Friday, January 30, 2009
Photo: Spinners and doffers, Lancaster Cotton Mills, Lancaster, South Carolina. Lewis Hine took this photograph in December 1908.
Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.
The National Gallery of Canada has a special exhibition on right now featuring 45 black and white photographs by the late American photojournalist, Lewis W. Hine (1874 – 1940).
Although the exhibit is small – as are the photos themselves – it is well worth seeing, as Mr. Hine had the ability to capture the world around him in a unique way.
The exhibit is divided into three sections – immigration, child labour and constructing the new America.
In 1903, Mr. Hine went to Ellis Island to photograph immigrants from Europe who had come to start a life in the new world. Using large, cumbersome equipment, Mr. Hine managed to take many compelling portraits of these immigrants (many of whom did not speak English) as they waited to be processed by US customs.
In 1906, Mr. Hine was commissioned by the National Child Labour Committee to document the widespread use of child labour.
His photographs of young children toiling in fields, mills, factories and delivering goods at all hours of the day and night had a profound affect on many people. Over time, laws and attitudes began to change and in 1938 the Fair Labour Standards Act was passed which placed restrictions on child labour in the US.
Mr. Hine’s work changed dramatically in 1930 when he was commissioned to document the construction of the Empire State Building. His photographs of construction workers walking (without a safety harness) along steel beams several hundred metres above Manhattan have a heroic quality to them.
His book – Men At Work – showcases his images of men and machinery.
Lewis Hine died in New York in 1940 at the age of 66.
The exhibition continues at the National Gallery of Canada until March 29.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Photo: Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on television after delivering his latest budget.
With International Development Week coming up February 1-7, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had a perfect opportunity to clarify Canada’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) platform when he delivered the federal government’s budget in the House of Commons yesterday.
Unfortunately, the budget did not contain specific targets for next year’s ODA or indicate how Canada will engage the developing world.
Mr. Flaherty delivered what was basically a domestic budget designed to create or maintain 190,000 jobs and eventually pull Canada out of recession.
The budget will also put Canada in deficit for the next five years.
Many NGO’s are concerned that the global economic downturn will translate into fewer dollars for international development.
“People within the NGO community recognize there are domestic concerns, but we cannot lose sight of the broader picture,” said Sangita Patel, senior program manager at Plan Canada, in a telephone interview.
“If we are seen as not maintaining our own commitments, that does reduce our voice globally on important international issues.”
According to the OECD, Canada gave 0.29 per cent of GNI to foreign aid in 2007, putting us well below what former prime minister Lester Pearson recommended back in 1969 – 0.7 per cent of GNI to the developing world.
Five countries have already surpassed that mark: Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Canada had previously committed to double international assistance by 2010–11 from 2001–02 levels. This means that Canada will spend C$5 billion annually on international assistance.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Photo: A landmine survivor in the Afghan province of Baghlan. He lost his hands while trying to defuse a mine.
Photo courtesy Tom Haythornthwaite.
Afghanistan is in danger of not meeting its mine clearance obligations and is appealing to the international community for more funds, according to reports out of Kabul.
After decades of war, Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Non-state armed groups continue to use both victim activated and remotely activated weapons on civilian and military targets with deadly effect.
As a result of the ongoing conflict and the under funding of mine action, Afghanistan is one of 26 State Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty with a significant number of landmine survivors but not enough money, capacity or infrastructure to provide an adequate level of care for them.
Landmine Monitor estimates there are more than 50,000 survivors of either landmine strikes or other explosive remnants of war (ERW).
While the situation has improved for these survivors and other disabled people, much more needs to be done before Afghanistan achieves its victim assistance goals.
The Afghanistan National Disability Action Plan 2008–2011 is a step in the right direction.
“There is now a national plan for disability which the government can monitor; donors can fund and agencies implement,” said Susan Helseth, deputy programme director with the Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan (MACA), in an email interview from Kabul.
“The plan will help identify gaps in services and provide needed guidance to the sector. We hope that the plan will raise awareness (of disability issues) and also ensure that all persons with a disability (including landmine/ERW survivors) gain better access to all public services.”
Education, health care and employment are of importance to the entire population, but landmine/ERW survivors and other disabled people have the most difficulty accessing these services.
According to Landmine Monitor, 97 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men with disabilities are unemployed. In addition, 73 per cent do not have access to education.
Is there a stigma attached to being disabled in Afghan culture?
“Absolutely,” said Ms. Helseth. “The stigma of disability not only creates issues for the individual, but their family can suffer the consequences. Female family members may be denied marriage opportunity if the disability is considered genetic. Men with disability often are not considered, as they will not be able to provide adequately for a wife and children. There is stigma attached to congenital disability over an acquired disability due to the genetic nature. Women who give birth to children with disability are often blamed for the disability and held in contempt by family and community,” said Ms. Helseth.
It is not only physical disabilities that are holding people back from reaching their potential.
Landmine Monitor reports that two million Afghans are believed to suffer from conflict-related mental health problems.
“We see these people everyday on the street,” said Ms. Helseth. “There are only a few mental health projects that I know of and they are grossly under funded and provide only very basic counselling services. Projects need money, donors need to be made aware, and governments needs to see this as a priority,” she said.
I had requested information from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which I received after I had published this story. I am including some of the emailed information here because Canadians have an intense interest in Afghanistan – given the fact that Canada has combat troops in Kandahar province.
"Canada has disbursed approximately C$1.03 billion to assist Afghanistan with its reconstruction and development efforts. To date, approximately C$66.7 million has been contributed to mine action activities."
"Canada’s support in Afghanistan covers all components of mine action. The Canadian International Development Agency is supporting the Mine Action Program for Afghanistan through the United Nations Mine Action Services without earmarking a specific component. This allows for greater Afghan ownership and reflects on Good Donorship Principles. These activities include clearance, mine risk education; survey, mapping, marking and physical removal of mines/ explosive remnants of war; victim assistance, (including rehabilitation and reintegration of the injured and disabled); destruction of stockpiles of mines and ammunitions, support to capacity development and transition of mine action activities to national ownership."
"The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s support to the mine action activities in Afghanistan includes stockpile destruction, mine risk education, survey and clearance, as well as support to the mine detection dog programme with the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining."