10 + 1 reasons to oppose war

Remembrance Day—and, for Anabaptist-Mennonites, Peace Sunday—is once again upon us. It is the season to mourn the loss of human life in war. And the season to commit, once again, to building a culture of peace.

Resistance to war is part of the very heart of MCC.  As an agency of Anabaptist-Mennonite churches, MCC holds to the confession that war and participation in war are counter to the way of Jesus.  For us, resistance to war is at the core of our identify as pacifist Christians.

But there are many other reasons to oppose war.  And we suspect that many Canadians—who may not share our theological commitments—can nevertheless affirm these reasons.

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War’s destruction in Homs, Syria. MCC photo/Doug Enns

  1. War kills and harms soldiers. War kills, injures and disables the very people who must carry it out. It causes high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can lead to moral injury as well – namely, the deep shame, guilt, anger or anxiety experienced by soldiers as a result of killing or harming others. Some soldiers may commit suicide. Since 2010, 130 Canadian soldiers have taken their own lives.
  2. War kills and harms civilians. In the 20th century, some 200 million people were killed in war, and many millions have already been killed in this century. War not only kills, it also mains people, separates family members, causes disease, hunger and other forms of deprivation. Toxic substances released by some weapons result in severe birth defects, long after wars are officially over. Another frequent weapon of war is rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls. The human cost of war is staggering and the impacts extend over generations.
  3. War creates refugees. War causes people to flee their homes for safety, sometimes crossing an international border. The UN currently reports that around the world 65 million people are forcibly displaced. The personal upheaval for these individuals is profound, the social and political consequences breath-taking.
  4. War harms the natural environment. War contaminates earth, air and water. It destroys natural habitats, killing their flora and fauna. The use of Agent Orange by the U.S. to defoliate the Vietnamese countryside continues to wreak havoc on Vietnam decades later, while use of Depleted Uranium in Iraq will mean radioactive contamination for thousands of years to come. Even in peacetime, standing armies harm the environment because of their enormous carbon footprint.
  5. War’s financial cost is enormous. Consider these statistics: Canada’s 12-year military engagement in Afghanistan cost $8.4 billion, while U.S. conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (and related violence in Pakistan and Syria) from 2001 to 2016 cost about $4.8 trillion. The Institute for Economics & Peace determined that in 2016, the impact of violence (including war) to the global economy was $14.3 trillion per day – the equivalent of more than $5 per day for every person alive. What might be possible if those funds were invested in peacebuilding rather than war-making?
  6. War sets back development. The destruction of homes, schools and hospitals, as well as transportation, electrical, water treatment and sanitation systems in wartime can set back economic, social and community development for decades. Wars prevent farmers from farming, children and youth from going to school and ordinary people from going to work. A typical civil war in a medium-sized country costs more than 30 years of GDP growth. No wonder the United Nations in 2015 identified the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies as one of its key Sustainable Development Goals.
  7. War empowers the weapons dealers. War is good business for those who manufacture and trade in weapons and weapons system. In 2015 just 100 companies sold $370 billion worth of arms, and just one company —U.S.-based based Lockheed Martin—had $36 billion in sales. Weapons dealers often have undue influence on politics and foreign policy. In 1961 outgoing U.S. President Eisenhower warned against the power of the “military-industrial complex” to perpetuate war; in many ways, his predictions have come to pass.
  8. War distorts truth. In 1918, U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson’s 1919 stated, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” How very true! War promotes prejudices and stereotypes about people considered “enemy” and often portrays the enemy as less than human, thereby legitimizing the use of violence against them. War reduces moral categories to the simple binary of “we are good, they are evil.” Nuanced public discussion becomes increasingly difficult and sometimes impossible.
  9. War does not address root causes. While war may end in some measure of “peace” if accompanied by comprehensive peace negotiations, it rarely addresses the grievances that give rise to it, whether hunger, class division, religious or ethnic conflict, access to land and resources, political exclusion, etc. Because of this, many wars lead to new wars. The war against ISIS, for example, is rooted in the Iraq War, which is rooted in the Gulf War.
  10. peace buttonsThere are many nonviolent alternatives to war. Diplomacy, dialogue, disarmament, development, conflict resolution, peace education and strategic peacebuilding are only a few of the nonviolent approaches available to prevent war and thereby avoid war’s horrific consequences. A growing body of expertise also points to nonviolent alternatives to addressing terrorist and extremist violence. States and societies truly interested in peace have many nonviolent tools and approaches at their disposal!

Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”  Many reasons confirm his words.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the MCC Ottawa Office.

Download MCC’s 2017 Peace Sunday Packet: Praying for Peace.

New policies galore

By Ottawa Office staff

In 2016 the Canadian government launched public consultations as part of a process for policy reviews of multiple government departments, including those dealing with foreign policy, International Assistance, and National Defence. Almost a year after closing these various consultations, the government released its general foreign policy direction via a speech made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Chrystia Freeland, in the House of Commons on June 6, 2017.  In the days that followed Minister Freeland’s speech, Defence Minister Hon. Harjit Sajjin released Canada’s new defence policy on June 7, and International Development Minister Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau held an event On June 9 where she released more specific details on Canada’s international assistance policy.

Chrystia FreelandMinister Freeland’s speech promised Canada will be a global leader in a time of uncertainty by working with partners and allies through multilateral institutions such as the UN and focusing on three priorities.

  • First, Canadian foreign policy will be shaped by Canadian values such as feminism, diversity and pluralism.
  • Second, Canadian foreign policy will be characterized by significant investments in the military in order that Canada can play a leadership role and provide assistance around the world.
  • Third, Canada is a trading nation and trade is crucial for supporting the Canadian private sector and building up the economy of other countries as one way to development.

Though highlighting Canadian global successes of the past Freeland offered few, if any, concrete details of how Canada would move forward, leading the world with Canadian values. Canada’s declared commitment to the Paris Climate Accord is one way to distinguish it from the current U.S. administration, but how does Canada’s commitment to building new pipelines line up with this stance? If Canada is indeed going to reach out through trade relationships, how does Canada uphold human rights in all of our relationships with China and Saudi Arabia? Freeland declared more funding and investment in the military as a way to lead. But what are the factors that would justify the involvement of the Canadian military overseas?

defence_minister_apology_20170429 photo by Justin Tang for Canadian Press

The Defence Minister Sajjin’s 113-page defence review was entitled “Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy”. It included a promise that over the next twenty years the Canadian government will pour billions of dollars it did not budget for into defence spending. By shifting military spending policy, and promising to increase NATO contributions, the Liberal defence plan appears to be in-line with one of the loudest demands of the current U.S. administration. Indeed, in their speeches, the Canadian Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers contended that given the apparent shifts happening in U.S. policies, Canada is only doing what it must in order to step up and be a leader on the global stage.

It is worth recognizing that the defence policy does acknowledge the multifaceted, changing nature of conflict; the importance of regulating small-arms; the impacts of climate change and economic inequality on conflict; the importance of women’s participation in peacebuilding; and the need to address the root causes of conflict. But despite acknowledging the range of potential mandates for our military, overall the policy seems to pivot further towards combat than towards humanitarian, disaster relief, or even peacekeeping missions.

web-po-foreign-aid-0609 by Chris Waittie for Reuters (2)

The 3rd policy – “Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy” – was highly anticipated by Canadian civil society and development organizations since the close of public consultations almost a year ago. Overall, there are few surprises, if any, in Canada’s new international assistance policy. Buzzwords and phrases like feminist, women and girls, reproductive health, grassroots organizations, climate change, SDGs, supporting the most vulnerable, and evidence-based policy showed up frequently in Bibeau’s presentation and within the policy itself. For now, what civil society groups will be watching in the coming months and years is how this policy will be implemented – i.e. what is the roadmap and where is the money?! No new budget money was allocated for international assistance in the 2017-18 Federal Budget, which means organizations like MCC and our coalition partners will continue to call for increases in ODA to reach Canada’s assistance and development goals, especially as we approach Budget 2018-19.

