x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Millions pay the price for failures of governance

Too often, amid the posturings of politicians and the crackle of conflict, the ordinary sounds of human suffering are obscured.

Acoal mine collapse in Afghanistan killed at least 27 men on Sunday. Thousands of families are without income after disorder throttled oil production in Libya. UN peacekeepers, needed in Haiti after a coup, inadvertently introduced cholera there, killing at least 8,000. In Somalia, 14.7 per cent of children do not live to celebrate their fifth birthday.

What all these cheerless facts – and many more besides – have in common is that each one demonstrates the painful human consequences of political tumult.

Too often, amid the posturings of politicians and the crackle of conflict, the ordinary sounds of human suffering are obscured. Leaders make the headlines, but it is those they lead who pay the price of bad leadership, and of the violence and disorder that so often follow.

Consider Sunday’s mining accident. Afghanistan’s 31 million people live amid mountains of resources: untapped mineral wealth is estimated in the trillions of dollars. But nine million Afghans subsist on less than $1 a day, and what mines are in operation there are for the most part backward, badly-run, and dangerous. Many are unlicensed and illegal. And corruption is pervasive. The result of these factors is that pay is low and safety standards are only theoretical. Fatal accidents are common.

In the UAE and in many countries elsewhere in the world, people take for granted a level of peace, order and good governance that allows for decent labour standards, effective law enforcement, robust public health programmes and in general all the conditions for people to get on with their lives, unhindered by gunmen or injustice. But in too many places around the world, the reality of everyday life is different.

It would be wrong, of course, to say that political change is always undesirable. The regimes that were toppled in the Arab Spring are not mourned, for example.

But in Libya, at least, tyranny has so far been replaced by little more than warlordism – to the great cost, again, of ordinary people. Populations once united against dictators have become utterly disunited without their common foe.

As The National reported yesterday, child mortality is falling worldwide, but remains agonisingly high in a few countries with ineffective governments or widespread violence.

This too is part of the toll that ordinary people pay for having leaders who are unscrupulous, short-sighted, self-serving or inept.