On the erroneous belief of understanding the arrival point of development

Are “developed countries” deluding others or themselves?


Ryan Murphy (2010): Eat Pray Love

Diligent students of Economics might wonder what a scene from a Julia Roberts movie and the Italian expression “dolce far niente” have to do with development. Having been an Economics student myself confronted with heavy loads of neoclassical and neoliberalism theory, I would like to shed some light on the coherence of the aforementioned from a new point of view.

When researching definitions of “development”, one encounters numerous versions with rather diverse quintessences. For the purpose of this blog post I would like to concentrate on the following interpretation by the G8 of development as “… a strong, dynamic, open and growing global economy“. This choice is not one taken out of agreement, but one that tries to focus on the pivotal assertion that still drives the development discussion today. It is a discussion that is dominated by only a few parties, namely the Western nations 1, and it is directed if not to a single pathway of development at least to a single arrival point: consumerism. Post-development thinkers, such as Wolfgang Sachs, refer to the 1949 inauguration speech of Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States, as the corner stone of the first world hegemony in development. In this inauguration speech Truman proclaimed:

“[…] we must embark on a bold new program […] for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas. […] Their economic life is primitive and stagnant. […] Greater production is the key to prosperity and peace.”

By coining the term “underdeveloped areas”, Truman constructed a hierarchical system that imposed a materialistic Western lifestyle, an “American World Dream”, as the ultimate goal of development on the rest of the world. On the verge of the Cold War, it was a strategic move to demand allegiance of the decolonizing countries of the third world to the first world reinforcing its supremacy against the communist-socialist bloc. US economist W.W. Rostow argued in his 1960 “The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto” that with the right development assistance of capital and technology all countries would eventually converge to the ultimate stage of development, “high mass consumption”, from which the USA had already emerged from.

Largely concealing the fact that this prevailing notion of development is socially constructed and is an ideological concept generating power for the first world, it has found its way into the syllabi of leading universities in the form of varying development theories and it has successfully been perpetuated from there on. As a response to the failure of “improving the life of the masses”, development policies shifted repeatedly during the last 60 years: from growth orientation over poverty alleviation towards the aggressive neo-liberal policies of the Washington Consensus 2 implemented by the Structural Adjustment Programmes by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the 1980s, when debt levels and aid-dependency spiked (Moyo, 2010, p. 20-21).

Despite the failure to advance development, it “… had achieved the status of a certainty in the social imaginary” (Escobar,1995, p.5) in such a way that even the opponents of capitalism looked for alternative ways to develop, rather than questioning the construct of development and its arrival point itself. This mistake is equally reflected in the different ways and the evolution of how development has been measured ranging from purely economic indices that depict economic growth (e.g. gross national income per capita, gross domestic product) or defining the percentage of people living below the poverty line 3 to multidimensional indicators of human development such as the New Human Development Index (2010) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The latter include factors such as life expectancy, birth rates, literacy, years of schooling and income, which again play into the hands of the already known development front runners. Despite the creation of hierarchies and the homogenisation of “under-developed countries”, I believe that the biggest mistake herein lies in the assumption to know the arrival point of development, which in turn leaves little necessity, but also little freedom for the front runners to change.

From a Western perspective, what assures us in the end that we objectively chose the right path to development? Based on national footprint data from the Global Footprint Network, Tim De Chant calculated that at least 4.1 worlds would be needed in order for 7 billion people to live an average American lifestyle 4. Luckily we only have one world. So, if the development myth of the last 60 years neither has worked nor has been proven to be a realistic vision for the entire world at all, has it brought any good for the countries that reached the “top of the ladder”?

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 23.06.47

Source: Illustration © 2012 Tim De Chant, Data from Global Footprint Network

Aristotle firstly described that happiness (eudaimonia 5) is the ultimate end for all human activities and all activities are therefore only means to pursuing happiness, not ends in themselves. It is enticing to assume that if there could possibly be a universal goal for development, it could only be the pursuit of happiness. Despite the fact that the Unites States had already recognised precisely this as an inalienable right in their Declaration of Independence in 1776, it took over 200 years for happiness to take center stage in the broader discourse about development. In 2006, the New Economics Foundation introduced the Happy Planet Index (HPI), which measures “the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them”. Four years later, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network followed with the first World Happiness Report (2012). Attempting to measure happiness on a global scale, six factors are being used: GDP per capita, healthy years of life expectancy, social support, trust, perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity. Critics of the past approaches to development might favour this new course and feel vindicated by the fact that the report highlighted the circumstance that “despite strong economic growth” happiness had stagnated in the USA since the 1950s (Helliwell & Layard & Sachs, 2012, p.61). It would be hypocritical, however, to incautiously declare happiness as the new panacea for development and it might result in making the same mistake this post is trying to highlight in the first place. The following should explain how the newest debate of development is still caught up in its initial mistake.

