regional countries, especially the Sunni-ruled countries are apprehensive of the role Iran should play.

If the international community is serious about its need to dismantle the IS, getting all regional countries to take onus as well as regional collaborative efforts should be promoted with greater fervor. This collaborative effort would further compel Iran into a leadership role.

However, Iran’s changing role in world affairs is viewed with heavy skepticism, especially due to its ‘extracurricular’ activities aimed at one ‘unfriendly’ regional nation at the least. Therefore, at the moment, though Western countries are beginning to see Iran as a problem solver rather than a creator, they are still uncertain.

Prince Charles and William granted access to top secret UK documents

Margot Miller

Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, has had access for more than two decades to top secret government papers, investigative work by the anti-monarchy Republic organization has shown. So has his son Prince William, second in line to the throne. The princes were given access to the papers even though they are otherwise considered too sensitive even for the eyes of middle ranking ministers.
The secret documents have also been routinely circulated to the queen, along with top government ministers, including all members of the cabinet, government ministers in charge of departments, the Attorney General, Chief Whip of the House of Commons and Leader of the Opposition.
The secret documents are contained in the so-called “Precedent Book.” They include all proposals for new legislation as well as records of internal government discussions. While they have been freely handed to Britain’s remaining feudal lords, the government insists that they not be released to the public for at least three decades after publication.
The documents were uncovered only after an extended legal battle led by Republic, which campaigns for the abolition of the British monarchy.
The government fought tooth and nail to block the release of the documents, insisting that they are “highly confidential.” Nonetheless, his Honour Judge Shanks ruled in favour of the release of four chapters of the book during a Freedom of Information (FOI) tribunal in June.
Shanks ordered that a fifth chapter, pertaining to the queen and entitled “Relations with Buckingham Palace,” be kept secret.
The Precedent Book has traditionally been kept in a locked cupboard, within a locked office in a secured corridor inside the Cabinet Office. The newly released documents make clear that both Prince Charles and his chief private secretary, Clive Anderton, have enjoyed unfettered access to the top secret room.
Charles, who has proudly dubbed himself “the meddling prince,” has enjoyed easy access to government secrets to the point where he is “essentially a minister,” Republic’s chief executive Graham Smith noted in response to the exposure.
Charles’ meddling was previously exposed by a 2010 FOI battle spearheaded by Guardian journalist Rob Evans, which secured the release of some thirty letters exchanged by the Prince and the government from 2004-2005.
Most of the letters written by Charles to ministers will never be seen, as a result of amendments to the FOI legislation rammed through by the Blair Labour government in 1997. Blair later expressed regret that the Freedom of Information Act had been allowed to pass into law under his tenure, underscoring the hypocrisy of Labour’s claims to have fought for greater government transparency and accountability.
These revelations have exploded official claims that the royals have no political affiliation or influence under the UK’s parliamentary democracy.
Charles and the queen have enjoyed secret, extra-legal powers that enable them to influence the legislative process, including bills that determine British imperialism’s war policy, documents secured by a 2013 FOI case have already confirmed.
The documents, released over the staunch opposition of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, revealed that the queen’s consent has been required for passage of major social legislation, including the Civil Partnership Act of 2014, and other legislation relating to higher education, paternity pay, identity cards and child maintenance. Parliamentary bills under consideration are regularly passed to the monarchy to secure consent before being confirmed, the 2013 case showed.
These procedures are far from merely ceremonial, according to John Kirkhope, the legal scholar who led the fight to secure the release of the documents. Far from rubber-stamping legislation with their “Royal Assent”, senior royals exercise “real influence and real power,” according to Kirkhope.
“There has been an implication that these prerogative powers are quaint and sweet, but actually there is real influence and real power, albeit unaccountable,” Kirkhope said.
In one instance exposed by the documents, a parliamentary council warned that without royal consent, a “major plank” of the bill in question would have to be axed.
In 1999, the queen exercised her royal veto to reject the “Military Action Against Iraq” legislation, which contained provisions that would have limited the monarchy’s veto power over war policy.
The monarchy also has power of veto over bills concerning their own hereditary income and personal property. According to the Sunday Times Rich List, the queen has a fortune of £340 million, an increase of £10 million from last year, while Charles is worth over £140 million.
Last year, Charles earned £18 million from the Duchy of Cornwall estates. A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said the prince has never refused consent on legislation concerning his personal wealth “unless advised by ministers.” This begs the question: in which cases did Charles on the advice of ministers veto legislation which would affect his income?
The disclosure of the monarchy’s full access to the Precedent Papers has met with a muted response from the supine media and politicians of all stripes.
Under its new leader, the declared Republican Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has refused to even question why the unelected monarch and her heirs can peruse Cabinet papers or veto bills. Labour merely called for a review into Charles’ access to the papers.
Clive Lewis, Labor’s shadow energy and climate change minister, commented meekly in response to the revelations that, “There needs to be more transparency about his powers and his access to confidential briefings.”
Such calls for “transparency” are an attempt by Labour to whitewash the undemocratic practices that are normally well hidden from the public gaze.
Last year the monarchy cost the British taxpayer £334 million. In the same period, 2.3 million UK children languished in poverty, and three million UK residents were either suffering from malnutrition, or in danger of it.
Despite doing away with the absolute powers of the monarch with the beheading of Charles I during their own revolution in 1649, the British bourgeoisie later restored and maintained the institution as the living embodiment of inherited privilege, social inequality, nationalism and political stability. The monarch rests on a system whose social relations are based on class exploitation and the capitalist nation state system, based on private ownership of the means of production and production for profit.
“Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council” is central to the maintenance of highly classified state secrets. The Privy Council, a body of advisers to the sovereign, comprises mainly senior politicians, including the Leader of the Opposition. All members swear a ritual allegiance to “not know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done or spoken against Her Majesty’s Person, Honour, Crown or Dignity Royal,” without informing the Council and to “keep secret all matters committed and revealed unto you…”
As the release of the Precedent Papers shows, the monarchy takes an active and influential role in defending the interests of the bourgeoisie, alongside parliament, the secret service and the army. It stands at the very apex of these constitutional mechanisms of class rule.