The Ottawa Office will continue to monitor announcements and watch the government’s actions as plans unfold. In particular, MCC will watch developments in foreign policy, defence and international assistance as they relate to areas where MCC has programming.

Surrendering control, improving outcomes: Learning an engineering of accompaniment

By Riley Mulhern, the technical WASH advisor for a Bolivian NGO and Mennonite Central Committee volunteer addressing issues of contamination and water quality in rural indigenous communities in Oruro, Bolivia. This article was originally published in Engineering for Change on July 23, 2017. 

The meeting was held in the most impressive government building in town, in an upper room looking over the main plaza. Several different government researchers in a row stood and began reciting numbers from their slides packed edge to edge with data. The audience, many rural and indigenous community members and leaders, listened attentively, confused.

The numbers were water quality data from a government inspection of the waters of the Bolivian altiplano, a vulnerable watershed known by the acronym TDPS—Titicaca, Desaguadero, Poopó, and Salar de Coipasa. The watershed is endorheic: a closed system without an outlet to the sea, its high plains cupped like a bowl below the peaks of the East and West Cordilleras of the Andes. At an elevation above 12,000 feet, these mountain plains were once fruitful agricultural lands and productive fisheries. But ongoing drought, centuries of mining, and poor water management have left it dusty and barren. Streams of acidic mining waste crisscross the perimeter. The once vast Lake Poopó has been converted to a few inches of muddy water seeping across an expanse of salt. A water crisis with no end in sight.

Many rural communities in the altiplano have organized and denounced large-scale mining activities for the degradation of their water and fields. Community pressures and concerns for future water security in the region thus motivated the TDPS inspection and the event was held to present initial results to the public. Maps and spreadsheets flew across the screen, the presenters announcing pH, conductivity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen levels in rapid monotone.

A large part of my job, since moving to Bolivia, has been trying to define what exactly my job is. It became clearer during the question and answer session of the TDPS presentation a few months ago.

“We need clearer explanations!” one frustrated man stood and said into the microphone. “What is pH? We don’t understand this.” Almost simultaneously, a coworker from the small environmental justice NGO I work with turned to me and asked, “What do they mean when they say ‘conductivity’?”

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A local, grassroots environmental advocacy group holds an organizational meeting in the Bolivian altiplano. Photo by Riley Mulhern

My wife and I arrived in Bolivia’s cold and dry high plains with an MBA and an Environmental Engineering Master’s, but without a job description. The idea was to surrender the oft-espoused justifications for international development work based on results and predefined metrics in favor of a posture of accompaniment. Our inspiration drew itself from the liberation theology thinking laid out by Latin American priests Oscar Romero and Gustavo Gutierrez. We set out to prioritize basic proximity and relationships with the poor, without an outside plan; to take a back seat in effecting change, to observe and yield our service to local efforts along the way.

Easier said than done. A stance of accompaniment may seem woefully inefficient to many engineers, even frivolous in its lack of direction. There have been times I have felt so myself, seemingly wasting months at a time by all standards of productivity I have learned, trying to discern how to best be of use. Building meaningful relationships of trust through which change can be creatively and collaboratively built is a task of patience anywhere, let alone across enormous cultural gaps. In attempting to ameliorate situations of pressing poverty and acute suffering, the slow work of relationships may at times seem merely ancillary or altogether unimportant.

But that impulse could not be more wrong. Too many foreigners come to Bolivia with too many ideas for projects to help the water crisis. I’ve seen projects and proposals for rainwater harvesting, reverse osmosis, solar distillation and others.  Their work seems urgent, but they leave the essential reality unchanged. The poor don’t just want someone to come drop off a piece of hardware. They want someone who comes as their friend, who asks what they are doing to improve their lives and the lives of their children, and who will walk with them in that work. The campesinos in the TDPS meeting would tell you that they are working to organize and make their voice heard. They’d say that they are not satisfied with the government’s half-hearted inspections and reports. They are moving the agenda of their local leaders for more just water services and environmental controls. As Father Gutierrez writes, “There is no true commitment to solidarity with the poor if one sees them merely as people passively waiting for help.”[i]

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A community installs gutters for a rainwater harvesting project. Photo by Riley Mulhern

