Flashback No.5

I just saw two cars hit each other on the turning outside my house. It was just a bump and the drivers calmly swapped insurance details and examined the damage before driving off. It was the sudden sound of crunching metal that made me jump and look up. My heart won’t stop racing.

I did wonder how I would feel if I saw another car accident. I wondered if my memories would all come flooding back. I feared it.

I’ve noticed in the recent months how much horrific car accidents feature in the media. I don’t mean in the news, but on films, and TV dramas. I was eating my breakfast watching a TV series this morning when the characters were involved in a head on collision. Perhaps it’s a dramatisation of our worst fears.

Perhaps I just notice it more because it’s happened to me. I think I’ve just realised that it’ll never go away, but I hope the fear might begin to subside.

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Published in: on February 26, 2010 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fairtrade Fortnight – Will You Make the Big Swap?

Fairtrade Fortnight was launched today with the Big Swap campaign, encouraging individuals, businesses and communities to swap their everyday products for a Fairtrade version. The main aim is to get the nation converting to Fairtrade tea, a simple but effective move to help tea producers in developing countries.

I felt rather smug as I enjoyed my Fairtrade muesli this morning and shunned the slightly dubious teabags at work in favour of (a genuinely better tasting) Fairtrade cuppa. My lunchbox was complete with Fairtrade snacks, and a sandwich made with local cheese and some homemade chutney. I felt I had done rather well on my swap thus far. However, there have been a few challenges along the way.

I picked up an ‘English Toffee Sauce’ last week, only to discover it was made in New Zealand, and even the block of cheddar cheese in the fridge was only packaged in the UK, and clearly didn’t originate from its namesake town. The consequences of refusing to compromise on my aims to eat only Fairtrade or local products also left me with a slightly meagre dinner this evening, watching the others enjoy something that looked far more appetising.

However, this has pushed me to be a bit more creative with my recipes and resulted in some great Scottish salmon fish cakes last week, and a superb (if I do say so myself) Chocolate and Ginger cake I baked for my grandfather’s birthday. The cupboards are now well stocked with Traidcraft products after we almost bought out a Traidcraft stall yesterday, much to their delight. Tomorrow I plan to raid the co-op store and the health foods store in town so I’m not left envying other’s food again.

I feel I should also underline that I am not doing this swap to encourage a boycott of all other products, I recognise for example that the producers of green beans in Kenya (although not Fairtrade certified) rely on the income they earn from exporting their products to our shores. The purpose of this experiment is to explore the journey our food takes, and to explore some local recipes using fruit and vegetables that is in season. It is also a great opportunity to raise awareness of Fair Trade products – of which there is a great variety, and of course to support local farmers and independent stores.

What can you swap?

Published in: on February 22, 2010 at 8:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Forgotten Conflicts: Conflict in Chad

The widespread nature of the conflict in Sudan has been highlighted in the media coverage of Darfur, yet little attention has been directed to what has been happening across the border.

Tens of thousands of displaced people in eastern Chad are hoping that the political promises made recently between the President Idriss Deby and Sudan’s President Omer Al-Bashir will finally broker a lasting peace in the region. The decades-long conflict in Sudan has resulted in a spillover of violence from the Darfur region into the north-east territory of Chad, with Darfurian refugees adding to the numbers of Chadians already displaced by the conflict. Aid agencies working in the region have suffered kidnappings and security threats. The UN deployed extra troops into the region last year, but with numerous rebel groups launching an armed opposition to the government insecurity still reigns.

On February 9th, the two Presidents vowed to work together to bring about peace and stability in the region. They will target the opposition groups and aim to enter into peace talks with them to bring a halt to the violence across the border, with Al-Bashir asserting “We have decided that the border will be for mutual benefits and social relations and not to be a passageway of weapons”. It will also see an enhanced military operation patrolling the border, in an attempt to implement peace agreements signed in recent years.

However, there is still a long way to go, and the ethnic and political tensions underlying the conflict will take time to resolve. Moreover, there are fears that without a distinct UN presence in the region (after the Chadian President ordered the departure of UN troops) the population will be vulnerable to further outbreaks of violence.

The prospect of peace in the region remains fragile, but the renewed partnership between the two governments offers some hope for the future.

Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm  Comments (1)  
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Fair Trade Fast

Lent begins tomorrow, and I have set myself (and my unwitting family) a challenge. I endeavour to eat only Fair Trade products or (as the list of Fair Trade products readily available is far from comprehensive) locally sourced food (i.e. produced within the British Isles). This has already created some difficulties, and given rise to many debates around the dinner table as we examine each label and packet to discover how far it has travelled.

The aim is to start thinking, buying and eating more ethically. We are spoilt for choice here in Britain, with fresh fruit flown in from across the globe to allow us to be able to enjoy exotic treats all year round. So much so, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to buy British. Local food is fresher, hasn’t travelled so far, and most importantly buying such products helps to support British farmers and local businesses.