Puerto Rico faces default on its debts

Rafael Azul

Puerto Rico’s Development Bank (Banco Gubernamental de Fomento, BGF) is in last-minute negotiations with the holders of Puerto Rican bonds over the island government’s $72 billion public debt and an impending default on the next bond payment, due January 4.
The negotiations are occurring following a decision by the US Congress not to grant Puerto Rico protections under Chapter 9 of the US bankruptcy laws.
On December 14 Congress postponed action on a bill that would have provided emergency debt relief for Puerto Rico. That bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, included a $3 billion subsidy, reduction in federal Social Security taxes and a federal financial control board.
With bankruptcy protection off the table, the administration of Governor Alejandro García Padilla had lobbied Congress to include the Hatch proposal in an omnibus budget bill for the US federal government. It now appears that Puerto Rico has run out of options and will default on payments next week.
To avoid default, Puerto Rico needs to make a $957 million interest payment January 4, followed by $331 million in February. In July another payment of $956 million is due together with $1.024 billion to redeem maturing bonds at face value.
Despite having embraced a measure that would have subordinated his and future administrations to a Wall Street-run control board, García Padilla denounced congressional inaction: “This fiscal crisis will soon become a humanitarian crisis under the American flag and the Commonwealth will be dragged into massive, costly litigation, which will prevent the Commonwealth from providing essential services to its citizens,” declared the governor.
“By not acting now, Congress has opted for the US Commonwealth to default on its obligations and unfold into chaos. Once again Wall Street has demonstrated its control over Congress; Wall Street rules Congress.”
García Padilla also announced that he would not be running for reelection next November in order to better deal with the payment crisis, thus becoming the fourth one-term governor in a row. The last three carried out layoffs of government employees, school closures, sales tax hikes, attacks on pensions and health benefits and other austerity measures.
In 2009, following the layoff of more than 20,000 employees by governor Luis Fortuño, hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets in mass protests in a one-day general strike. Another wave of protests of workers and students took place in 2010.
The negotiations between the creditor group and the Puerto Rican government now take place in the heels of an activation, by the García Padilla administration, of a “clawback” clause that would sequester financial resources from various government agencies (transportation, government-owned utilities and others) and transfer those resources to pay holders of Puerto Rican General Obligation bonds (GO bonds) that are constitutionally guaranteed.
Melba Acosta Febo, the BGF’s director, predicted that the “clawback” would force the infrastructure fund AFI to default on their January debt service of $34 million. She declined to predict whether the GO bonds would default on next month’s debt service payment. In previous statements, Acosta Febo has been categorical in declaring that default is a certainty if no action is taken.
The BGF director said that within the next few days it will make a proposal to a bondholders group that includes Millstein & Co., Cleary Gottlieb & Hamilton and CitiGroup. The proposal involves the creation of a new debt instrument, called a “superbono,” as part of an austerity package of restructuring government spending.
It is widely acknowledged that the various hedge funds that hold Puerto Rican bonds, including Oppenheimer Funds and others, and those that insure the bonds, through swaps and other financial derivatives, pressured US congressmen of both parties not to take any action that could potentially force them to accept less than the entire face value of the bonds—which now sell at a steep discount—plus interest payments that are now due.
Anticipating this turn of events, so-called vulture funds have bought Puerto Rican bonds for far less than their face value, with the expectation of making a killing.