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 02.58.45

Source: Happy Planet Index, Map for Experienced Well-Being 6

The initial development debate described high mass consumption as the arrival point of development and with it a set of policies was created by first world countries that allowed for interventions in “poorer countries” that were seldom altruistic. In contrast, the theoretical beauty of defining happiness as the ultimate arrival point of development is that happiness in its philosophical sense is something utterly subjective, a self- determined measure of achieving what one wants in life — whatever that be and by whatever means this can be achieved. But it seems rather naive to believe that the concept of happiness is not strongly subject to ideological contextualisation and that we actually open up the way to a freely open discussion about “development”. I dare to raise the question whether the attempt to measure happiness using constructed proxies such as generosity destroys the exact justification of the pursuit of happiness as the only universally favourable concept of development: subjectivity. Does it not declare the “status of certainty” 7 of just another constructed arrival point of development despite being barely less ideologically biased than the previous development agendas? Is the pursuit of happiness a new “wolf in sheep’s clothing” to perpetuate the hegemony of a few countries?

To refer back to the introduction of this article, I believe that in many Western cultures we are indoctrinated that happiness is achieved by increased economic productivity, efficiency and consumerism. Forced onto society with the help of vast quantities of advertisement, this absolutely fails the liberal definition of happiness, but helps to ensure the economic system from within. By making happiness measurable and comparable, the only thing we achieve is giving a new name to an old strategy.

In the first World Happiness Report of 2012, American Economist Jeffrey Sachs successfully describes the phenomenon of “the ills of modern life” (Helliwell & Layard & Sachs, 2012, p. 3-4) such as obesity, smoking, diabetes and depression and calls them “disorders of development”. The subsequent report in 2013 promisingly even devoted a whole chapter to mental illness “as the main cause of unhappiness”, but I believe that it disappointed in two facts: Firstly, the report states that “…the large majority of persons with a mental disorder reside in low- and middle-income countries of the world” (Helliwell & Layard & Sachs, 2013, p. 41). However, the report then follows with data from the World Health Survey describing depression rates by groups of countries showing the following results: high-income countries 7.1%, upper middle-income 7.6%, lower middle- income 6.4% and low-income 6.0%. It seems that the initial statement is therefore not coherent with the findings of this study, but tries to reinforce the economic hierarchy constructed at the historical beginning of the development debate. My statement should in no way question the existence of equal importance of mental illnesses in the “developing countries”, but rather suggest a perceptual bias in the interpretation. Secondly and most importantly though, the World Happiness Report 2013 defines risk factors for mental illness such as loneliness, bereavement or a low self-esteem. Despite briefly explaining the problem of under-treatment of mental illnesses and introducing effective ways for treatment, the report does not question at all what causes or favours the risk factors of mental illness to originate or to increase. I believe that the World Happiness Report capitulates to the past development approach and does not reflect sufficiently on the possible influence of systemic errors in the contribution to mental illnesses and therefore reduced happiness.

Like other development approaches before, the pursuit of happiness in the ascribed way is looking for remedies to problems that are caused by a system that the approach itself tries to uphold, because dealing with the actual cause of the problem would most likely require a change in that same system. The initial movie scene from “Eat, Pray, Love” should surely not be used as a serious reference, but it puts in a nutshell what from a societal point of view is starting to be recognised in different movements: We live in a world where happiness is imposed to come from economic wealth and in which technology helps us to become more and more efficient and time saving in what we do. But instead of directing this newly achieved time towards things that essentially would make us happy, we use the time to become even more productive and more busy. Sadly, “dolce far niente”, the sweetness of doing nothing, became socially unacceptable in many contexts.

Ultimately, I wonder if followers of movements that try to “slow down life” and reconnect it to real terms can teach us anything about development? The only fact that it can hopefully support is that the assumption to know a generalised ending point of development is an erroneous belief. Or did Rostow actually expect the emergence of a social group that would prefer to be modern traditionalists rather than pure modernists?

1  The “first world” or “the West” describes a group of capitalist countries aligned with the United States after World War II that were opposed to the “second world” communist-socialist countries states headed by the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic. Accordingly, the third world incorporated non-alined states.

2  The Washington Consensus are ten economic policy prescriptions developed by John Williamson that are used for the structural reform of countries in crisis.

3  In the EU the poverty line is defined as 60% of median income.

4  Highest ranked were the United Arab Emirates with an estimate of 5.4 worlds needed.

5  Aristotle described the concept of happiness in the Nicomachean Ethics.

6  Experienced well-being is assessed in the HPI using data from the Gallup World Poll, which asks respondents to imagine a ladder, where 0 represents the worst possible life and 10 the best possible life, and report the step of the ladder they feel they currently stand on.

7  Compare to Escobar, 1995.


References:

De Chant, T. (2012). If the world’s population lived like…. Available: http:// persquaremile.com/2012/08/08/if-the-worlds-population-lived-like/. Last accessed 5th January.

Escobar, A. (1995). Encountering Development: The making and unmaking of the third world. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

European Anti-Poverty Network. (n.d.). Poverty and Inequality in the European Union. Available: http://www.poverty.org.uk/summary/eapn.shtml. Last accessed 4th January 2016.

G8. (2001). G8: The Final Official Notice. Available: http://www.un.org/esa/ffd/themes/ g8-5.htm. Last accessed 3rd Jan, 2016.

Jefferson, T. (1776). The Declaration of Independence. Available: http://www.ushistory.org/ declaration/document/rough.htm. Last accessed 5th January.

Helliwell, J & Layard, R & Sachs, J (eds.). (2012). World Happiness Report. New York: The Earth Institute, Columbia University.

