Change of life
The Star's Peter Gorrie today neatly sums up one of the major flaws in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's supposed ''championing'' maternal health care and child mortality.
It's a point on which I have briefly touched several times.
Here's Peter, with linkage by me:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he wants to save the most vulnerable people on Earth.
"As president of the G8 in 2010, Canada will champion a major initiative to improve the health of women and children in the world's poorest regions," Harper said in a recent opinion article in this newspaper.
Some 500,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth every year, and 9 million kids die before their 5th birthday, he wrote. "Far too many lives and unexplored futures have already been lost for want of relatively simple health-care solutions."
Details are to come – in the federal budget scheduled for next month, and Harper's opening speech to the G20 summit, to be held here in June.
What should we expect from his sudden outburst of compassion?
Here's a clue.
A few days after Harper's article, Environment Minister Jim Prentice spoke in Calgary about climate change. Not only is Canada weakening its target for greenhouse gas emissions "to ensure that it matches exactly" the U.S. goal, Prentice said, but this country will also do nothing until the Americans act.
"We will only adopt a cap-and-trade regime if the United States signals that it wants to do the same. Our position on harmonization applies equally to regulation."
Since the U.S. Congress is unlikely to pass meaningful climate change legislation, and lawsuits will snarl any attempt by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose regulations, our government will happily continue the profligate status quo.
This approach hobbles Canada's ability to develop a thriving low-carbon economy: We'll leave that benefit to those with more ambition and imagination.
It also makes a mockery of Harper's pledge to help impoverished women and children. Even if Canada provides ample medicine and food to developing countries – an outcome that's far from certain – his "relatively simple" measures wouldn't suffice because poverty and disease result from social, economic and environmental wounds that require more than bandages.
Just about every major human rights organization I know has reported on how climate change has a greater effect on women than men -- including CIDA which is supposed to be financing this maternal health care initiative. Doesn't one hand know what the other is doing? Or is the Harper government that cynical?
Well, of course. This is the same government that cut off KAIROS -- which helps rape victims and works against environmental degradation -- because, or so Immigration Minister Jason Kenney claimed in Jerusalem, it's anti-Semitic. Which it is not.
Only goes to show how opportunistic Harper's initiative is. How can there be maternal health care and lower infant mortality when there's severe environmental degradation, causing droughts, floods, landslides?
It's women who walk miles to find water, kindling, fuel, food. It's women who are the back of the line when resources are scarce. It's women who are savaged when there are wars for food and water.
"If we invest in women's health while ignoring the impact of climate change, then, we're doomed to failure," says Robert Fox, executive-director of Oxfam Canada.
The most recent United Nations report on The State of the World's Population explains why:
"Women ... are among the most vulnerable to climate change, partly because in many countries they make up the larger share of the agricultural work force and partly because they tend to have access to fewer income-earning opportunities.
"Women manage households and care for family members, which often limits their mobility and increases their vulnerability to sudden weather-related natural disasters. Drought and erratic rainfall force women to work harder to secure food, water and energy for their homes. Girls drop out of school to help their mothers with these tasks (creating a) cycle of deprivation, poverty and inequality."
As climate change threatens their survival in rural areas, people flee to cities; forced into crowded, squalid conditions where food and water are scarce and diseases flourish. The precarious homes of these climate refugees are usually first to be destroyed in a storm or flood.
In general, women are more likely than men to die in weather-related disasters, which have increased four-fold over the past 20 years.
Sending traditional aid into these situations could ease some pain, but it's akin to pouring water into a bottomless bucket.
If Harper were serious about his new campaign, he'd put Canada in the lead on climate change rather than keep us a laggard. He'd make that policy part of a coherent effort to change the conditions that condemn so many women and children to desperate, short lives.
"We don't see them connecting the dots," Fox says.
Worse, they act as if the dots don't even exist.
The Harper Government: Working Hard to Get Those Left-Wing Fringe Group Votes.