Both García Padilla and Acosta Febo recognize that, by turning its back on bankruptcy protection and on debt relief, the US government has effectively made a beggar out of Puerto Rico, forcing it to accept the terms the hedge and vulture funds demand: payment in full on the backs of the Puerto Rican people.
Wall Street and Congress have emphasized the supposed fiscal irresponsibility of successive Puerto Rican governments that were borrowing in response to a decade of economic slump, but in truth, the debt crisis itself was made in Wall Street.
In 2006 Puerto Rico sank into its most severe recession since the 1930s, a direct consequence of the deindustrialization of the island. During the preceding decade the number of industrial jobs had fallen from 160,000 to 75,000, as textile and pharmaceutical firms fled to more profitable locations.
Faced with the unraveling of a post-war model of attracting investments through tax breaks and low wages for its largely non-union work force, Puerto Rico resorted to borrowing to make up for the capital flight then occurring.
Compounding the economic crisis were austerity policies that further shrank the economy, accelerating the decline in jobs, living standards and the tax base. Serial indebtedness chased ever-declining living standards. During the last nine years, Puerto Rico has cut pensions and government jobs, slashed health benefits for teachers, shuttered public schools, imposed new sales taxes (and then raised them from 7 to 11.5 percent), while steeply raising fees for water and power and taxes on fuel.
Despite these draconian measures, the so-called structural deficit in government spending kept going up, and each administration since 2006 sold tax-free GO bonds to bridge the gap.
Wall Street hedge funds happily obliged, attracted by the low-risk and usurious yields of the bonds—rated as junk bonds since last year—with the expectation that neither the Obama administration, Congress or the Courts would act against its profit interests.
Meanwhile the economy continues to crumble. Since 2004 Puerto Rican GDP has shrunk by 13 percent. More than 40 percent of youth are unemployed. Since 2006 the amount of capital leaving the island exceeds new investments. Per capita income is 7 percent less than in 2006 and social inequality is exploding. The official November unemployment rate of 12.5 percent is more than double the US rate.
Over 10 percent of the population has migrated to the US since 2006, including thousands of medical doctors, engineers, teachers and other highly qualified personnel. Presently less than 40 percent of working-age Puerto Ricans have a job or are looking; one-third of the population survives on US food stamp benefits.
Despite his protestations over congressional inaction, García Padilla has contributed to the increasing human misery facing Puerto Ricans with draconian austerity measures, raising regressive sales taxes, reducing health and vacation benefits for public employees and cutting food stamps and public transit.
As is the case in Greece, Spain and other indebted nations, each austerity measure further sinks GDP and living standards and the capacity of the government to extract resources with which to pay debt holders, requiring yet another round of austerity.
Among the measures that are being contemplated for 2016 are the gutting of Puerto Rico’s schools and health systems, the reduction of minimum wages and legislation making it easier to fire workers.
The New York Times, in an article that appeared on December 19, indicated that the Wall Street hedge funds and speculative “vulture” funds oppose any proposal that would allow Puerto Rico, or any of its cities or state agencies, to declare bankruptcy (like Detroit did in 2013).
The article chronicles the campaign of hedge and vulture funds to use their financial clout for Congress to deny bankruptcy protection to Puerto Rico, using massive campaign contributions, deceiving publicity campaigns and self-serving reports on the state of the island’s finances.
The funds also bitterly opposed and campaigned against a December 4 decision by the US Supreme Court to involve itself in part of the debt, the $22 billion owed by Puerto Rican utilities and other public agencies.
Furthermore, the vulture funds seek to create a precedent that would apply to US states such as Illinois, New York and California, which are heavily in debt, excluding them from bankruptcy courts. Puerto Rico’s outstanding debt of $72 billion in fact is only small part of the $3.2 trillion outstanding US municipal and state debt.