Helliwell, J & Layard, R & Sachs, J (eds.). (2013). World Happiness Report 2013. New York: UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Helliwell, J & Layard, R & Sachs, J (eds.). (2015). World Happiness Report 2015. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Moyo, D. (2010). Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa. London: Penguin Books.

Rostow, W W. (1960). The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sachs, W. (2010). The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power. 2nd ed. London: Zed Books.

Taylor, C. (2006). Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics: Books II-IV. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The New Economics Foundation. (2006). The Happy Planet Index. Available: http://www.happyplanetindex.org. Last accessed 8th Jan 2016.

Todaro, M & Smith, S. (2012). Economic Development. 11th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

Truman, H. (1949). Inaugural Address. Available: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/? pid=13282. Last accessed 3rd Jan, 2016.


The Collective Argentinian – Between Europe and Arrogance?

 

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Source: Composition of google pictures (Argentina & European Stereotype)

 

Argentina! Take Spanish passion, Italian emotion, the architecture and arrogance of the French, the etiquette and sports of the British and over time you will get Argentina with its meat eating, mate drinking and tango dancing people! Often Argentina is reduced to superficial definitions like this. Often people try to explain the collective Argentinian by focusing too much on its European immigration rather than on the Argentinian history itself. A history full of political and economic extremes and an Argentinian culture which has been shaped by this eventful and ongoing journey. Although this culture was heavily influenced by European immigration, Argentinian history was written on Argentinian soil by Argentinian people. Each single era delivered its input for the development of the Argentinian culture and identity. Today the Argentinian self-perception of their culture is likely to differ from the perception from an outsider, like mine. In any case, the collective Argentinian has his justified or unjustified stereotypes. In order to evaluate to what extent these stereotypes are true, it is necessary to look how they have emerged. It is necessary to understand Argentinian history!

200! This year Argentina will celebrate its 200th birthday. More precisely, it was the 9th of July 1816 when the congress of Tucumán declared independence from Spanish authority and send Argentina on its way. An exciting journey has begun, characterized by civil wars at the beginning and an increasing European immigration. Incrementally Argentina became a magnet for European immigrants, which reached its peak in the early 20th century. Hundred thousands of people arrived in the new world, looking for a better future. A rapid growth in population and economy was the result. In 1914 half of the population was foreign-born. It was the golden era in Argentinian history, a time full of prosperity, wealth and progress. Argentina was ranked among the ten richest countries in the world, ahead of France or Germany, and “As rich as an Argentine” became an international catch phrase. Its surrounded countries were struggling and it seemed that Argentina has created a long-term advantage in South America. The country paraded its achievements and new born pride around the continent and started looking down on its neighbours. It was the time when the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío predicted that Argentina will become the guiding force in Latin America with an exemplary economic and political model (Nouzeilles, G & Montaldo, G, 2002, p206). But that was not what happened!

Soon a time full of political and economic instability began. The second part of the 20th century was characterized by a succession of authoritarian regimes, military coups, and times of economic crises. After World War II the former officer Juan Perón seized power. An era which will be remembered as one of the most controversial chapters in Argentinian history. His Peronism a composition of fascistic ideas, promotion of industrialisation and social polices represented an alternative ideology to the extremes of capitalism and communism. After a putsch in 1955 he went into exile and returned in 1973 to start his second presidency. Soon after his dead in 1974 a new military regime seized power which ended in 1983.

Democracy returned to Argentina, but more than 30 years later it still has not led to stability. Loose economic policies in the 1980s, the hyperinflation in 1989-90, the economic crisis in 2001 and another leftist presidency of Néstor Kirchner and later his widow Cristina Fernández de Kirchner acted as barriers for strongly needed reforms. 2015 the hope for change has returned to Argentinian society when the centre-right opposition challenger Mauricio Macri was elected for the new president.

This was 200 years of Argentinian history, 200 years of Argentinian cultural development and also the time when Argentinian stereotypes emerged.

 

Stereotype 1: Argentinians think they are European!

Immigration

 

Europe! The questions of the Argentinian identity and their relationship to Europe was prevailing and omnipresent for a long time. In 1910 the Argentinian Intellectual Victoria Ocampo already mentioned “When in Argentina, we feel European, when in Europe, as Argentinians—we always feel like strangers.” (Levey, Ozarow, Wylde, 2014, pXV).

Often Argentina is still understood as a nation of European immigrants and their descendants, with Buenos Aires as the Paris of South America (Schneider, A, 2006, p6). It is beyond doubt that European immigration was a driving force in the Argentinian development. Over time a European heritage has been created which today is implemented in the Argentinian culture. But what is exactly meant by the European heritage and how prevalent is it today?

When the massive European immigration waves arrived in Argentina Europe was not a single empire, but rather a cultural and political diverse continent with many different countries. Every single nation of immigrants brought its own culture, costumes and peculiarities, which with the time gave rise to a new Argentinean culture. The Spaniards, the fathers of Argentina, brought above all the Spanish language. With the Italians, the biggest group of immigrants, the Italian spirit and lifestyle arrived in the ports of Buenos Aires. The British brought among other things sports, like Polo or Football, which are today essential parts of the Argentinian culture. And when you walk around Buenos Aires you can’t overlook the French architecture in the beauty of its buildings. Furthermore, the Argentinian elite favoured over a considerable historical period to import European models of culture, literature and arts over natives or other Latin Americans (Schneider, A, 2006, p2). Argentina strived to be international and modern and Europe was considered as the right paradigm. This is probably the time the stereotype “Argentinians think they are European” has its roots. The time during and after the massive immigration when the European existence was definitely more prevalent than today. But times have changed, immigration decreased and Argentina had to face new challenges. Hence the relationship to Europe declined, but the Argentinian identity continued, shaped by its controversial history.

