Lifeonline series

Posted: 5 January 2003

Lifeonline is a multimedia series providing information to audiences worldwide about the impact of globalization on the poverty and social development. The series, which explores the main themes of last year's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, includes five videos which can be viewed on-line, or ordered through the Television Trust for the Environment's (TVE) website (details below).

The viewer can also follow up the Life TV broadcasts by exploring the background to each week's story through clips, web-links and the full programme transcript. Films in the series include:

1. The Road from Rio: Nankie's twenty one. She lives in Alexandra, a suburb in Johannesburg - venue for what's being billed as the most important international conference of this century, in August this year. She's excited by the prospect of delegations from around the world flying in to her home town to debate the world's environmental problems and new ways to create a better, fairer global society. But Nankie and her friends are also hoping the decisions made at the conference will mean change at the grass-roots in Alexandra - and help address the problems of poverty, inequality and lack of basic services that are part of their day-to-day existence.

But as world leaders prepare for the largest UN meeting ever to be held, just what - this first programme in the new Life series asks - can they really hope to achieve? And why - when governments have failed to deliver on so many of the promises they made at Rio - should the world believe they'll be any more sincere this time? Against the backdrop of Nankie's concerns, The Road from Rio speaks to leading players and thinkers across the world about the prospects for sustainable development - from ex- Secretary General of the Rio Earth Summit Maurice Strong; World Bank President James Wolfensohn; Klaus Toepfer, current head of the UN Environment Programme; and economic gurus J.K.Galbraith and Paul Krugman - to activists like Indian grass-roots proponent, Ashok Khosla.

2. Danger! Children at Work: Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Central America. Most Guatemalans exist on subsistence farming, with over eighty per cent living on less than two dollars a day. In the San Juan Sacatepequez region, just two hours drive from the capital, Guatemala City, even the land is poor, and making fireworks has become the major source of income for the local people. Eight out of every ten families in the region are outworkers, producing firecrackers at home. It's a labour intensive process, with children often starting work at the age of six. Exposed to explosive chemicals like potassium nitrate and gunpowder, there are no controls whatever to regulate health and safety, and no guarantees on how much families are paid for their work. Accidents are frequent, and often fatal; children, too often, are the victims.

This second Life programme films with campaigners working to persuade local people to give up fireworks production and switch to alternative, less dangerous ways of earning a living - alternatives that can allow their children to go to school and gain the kind of education that, development experts everywhere agree, is essential for sustainable development in poor countries like Guatemala. According to a new report from the International Labour Organisation, 170 million children around the world are employed in hazardous work.

3.The Trade Trap: Augustine Adongo's a one-man band. He's the chief executive of the Federation of Associations of Ghanaian Exporters. It's his job to help Ghana's manufacturers gain a bigger share of the international trade market - and so, the economists insist, make all Ghanaians better off. But if this is so, Augustine wants to know, why does it always appear that the cards stacked against him? Today, it's the mantra of the globalization lobby - from the IMF, World Bank and G7 group of richest nations to the American far Right lobbyists who dislike the whole concept of multilateral agreements - that trade is now the way for poor countries to work their way out of poverty. All they've got to do is to open their markets to other people's goods too, deregulate, and ensure openness and good 'governance' - and then they, too, can join the rich man's club.

But anti-globalization protesters from Seattle to Genoa have argued that trade isn't actually working for the poorest of the poor - the one billion people round the world who live on less than a dollar a day. They say the rules are rigged in the rich world's favour - by subsidies to sectors like farming or construction where the poor can most easily compete, by stacks of regulations supposedly about hygiene and and labour standards that are really intended to keep the poor countries' goods out, and by shameless penalties on countries like Ghana that try to manufacture goods like tomato puree from their own raw materials. And besides, they argue, what's the point of making things for export when they can't even feed themselves? Life looks at the arguments for and against.

4. Kosovo: Rebuilding the Dream. When former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic paid his historic visit to Kosovo in 1990, he started a process that was ultimately to lead to the break-up of the multi-ethnic population of the province, and the destruction of any form of civic government for the families who'd lived there for centuries. Under the Serb nationalism Milosevic unleashed, all records of Albanian property and land ownership in Kosovo were either deliberately destroyed, or carted away to Serbia, and Serb families took over houses and flat long owned by Albanians.

In 1999, it was the Albanians' turn to get their revenge. Following the Nato bombing in Kosovo, and the return of the thousands of Albanian refugees who'd fled their homes, Albanians appropriated Serb homes and land - and the fleeing Serbs became the new victims. Today - under the umbrella of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), UN-Habitat officials are wrestling with the gargantuan task of rebuilding municipal government - and trust - in the region, and sorting out who really owns whose property.

It's a painstaking business, involving recreating official ownership records and organising local government elections: in short, rebuilding democracy - one of the essential building blocks, governments agreed at Rio, in the recipe for 'sustainable development'. This Life programme explores how well they're succeeding through the eyes of local families - Serb and Albanian - in Kosovo.

5.The Perfect Famine: The Danish government's closing down its embassy in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi. The British government has withdrawn its aid package. The World Bank has made clear its concerns. And now, to add to Malawi's woes, it's at the epicentre of what's threatening to become a major famine in the Southern Africa region, with the World Food Programme declaring it a food emergency area. While there's no outright starvation yet, families are resorting to traditional famine strategies - including abandoning villages, stealing crops, and literally eating next year's seed corn. As a New York Times journalist described it, it has all the ingredients of 'the perfect famine'.

Yet Malawi - despite recent droughts - is a green land that should be able to feed itself. Much of the problem, claim critics, derives from poor governance, the suppression of critical voices and the sale of last year's maize reserves in allegedly dishonest circumstances. Back in 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit, most people thought foreign aid would lift the world's poor out of absolute poverty. They argued that the end of the old Empires - and Cold War conflicts - meant that politics wouldn't interfere anymore. But since Rio, there's a growing consensus that it's the policies of the poor countries themselves that too often stand in the way of development. And with dramatic changes in countries from China and India to Mozambique and Tanzania, that no longer means too much centralized planning, or economic isolationism. What it does mean is that bureaucracy, inefficiency, and plain dishonesty and corruption are the main obstacles to sustainable development.

This last Life programme in the current short series looks at the role of what's known as 'governance' through one African example - with interviews with development experts and economists discussing the issues worldwide. It asks how the rich countries help the world's poor - without rewarding unaccountable regimes, or creating charges of neo-colonial interference in their affairs.

Related links

To order tapes of any of the programmes in the Life series please contact TVE's distribution office by clicking here.


TVE, 21 Elizabeth Street, Victoria, LONDON SW1W 9RP. Telephone: +44 20 7901 8855; fax: +44 20 7901 8856.


To order online, visit TVE's Moving Pictures catalogue.