The problem remains not in the lack of foreign projects, but in the gaps in local agency seen at the TDPS inspection event. How can these communities become fully engaged and capable owners of their own water resources if “pH” remains coded knowledge belonging solely to the government and foreign engineers? A recently published study looked at 13 communities in an active mining region of the altiplano and found that almost all were characterized by “a perception that they and/or their livestock have suffered ill health due to water contamination.” Yet they had little to no education or training on water issues and no autonomy in decision making despite some level of local social organization.[ii] In this context, rainwater tanks, although not unhelpful, still hang like black, plastic ornaments on the status quo as long as Bolivians are merely manpower for foreign ideas and not owners of the processes of change.

On a recent visit to a remote agricultural cooperative, I was handed a brochure that proudly read: Dueños de nuestro propio desarrollo. Owners of our own development. I was struck by the slogan since it is so rarely so. Too often, the poor lack freedoms even in the processes meant to improve their lives. When engineers and technical experts are expected to design, fix, and solve, to take care of the issue from a distance, not enter into it, it is too easy to monopolize and justify foreign or expert ownership. But the end doesn’t always justify the means in development. Even the smallest locally owned steps of change are better than sweeping efforts that neglect these freedoms. Engineers need to learn to accompany change, not control it. The question is how.

My coworkers and the communities we work with would say that the answer lies in helping people understand what pH and electrical conductivity mean, why dissolved oxygen is important and reported as a percentage, and the risks of fecal coliforms or heavy metals in drinking water. That is, whatever the field—earthquake-resistant building design or the principles of latrine construction, website development or data management, micro-irrigation or urban gardening—the answer should inherently include a transfer of knowledge. Knowledge enables the poor to enter the privileged spaces of decision makers with power in their hands.

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A dust storm rises over the altiplano. Photo by Riley Mulhern

This is more than “teaching a man to fish,” which still smacks of an outside savior parachuting in with a new idea. The Bolivian director of a local environmental advocacy network that we work with put it this way: “We need alternatives: proposals that emerge from the communities themselves. Someone from the outside can come and say, ‘Do this,’ but it will never happen.” Refocusing on knowledge transfer is not a license to define what knowledge needs to be transferred. Rather, what we may call an “engineering of accompaniment,” waits to understand where the gaps in agency are and collaboratively define what knowledge is required.

The longer I simply accompany this water crisis and the efforts to address it, the more I find I am asked to lead training sessions on water quality and treatment for groups of students or organizations. Despite often feeling deeply inadequate to receive these requests, I have come to realize that they reveal the self-defined needs of the people around me. Thus, my job description has slowly come into focus: to help Bolivian men and women tighten their own grip on change.

Those of us who are drawn to engineering as a response to poverty generally want to be doers, not teachers. The emerging field of “engineering for developing communities” attracts more and more eager, concerned engineering students every year. Many of them want to be the ones to design new technologies for the developing world, or build houses, hospitals or water systems. But such attention to the problems of poverty without the involvement of the poor is precisely what lures us into accumulating ownership and control. We must disabuse ourselves of this sense of ownership and reach toward accompaniment if we are to dig in to where change really occurs, where people are owners of their own development and our projects do not simply decorate the underlying injustices.

A good place to start is in the preposition. We should not aspire to engineer anything for anyone in communities confronting poverty. We need to think of our work as “with.” We need to start thinking of development work in terms of education, training, and knowledge transfer through basic relationships with the poor. Alongside literacy in their technical area, engineers ought to go into the field equipped with the skills of effective communication, participatory methods, and critical pedagogy. Our goals and metrics for success should prioritize the fullness of this transfer of knowledge—and thus transfer of power—over and above the completion of individual projects.

As any educator will also tell you, this is not a light or romantic undertaking. The work of education is often a slow, weary, anxious trudge and requires longstanding commitments to individual people. But accompaniment, walking with, is not to parachute in with quick fixes. It is, in the words of Wendell Berry, to “go down and down into the daunting, humbling, almost hopeless local presence of the problem—to face the great problem one small life at a time.”[iii]

Then, once we are down there a while and the problems are no longer faceless, we realize it is never truly hopeless and that work is being done; that there are coals and a bellows.

