BOMBS AND BULLETS vs SCHOOLS AND HOSPITALS
The poorest are always hardest hit by conflict, and, despite the statistics, decade in decade out we see no change in this situation. Defence budgets in the global south rise, arms sales to them from the global north rise, and the consequences are paid for by civilians in the DRC, Somalia, Mali, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and many other, often protracted, conflicts.
Whether on the receiving end of bombing or drone attacks; caught up in complex conflicts over the extraction of natural and mineral resources; fighting vested interests for land rights; or struggling to avoid the gang-culture of the all-too-often poor inner city community – war, conflict, violence hits the poorest hardest.
Almost 20 years ago, in 2002 the World Bank had estimated that an additional $ 40-60bn were required annually in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.
We failed on that and we continue to fail to find the resources for life yet our governments are finding ever more resources for defence, military, war and conflict.
How will we squander the next 20 years? Will we be saying the same in 2040? And made so much worse with climate chaos?
War is one of the chief causes of poverty. War can completely undermine a country’s development prospects, destroying schools and hospitals and putting agricultural land out of use for years to come…. Fully 80% of the world’s 20 poorest countries have suffered a major war in the past 15 years, and the human legacy continues long after. Nine of the 10 countries with the world’s highest child mortality rates have suffered from conflict in recent years. The arms trade undermines development around the world, contributing to the poverty and suffering of millions….
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has named military expenditure by developing countries as a major barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Banking on Bloodshed, War on War, 2009
“The amount of money spent on the defence sector equals $4.7 billion a day or $249 per person. According to the World Bank and the Office of Disarmament Affairs (ODA), only about 5% of this amount would be needed each year to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.”
The world now has a population of 70.8 million forcibly displaced people. The global population of forcibly displaced people grew substantially from 43.3 million in 2009 to 70.8 million in 2018, reaching a record high. Most of this increase was between 2012 and 2015, driven mainly by the Syrian conflict. But conflicts in other areas also contributed to this rise, including Iraq, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, as well as the massive flow of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh at the end of 2017.
There are around 639 million small arms and light weapons in the world today. Eight million more are produced every year. By 2020, the number of deaths and injuries from war and violence will overtake the number of deaths caused by killer diseases such as malaria and measles. £4bn is spent on ammunition every year. The number of bullets produced by arms companies every year is estimated at 12bn, nearly enough to kill everyone on the planet twice over.
YEMEN – A NATION DEVASTATED
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and one of the poorest in the world. Like so many other countries, it has been brought to its knees by war.
And as the world’s struggles with COVID 19, so the war in Yemen continues. COVID-19 has now reached Yemen. Those supporting Saudi-led coalition attacks – the UK and USA – themselves in semi-meltdown because of the virus, seem to think it’s acceptable to leave the desperate people of Yemen to fight the virus while facing bombing at the same time.
All this when the UK knew the situation was already dire in 2016 for the Yemeni people – but the arms deals to Saudi continue.
Dear Dr Liam Fox,
It is now eighteen months since the recent outbreak of armed conflict in Yemen began, forcing 2.4 million people to flee their homes, and leaving over 22 million people in need of humanitarian support. The conflict has killed over six thousand people, and left the health care system on its knees.
Humanitarian agencies are struggling to respond and the country stands on the brink of famine. A senior representative of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has described the current level of humanitarian assistance in Yemen as a “drop in the ocean.”
The underlying causes of the conflict between the Huthis and the current regime in power are complex, with the latter being supported by a coalition of other states led by Saudi Arabia and supported by the United States. Both sides in this conflict stand accused of serious violations of international law, including war crimes, with particular condemnation of the aerial bombing campaign that is targeted at Huthi-controlled areas.
Accusations of war crimes levelled at the Saudi led coalition in particular have included attacks on three Médecins Sans Frontières facilities which resulted in the death of both patients and healthcare workers.
As health professionals, we have a duty to speak out against all causes of ill health in Yemen. This must include the sale and export of UK weaponry that is fuelling the conflict.
Between April 2015 and March 2016, the UK approved sales of around £3.3 billion worth of combat aircraft and bombs to the Royal Saudi Air Force. A recent legal opinion by Matrix Chambers concluded that the UK Government is in breach of its obligations arising under the Consolidated Criteria on Arms Exports, the EU Common Position on Arms Exports and the Arms Trade Treaty by authorizing transfers of weapons to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen.
We join human rights organisations, the European Parliament, the Dutch parliament, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in calling for an immediate end to UK arms transfers to all sides in this conflict. We also echo the advice of the Chair of the International Development Committee, Stephen Twigg MP, that the UK Government should retract its opposition to calls for an independent international inquiry into the alleged abuses of international humanitarian law during the conflict.
“Consider Britain’s role. According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, our government has supplied the grotesque Saudi dictatorship with £4.7bn worth of arms since the war in Yemen began. Aircraft, helicopters, drones, bombs, missiles: all supplied by UK plc to be quite possibly dropped on the heads of children laughing on the way back from a picnic. Just months ago, the British government feted the Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman unveiling a joint £100m aid deal, granting this tyranny humanitarian PR, while BAE Systems announced the sale of another 48 Typhoon jets. It gets worse: British military personnel are directly involved in helping the Saudi war effort – to what extent remains intentionally murky.’’
Yemen is testimony to the worst of western foreign and defence policy amorality.
COUNTRIES RICH AND POOR, NORTH AND SOUTH, ARE INCREASING THEIR MILITARY SPENDING
As Trump increases US military budgets, so NATO countries are pushed to increase their budgets to 2% of GDP and middle income countries –BRICS- are likewise under pressure to increase their military spending.
Meantime, many of the world’s poorest countries and fastest growing economies (both measured in terms of GDP per capita) spend much more on their military than on education or on health. Such excessive military spending impedes economic development (SDG 8) and significantly impacts on efforts to reduce poverty (SDG 1) and hunger (SDG 2), and improve health (SDG 3) and education (SDG 4).
$1.9 trillion per year on military spending is eroding countries’ capacity to fund social and economic development – that’s almost $20 trillion each decade.
While poverty and hunger are widespread and climate catastrophe unfolds, global military expenditure is higher than at height of Cold War (SIPRI), with trillions of tax-payers pounds, dollars and euros flowing into defence and arms industries. This constitutes a massive loss of funds for real development and public investment, while the post-conflict costs of reconstruction fall on nation states.
Moreover, at the same time, the P5+1 (permanent members of the security council plus Germany) charged with keeping the peace, account for 80% of world arms sales. More than 80% of arms are sold to raise tension and volatility in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Oceania. (SIPRI 2018).
Runaway global military spending, war and conflict undermine if not reverse development gains and the attainment of all SDGs are and will continue to be impacted by this.
As global military spending inches towards a runaway $2 trillion per year it creates an ever greater drain on countries’ resources and making military spending an urgent international development issue.
As with unpayable debt cancellation, the Robin Hood Tax and other measures related to tax avoidance and evasion, savings from military spending could be regarded as a significant “new” revenue stream, redirecting captured funds to serving the needs of the global community.