The fracturing of the European Union

Peter Schwarz

It is 70 years since large parts of Europe lay in ruins. Great power aspirations, nationalism and fascism made the continent the focus of two world wars, which together claimed nearly 100 million victims. Now, these same tendencies are spreading once again.
Everywhere in Europe, the ruling elites are moving sharply to the right. They are boosting military spending, taking part in the imperialist wars in the Middle East and Africa, sealing up borders and inciting xenophobic sentiments against refugees. They are developing authoritarian forms of rule and building up a police state in order to suppress growing social tensions.
After the attacks in Paris, the Socialist Party government imposed a state of emergency for three months, stationed thousands of soldiers on the streets and deployed the military’s only aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf to bomb Syria. The beneficiary of this policy has been the right-wing National Front, which became the strongest party in the first round of the recent regional elections.
In Hungary and Poland, governments openly profess their admiration for the authoritarian regimes of the 1920s and 1930s.
In Germany, leading politicians and academics demand that the country again take on the role of a “hegemon” and “disciplinarian” in Europe and aspire to be a major power in the world, as if the crimes of the Nazi regime never happened. The austerity policies that Berlin has imposed on the economically weaker EU members for years have aggravated social and political tensions throughout Europe.
Even the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who otherwise is a political follower of the German chancellor, criticized Angela Merkel in the Financial Times this week for pushing economic policies that are fanning the flames of populism and damaging incumbent governments across the continent—and are based on double standards favoring Germany and hurting Italy. Governments in Warsaw, Athens, Lisbon and Madrid had lost their jobs because they followed the policy of fiscal discipline without true growth, Renzi complained.
Numerous recent comments in the media focus on the potential break-up of the EU under the pressure of growing contradictions and tensions.
Reuters correspondent Paul Taylor writes under the headline “Europe’s year from hell may presage worse to come”: “The crises of 2015 have threatened to tear the Union apart and left it battered, bruised, despondent and littered with new barriers.”
EU Parliament President Martin Schulz warned in Die Welt that no one can say “if the EU will exist in this way in a decade”. The alternative, he writes, is “a Europe of nationalism, a Europe of borders and walls. That would be devastating, because such a Europe has led our continent in the past repeatedly into disaster.”
An editorial in the Süddeutsche Zeitung even demands a “Plan B” in the event that the EU breaks apart. The main danger comes less from Greece and the refugee crisis or an exit of Britain than from “neo-nationalism”, the newspaper states.
While these and other comments warn of a break-up of the EU and the possible consequences, they do not answer the question of why nationalism and militarism are flaring up again in Europe. Indeed, they do not even pose the question.
Contrary to the claims of official propaganda, the EU has never overcome the conflicts that made Europe the center of two world wars. The EU does not unite the peoples of Europe, but has always been a weapon of the most powerful economic and financial interests against the working class at home and international rivals abroad. It is a hotbed of nationalism, inequality, dictatorship and war.
The EU is living proof that it is impossible to unite the continent on a capitalist basis. The defence of capitalist private property and the free movement of capital and profits, which are the focus of the EU treaties, inevitably have the consequence that the most powerful corporations in the EU set the tone and the strongest states impose their will on the weaker. Instead of alleviating national and social contradictions, the EU exacerbates them to the extreme.
The enlargement of the EU into Eastern Europe a decade ago did not bring democracy and prosperity. The new members have served the major European corporations as a source of cheap labor. Their welfare programs are being destroyed, wages kept low and unemployment high, while a small corrupt elite enjoy prosperity.
The EU, and especially Germany, took advantage of the financial crisis of 2008 to dictate unprecedented social cuts in the name of fiscal consolidation. In Greece, which was made an example, the average standard of living declined by 40 percent in a few years.
The EU and its members have responded to the growing social tensions with militarism and increased repression. The real or supposed danger of terrorist attacks have served as a pretext for further anti-democratic measures.
With the refugee crisis, the consequences of imperialist wars in the Middle East and North Africa have returned to Europe. The refugee issue has further polarized Europe. While large sections of the population react with solidarity, the ruling circles have unleashed a furious campaign against refugees, building up border fences and fighting each other.