[i] Gutiérrez, Gustavo. 2013. “The Option for the Poor Arises from Faith in Christ.” In Michael Griffin & Jennie Weiss Block (Eds.), In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez. New York: Orbis Books.

[ii] French, Megan et al. 2017. “Community Exposure and Vulnerability to Water Quality and Availability : A Case Study in the Mining-Affected Pazña Municipality , Lake Poopó Basin , Bolivian Altiplano.” Environmental Management: 1–18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00267-017-0893-5.

[iii] Berry, Wendell. 1993. “Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse.” Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community. New York: Pantheon Books.

 

Climate change adaptation and mitigation: What is MCC’s role?

By Amy Martens, research associate in MCC’s Planning, Learning and Disaster Response department. This piece was originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Intersections: MCC theory and practice quarterly.

cropped-new-intersections-header (2)Climate change has already wrought significant adverse impacts on people and the environment, including increasing the risk of climate-related disasters. Communities, governments and non-governmental organizations employ adaptation and mitigation strategies to respond to climate change risks, seeking to limit future negative impacts and to enable communities to cope with adverse effects. What is the responsibility of relief, development and peacebuilding agencies like MCC that work in climate change-affected communities to respond to climate change through adaptation and mitigation?

The intersecting concepts of disaster risk, hazards and vulnerability are key in understanding the broader approaches of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Hazards in this case refer to natural adverse events such as droughts, extreme temperatures, landslides or hurricanes. Vulnerability is a term used to describe the characteristics or circumstances of a community that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard, including exposure to the hazard and ability to cope or adapt to its effects. Vulnerability is influenced by a variety of factors, including gender, age, inequalities in the distribution of resources, access to technology and information, employment patterns and governance structures. Disaster risk is based on the occurrence of hazards and vulnerability to those hazards. Not only is climate change increasing the frequency and severity of many natural hazards, but climate change impacts are increasing vulnerability by diminishing the capacity of communities to cope with these adverse events because of greater unpredictability of climatic events, increased displacement, land degradation and other impacts.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation are two complementary strategies to reduce and manage the risk associated with climate change. Mitigation involves reducing human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit future climate change. Mitigation strategies include switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, improving energy and transportation efficiency and increasing carbon “sinks” through reforestation. Adaptation is the process of adjusting to actual or expected climate change and its effects. Within communities, adaptation means avoiding or diminishing harm from climate impacts or exploiting beneficial opportunities associated with climate change. Adaptation includes a variety of activities to reduce vulnerability, including income and livelihood diversification, soil and water conservation, natural resource management and the provision of social safety nets. In addition, disaster risk reduction is a key strategy for reducing risk through efforts to analyze and manage the factors causing disaster situations, including reducing the exposure to hazards, lessening vulnerability of people and property and improving preparedness for disaster events.

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MCC is primarily involved in climate change adaptation activities by supporting communities currently affected by climate change. Adaptation activities aim to reduce disaster risk by addressing different aspects of vulnerability within communities and building resilience to resist, absorb, accommodate and recover from the effects of climate-related hazards. MCC’s adaptation work includes training for farmers in conservation agriculture, construction of shelter resistant to hazards and providing improved access to safe water.

MCC is also involved in mitigation work, including advocating for government policies that address climate change, encouraging supporters to live simply, expanding efforts to implement sustainability initiatives within MCC operations in Canada and the U.S. and partnering with Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College in the founding of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions to advance thinking and action within faith communities on mitigation. Internationally, some of MCC’s programming includes mitigation efforts such as reforestation and education on climate change and environmental sustainability.

Climate change is undermining the efforts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the development sector as they work towards poverty reduction, food security, improved access to clean water and other development goals. Development NGOs are recognizing the importance of adaptation strategies in programming as they experience the impact of climate change on vulnerability and disaster risk. While adaptation is key in reducing risk associated with climate change impacts, it does not address the root cause of climate change. Both mitigation and adaptation are essential to a comprehensive climate risk reduction strategy.

