Monday, 3 November 2008

The Real Footprint

A fragile ceasefire may be in place within the Democratic Republic of Congo but the humanitarian crisis continues to escalate. According to the Oxfam website, 5 million have died as a result of conflict in DRC since 1998, with a further 1 million displaced.  Oxfam's policy blog paints a pretty bleak picture of the humanitarian situation now and sets out Oxfam's calls for better coordination of international aid and support to DRC. The situation in DRC is a chilling reminder of the stark inequalities in our world. Goma is only a few hours away by flight and yet worlds away socially, economically, politically.

The conflict, as best as I can understand, is fairly deeply rooted in localised ethnic and political tensions and the region has of course already been ravaged by conflict in recent years. From a sustainable development perspective, it's useful to consider the importance of DRC's mineral wealth and the role played by foreign investors over recent years in supporting (or otherwise) DRCs development. Our world is interconnected and whilst the conflict in DRC might seem a million miles away, it's physically closer and doubtless economically tied to our life in Western Europe - The circuits of the Mobile phone in your hands may well be made up of copper and coltan mined by foreign parties in the DRC, or rather mined by locals and exported/smuggled out by corrupt militias or overseas interests. It's all dirty trade and the chances are many consumers in Western Europe are part of that trade, arguably the most vital part.

Situations such as that in the DRC at the moment remind us that sustainable development is a global concern. Our ability to achieve well being, in all nations, is threatened by global inequalities as much as our failure to do so is a cause of so much inequality. A country rich in resources such as DRC finds itself fuelling our unsustainable consumption with natural resources, becoming environmentally, socially and economically damaged by this process and failing internally (or regionally) to structure an equitable and peaceful redistribution of the profits made from these resources. Unsustainable development is truly a vicious circle and the people of DRC are facing the most brutal consequences of these complex forces. In our comfort, here in Wales, watching the human tradgedy unfold, we may not share these consequences but we have played a role (perhaps unwittingly) within the developmental failure that underpins this disaster.

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