The dangers arising from the break-up of the EU are very real. New wars and dictatorships, even within Europe, loom. This danger cannot be prevented by defending the EU, but only in a relentless struggle against it and the capitalist system upon which it is predicated.
The only way to unite Europe in the interests of its peoples, to use its vast resources in the interest of all and to prevent further wars, is through the United Socialist States of Europe. Only the independent mobilization of the European working class on the basis of a socialist programme can halt the impending disaster.

German trade union chief agrees to €1 an hour jobs for refugees

Dietmar Henning

Rainer Hoffmann, the chairman of the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB), has backed the announcement by Labour Minister Andrea Nahles that refugees will be pressed to accept work at €1 per hour in the coming year.
Nahles, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), presented figures from her ministry according to which between 300,000 and 350,000 refugees, among them 70,000 children, will receive Hartz IV benefits for the first time next year. Asylum seekers whose applications have been accepted as well as refugees who are allowed to remain, together with their children, have a right to claim Hartz IV aid.
Along with the Rhineland-Palatinate premier Manu Dreyer, federal government representative for immigration Aydan Özoguz, federal minister for families Manuela Schwesig, and Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks (all SPD members), Hoffmann announced, as part of a twelve-point programme for “sustainability and integration in Germany,” the creation of 100,000 new “labour opportunity” positions, i.e., €1 jobs.
In an interview with Die Welt, Hoffmann said, “I can imagine that for a certain period of time we would create a social labour market for socially necessary activities that otherwise would not be carried out.”
The €1 jobs are anything but a “social labour market.” They do not involve a labour relationship. No wages are paid. Instead, in addition to Hartz IV social welfare benefits, claimants receive compensation up to the equivalent of €1, or, occasionally, €2 per hour for a thirty-hour work week. The claimants have to use the additional compensation to cover costs such as transportation. If they become sick and are forced to stay at home, they receive no additional compensation.
The unemployed rarely accept these jobs voluntarily. They are compelled to do so with the threat of benefit cuts if they do not.
Forced community service is a better description of the €1 jobs than the euphemistic term “social labour market.” Academic studies have compared these jobs to “welfare-to-work” programmes and the underlying concept of workfare, referred to in Germany as “working for the bare essentials” and “the duty to work in exchange for state provision of the basic necessities of life.”
Hoffmann, who is also an SPD member, suggested that, as with the unemployed, the unions would demand “a minimum wage and social insurance for the employees.” However, since the €1 jobs do not amount to a “labour relation” in the legal sense, they are not covered by social insurance.
Hoffmann nonetheless supports this form of coerced community service. “We will have to see whether the refugees are suited to that,” he said, adding that “there should be projects in which we try out different things.”
Like the local authorities that employ €1 workers to carry out “socially necessary work,” refugees are to be made responsible for the integration of new refugees. The SPD politicians’ twelve-point programme states that local authorities offering labour opportunities will profit “from their support for refugees.”
The €1 positions do not result in real jobs. Fewer than one in ten people holding such positions move to regular employment. Most unemployed people become further removed from the labour market while working at a €1 job.
In a 2011 study of such jobs in Munich, the Institute for Labour Market and Career Research, a branch of the federal labour ministry, wrote, “Employment in a mini-job curtails the employment prospects of participants by an average of 40 percent.” The negative impact in regions with high unemployment, such as eastern Germany and the Ruhr, is even more severe.
Although the DGB officially calls for minimum wage jobs to provide social insurance, Hoffmann knows full well there is virtually no chance that people out of work for more than a year will receive such benefits. Moreover, for six months, the unemployed can be hired for less than the minimum wage of €8.50 per hour.
Since more refugees are arriving than companies require, restrictions on immigration are being strengthened and expanded, in the first place in the form of the “acceleration of asylum law.” Language courses and assistance in finding work are available only to refugees with “strong prospects of being permitted to stay.”
The distinction between refugees with “high” and “low” prospects of being allowed to stay is a euphemism for distinguishing between refugees who, in the words of Christian Social Union official Günther Beckstein, “are useful to us” and those “who exploit us.”
The federal and state governments, corporations and trade unions are working together to deport the majority of refugees, while exploiting the rest as a cheap labour force.