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Considering the importance of limiting future climate change impacts to support sustainable development, what role should NGOs play in mitigation efforts? As a ministry of churches in Canada and the United States, MCC represents congregations in countries that contribute significantly to climate change and is itself a contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. To what extent is MCC responsible for mitigation, both with regards to its internal operations and its constituents located in Canada and the U.S.?

While MCC’s responsibility for climate change adaptation is inherent within its priorities of disaster relief and sustainable community development, MCC continues to explore its role in mitigation and opportunities for greater engagement on climate change matters. Even as MCC undertakes a number of initiatives to green its operations, MCC must discern how to balance an emphasis on internal mitigation efforts with a desire to implement program effectively and allocate resources efficiently. MCC asks itself how it can best partner with other like-minded organizations to engage and mobilize congregations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. As recent conversations convened by the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions suggest, MCC has the opportunity to join other organizations to advocate on policies that address climate change, to mobilize its supporters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to use its international adaptation work as a platform to propel climate action by connecting North American supporters with climate change-affected communities.

MCC’s work is increasingly connected to the impact of climate change on hazards and vulnerability within communities around the world. To be faithful in its mission of relief, development and peacebuilding in the name of Christ, MCC must carefully consider how best to respond to climate change risks, while also assessing its role in adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Climate change and hands of resistance

By Rebekah Nimtz, an MCC Service Worker in the cross-roads, bread-basket city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. This post is part of a series by MCC Latin America and Caribbean (LACA) on climate change and food security

Several years ago in Bolivia during the rainy season I noticed that a drip bucket in my house was nearly overflowing when I returned from an annual absence of a few weeks. The next year I was surprised to come back to find it only half full. The rainy season had begun a month late. This past year it began well over two months late. On the south side of Cochabamba, in migrant zones where many kids I work with live without running water, even the cacti appeared to be drying up. Bolivia continues to experience the effects of its worst drought in almost four decades and the highest recorded temperatures in the past ten years.

The drought on the ground

The drought on the ground. Photo by Edgar Chuquimia.

El Niño and climate change are credited with playing the major roles in  weather fluctuations, in a country whose ecosystems the UN considers some of the most vulnerable worldwide to the effects of global warming. Late rains have made only a dent in lost reserves, which hovered around 8% capacity, with a reservoir in the governing capital of La Paz at only 1% at the end of last year. This lack of water caused President Evo Morales to declare a national emergency in November. Friends in the city of Cochabamba weren’t as startled by the state of the emergency as those in La Paz, as rationing of water in Cochabamba is the norm. This past year Cochabamba only received, on average, water via the municipal water company, SEMAPA, a few hours once a week.

In the region of Mizque, 160 km outside of Cochabamba, adaptability to the effects of drought depends on whether one lives closer to the village, with more access to an irrigation system and agricultural machinery, or half-an-hour further out in the mountains, where one’s livelihood is more dependent on cultivating corn and raising cows, goats and vicuñas.

Jaime Pardo works for OBADES, the social arm of the Baptist church in Bolivia. MCC partners with OBADES in its work with locals in Mizque on food security projects such as irrigation systems, greenhouses, and crop diversity. Jaime shared that in early 2016 the rainy season not only started late, but was cut short when the rains stopped in March, leaving already planted corn unable to reach maturity. By the end of the year there was no more pasture left for livestock. Animals had to move around for hours in search of first water and then food, complicated by the drying up of once full rivers. It was a bit easier for the goats, who would eat anything within sight, even plastic. Jaime commented that the image seared in his mind of this past year is of skin-and-bone cows wobbling down the mountainside as though drunk, trembling and barely able to stand. As for their owners, without water to sow their crops, the only option has been to leave for the city.

A corn crop unable to reach full maturity

A corn crop unable to reach full maturity. Photo by Jaime Pardo.

A vast number of farmers have also left Bolivia’s already dry southeast Chaco due to the unprecedented rate of cattle deaths, the region’s primary income. Lake Poopo in the western part of the country completely dried up at the beginning of 2016, not only due to drought,  but also water deviation for mining. The Uru people, who lived off the lake for centuries, have long since gone, along with their way of life. The swell in already exploding urban populations exacerbates poverty and puts greater demands on failing infrastructure and local municipalities to implement solutions.

