Promised Lands by Paul Vallely (Fount, £7.99) Murray White "WE believe in life before death," runs that wonderful Christian Aid advertisement. The sentiment is more than laudable, but it is almost easy in our culture to dismiss it as just another clever catchphrase dreamt up by the marketing men.
After a decade of televised famine reports and mass media charity events where the West could tune in, he entertained, and maybe spare a few pounds to ease a conscience people are slowly discovering the poor have not gone away. Rather, in some places, they are growing. Published to coincide with Christian Aid Week next week, Promised Lands is a colourful travelogue of these poor. Bad Samaritans author Vallely, aided by award-winning photographer Mike Goldwater, looks to the roots of poverty assessing that much is to do with landlessness caused by unequal distribution and overpopulation.
But such an evocative cpproach, presumably aimed at the mass market, leaves one with mixed feelings, in much the same way as Live Aid and its ilk. Decadent rock stars showing concern for the Third World
didn't seem to quite square up. Likewise pretty photographs of not-so-pretty people in squalid situations seem incongruous.
That aside, the stories of "squatters in their own homelands" expose clearly the harsh reality of shanty towns and hardened landowners who are prepared to bum down makeshift houses they claim are built "illegally."
Valtely's stories, culled from travels across Asia, Africa and Latin America, are told with great skill and passion. But the heartaching cruelty of it all in utter contrast to the plenty of Western living verges on the unreal.
My quibble is not with the book or with Christian Aid's work, but with the human nature that necessitated its writing. Surely it is simply a matter of giving more money, is the indignant cry. No, Vallely says, pointing to a Western lifestyle where the market dictates a greater price in the Third World than mere coins.
He takes, as one example, the cocoa-pickers of Bahia, whose wages have been squeezed so low by world prices set by multinationals, they cannot even afford fresh vegetables.
This collection provokes thought. even anger, so long as the artistic images do not distract from its true intention.