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Global military spending set to top Cold War high

Global military spending set to top Cold War high as conflict causes record hunger

Oxfam calls on UN member states to support an Arms Trade Treaty

Global military spending is set to break the previous Cold War record by the end of 2006, warns international aid agency Oxfam today as government representatives address the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Oxfam is calling on governments to ban arms sales that fuel poverty, conflict and human rights abuses, by supporting an Arms Trade Treaty. A landmark vote to start work on such a Treaty will take place next month in the General Assembly.

As military spending has increased, conflict has become the top cause of world hunger. Africa is particularly affected: sixty one per cent of African countries affected by food crises are in the grip of civil wars. In Afghanistan, 2.5 million people currently don’t have enough food to eat and conflict is hampering relief efforts. During the past few months in Gaza, the ongoing conflict has left hundreds of UN food containers stranded at border posts leaving Palestinians short of essentials supplies such as bread.

The US and countries in the Middle East are responsible for the bulk of the growth in military spending, but some of the world’s poorest countries have also increased spending. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Botswana, and Uganda all doubled their military spending between 1985 and 2000. Between 2002 and 2003, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan spent more on their military than on health care.

“Year on year arms spending escalates and year on year conflicts are causing more hunger and suffering. Arms sales do not start conflicts, but they certainly fuel and lengthen them. It is time the world stemmed the uncontrolled flood of weapons into the world’s war zones. The world must agree to start work on an Arms Trade Treaty this October,” said Bernice Romero, Oxfam International’s Campaigns Director.

Global military spending this year is estimated to reach US$1,059bn, outstripping the highest figure reached during the Cold War in real terms, and roughly fifteen times current international aid expenditure. This growth in military budgets has caused a boom for the arms industry with the top 100 arms companies seeing their sales increase by almost 60 per cent from US $157bn in 2000 to US $268bn in 2004.

And while the world spends more on weapons, the number and scale of conflict-related food crises is also growing. Last year, conflict became the leading cause of hunger, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Conflict and economic problems were cited as the main cause of more than 35 percent of food emergencies between 1992 and 2003, compared
to around 15 percent in the period from 1986 to 1991.

In Afghanistan, Oxfam plans to give food to over 30,000 people in the coming months in remote areas in both Daikundi and Badakhshan provinces, with Oxfam partners reaching at least another 10,000 people. The situation on the ground is extremely challenging. 28 aid workers have been killed to date in Afghanistan in 2006.

"In Afghanistan, 2.5 million people don't have enough food to eat for the winter months. It's looking bad, as there have been droughts for six out of the last seven years, so people don't have anything to fall back on. And the war's making it worse, because its hard for people to get the aid they need," added Romero.

Conflicts not only cause immediate suffering and destruction. The UK’s Department for International Development estimates that after a conflict it takes an economy an average of 20 years to get back to where it was beforehand.

"Across Africa, US$15bn is lost every year through the impact of war, an iniquitous waste of resources given the continent’s desperate need for increased development assistance. Aid money that should have been spent on peaceful development is being diverted to dealing with the humanitarian fall-out of wars. We’ve got to stop the flood of weapons to war zones in
poor countries," said Romero.

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