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Join the Oxfam Pramble


A group of inspirational Oxfam volunteers invite you to join them on a journey to make a noise about healthcare for mums around the world. They are revving up their prams for a relay walk from Manchester to London because they think the fact 1000 women die needlessly everyday in childbirth due to a lack of access to adequate healthcare is a tragedy.

The Oxfam Pramble is a fun, free relay style pram walk winding its way down from Manchester to London from 19th March until 2nd April. Every day there are two different ten mile walking sections that people can walk as well as some fun parties and events to celebrate the journey.

This event is free to join. We’ll provide the route, the prams, a pregnant paper mache giant, and will even chuck in a cup of tea at the end. It’s a chance to explore England in a totally new way!

Now all we need is for you to get involved!

Harriet Roberts (expectant mum): "I feel so lucky to live in the UK where I can access some of the best healthcare in the world for free. I love the idea of the pramble and will definitely come along to show my support for mums across the world."

Posted by Nicola Sansom (Oxfam - Guest Blogger) in Global Health, What Can I Do? for column Action Stories on Mar 16th 2011, 08:42

Ayiti: the Cost of Life (Part 5)


Welcome to the fifth and final entry in my Ayiti: The Cost of Life game diary. It's been a rough journey, with more than its fair share of sadness, but the outlook seemed pretty good at the conclusion of the previous diary. The family was in fine health, while Marie had finally earned her Baccalaureate Degree. I had hopes of a great final year.


There was no work available for which Marie could put her new qualifications to good use, so I sent her to volunteer with UNICEF. I decided to try the higher standard of living again, which required sending everyone else to work in order to balance the budget. Jean returned to his old job as a rum distiller so that Patrick could do construction work, while Yves headed to the family farm and Jacquline worked as a market woman.

Despite the higher living costs, the family doubled their savings. With everyone happy and Jacquline now joining Yves on a rating of 2 for education, I thought things were in pretty good shape. Yet the game insisted otherwise: "After the third year, your family is in poor shape."

Ayiti - 3rd year over

Into the final year

Unfazed, I pushed on with the plan. I sent John to the hospital and Marie to a clinic so that the parents could work hard for the remainder of the fourth year. I also bought books, since they seemed to have been very helpful in raising education levels. To offset these costs, I decided to keep the children doing the same work as in the previous season.

Savings dropped to a modest 268 goud, as expenses slightly outpaced income. But the family now had high levels of happiness across the board, and excellent overall health.

There was still no job available for Marie to take advantage of her qualifications, so I sent her to work as a rum distiller. The community centre soon opened, thanks to volunteer work by Yves and Patrick, while the family's savings crept up to 395 goud.

The hurricane season brought an opening for Marie to work as a professor, but she lacked the qualifications for the job. I sent her back to vocational school. Jean apparently now had enough education to work as a mechanic, so he switched jobs again. Meanwhile, Patrick went to the hospital and his siblings volunteered.

Ayiti - library built

A library opened at the community centre, which I'm sure would go a long way to improving the family's life. Given the choice to start work on either a Health Information Office or soccer field, I opted to go with the former -- it just seemed more important, after all the health problems I'd witnessed up to this point.

Fighting adversity

Two hurricanes ripped into the family's savings, resulting in money running out -- Marie and Patrick had to go home. At the end of the season, the family was in a debt of one goud. I set living conditions to "decent," since I wasn't sure they could earn enough to cover the cost of "good living."

Ayiti screenshot - Marie secretary

A secretary job finally opened, which Marie promptly snapped up. Jean continued to work as a mechanic, while Patrick did a brief stint on the family farm. Jacquline, whose health had faded considerably during the hurricane season, went to the hospital. And Yves continued in his position as a UNICEF volunteer.

Then the game ended. My four years were up, and it was time to see how I'd done.

Judgement time

Apparently, Marie's Baccalaureate Degree promises a "slightly easier future" for her, but things don't look so great for husband Jean. He was burdened with the role of chief money-earner over much of the four years, and gained little education in that time. I felt a twinge of sadness when I read his future will be an "ongoing struggle to remain above water." You can't save everyone, but it hurts to admit it. And I couldn't help thinking that I could have done more for poor Jean.

While I struggled to find the money to give the children a decent education, they managed to eke out enough knowledge and skills to set themselves up for a brighter future. They'll live better lives than their parents, so I guess that marks my efforts as a success.