A history which often forgets about the indigenous population, about the people who have been on the continent a long time before the arrival of the Europeans. With the Europeans the demise of their pre-Columbian cultures began. First the Spaniards and later Argentina itself pursed a non-tolerance-policy against indigenous cultures. White and European blood were superior and so an adequate implementation of indigenous cultures in the Argentine-ness never have happened (Richey, J, 2007, p8). According to Amnesty International, indigenous people in Argentina are still facing intimidation and discrimination of their human rights. In a nutshell, while the European immigrants shaped the Argentinian culture for a long time, indigenous cultures were largely ignored.

When I was in Argentina in 2014 I got to know a country and especially its capital Buenos Aires with a cosmopolitan spirit. People who feel “European” were rare and often belonged to the middle-upper class of Buenos Aires. Those were people who mentioned their European backgrounds before their names when they introduced themselves. Nevertheless, the average Argentinian is a very family-oriented person and therefore they are likely to have a relationship to the country of origin of their ancestors, but not to Europe in specific. A relationship that fades generation by generation. The mass immigration lies in the past and other historical events and new generations of people have influenced the Argentinian identity. Considering all these points, I don’t think that the collective Argentinian thinks he is European. Not anymore!

 

Stereotype 2: Argentinians are arrogant!

Pope

google

Source: Google.

 

Arrogance! When even Pope Francis makes jokes about the arrogance of his fellow citizens and Google claims the same, there must be a reason for it. This Arrogance can have various reasons, such as excessive pride, fear or insecurity.

As already mentioned, the roots of the Argentinian pride lie in the golden era of the early 20th century. It never got better than this. It was the time Argentina looked down the nose to the rest of Latin America, letting no doubt who has the hegemony on the continent. Argentina was better, whiter and more sophisticated. The Argentinian pride and arrogance was born. But little by little Argentina’s neighbour countries grew and the competition in South America emerged. The prestige of Argentina declined. This demise has left scars in the Argentinian culture and their pride probably got wounded, although the Argentinians are not likely to admit this. Their own ego is still huge.

After my stay in Argentina I have drawn my own conclusion about the stereotype of their arrogance. The Argentinians I got to know are people with a low level of self-mockery, they always want to have the last word and it is easy to make them furious. Two things better not to say to an Argentine is that Chile has better wine or Brazil is better in football. I think that they probably know that they are not the country anymore they aspire to be, the country they remember, or the country they have heard from their ancestors. But what they don’t know is their own history, at least not sufficiently.

Besides the relation to pride the Argentinian arrogance potentially has a correlation to subconscious insecurity. According to the book “Freud in the Pampas” by Mariano Bet Plotkin Argentina has one of the world highest numbers of psychoanalysts and Argentinians regularly lie down on the therapy couch. From a psychoanalytic perspective he mentions that psychoanalysis provides security to changing societies undergoing a crisis (Plotkin, M, 2001, p5). Crises Argentina has faced in recent history due to ever-changing political and economic circumstances. They couldn’t even trust their own currency, the Argentinian Peso. It is beyond doubt that this had impacts on the Argentinian society, especially on the middle-class. Consequently people were looking for security which the state itself could not offer. Doubts if or to what extent this can be linked to the high demand for psychoanalytic therapies and subsequently to the Argentinian arrogance is more than justified.

Certainly there are several other reasons for the high demand of psychoanalytic therapies. One reason, I think, is their general open emotional expression, which makes psychoanalytical therapies socially more acceptable. I know a case where a whole family underwent therapy to deal with their emotional problems. I was extremely surprised by their openness about it, because it was something I did not know from Europe.

Although the reasons for psychoanalytic therapy are mostly individual, a correlation of continuously historical crises which over time potentially created a collective subconscious insecurity and so shaped the Argentinian arrogance, as a tool of self-protection, can’t be totally disregarded.

 

In conclusion, for me the Argentinian is indeed a complex phenomenon who often acts arrogant. European immigration, an eventful and controversial history and a lack of its clarification had a deep influence on the Argentinian culture and identity. That the collective Argentinian maybe neither feels European nor Latin American doesn’t matter. For me there is no need for categorizing and put them in “in-between” categories. As I said at the beginning, cultural identity is not pre-given but rather an ongoing journey. The next step for Argentina would be the clarification of its own history.

 

 

References


HOW SYRIAN REFUGEES ARE AFFECTING THE DEVELOPMENT OF LEBANON ?

