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International ban of cluster bombs

by Eleonore von Bothmer, Claudia Isabel Rittel

The number of people newly infected with HIV in 2007 was two-and-a-half times greater than the number of those receiving antiretroviral drugs. These are figures from a UN report that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presented ahead of an HIV/AIDS summit in New York in June. According to the study, an estimated 33.2 million people worldwide were infected with HIV in December 2007 – with 2.5 million people newly infected and 2.1 million AIDS-related deaths in the course of the year, and only 30 % of sufferers receiving medical treatment. “For every two people who start taking HIV treatment, another five become newly infected,” said Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS. “Unless we act now, treatment queues will get longer and longer and it will become more and more difficult to get anywhere near universal access to antiretroviral therapy.” In 2007, an estimated $10 billion was available for AIDS control worldwide. That is still $8 billion too little, according to UNAIDS. One of the great challenges is the need for public information: less than 40 % of youngsters aged between 15 and 24 understand the riskis of HIV/AIDS. (cir)

At the end of May, 109 countries agreed to ban cluster bombs. Signatories include NATO members like Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Cluster bombs are shells that release up to 2,000 small “bomblets” and can cause fatal injuries within a radius of 25 metres. Even long after a conflict is over, unexploded bomblets remain dangerous. They are much like land mines, but because they are scattered over a wide area, their impact is more devastating. Among the countries that refuse to sign the agreement are China, Russia and the United States, which is reluctant to relinquish what it sees as a useful military tool. However, the mere existence of the accord may exert indirect pressure on non-signatories.

The compromise reached was preceded by years of campaigning and tough negotiations. Andreas Heinemann-Grüder of the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC) believes the agreement is “the most that can currently be achieved”. However, he bemoans that countries that ratify the treaty will be allowed to carry on cooperating with countries that continue to use cluster bombs. The treaty will be formally signed in Oslo in December, and enter into force once it is ratified by at least 30 countries. Nearly all kinds of cluster bombs will then be prohibited, and existing stockpiles will have to be destroyed within eight years. (cir)

The number of refugees and internally-displaced persons has increased since 2006. According to recently published statistics of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 42 Million people were on the run in 2007, 26 million of them in their home countries. Hundreds of people lose their lives every year in desperate attempts to find new homes or at least somewhere to survive. Tens of thousands make their way each year to Europe alone. Once again in June, an overloaded ship with 150 people on board capsized during the dangerous crossing. This time, that happened off the Libyan coast. In late June, some 70 refugees tried to storm a border crossing to the Spanish exclave Melilla, where the fence was raised from three to six metres hight and reinforced in 2005, after an earlier refugee crisis. (eli/cir)

Economic growth must benefit the poor. This was the motto under which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank presented a new approach to poverty reduction at their joint annual meeting in 1999. The intention was to involve as many social groups as possible. In practice, however, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), which form the basis of this new approach, fulfil their purpose only to a limited extent. This is the conclusion reached in a recent study by the Institute for Peace and Development (INEF), in which Thomas Siebold takes stock of the PRSPs for Southern Africa.

In practice, the scope for national poverty-reduction strategies is very limited. It is restricted by the IMF’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) and its Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA). The PRGF is the means by which the International Monetary Fund grants loans to developing countries, while the CPIA is a rating, on the basis of which the decision whether or not to grant the loan is made. Siebold argues that the ideology underpinning both instruments is still the neoliberal notion of development being best promoted by world-market integration and increasing exports.

In principle, a country’s poverty-reduction strategy is supposed to form the basis for loans. But Siebold maintains that, in practice, loans are the basis of the PRSP, as the CPIA process has an impact on the drafting of poverty-related policy. In many cases, PRGF loans are approved even before a poverty reduction strategy paper has been submitted. According to Siebold, the result is that open discussion about how to reduce poverty does not take place – though that is officially the goal of the entire exercise. IMF practice, Siebold maintains, disregards the importance of national governments assuming responsibility for development and the fight against poverty.

Siebold admits that countries that are classified as “good performers” by the IMF and World Bank and which have been involved in the PRSP agenda for a longer period of time did in fact significantly improve macroeconomic data. But in most countries, Siebold claims, the better off benefit more than the poor. Overall, he finds many indications of trends from the 1990s continuing in many sub-Saharan countries, with the PRSP approach making little difference. (cir)