The point of being here

“A terrifying noise, everybody trying to run, hiding from stray bullets under the canopy of a cocoyam tree in a farmer’s yard,”…

“A terrifying noise, everybody trying to run, hiding from stray bullets under the canopy of a cocoyam tree in a farmer’s yard,” recalls Lawrence Agorchukwu, the new associate pastor at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse.

“Where they saw people, they threw bombs.”

These were some of Father Lawrence’s memories of a helicopter-led attack on his hometown of Neni in southeastern Nigeria. He was only three years old when the horror of war reached it.

Well over a million people are estimated to have died in the Biafran War which bloodied Nigeria from 1967 to 1970. Father Lawrence’s Igbo people bore much of the suffering.

I still have mental images, as many others of my generation surely do, of the emaciated bodies of starving Biafran children. Hunger became a weapon in that war. Their suffering awoke in many Canadians a desire to do something to alleviate global misery.

In the intervening 40 years, the forces of globalization that have swept our planet have been unable to deal with the problems of poverty, disease and the environment, said Stephen Lewis speaking to hundreds of Yukoners last Monday evening.

War, of course, remains a planetary scourge as well.

The World Bank suggested a new absolute poverty line this past summer, noted Lewis, the former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

By setting the figure at a $1.25 a day, 400 million more people were added to the global poverty roll. Fully one quarter of our planet faces this crushing reality daily. In that situation “everyone is hungry,” Lewis said. “It is impossible for me to convey the depths of that hunger; 27,000 children die a day because of a lack of food.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon will attempt later this month to hammer home to the world’s heads of state the need to seriously commit to meeting the Millennium Development Goals such as the eradication of extreme poverty.

The marked rise in global poverty figures demands action from political leaders. Halving the number of those living below the absolute poverty line by 2015 will require increased foreign aid, undoing wrongheaded ‘structural adjustment’ programs imposed on the world’s poorest and entering into just trade accords.

Certainly the contending parties in our current federal election need to be closely questioned on these issues.

While Lewis focussed the bulk of his analysis on the key gender-inequality issue, war and its impact lurked ever present as an horrific amplifier of inequality. He told of the ongoing savagery of the strife in the eastern Congo where rape has become a strategy in that war.

Hunger, war, inequality and a host of other factors are intensifying the chasms between us. How do we respond?

Maybe we start by seeing how our economic systems create poverty. Maybe we have to recognize that a trillion dollars spent on arms each year is “a theft from those who hunger and are not fed,” as Dwight Eisenhower once said.

And that the corporate profits from United States’ 52-per-cent share of the world arms trade and Russia with its 21-per-cent share, according to data from the Congressional Research Service, do not bring the peace or security that people like the villagers of Neni or the women of the eastern Congo hoped for.

Lewis recalled something his father continually said to him as he ended his presentation.

“There is no point in being on this planet without struggling for justice and equity,” David Lewis, former leader of the national NDP, told his son

Senator Roméo A. Dallaire, lieutenant-general (retired), will be a keynote speaker at the 2008 Yukon Teachers’ Association Conference.

His presentation on Friday, September 26th at 2:15 p.m. in the Porter Creek Secondary School Gymnasium is titled Conflict Resolution, Leadership, and Human Rights.

Recognizing the wide community interest in Senator Dallaire’s message, the YTA has opened this portion of its annual conference to the public free of charge. However seating is limited. For more information see http://www.yta2008.leafsolutions.ca/dallaire.aspx

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