Canada’s central bank expresses trepidation over economic downturn

Roger Jordan

Canada’s economic output stalled in October, according to figures released last week. This followed a contraction of 0.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product in September, indicating that Canada’s economy is struggling to pull out of the recession it experienced in the first half of 2015.
In all, Canada’s economy has failed to grow in seven of the year’s first ten months.
Recent weeks have witnessed a precipitous fall in the value of the Canadian dollar, as the country’s economy is rocked by the collapse in commodity prices and by anemic growth in the US.
In the wake of the US Federal Reserve Board’s Dec. 16 decision to increase interest rates, the Canadian currency declined to US $0.72, its lowest level in eleven years. Analysts are predicting the currency will soon fall below the 70-cent mark. It has already lost 17 percent of its value this year, falling to an eleven-year low against the US dollar.
The deepening economic slump is being driven by the global crisis. The collapse in oil prices, which have been halved to $36 per barrel over the past twelve months and are down from over $100 over the past year and a half, together with a similar sharp slide in other commodity prices, have hit Canada’s resource- and export-dependent economy hard. The economic downturn in China, whose demand for raw materials helped maintain commodity prices, has played a major role in this.
The anticipated boost to exports as a result of the Canadian dollar’s sharp fall has not materialized, mainly because other currencies, such as the Mexican peso, have declined at a similar pace against the US dollar. Mexican exports to the US are rising steadily, while Canada’s have been stagnant for some time. Last month, Ottawa was overtaken as Washington’s largest trading partner by China.
A recent Bank of America/Merill Lynch report noted that capital outflows from Canada are taking place at the fastest rate among developed countries. In a sharp reversal from twelve months ago, when the Canadian economy saw an inflow of capital chiefly in the energy sector equivalent to 4.2 percent of GDP, it is now experiencing capital outflows equal to 7.9 percent.
Even worse could still be to come. There are mounting fears that a collapse of the overheated housing market, or a series of bankruptcies among oil producers in Alberta due to the decline in the currency and oil prices, could provoke a broader economic crisis.
Responding to the darkening clouds over the economic outlook, Bank of Canada (BoC) Governor Stephen Poloz gave a speech December 8 laying out measures the bank would be prepared to take in the event of a major crisis. Having reduced interest rates twice already this year from 1 to 0.5 percent with no discernible impact on the economic slide, Poloz declared the bank could follow the example of the European Central Bank (ECB) and introduce negative interest rates. He therefore announced a reduction in the Bank of Canada’s “floor interest rate,” below which it will not lower rates, slashing it to -0.5 percent. This goes significantly further than during the 2008-09 crisis. Then the bank declared it would be prepared to lower its prime lending rate to as little as 0.25 percent.
Poloz also said that in the event of a major crisis the bank could resort to “quantitative easing,” that is, the making available of billions in cheap credit to the financial elite to fund stock market speculation. While such programs have been pursued by the ECB and above all by the US Federal Reserve, such a step would be unprecedented for the BoC.
The central bank chief sought to reassure his audience, and the markets, that he was simply outlining future policy options for the bank. “Today’s remarks should in no way be taken as a sign that we are planning to embark on these policies,” he claimed. “We don’t need unconventional policies now and we don’t expect to use them.”
Poloz based this assertion largely on the claim that fiscal stimulus implemented by the government tends to be more effective than monetary policy. On this basis, he has welcomed the Liberal government’s intention to run budget deficits to fund an infrastructure investment program that will see up to an additional $25 billion invested over the next three years.
Yet in the less than three months since the Liberals won the federal election with infrastructure spending as one of their key campaign pledges, the government’s financial position has significantly worsened. This has led Prime Minister Trudeau to abandon the Liberals’ promise to limit the federal budget deficit to $10 billion per year in their first two years in office. Senior government officials are now saying only that they will ensure that the total national debt-to-GDP ratio continues to decline. This would allow annual deficits of up to $25 billion per year.
While the government is giving itself some leeway to run larger deficits in the short term, Trudeau insisted in a recent interview that the Liberals’ commitment to balance the budget prior to the next election in 2019 is “cast in stone.” This means that the government will have to go substantially beyond the $6 billion in annual “savings” it pledged to find in the final year of its mandate.
Compounding the threat facing workers from further austerity is a series of troubling developments that could trigger even greater economic turbulence.
Household debt reached record levels in the third quarter, rising to 163.7 percent of disposable income from 162.7 percent in the second quarter. This places Canada among the countries with the highest level of household debt in the world.
Poloz acknowledged December 15 that rising debt levels pose a significant risk to the property market. BoC figures show a dramatic expansion of households, especially among younger adults, in extreme indebtedness, with 8 percent of households now having debt worth more than 350 percent of gross income. The rate of “extremely indebted” has actually doubled since the 2008-09 economic crisis.
The Bank’s “financial systems review” described the risk of a price drop in the property market as “elevated” and admitted that the consequences of such a development would be “severe.” The other elevated risk it mentioned was the sharp economic contraction experienced by China and other “emerging markets.”
Earlier this month, the government announced measures to try to cool the overheated housing market in Toronto and Vancouver. But commentators fear that this could have the unintended consequence of accelerating the decline in housing prices in Alberta, Canada’s main oil-producing province, potentially leading to a spike in personal bankruptcies and mortgage defaults.
Alberta has undergone a sharp economic contraction this year, with final figures for 2015 expected to show a 1.1 percent decline. In 2014, 35.7 percent of Alberta’s GDP was derived from capital investment, three times the national average, and the energy sector accounted for 60.7 percent of this. The Economics Society of Northern Alberta gloomily predicted that the oil price drop, which has prompted billions to be cut from the oil companies’ capital spending budgets, will create a tax revenue deficit for Alberta of $11 billion per year for each of the next 3 years.
A total of 63,800 workers lost their jobs in the first eight months of the year in Alberta, almost as many as in the whole of 2009 at the height of the global downturn.
According to the latest predictions from Goldman Sachs, oil prices could drop as low as US$20 per barrel. Such levels could force many of the already struggling oil producers in Alberta’s tar sands, where production costs are among the highest in the world, into bankruptcy or make them prime candidates for takeover by foreign competitors keen to seize the opportunity afforded by the cheapened Canadian currency.
The federal Liberal government is so concerned about the state of Alberta’s economy that it is establishing a council of Canadian and high-profile international politicians, economists and businessmen to advise it on how growth can be sustained in Alberta’s economy.
A similar crisis is unfolding in Newfoundland, another oil-producing province. Faced with a provincial budget deficit that has ballooned to $1.9 billion, the newly elected Liberal provincial government has announced a series of emergency measures, including a hiring freeze, and is vowing to take further austerity measures, including potential wage and job cuts, early in the new year.