Buying Fair Trade is also important, guaranteeing a premium price for farmers in the developing world, ensuring a steady income and helping them to build up their communities and offering them hope for the future. It may still have to travel across the globe to reach our supermarket shelves, but the Fairtrade Foundation commits to environmentally responsible practises as well as offering the producers a fair wage.

It will be an interesting experiment and I’m sure there will be frustrations along the way, but I think it is easily achievable, and doing so will highlight some of the interesting paths our food takes before it reaches the supermarket shelves. I will keep you updated on my progress, and if you feel inspired by my challenge, here are some useful Fair Trade recipes, or even a Carbon Fast you can join in with. For now, I’m off to make some pancakes, having come across these Divine dishes, my mouth is watering already!

Forgotten Crisis: Guatemalans go hungry

It may not have reached our front pages, but across the Atlantivc celebrities like Christian Aguilera have highlighted the plight of thousands of Guatemalans facing starvation. Rural Guatemalans are facing food shortages in a country with the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world according to the WFP. Almost 70% of the population live in poverty, with limited access to water, sanitation and health services. Their insufficient income hardly provides for an adequate diet, and there are few resources to deal with natural disasters such as hurricanes that plague the region.

Guatemala’s President has declared a situation of ‘public calamity’ to try and attract funds to the region. The food crisis affecting the majority of the population has partly resulted from poor rains leading to failed harvests, but rising food prices have also contributed to the spreading poverty across the nation. The international community have responded by sending much needed aid, with the WFP launching campaigns to raise funds for essential projects in the country.

However, even the country’s President Alvaro Colom has admitted that it is not just drought that has pushed the country into crisis. There is food, but most of the population cannot afford to buy it. The missing link lies in the unequal distribution of land, creating a situation of food insecurity. Recent shifts in agricultural production have focused on producing produce for export, such as palm oil and sugar cane for biofuel, threatening the livelihoods of the rural poor, and undermining the country’s production of food, leaving the population increasingly vulnerable.

The country cannot continue to rely on aid to feed its population, but without clear reforms that will address the huge inequalities within society, Guatemalans will continue to go hungry for years to come.

Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 4:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Six Months Ago….

The bright lights made me blink. I closed my eyes again. I could hear strange voices. I opened my eyes again and struggled to focus on the figure beside me. My mouth was dry, my eyes couldn’t focus. I felt numb.

The nurse beside me gently explained what had happened. I tried to turn my head to speak but the effort was too much, and I closed my eyes again. I slowly drifted back off to sleep.

What a horrible dream.

Except it wasn’t a horrible dream. It was a shocking reality, one that didn’t really hit home until the painkillers started to wear off and the flashbacks began. The car I was in had hit an articulated lorry in a head on collision. The speed of the impact was estimated at 100mph. I am lucky to be alive.

Yesterday marked the six month anniversary of the accident. It was with mixed feelings that I reflected on what had happened, looking at my scars again in the mirror. I have come a long way in those six months; learnt to walk again, got back to work and even started driving again.

Yet I still get nightmares, flinching every time I pass a lorry on the road, and the pain has not totally subsided. Each time I reflect on what has happened I realise how valuable, yet fragile, life is.

I have a huge amount to be thankful for, but I cannot undo the fact that my life was irrevocably changed six months ago.

Published in: on February 6, 2010 at 3:23 pm  Comments (1)  

Forgotten Crisis: India’s Maoist Rebellion

A rebel insurgency led by a group of leftist guerrillas has been terrorising civilians across central and eastern India since 2005. Thousands of villagers have been forced to leave their homes fearing torture and violence. The rebels are accused of forcibly recruiting children, of extortion and using landmines across the region. However the counter-insurgency mission ‘Operation Green Hunt’ by government security forces has provoked further violence, with accusations of using unnecessary force levelled at the government forces themselves.

The guerrilla war now poses a huge internal security threat to the country, with civilian deaths mounting as villagers get caught in the crossfire. The Maoists, also known as the Naxalites, insist they are fighting against the government in order to build a communist state, aiming to improve the quality of life for the rural poor. However, despite the government’s best intentions to fight the rebels, there has been little done to help the impoverished villagers who are directly impacted by the fighting. Some rights campaigners have warned that the ongoing violence could escalate into a civil war.

The government campaign to oust the rebels has been criticised for attempting to solve the problem using brute force, and has only fuelled more violence. The Naxalites are growing in numbers and power, and constitute a powerful threat to the current government. Government authority is called into question as they continually fail to bring the rebel groups under control.

Once likened to Robin Hood’s band of thieves, the Maoist rebels are fuelled by outrage at the poverty suffered by the rural communities. However, their violent tendencies are becoming more detached from their original ideals and have escalated into an armed offensive against the government oppression. Fear of attacks discourages villagers from voting, and without talks to bring the two sides together, the violence seems set to intensify.

“Life is very difficult,” the man said. “The Naxalites think we are helping the police. The police think we are helping the Naxalites. We are living in fear over who will kill us first.” (NY Times).

Published in: on February 3, 2010 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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