What’s happening in Sweden is crucial: more and more civil society organisations, as well as government agencies and public authorities, including universities start addressing alcohol and the global alcohol industry for what they are: obstacles to development…

It’s great news that struck home well last week before the Easter holidays, when we got to know that not only Forum Syd but also Swedish Mission Council (SMC) are now ready and set to highlight and address alcohol as obstacle to development.

It has taken many years of work, heart-driven work by the International Institute of the IOGT-NTO movement in Sweden (where I also work 50% of my time) to promote and enhance understanding within the development and aid community that alcohol in fact is an obstacle to development, that addressing alcohol in development aid projects increases the likelihood for poverty eradication and more sustainable and profound outcomes of aid efforts. And it has been tough work to make sure such important agencies like SMR and Forum Syd would move to address and encourage other development aid actors in Sweden to address alcohol within their work.

Forum Syd approach

There are different mechanisms that make alcohol a major obstacle to development. Alcohol harm is a burden on the achievement of at least five out of the eight current Millenium Development Goals.

  1. Alcohol causes cancer and is a huge risk factor for non-communicable diseases;
  2. Alcohol is a risk factor for gender-based violence;
  3. Alcohol is a risk factor for communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/ Aids;
  4. Alcohol is a global burden on health and especially on poor communities;
  5. Alcohol has also a profoundly negative impact on the economy and economic productivity;
  6. Issues like alcohol-related road traffic accidents, injuries and deaths are highly prevalent in the developing world;
  7. Often alcohol causes that household income is wasted instead of invested in primary and/ or secondary education, health care and other future opportunities, which leads to a vicious circle of living and growing up in precarious circumstances, alcohol use to escape these circumstances, and the exacerbation of poverty;
  8. Children and young people are disproportionately affected by alcohol harm. Foetal Alcohol Syndrom (FAS, FASD) is a huge burden on many societies, for example in Sub-Saharan Africa, where every 11th child is born with the condition;
  9. And also indigenous people are extremely vulnerable to alcohol harm.

The list can be made much longer and so it becomes clear that alcohol really is an obstacle to development. It is in this context that we are very pleased with the big umbrella organisations SMC and Forum Syd that they have given attention to this issue. Both SMC and Forum Syd are granting aid projects.

It’s a great achievements of heart-driven and meticulous advocacy work by my colleagues at the International Institute of the IOGT-NTO movement, including the regional offices in East Africa and South East Asia.

I drew up a list above just to briefly indicate the mechanisms of alcohol posing a paramount obstacle to development. it’s important to keep on mind in this context that the global alcohol industry targets developing countries aggressively because they have identified them as “emerging markets”. The aggressive marketing campaigns targeting children and youth, the extremely well-financed avalanche of Big Alcohol lobbyism towards governments in low- and middle-income countries, the abuse of trade agreements to undermine existing and future health promotion measures by Big Alcohol are all posing huge challenges to Human Rights, democracy, civil society participation and sustainable development.

We have achieved much together in Kenya and Thailand, for instance, two countries whose alcohol laws have role-model function in their respective regions.

Therefore it is important that more and more civil society organisations, as well as government agencies and public authorities, including universities start addressing alcohol and the global alcohol industry for what they are: obstacles to development.

Forum Syd has an alcohol policy in place. That’s great because it means that all organisations applying for funding from Forum Syd need to take alcohol as obstacle to development into account for their projects.

And even SMC, another umbrella organisation with about 35 member organisations, is including alcohol as obstacle to development in their application forms for development aid grants. It means that all applicants need to reflect and address the issue.

The new policy documents and application templates open process to find innovative solutions and new approaches to eliminating alcohol as obstacle to development.

We’ll be following up these developments, among other things by publishing a new booklet and material about alcohol as obstacle to development.

For further reading:

In Swedish: Forum Syd Policy för alkohol som utvecklingshinder (pdf)

The Swedish Mission Council: HIV and AIDS Policy (alcohol addressed 7 times, pdf)