Ayiti screenshot - ending

Reflections on the experience

Surprised at how emotional the journey through these diaries had proved to be, I felt that I had gained a greater appreciation -- one that is more practical, less theoretical -- of the trials people must go through to break out of poverty. This very simple game forced me to make tough decisions for which there were no mulligans -- no second chances to right my wrongs. And it required that I make sacrifices for which I really wasn't willing.

But, with a little patience and determination, I managed to help improve the lives of the Guinard family (albeit on the second attempt, after failing miserably on the first). And however tough things were for the family, they were happy throughout the four years.

Posted by Richard Moss (Guest Blogger) in Poverty, Hunger for column Ayiti: the Cost of Life on Mar 15th 2011, 08:58

Walk for Water Rights This March


On 19-22 March 2011, the world will come together to promote global water and sanitation rights for The World Walks for Water. As we’ve discussed previously, there are currently 884 million people lacking access to clean water, and 2.6 billion who don’t have a safe toilet. This means that 4,000 children die every day from diarrhoea contracted from contaminated water, 3,000 of which are in Africa alone.

The World Walks for Water is asking us all to walk 6 kilometres to stand in solidarity with those in developing countries who have to walk that distance each day just to access water. And even then the water is often dirty.

But this global event is about more than just bringing awareness to this devastating issue. The walk will also demand that politicians in the North and the South keep their promises and step up their efforts to ensure water and sanitation for all people, everywhere.

This effort is particularly essential in the UK where the Department for International Development’s (DFID) announcement recently of their aid review revealed that they are not making water and sanitation a priority.

WaterAid described in their newsroom that “in promising to provide access to drinking water and improved sanitation to an equivalent number to the population of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over the next four years, the [UK] Government is set to reach only one percent of the world's poorest people without access to these basic human rights."

We need to continue pressuring our governments to accept that aid for these issues would provide a huge return on investment - for every £1 invested in water and sanitation, £8 is returned in economic returns through increased productivity (UNDP) and would prevent up to 1.4 million child deaths every year (UNICEF).

Join the Walk
You can still sign up to organise your own Walk for Water or you can join a walk in your area. Together this month we can help motivate others to take action in achieving a world where no one goes without clean water and adequate sanitation.

Posted by Ashli Alberty in What Can I Do?, Water & Sanitation for column Action Stories on Mar 14th 2011, 08:53

Fancy a Car? House? How about a boat?


Imagine one day you get handed a credit card. There’s no limit on the amount you can spend and you’ll never have to pay it back. Whatever you want, you can have it. It’s yours.

Mansions? Done.

Cars? Not a problem.

Holidays and luxury shopping sprees? Whenever you want.

How about a state of the art customised $380 million super-yacht with a cinema, restaurant, bar, swimming pool and a security system complete with floor motion sensors, photoelectric barriers and fingerprint door openers? On order now.

It’s a situation most of us would like to be in – complete financial freedom.

Sounds like a fantastic dream doesn’t it? Not for Teodorin Obiang, the eldest son of President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea. In 1995 his life changed when oil reserves where discovered off the coast of his country.

Those dreams became his daily reality.

But here’s the catch.

He only ‘earns’ approximately $5000 per month or $60,000 per year. Yet despite this modest salary he is known to live a lavish lifestyle with multiple mansions, fancy cars and extravagant spending sprees and now has the world’s second most expensive yacht on order.

How is this possible?
To answer the question we need to go back a few years and look a little deeper.

Teodorin’s father, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, took power in 1979 following a bloody coup toppling his own uncle in the process. Since then, he has presided over a bloody regime and personally enriched himself to the tune of $600 million. This has occurred all while the majority of Equatorial Guinea’s people live in poverty.

In 1991 the total amount of wealth generated by Equatorial Guinea came to the grand total of approximately $US 147 million. Following the discovery of oil the country’s GDP in 2008 was estimated to have risen to $18.5 billion. That’s an astonishing increase of 5,272 per cent.

Given then, Equatorial Guinea’s enormous oil wealth and population of just over half a million people you’d expect everyone to be living comfortable, safe and secure lives.

Indeed, if you divide their wealth by their population it turns out that the average Equatorial Guinean is worth approx $30, 000. This places them above people from Spain, Italy, South Korea and even New Zealand.

Unfortunately, statistics are one thing - the reality is another.

You’d think, that the government would invest that money in improving the lives of its citizens. That the wealth generated would go towards improving infrastructure and creating opportunities for people to lift themselves out of poverty. At the very least, the government would focus on health and education – the two central pillars of any healthy society.

The truth is – the exact opposite has happened.