The year 2011 was a turning point for Syria, where it is still facing an ongoing civil war that has caused Syrians to flee and obtain refuge in neighbour countries such as Lebanon. Since the beginning of the war this small country has welcomed 1.3 million Syrian Refugees (UNHCR, 2015). To have a better understanding of the impact of the Syrian crisis on the development of Lebanon, we will have to focus on Lebanon’s demography (UN DATA, 2016) and its current political, economical, social and environmental situation.

le-area

(Picture found on http://www.countryreports.org/country/Lebanon.htm)

Located in the Middle East and surrounded by Syria and Israel, Lebanon has a total surface area of 10452 km2. Despite, having limited space, this tiny country holds a population of 4.9 million where its population density/Km2 is 477.5 (UN DATA, 2016) Whereas in Denmark and Argentina (larger countries) the population densities/Km2 are of 130.9 and 15 (UN DATA, 2016). Situated on the Mediterranean Basin and Arabian land, Lebanon’s geography and location have played an important role in shaping the history of the country and in creating important religious and ethnic varieties. Unfortunately, despite being a very diverse and rich country, corruption and instability highly prevail.

Since before the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990), the different religious and political parties have been in conflict, which created political instability and have led to a country with No President. Moreover this political insecurity that is facing Lebanon is affecting directly its economy by decreasing the interest for potential investors and by reducing job opportunities. Additionally, gender inequality and religious segregations are highly present in Lebanon. As for the Environmental sector in Lebanon, any importance is given. Lebanon is a country with a relatively high quantity of water but limited in quality, since most of its ground water and surface water are polluted. In addition, air pollution is considered high with CO2 emissions (000 metric tons and metric tons per capita) of 20488/4.6, comparing it to Argentina, which has a CO2 emission of 190035/4.7 (UN DATA, 2016). Air Pollution is mainly produced by the transportation system, which relies solely on gasoline consuming vehicles. Noise pollution is also elevated mainly because of traffic jam and construction sector (UN DATA, 2016). Furthermore, forests are being harvested for agriculture and construction purposes. Public Parks are not given importance and are badly maintained. Waste Management is monopolized by a unique private company, which led the country to face currently a huge waste crisis due to many political reasons and to the lack of competition and inefficient work being done by the company. For many years now, the only landfill Lebanon had, had reached its maximum capacity and today waste is being dumped all over the streets; increasing high risks of spreading diseases throughout the country.

 

After enlightening Lebanon’s current conditions, how can we argue that the migration of 1.3 million people is aggravating and worsening the issues that are already being faced?

All parts of Lebanon’s development are being hindered and affected in a way or another by the high influx of people entering the country; Economically, Politically, Socially and Environmentally.

 

Lebanon’s economy is being obstructed since 2011. The high number of Syrian refugees has significantly created competition with the Lebanese over job opportunities; due to cheap labour and very low-income salaries Syrian Refugees are working for. (Anonymous. nd). So tensions are then slowly rising between refugees and Lebanese. Moreover, small Syrian-owned companies are being developed in Lebanon, where goods are found at very low prices. This poses a threat to local businesses. Furthermore, Lebanon’s infrastructure isn’t appropriate and doesn’t have the capacity to support this high number of population; Electricity is already a major problem in Lebanon and is not accessible to everyone. However an increase of 1.3 million people, adds a huge burden on the ministry of Electricity. Therefore one of the main economical problems is due to the lack of sufficient financial supports that could deal with this quantity of refugees. (Anonymous, nd). Moreover, the increase in demand for rented accommodations, have led to a drastically increase of prices (MOE/EU/UNDP, 2014).

Other important sectors being directly affected are health care and education sectors. The high demand and the urge of providing services are creating excessive pressure and stress over these sectors. However, this can intensify competition among the educational and healthcare departments by becoming more competent and efficient. As mentioned previously, segregation is a major problem that Lebanon is facing. Nonetheless, according to an article released by Carnegie Middle East Center, 86% of the Syrian Refugees are settled and concentrated in very deprived regions of Lebanon (Khatib, 2014). This would impact and intensify the existed segregation, increase pressure and over stress on the local municipalities and lead to overpopulation in some regions of Lebanon.

Furthermore, this enormous influx of Syrian Refugees generates an atmosphere of doubt and scepticism for Lebanon’s main politicians. Going back to 1975, the principal cause of Lebanon’s civil war between Christians and Muslims started because of the migration of Palestinian Refugees. The war lasted for 15 years and ended in 1990. Additionally, the existence of ISIS in Syria and in the Middle East makes Lebanon a more vulnerable country and raises the fear of Terrorism for its people and its politicians. Therefore, politicians are trying to prevent conflicts to occur and have decided to strengthen their frontiers and to control the free entry of Syrians into the country.

However one of the main issues that people often lack to perceive are the impacts on the environment. Undoubtedly an increase in population leads to an increase in consumption, and therefore an increase in waste generation per capita. Currently the massive influx of Syrians in the country along with the waste crisis, mentioned previously, add an enormous economical and environmental burden. First of all, this creates a lot of pressure on the existing infrastructures of Solid waste management, since it is estimated that refugees generate 15.7% of what Lebanese generate (MOE/EU/UNDP, 2014). Second of all, there is an increase in open waste dumping, which poses a high risk of land, soil, ground water and surface water contamination, due leachate infiltration (mainly during rainy seasons).

Additionally the number of cars being used is growing, which intensify the traffic jam of 15%, this leads to a high increase in air pollution: 3% in Particulate Matter and 10 % in NOx (MOE/EU/UNDP, 2014). Health problems might arise mainly in area where the pollution is already above standard (for example in Beirut), this will increase the number of Asthmatic cases sent to emergencies (MOE/EU/UNDP, 2014).

Moreover, since refugees live in terrible conditions there is a high risk of having spread of epidemics. Mainly occurring around the dumpsites, since a lot of rodents and insects are present, and are prone to create vector-born diseases contamination.

One of the major problems is the enormous stress on water demand and mainly on ground water, which could lead rapidly to water depletion. In 2014, we have witnessed that with influx of Syrian refugees the levels of water have harshly reduced from 1 to 20 meters (MOE/EU/UNDP, 2014). On the other side, Wastewater is being generated in vast amounts, which raises another major concern, since Lebanon doesn’t have the proper infrastructure to threat this large quantity of wastewater. Consequently, untreated wastewater can magnify environmental pressure and might alter greatly open lands and their ecosystems.

Therefore, Lebanon is facing a very critical and alarming environmental crisis, which invites its government and people to take drastic decisions in order to act as fast as possible.

Despite all the problems and issues Lebanon is facing, Syrian Refugees are present in and no one can ask them to leave, therefore the Lebanese government’s responsibility is to actively engage and work alongside all the different NGO’s and private companies to find sustainable, global strategies in order to deal efficiently with the crisis, since all of the resources are at sake. Projecting and planning the pathway of Lebanon is essential for decision-making. In the present time, it is very important now to facilitate, assist and incorporate the refugees into the community because if fast and sustainable solutions are not provided, the horrible living conditions of the refugees will affect the Lebanese population in return.

 

References:

 

Anonymous. (nd). ASSESSMENT OF THE IM PACT OF SYRIAN REFUG EES IN LEBANON AND THEIR EMPLOYMENT PRO FILE. Available: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—arabstates/—ro-beirut/documents/genericdocument/wcms_240130.pdf. Last accessed 10th Jan 2016.

 

Khatib, L. (December 2014). Repercussions of the Syrian Refugee Crisis for Lebanon . Available: http://carnegie-mec.org/2014/12/10/repercussions-of-syrian-refugee-crisis-for-lebanon. Last accessed 10th Jan 2016.

 

MOE/EU/UNDP. (September 2014). Lebanon Environmental Assessment of the Syrian Conflict & P riority Interventions. Available: http://www.undp.org/content/dam/lebanon/docs/Energy%20and%20Environment/Publications/EASC-WEB.pdf. Last accessed 10th Jan 2016.

 

UN DATA. (2016). Country Profile: Argentina. Available: http://data.un.org/CountryProfile.aspx?crName=Argentina. Last accessed 10th Jan 2016.

 

UN DATA. (2016). Country Profile: Denmark. Available: http://data.un.org/CountryProfile.aspx?crName=Denmark. Last accessed 10th Jan 2016.

 

UN DATA. (2016). Country Profile: Lebanon. Available: http://data.un.org/CountryProfile.aspx?crName=LEBANON. Last accessed 10th Jan 2016.

 

UNHCR. (2015). 2015 UNHCR country operations profile – Lebanon. Available: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e486676.html. Last accessed 10th Jan 2016.

 

 

 

 


How has the economic crisis affected low-income families in Spain?

It is a delusion to think that there is no poverty in developed countries, but worse than that is seeking to hide this reality instead of striving to find solutions

Spanish Crisis Ripple Effect

Source: Own Elaborated

 

In a globalized world, one of the most universal issues is poverty. You can find poverty and inequality everywhere: no matter if you are in developing countries or in developed ones, if you are in the smallest village in the countryside or in the biggest city in Earth.

It is a delusion to think that there is no poverty in developed countries, but worse than that is seeking to hide this reality instead of striving to find solutions. Therefore, the aim of this blog post is to study the impact of the economic crisis among low-income families in Spain.

Have Spaniards been caught in the Plato’s allegory of the cave? Have Spaniards lived beyond their means? This post looks at how the quality of life of these families has been affected, and the mechanisms used by different stakeholders in order to improve their situation.

Spain before the crisis: a giant with feet of clay

In 2010, the European Commission launched the Europe 2020 strategy. This ten-year strategy has a very clear mission, under the conditions for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, it aims to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion in the European Union (EU) by, at least, 20 million.

Spain, as an EU member was (and continuous to be) supposed to apply this approach within its own boundaries. However, the Europe 2020 strategy arrived in the middle of an economic chaos. To make it simple to understand, the headline would be that Spain was building an economy comparable to a giant with feet of clay.

We can summarize the years preceding the crisis and what is called the Great Recession in Spain as a prosperous period of growth, but a prosperity very dependent on the housing and construction sector. To give a clearer idea: in 2005, Spain built more houses than Italy, Germany and France combined. Moreover, this economic growth was only possible thanks to the enormous debt that was being amassed. Families, companies, the public sector and even financing firms were highly indebted.

Adding to this cocktail of madness the evidence that most people invested in houses, which were far more expensive than ever before, and other types of goods such as cars, despite perceiving very low salaries and thanks to mortgages, it was only a matter of time before this bubble exploded, not only affecting the housing sector and other related sectors, but the economy and society as a whole.

From a financial crisis to an economic and social crisis: a ripple effect

The recession developed differently in each country. According to UNICEF (2014), Spain is considered to be one of the most affected countries. In this group, with evident fiscal problems that experienced market pressure, we can also find Greece, Italy and Portugal.

