The Global Perspective

Today’s world is one of contrasts – it is highly interdependent and yet increasingly divided, between countries and within countries. Improvements in transportation, information and communication technology have intensified exchange between people and cultures. In spite of today’s global connections, sharp divisions persist and intensify.

At a time of great prosperity for some, billions of people around the world continue to live in chronic poverty and daily insecurity, with women and children suffering disproportionately. Half of the world’s population lives on less than 2.50$ a day [1], without adequate access to food, water, shelter, basic education and healthcare. Many are without employment are paid less than a living wage, or are heavily indebted. Lack of market access for farmers, increased use of farmland for bio-fuels and other non- foodstuffs, cash cropping, and climate change have increased food insecurity, intensified the global food crisis and accelerated rural to urban migration. Increasing numbers of farmers are taking their lives.

Large-scale land and resource grabbing is going on in the name of industrialization and development. The appropriation of forest and mineral wealth is shunting people off the land as well as annihilating indigenous cultures and their livelihood base. Mineral extraction is depleting water sources and causing pollution which makes agriculture unprofitable and compromises people’s lives and culture. Evictions such as the examples below from Mali, Argentina and India are humanitarian, ecological and cultural disasters which increase both rural and urban poverty, as those displaced are driven to seek refuge in already over-crowded cities – a vicious circle that won’t stop until the right to land and housing is acknowledged by the policy makers.

Dozens of families who farm on the outskirts of Bamako, the capital of Mali, are under threat of being evicted from their lands by the Government in favour of a housing project. They are already among the most vulnerable in Mali. The cultivation ban, ordered in July 2009, jeopardizes the ability of the families to feed themselves in the long run. The Government acted without consulting the affected individuals and has not taken steps towards compensation or resettlement, which is in breach of human rights obligations.

On 14 July 2009, 123 families living in Las Pavas, a rural township at the edge of Buenos Aires, were forcefully evicted by the National Police at the request of a palm oil production company. The community has filed injunctions, to no avail, as well as making respectful and peaceful appeals requesting the return of the land they have occupied since 1997 and the general protection of their rights, including their right to food. The only response has been harassment and violence. [2]

In India, the exploitation of bauxite has polluted the sacred Narmada River in Orissa, jeopardized the local fauna and flora, and threatened the two tribes living in the area for whom the river banks and nearby hills were both their ancestral homes and their only source of livelihood. Following a mass and long term resistance, the expansion of the mining has been prohibited by the Indian Government in 2010.

These examples seem specific but they reflect a global reality. They show some of the obstacles facing millions of women, men, young people and children which keep them from fulfilling their most basic human rights, protecting their sources of livelihood and achieving their individual potential. Ekta Parishad directly engages the people affected and places human beings, in particular the most vulnerable, at the centre of the development process. Lessons will be drawn from the bottom-up non-violent mass action in India and elsewhere that are challenging structural developments that increase inequality, exposing the lack of laws to protect the vulnerable, and providing alternative ways to organise and act. The establishment of the Forest Rights Act in India has been a concrete result of a dialogue between landless peasants and responsive policy makers.

Establishing the right to land in international declarations and conventions would constitute an enormous step forward for global justice as well as offering practical solutions for the dispossessed. Making the state accountable for the wellbeing of the majority is a task that needs to be addressed across the globe. And, as recent events in North Africa show, the people have decided to take it on, in spite of reprisals and other negative consequences in the short term.

[1] Source : World Bank Development Indicators 2008
[2] These two examples can be found with more details on the website of the FIAN