US military to expand global operations in 2016

Thomas Gaist

The year 2015 will be remembered as a year of expanding global warfare and militarism. It began with discussions of the possibility of “total war” against Russia over the Ukraine crisis, saw new provocations against China in the South China Sea, and draws to a close amid the escalation of the US and European war in Iraq and Syria and the spread of conflict to Yemen, Libya and other parts of Africa.
The imperialist powers are determined to make 2016 an even bloodier and more dangerous year. Germany and Japan are openly remilitarizing, as their governments seek to whitewash and rationalize the crimes of the World War II era. All of the imperialist powers have seized on the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino to place their populations and economies on a war footing.
The most dangerous factor is the US drive for global domination. The United States has its hands in virtually every country, employing drone assassinations, Special Forces operations and a network of military bases and agreements aimed at establishing unchallenged military domination over the planet, along with cyberspace and outer space.
More plans are afoot. Washington is preparing to expand its global basing system through the addition of a “larger network envisioned by the Pentagon,” which will include at least four new Special Forces hubs and numerous new “spoke” bases, according to a New York Times article published Monday.
The commando network will be centered on Eurasia and Africa but will be global in scope, according to Pentagon officials. Among the new bases will be a permanent establishment in Afghanistan, which will function as “a hub for Special Operations troops and intelligence operatives throughout Central and South Asia.”
The record of the US special units, which have emerged as the spearhead of the so-called “war on terror” since 2001, makes clear the murderous nature of the escalating commando war. US Special Forces have been granted a general license to carry out violence and mayhem in every part of the world with total disregard for international law. Thousands of US commandos are already operating in between 85 and 130 countries worldwide, according to varying estimates by US media sources.
The enlarged Special Forces network is only one element of a broader strategic escalation by Washington. US weapons manufacturers are collaborating with the government to channel an expanding war chest of arms to allied governments and proxy forces, with American weapons sales surging in recent years. In 2014, total US arms sales jumped by $10 billion to a total of $35 billion, giving US corporations control over 50 percent of the world weapons market, according to a congressional report released last week.
The intensified drive for a redivision affects every region of the world.
Washington is pre-positioning military equipment and deploying conventional forces and military “advisors” and trainers throughout Europe in preparation for war against Russia.
The US Army plans to double the number of tanks it has deployed to Europe, sending another full armored brigade to the continent, accompanied by infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons as well as an additional full Army division dedicated to joint operations with NATO and European militaries.
In Ukraine, US Army forces are training five battalions of active-duty forces and US Special Forces are partnering with the Ukrainian military to develop Ukraine commando units.
Asia Pacific
South Korea, a country that has been tapped to serve as a staging area for US war preparations against China, was the leading importer of US arms in 2014, purchasing nearly $8 billion worth of American-made weaponry.
In December, the Obama administration approved the sale of $1.8 billion worth of weapons to Taiwan, including warships previously used by the US Navy and several advanced missile systems. The sale was the first weapons transfer to Taiwan in years and was clearly intended as a provocation against Beijing.
In the Pacific, the US Army’s “Pacific Pathways” program is coordinating joint operations with Asia-Pacific militaries. In the course of 2015, the program saw the US conduct joint drills with units from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Mongolia, South Korea and Thailand.
Middle East
Leading purchasers of US weapons in 2014 included the ultra-reactionary regimes of Saudi Arabia, which purchased $4 billion worth of TOW missiles, and Qatar, which purchased $9.8 billion worth of US arms. Qatar has been a major backer of Islamist forces in Syria in the US-backed civil war against Assad.
The US has spearheaded a new imperialist carve-up of the entire region, with Britain, France and Germany piling into the wars in Iraq and Syria toward the end of 2015 and Saudi Arabia leading a US-backed war in Yemen.
Total arms sales to Africa—particularly in the oil-rich regions—increased by 50 percent between 2010 and 2014 over the previous five-year period. Cameroon and Nigeria, which are collaborating with the growing US intervention in West Africa in the name of the “fight against Boko Haram,” were among the leading importers of weapons. Preparations are underway to relaunch military operations in Libya, already devastated by the US-NATO war that overthrew and murdered Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Cyber and outer space
Even cyberspace and outer space are not exempt from the US-led militarization drive. In November, the US was one of only four countries to vote against a United Nations resolution, “No First Placement of Weapons in Outer Space,” which was supported by more than 120 member states. In a presentation earlier this year, US Undersecretary of Defense Robert Work outlined Pentagon plans to deploy a range of space weapons, which Work claimed are necessary to ensure military dominance over Russia.
The experience of the Obama administration has underscored the impossibility of opposing imperialist war outside of a struggle against the capitalist system and all of its political representatives. Having won office in 2008 as an antiwar candidate, presenting himself as an opponent of the war in Iraq and an antidote to the militarism of the Bush administration, President Obama has presided over an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, wars for regime change in Libya and Syria, and a new war in Iraq.
Obama’s talk about ending the war in Afghanistan has been exposed by his decision to keep thousands of US troops in the country and the plans to establish permanent US bases there. All of his pledges of “no ground troops” or “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Syria have been exposed as lies.
The divisions that exist within the US ruling elite and the state over foreign and military policy concern the focus and methods of US efforts to dominate the territory and resources of the world, with the Obama White House arguing for a concentration on the struggle against China and his opponents demanding a larger commitment of troops and weapons to turn the Middle East into a de facto US colony. But there is no “peace faction” within the corporate and political establishment, or either of the two big-business parties.
One side of the global crisis is the slide toward a new world war. The other is the development of revolutionary struggles by the working class. Vast resources are allocated to destruction and war, while growing sections of the US population are pushed into poverty and forced to struggle for basic necessities such as housing, education, nutrition and health care.
The struggle against war can be conducted only on the basis of the independent mobilization of the working class in the US and internationally against imperialism on the basis of a socialist and internationalist revolutionary program.