As we have mentioned, the crisis started as a financial crisis in the banking and housing sectors of developed countries. More specifically, despite the fact that other countries such as Spain were playing a key role in the development of the crisis with their own bubbles and economic binge, the crash started in United States of America (USA), where it triggered, as it happened in the Great Depression of 1929, a double ripple effect. On the one hand, it spread to Europe due to restricted access to credit, and on the other hand, it evolved into an economic crisis. How did the financial crisis turn into a crisis for households?

1

It is clear that the role played by governments, housing and financing companies, both in USA, Europe and of course Spain was very close to the proverbial saying that goes: “there are none so blind as those who will not see”.

Measuring the crisis: a people centred approach

The ripple effect we have previously described has had a huge impact on those at the bottom of the pile: the households. A broad perspective of what happened before and during the crisis in Spain, is provided by different economic and social indicators from 2006 to 2014.

By looking at the mean income in Spain in purchasing power standard (PPS), we can see a declining trend from 2009 when the mean income was at a maximum of 14.795 PPS.

The EU-28 mean income value in 2014 was 15.792 PPS, which situated Spain under the EU-28 mean at 13.269 PPS. Moreover, according to UNICEF, an estimation of the impact of the crisis on the average income of households with children indicates that between 2008 and 2012 Spanish families lost the equivalent of 10 years of progress.

However, despite the fact that there was a decline in the mean salaries due to the crisis, looking at the issue in the monetary terms does not show us the wider problems behind the Great Recession: the huge number of unemployed people and people at risk of poverty and exclusion.

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The Spanish unemployment rate has been dramatically increased, from 8,2% in 2007 close to 25% in 2014. More specifically, Spain lost the most, from 2009 to 2014 the economy shed 3.2 million jobs (from a total of 17.2) which was by far the highest number among the EU-28.

Furthermore, during the crisis, half of all young job seekers have been unable to find a job. The problem is not just the high amount of “Ni-Nis”, but the policies of the labour market, the sustainability of the pension system, the brain drain to other countries, etc.

Beyond the level of income and unemployment rate, the Great Recession has affected other important dimensions besides the ‘at-risk-of poverty or social exclusion’ indicator (AROPE) measures. It refers to the situation of people either at risk of poverty, or severely materially deprived or living in a household with a very low work intensity. The AROPE rate is the headline indicator to monitor the EU-2020 Strategy poverty target mentioned earlier.

As we can see in the following graph, the AROPE indicator has a growing trend. In 2014, 29,2% of people in Spain were at risk of poverty or social exclusion compared to  23,3% in 2007. Taking into account other Eurostat data regarding the same indicator in 2014, regarding the range of population under the age of 16, the value of this indicator was 35,4%, and in regard to the range of people between 16 and 24, the value rose to 38,7%. These variations show that despite the fact that in Spain there are more people at risk of poverty now than before the crisis, children and youth are the most vulnerable groups.

3

Inequality is a broader concept than poverty; while poverty mainly relates to the lowest part of income distribution, inequality takes into account the living conditions of all people in a society. Inequality can be measured by the GINI Coefficient of Equivalised Disposal Income. This indicator is scaled from 0 to 100 and can be explained as follows: the higher the coefficient the more unequal a country is. Spain’s GINI coefficient has been increasing, in general terms during the Great Recession which means that the country is now less equal in terms of income distribution than before the crisis. Compared to the rest of EU-28, the Spanish situation is not only worse than the mean of this group of countries but, alongside Greece, it is also the most unequal.

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The indicators used to study the impact of the crisis in Spain confirm once again what we have said before: the Great Recession has not affected everybody in the same terms. Mid-low income households, and specifically children and youth, have suffered bigger impacts and consequences than the rest of the population.

No government was prepared to deal with a recession of such scope and intensity. Additionally, in the Eurozone, and specifically in Spain, the pressure to adjust national budgets led to cuts in social expenditure (education, health and social care). These cuts have been made at the expense of families and children.

Because the whole society needs to solve this situation, governments (central, regional and local), NGOs and other support networks must play a key role in developing collaborative solutions to uphold the most vulnerable. Addressing the Spanish levels of inequality and poverty will not be enough to grow again. The first step is to leave Plato’s cavern and recognize that Spain is facing a big problem: the impoverishment of the middle classes due to the increase of inequalities in our society as a result of the way our country has managed the crisis. The victims again: children and youth. When children and youth are deprived from their rights our society welfare is at stake. What has been named as a crisis of sovereign debt now has another much longer-term type of debt – one that affects the childhood and youth of a whole generation of Spaniards.

 

Fátima Enríquez Lago, student of the International Master in Sustainable Development and Corporate Responsibility at EOI Business School.

 

 

 

 

 

 


DEBT AND DEPENDENCY: THE CASE OF PUERTO RICO

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a United States (US) territory located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The whole territory is about 13790 km and includes the main island of Puerto Rico and other smaller islands. The country is divided in 78 municipalities. The capital is San Juan, which is located in the northeast.

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The island of Puerto Rico is currently facing the worst crisis of it history. The country is $72 billion in debt. It’s a massive debt load for such a small territory. This situation is causing increases in electrical and water costs, cuts in pensions, public workers being laid off and increases in the price of education. But this is not new; it is something that the island has been carried out since 1898.