Despite the astronomical oil wealth being generated by ExxonMobil, Marathon and other multinational giants 77 per cent of the population falls below the poverty line, 35 percent die before the age of 40, and 58 percent lack access to safe water.

In fact, so neglectful has their spending on essential social services been that the US Department of State concluded that ‘there is little evidence that the country’s oil wealth is being devoted to the public good.’

So where does Teodorin fit into this?

You’ll find that he’s right in the middle of it all. For example, between 2004 and 2006 he spent more than $42 milllion on luxury houses and cars – that’s nearly a third of the total amount the government spent on health, education and housing programs in 2005.

So how can he, his family and others pull this off?
The short answer: with our help.

In pictures: Take a look at this slide show.

In words: Here’s one example.

For over eight years a prestigious American institution, Riggs Bank helped them. It opened over 60 accounts for the government with at least half functioning as private banking accounts for senior E.G. officials or their family members. By 2003 the E.G. accounts represented the largest relationship at Riggs Bank with the total deposits ranging from $400 to $700 million at a time. It’s fair to say, they were valuable, if not the most valued, ‘customers’.

In fact, so pleased were top officials of Riggs Bank with their profitable relationship that they even wrote, in mid 2001 to Teodorin’s father, President Obiang a reassuring letter outlining his importance to them. The letter states that Riggs had ‘formed a committee of the most senior officers of Riggs Bank that will meet regularly to discuss our relationship with Equatorial Guinea and how best we can serve you.’

How do we know this?

We only know the contents of this letter and many others like it because Riggs were busted. In 2004 a Senate Committee exposed their illegal relationship with Equatorial Guinea. Whilst the Senate Committee exposed the extent of Riggs’ complicity it was powerless to return the wealth to the ordinary, impoverished citizens of Equatorial Guinea.

And this story doesn’t end there. If all the above wasn’t enough, Teodorin just last week commissioned plans to build a super-yacht worth $380 million – almost three times more than his energy-rich country spends annually on health and education programs combined. It means two things:

  1. Teodorin and his cronies continue to siphon off oil wealth for their private benefit
  2. This is only possible because countries like the US continue to provide a safe haven for the passage of him and his illicit private wealth.

How can we tackle corruption on this scale?
Currently, the people of Equatorial Guinea have no way of holding their government accountable for its actions. There’s no information and there is little meaningful or effective political opposition or freedom.

Rather than being spent on mansions, cars, clothes and even super-yachts this money generated by the oil wealth deserves to go to the people of Equatorial Guinea – the rightful owners. 

That’s why the Global Poverty Project supports resource transparency. If the citizens of Equatorial Guinea know how much money they’re receiving from oil companies in payments then they’ll be able to demand better from their government. We’re committed to campaigning on this issue because the wealth being generated, if invested properly, will lift millions of people out of poverty.
So far we’ve got behind Anas Sarwar MP who tabled a Bill earlier this month calling for transparency of payments by oil, gas and mining companies.

Momentum is building and you can be a part of it. So join our movement for Justice and be a part of the change. 

Fairtrade Fortnight: Show off your label!


Do you want to know how buying a cotton shirt and a chocolate bar could help end extreme poverty? It’s simple.

This short clip describes the many benefits of fair trade and what you can do to get involved with Fairtrade Fortnight, currently running until 13 March. Fairtrade Fortnight 2011 was launched this week alongside the announcement that sales of Fairtrade products in the UK has soared to £1.17 billion, up from £836 million in 2009.

Buying Fairtrade products helps give 7.5 million people in the developing world a more secure future. These purchases ensure farmers and workers in developing countries receive fair and sustainable wages with decent working conditions so they have the means to pull themselves out of poverty.

Get involved
Fairtrade Fortnight 2011 is encouraging everyone to “show off your Fairtrade label” to spread the word about Fairtrade and the benefits it creates. You can attend a public Fairtrade Event from chocolate and wine tasting evenings to tea dances and debates, or there’s still time to create your own event!

You can also participate in a Facebook Show Off Challenge, tweet or post on Facebook about the benefits of Fairtrade, or even just make more of an effort to purchase Fairtrade products for the next few weeks.

Our How-To Buy Fairtrade Certified Products Guide is also a great starting point if you are unsure about how to get started on your Fairtrade journey.

Whatever you decide to do this Fairtrade Fortnight, remember that these simple steps you can take will benefit millions of people living in poverty around the world and help to change lives with every pound spent on Fairtrade.

Posted by Ashli Alberty in What Can I Do? for column Action Stories on Mar 11th 2011, 03:46