In rural and urban areas alike, communities have plead with the government for assistance, with the repeated loss of crops resulting in economic ruin for families. Some irrigation and groundwater projects have come about as a result. Nevertheless, even the breadbasket of Cochabamba unprecedentedly began importing food from neighboring countries. Outdated infrastructure exacerbates the problem with up to 50% losses of water in some places within pipes and distribution networks. Privatization is an option, but faces opposition for often failing to reach city outskirts and municipalities. The Misicuni dam and hydroelectric project of Cochabamba, underway since 1957, is a set-back filled effort of 10 private local and international companies that is only now gradually approaching completion. It was originally planned to give water to 400,000 people in a city with now closer to a million inhabitants.

Meanwhile, deforestation of the northern Amazon, in Bolivia and beyond, inhibits the flow of humid air and rain to the Andes. Hydroelectric projects damage the river arteries of the jungle and affects the natural water preservation cycle. Damaged water cycles leave torrents of rain that show up late, to destroy crops at the time of harvest and cause catastrophes with flash-flooding, as opposed to the gradual, soft rains of days gone by. The need to address emergency situations means that working on root causes turns into a catch-up game for a government that is already behind on developing prevention and relief plans for a problem long foreseen.

Bolivia has accessed, however, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN’s green fund for a “My Irrigation” program to assist in rural areas. The construction of grain storage plants are underway. Experts emphasize the need for long term water shortage plans such as dikes for water storage, preservation and education initiatives, and continued efforts to renovate outdated water distribution systems so they can be ready to carry, for example, the water now beginning to finally gush from the Misicuni dam project.

Elizabhet Trujillo of the community of Totorani harvests drought resistant maca

Elizabhet Trujillo of the community of Totorani harvests drought resistant maca. Photo by Edgar Chuquimia Ramos.

The small, hopeful steps of local communities across the country, especially alongside governing bodies, are prevailing against the obstacles, even if those steps begin as little more than drops in a dry bucket. The community of Villa Vinto, not far from Mizque, in partnership with OBADES, is enlisting a Peruvian model in the creation of artificial lakes and dykes to capture and store rainwater. With municipal government offers of new farming tools as prizes for the best efforts, the project is hoped to spread to communities throughout the entire region. Mizque continues to produce drought-resistant maca, which in addition to being a delicious superfood, reaps greater economic benefits than typical potato crops. The persistent well-digging of colony Mennonites in Durango on the border with Argentina has allowed them to grow crops in previously declared agricultural dead-zones. If a drop of water can carve out a canyon, the small efforts of hands working together might be able to eventually fill that canyon with more water for the future.

 

What’s fair about fair trade?

This weekend I will be celebrating World Fair Trade Day on May 13 and Mother’s Day on May 14. The combination seems very appropriate, as it was my mother who introduced me to the world of fair trade over 40 years ago.

In fact, the woman who started the fair trade movement in North America was also a mother.

Edna Ruth Byler

Edna Ruth Byler

Edna Ruth Byler was an MCC volunteer and mother of two who, while accompanying her husband Joe Byler on a trip to Puerto Rico in 1946, visited a Mennonite Central Committee project that taught women living in poverty to sew.

Recognizing the need for a new market for their beautiful lace products, Edna Ruth agreed to purchase some of their work to sell back in the United States, using the money from those sales to buy more products. Eventually, her work grew into Ten Thousand Villages, which is now the oldest and largest fair trade retailer in North America.

In some ways, it feels like fair trade has always been a part of my life, as for many years my mother sold fairly traded products out of our home. This was a time when SELFHELP Crafts of the World, now known as Ten Thousand Villages, was just becoming established in Canada, and there were few stores and festival sales, so the organization depended in large part on volunteers who sold product out of their homes. People would invite neighours, friends, family, and acquaintances to their house to learn about fair trade and to buy a gift.