UK floods bring further destruction to thousands

Barry Mason

Storms in December have brought floods to large parts of Wales, northern England and the border areas of Scotland.
Storm Desmond, at the beginning of the month, impacted heavily on Cumbria in northwest England with bridges washed away and many streets in urban areas underwater.
Over the Christmas weekend Storm Eva, while again hitting Cumbria and other areas, mainly affected areas of Lancashire, West and North Yorkshire. The latest floods hit highly populated areas including the cities of Leeds, Manchester, Salford and York. Thousands of people were forced to abandon their homes, including 4,000 in York alone.
The storms are estimated to have dropped an average month’s rainfall within a 24-hour period, often falling on already saturated ground, leading to rivers and streams rising rapidly, breaking their banks and flooding houses and businesses.
The cost of damage from Desmond is estimated at around £1 billion, while the cost of Eva’s destruction is likely to be at least £1.5 billion, and with further storms forecast the total cost is likely to rise considerably. Accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Cooper said the total cost of the damage nationally could exceed £15 billion.
The flooding over Christmas was accurately predicted, yet nothing was done by the government to assist those who were to be subjected to its ravages.
The weather forecast service, the Met Office, had issued two red weather warnings indicating a danger to life. The Environment Agency, which has responsibility for flood monitoring and prevention, issued 22 severe flood warnings, again indicating danger to life, in addition to 238 standard flood warnings for the Lancashire and West Yorkshire areas over the holiday period. A standard flood warning indicates people must be prepared to take immediate action to avoid the effects of floodwater.
York regularly suffers flooding, as the river Ouse that flows through the city receives water from the majority of the rain catchment area of North and West Yorkshire. This month water levels reached near record high levels, with the impact heightened by the flooding of the River Foss, which feeds into the Ouse at York. The floodgate that normally prevents the Foss from spilling over had to be left open, after the barrier’s pumping station was itself overwhelmed by floodwater, threatening electrical failure. This meant that water from the Ouse backed up the channel of the Foss.
Around 10,000 homes in the northwest had their electricity supply cut off. In Greater Manchester, the River Irwell, separating Manchester from Salford, burst its banks on December 26. This caused the worst flooding in the area since 1946, when 5,300 homes were deluged.
A number of houses were destroyed in working class districts, with Lower Broughton badly hit. A historic 200-year-old public house built on the Irwell’s banks was almost completely destroyed. In the Radcliffe area of Greater Manchester a gas pipe ruptured, leading to an explosion. On the main M62 motorway which runs across the north of England, a seven metre sinkhole opened up near the Rochdale junction.
Streets in Leeds city centre were inundated by water spilling over from the river Aire. Kirkstall Road, a major transport corridor to the west, running parallel to the river, became impassable.
Areas around the River Calder were severely hit. In East Lancashire, the town of Whalley was completely inundated. Further down the Calder valley, Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire was deluged. Further down the valley, the town centre of Mytholmroyd was completely submerged and Todmorden was cut off.
The Conservative government made the usual perfunctory remarks expressing concern for those hit by the flooding, with statements from Prime Minister David Cameron and his Environment Secretary Liz Truss.
During a photo op visit by Cameron to York Monday to survey the damage and praise exhausted rescue teams, one woman shouted out, “No more cuts to public services.”
Following the floods in Cumbria, the government announced a new flood review to be led by Floods Minister Rory Stewart. It is tasked with developing plans to manage a worst-case flooding event and is to publish recommendations in 2016. None of this will resolve anything, with Stewart saying this week, “The underlying central problem I’m afraid is the weather. We have never had rain like this before.”
The truth is that the flooding disaster is the product of the vast cuts in the flood defence and infrastructure budget, compounded by a failure to maintain the UK’s decaying infrastructure over decades.
Financial Times article dated December 15 highlighted the overall scale of government budget cuts to flood protection schemes:
“Whitehall budget cuts and a growing risk of serious flooding are set to stretch the environment’s department’s budget thinly, a committee of MPs has warned. George Osborne, chancellor, cut day-to-day funding for the department by 15 percent over the next four years in last month’s Spending Review, to £2bn a year… on top of a budget reduction of about a quarter over the course of the last parliament.”
The government is only committed to a paltry £2.3 billion in flood defence spending, as announced in 2014 by the previous Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition. The programme is to cover the period up to 2021. It is heavily reliant on private sector investment. £600 million is slated to come from outside organisations, but currently there is a £350 million shortfall, with the private sector only having contributed £61 million.
The Guardian on December 29 cited Professor Colin Mellors, head of the Yorkshire regional flood and coastal committee, warning that further government cuts would affect flood preparedness, saying, “With ever tighter budgets, it is clear that there will need to be even firmer prioritisation, especially in relation to maintenance activity.” In the new year, the committee would have to “consider sites where maintenance might be formally discontinued.”
It emerged this week that a proposed £180 million flood defence scheme for Leeds was cancelled last December.
It is estimated that one in six homes nationally are at risk of flooding. Yet the warning last year by the independent advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change, that three-quarters of flood defences were inadequately maintained, was ignored by the government.
With no adequate contingency plans in place, despite knowing the impact of the forecast heavy rain, the governments’ entire response is to rely on the use of volunteers, such as mountain rescue teams, and to send in a few hundred soldiers with sandbags to already submerged areas. The temporary barriers erected by troops were easily overwhelmed. But such are the levels of cuts that there is even a shortage of such temporary barriers, with around 85 percent of the total currently being deployed in Cumbria.
Thousands of people whose homes are inundated by floodwater now face huge costs to rectify the damage. Those without insurance coverage are threatened with financial ruin. Under current legislation, insurance companies are obliged to continue to offer insurance coverage to current policyholders. However, there is no limit on the premiums they can impose and householders and small businesses are often priced out.