EWB Day good for third-world, bad for sea birds

The University of Calgary’s Engineers Without Borders club released 308 balloons in front of the MacEwan Student Centre Thu., Mar. 2 to commemorate Engineers Without Borders Day and to advocate loosening conditions on federal aid to developing countries.

Each year, chapters from across Canada use EWB Day to raise awareness of social and economic issues facing developing nations and to help drive change by asking people to contact their elected representatives. This year marks the third year of the event and the focus was on three main issues: getting Canada to commit to its goal of spending 0.7 per cent of its gross domestic product on foreign aid by 2015, untying bilateral aid and supporting developing nations at trade talks.

“There’s actually a lot we can do in Canada with our own political system,” said U of C EWB president Daniel Charlebois. “A lot of people think they have to go overseas to have an impact and that’s not true at all.”

One of the largest elements of the campaign is the untying of federal aid, symbolized by the release of the 308 balloons–one for each member of Parliament. According to Charlebois, a large part of Canada’s foreign aid is ‘tied,’ with 40 per cent tied to Canadian goods and services and 50 per cent of all food aid tied to various conditions. This requires recipient countries to use products and services from Canada, undermining their democratic processes and reducing the effectiveness of the aid by upwards of 25 per cent.

“We do give a lot of aid, but a lot of it comes with conditions, so we’re asking [MPs] to take off some of those conditions,” said Charlebois.

Passers-by were encouraged to sign cards in support of development aid which the group will present to MPs later this year.

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