Posts Tagged ‘medecins sans frontieres’

The double glazing of our lives

February 27, 2014
With thanks to Fiona Kaskauskas

With thanks to Fiona Kaskauskas

I have become a hopeless disciple of double glazing. For days now I look at nothing but web-sites on that subject, even sinking as low as watching videos. One video has a lady extolling the benefits of double glazing. It is one of those you-tube things, home made and unedited. You can tell she had her hair specially done and mum must have done her make-up. Her voice isn’t synchronised with the movement of her lips either. I have watched this video several times in absolute fascination. She ends up saying her life has become so much more ‘comfortable’ and shows this by shutting a panel of double glazing. She smiles a beatific smile worthy of a mother Theresa. I am sure she will go to a heaven full of double glazed panels.

You might think watching a video on double glazing a sure sign Gerard has tipped over the edge. You are not far wrong. I have tried the rest, but it lets in so much noise. Watching the world in the single panel mode is now akin to living in a charnel house. Not a day goes by and another slaughter fronts us on the TV. The 29 or so private school students slaughtered in Uganda. How can this happen? The warring sides in Syria, children’s corpses tossed aside. “This footage might disturb some viewers”, the newsreaders keep saying.

Even the weather report is fraught with calamities of an heretofore unknown scale. People are perched on roof-tops in the UK, others are snowbound in their cars with mobiles and tablets the only thing that keeps them alive and in touch with their survivors. In Australia the drought is getting its grip back again. Dry water holes are the order of the day together with sheep and cow carcasses. I sometimes wonder if journalists have their car-boots packed with sheep carcasses, plastic flowers and teddy bears to add photographic poignancy to their stories?

The real disadvantage of viewing the world through single glazing locally is how Australia treats its refugees. The spectacle of who should apologize to whom over the lack of information coming from our government while a refugee got murdered whilst supposedly under our care. “We mustn’t let the ‘floodgates’ open.”

I would have thought the 700.000 refugees fleeing into Turkey and another 700.000 into Jordan are floodgates. You would think a politician got killed instead of a refugee on Manus Island. It is all so bloody awful. Who would have thought a retirement could be so brutally hampered by almost anything going on in public. Where are the good stories? Even our winter Olympics have been a limp affair. It’s no wonder people turn to double glazing.

We have meekly assuaged our conscience by a monthly donation to Médecins sans Frontières. It’s about the only thing we can do against the overwhelming plights of so many millions. I perhaps subconsciously hunker after a kind of double glazing of life excluding all that misery.
For those that can afford and want to do something, here is the donating web-site of Médecins sans Frontières

Dutch News. “Us and Them.”

November 10, 2012

Annemarie van Gaal: Developing countries

Thursday 08 November 2012

Developing countries are catching up fast. Development aid can be more of a hindrance than a help, writes Annemarie van Gaal

We are cutting the development aid budget by €1bn a year and this is a good thing. The inequality in the world is no longer a matter of ‘us’, the industrialised world, and ‘them’, the third-world countries. Inequality is mainly a problem within the countries themselves and throwing money at it is not going to solve it. If anything, it will make it worse.

In 1990 the Dutch gave massively to ‘Help the Russians through the winter’, as the slogan had it. We were bombarded daily with images of desperate Russians in empty shops, shivering children and long queues outside soup kitchens. Sonja Barend hosted a programme from a shabby little studio in Moscow and the Dutch donated generously. The whole thing was a great success and the Russians were ‘saved’.

Free market

In fact, there was no lack of food in Russia. The only problem the country was struggling with was its rapid development. Russia was emerging from a communist regime and had trouble adapting to the free market. Under communism, goods were produced and trucks trundled back and forth according to a fixed route. Nobody asked whether the goods were actually answering a demand or whether the trucks were going to the right place.

Moreover, Russian officials had no intention of giving up their comfortable positions, so they preferred to keep the food-laden trucks waiting at customs for weeks instead of promoting a quicker flow. The real problem was a lack of compassion from the haves for the have nots, the division of wealth and the inequality between the different layers of Russian society itself. No amount of money was going to solve that.


On Hans Rosling, one of the founders of Doctors without borders, compares our perception of third world countries with the reality on the ground. According to Rosling, third world countries are catching up fast. Some differences remain but these countries are developing at a much quicker rate than any western country.

He supports his comment with a graph showing child mortality on the y-axis and the gross national product on the x-axis. If you look at these data over time you will see that third world countries are gaining rapidly on the industrialised countries.

A century ago the gap between a country like Chile and the United States and Western Europe was huge. Right now, Chile’s economic welfare level is comparable to that of the US in 1957. But because the Chilean economy is growing at a faster rate than that of the US, Chile could well be replacing the US on Gosling’s graph in twenty or thirty years’ time. Ghana is now where Sweden was in 1900. In 1920 Sweden was where Egypt is now and in 1950 the Swedish economy was at the level Mexico is at right now.


Former third world countries in Asia, the Middle East and South America already have better healthcare systems than the industrialised nations. It won’t be long before they beat us economically as well

Rosling thinks the term ‘third world countries’ should be scrapped. If we didn’t hold them back by handing over our money – which ends up lining the wrong pockets and keeps the wrong people in power -these countries would develop a damn sight more quickly than many a western country. The greatest problem that these countries have to tackle is the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ within their own borders.

Annematie van Gaal is head of publishing company AM Meda. She is also a writer and television personality