My mother explained to me that selling the jewellery, cards, baskets, wooden boxes, ornaments, candle holders, tablecloths, napkins and other items handcrafted by people from countries around the world—and stored in our guest room—would help children in those countries go to school.

As someone who loved school, I couldn’t imagine a life without that opportunity. When the boxes were opened for people to shop, the guest room was transformed into a magical place where beautiful items were passed around and interesting stories were shared.

Ten Thousand Villages logoThanks to the creativity, initiative, and hard work of Edna Ruth Byler, the option to buy fair trade handicrafts has been available to North Americans for over 70 years. And today there are far more fair trade products, including food and clothing, available than ever before across North America and Europe.

I sometimes wonder, though, how most of us understand the concept of fair trade. What makes it fair and why isn’t all trade fair?

Fair trade is a both movement and a business model. It is defined as trade in which fair prices are paid to producers in developing countries—fair prices that adequately reimburse producers for the cost of materials and time spent making or growing the product.

The ten principles of fair trade focus on dialogue and building long-term relationships. They talk about transparency, accountability, capacity building, respect for the rights of women and children, safe working conditions, and environmental sustainability. In comparison, other trade and business models seem to be mainly about the rights of corporations and are concerned more with profits than people.

Rabeya Akter, Shuktara Handmade Paper Project, Bangladesh

Rabeya Akter at Shuktara Handmade Paper Project in Feni, Bangladesh.

However, people are at the heart of fair trade, and most of the producers or makers that Ten Thousand Villages works with are women, many of them mothers.

For those mothers, employment with a fair trade organization means income for regular meals, sturdier homes, school fees for some or all of their children, and access to medicines if someone falls ill. Flexible hours also mean mothers can be home with their children rather than spending twelve or more hours a day working outside the home. Women are provided with training opportunities, encouraged to participate in savings programs, and be financially independent.

This weekend, as we celebrate our mothers and the ways they have shaped us, we can also help to shape a better world through our consumer choices. Indeed, economic practices that place people first are a powerful way to change the world.

by Monica Scheifele, Program Assistant for the Ottawa Office. 

Communities affected by mining in Mexico call for alternatives

Previously posted on MCC Latin America’s advocacy blog

Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are prominent in the international news about mining issues in Latin America. However, there are extensive mining operations and concessions for exploitation in Mexico as well, by both national and international corporations.

opponents of Fortuna Silver’s Cuzcátlan mine

Opponents of Fortuna Silver’s Cuzcátlan mine.

In January, a gathering of people from communities in Mexico, Central America, and Canada that are impacted by mining operations gathered in the State of Oaxaca, Mexico to share experiences and discuss responses to these mega-projects. There were several speakers from the current “Idle No More” Aboriginal movement in Canada.

The following photo essay from The Guardian newspaper, shows highlights of the event.

The Model is Unsustainable

“‘We don’t want this type of development, period. We want something else. This model of extractive mining is unsustainable,’ declared Gustavo Castro Soto of the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (REMA, using its Spanish initials). Many of the people at the Yes to life! No to mining! event challenged the notions of development used to justify the growth of the mining industry, reclaiming a range of customs and practices used by indigenous communities around the region to live a more autonomous and sustainable life”

Gustavo Castro works with Otros Mundos, an MCC Mexico partner organization in the State of Chiapas.

Defending Our Land

opponents of Fortuna Silver’s Cuzcátlan mine

John Cutfeet (front right) of the KI First Nation in Northern Ontario, Canada presents a gift.

“At the conference, Noé Amezcua from Mexico City paid tribute to ‘each and every person who is at this moment crossing the border between Mexico and the US. Last year, more than 400 people died at the border. Mexicans, El Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and other people from Mesoamerica … They were brothers and sisters that were displaced from their lands, because of war and now because of the mines. I ask of everyone to hold in our memory these brothers and sisters who have lost their lives in the desert, searching for a better life. And so our struggles, our hearts, our spirits and our minds are focused on fighting to defend our land.’”

Noé Amezcua works with CEE – Centro de Estudios Ecumenicos [the Centre for Ecumenical Studies] – another MCC Mexico partner organization.

By Adrienne Wiebe, MCC Latin America Policy Analyst