In 1898, after the Spanish-American War the island of Puerto Rico became part of the United States. From this same year, the dependency of Puerto Rico on the US started to become stronger.

When the US “liberated” Puerto Rico from Spain, the economy of the island was based on the harvesting of coffee, tobacco, sugar and fruit. But, in 1899, after Hurricane San Ciriaco, millions of dollars in property and nearly the entire year’s coffee crop were destroyed. This was a big opportunity for US banks. They started to loan money to affected coffee farmers and buy land at a steep discount.

As the coffee sector fell, sugar became the dominant export by 1901, transforming Puerto Rico into a one-crop economy selling almost exclusively to the US. By 1930, most of the output from the sugar mills came from four US corporations. During this period, most of the farmers left for the principal cities looking forward a better life away from rural areas, where the monopoly of the US corporations was being implemented.

In 1920, the Jones Act established that every product that entered or left Puerto Rico should be carried on US ships. From 1970 to 2010, the Jones Act cost Puerto Rico $29 billion. In the 1970s, to promote investment, US companies were allowed to operate on the island without paying corporate taxes at all, attracting especially pharmaceutical companies. The tax break expired almost a decade ago and manufacturers started shutting down operations on the island with the consequent spike in unemployment. According to the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico by 2014, the unemployment rate was 14% and more than 40% of the families were living below poverty levels. In addition, about one-third of the island’s GNP is repatriated back to the US.

With these incentives for US enterprises the Puerto Rican economy passed quickly from an economy based on the primary sector to an economy based on manufacturing and services sectors. This decline in the primary sector caused a high food insecurity that is still present today. According to the Agriculture Department, by 2014 more than the 90% of the food that Puerto Rican citizens consume is imported. However, Puerto Rico has a rich diversity in types of soils. This means that the island has high potential in terms of agriculture and they are not taking advantage of it.

To summarize, and as Alexandra Lúgaro says in her campaign video (2015), the US government controls all of Puerto Rico’s foreign relations, immigration, customs, postal service, communications, television, radio, commerce, social security, maritime laws, military service, judiciary, tariffs, banks, currency, trade laws, shipping industry and cabotage laws. And, in spite of all of this, the population still cannot vote for the president of the United States or have voting representation in the US congress.

By analyzing all the consulted information, we can say that it is a fact that Puerto Rico is facing a situation that is no longer sustainable. This crisis is generating a massive brain drain in the country. There are more Puerto Ricans living in the US than on the island. A lot of professionals are emigrating to US looking for a better quality of life. And this will be a huger issue in the long term. Puerto Rico is an island with an enormous development potential and if the territory does not have enough qualified professionals it would be impossible to recover from the current crisis situation. The US is allowing the population of Puerto Rico to find a better life in their territory but with the limits that they are setting in the island they are not allowing the people that want to stay on there to improve their lives.

The legacy of the Jones Act means that the prices today are higher in Puerto Rico than in US. According to The New York Times Car prices are typically $6,000 higher in Puerto Rico than in mainland United States. Some products, like unprocessed food items, cost twice as much as on the mainland. The cost of living is higher in Puerto Rico, even though per-capita income is less than half that of Mississippi, the poorest state”. The island has more Walmarts, Walgreens and fast food franchises per square mile than in US. The constantly increasing influence of big US corporations in economy has led to an economic marginalization of local businesses. Because of this dependence on the US, Puerto Rican citizens are living beyond their means. This is definitely an unsustainable situation and one that must change in order to overcome the crisis. Furthermore, Puerto Rico is an island, and islands are considered fragile eco-systems due to their special characteristics, limited space and resources. In the long-term, Puerto Rico, cannot possibly have the same life style as a big country like the US.

The colonial policies imposed on the island throughout over the past century by the US, have led Puerto Rico to the actual crisis situation. A change in the island’s policies is now needed, as the system that dominates everything in Puerto Rico is not working. The limits that the US has imposed on the country during its history have generated a dependency that makes self-organization a challenge while the brain drain that the island is facing constrains its possibilities to overcome the crisis.

It is supposed that the US “liberated” Puerto Rico in 1898, but from my point of view, since this date, the US has behaved like this strict father that does not give any freedom to his child but expects everything from him. It is true that Puerto Rico has some advantages that other countries in the Caribbean do not have, like the security or the life style. But, what is the price that Puerto Rico is paying for have these preferences? Now, they are facing a horrible crisis and the controversial debate about their dependence on the US has started. Even so, the problem started in 1898 when the US took advantage of the weakness of Puerto Rico and started to implement laws that cut the freedom and the autonomy of Puerto Rican citizens. If we look for the definition of Paternalism, we will find that it means “the behaviour, by a person, organization or state, which limits some person or group’s liberty or autonomy for what is presumed to be that person’s or group’s own good”.

After reading this blog post, we should not have any doubt about what happens in Puerto Rico is a perfect example of Paternalism. However, we cannot be negative, because there is an open door for the country to address the current situation. I spent six months in an exchange program at Puerto Rico University and I can say that the people that live there are willing changes in the island. From the University, the students are fighting to build a better country because they know that they live in a unique region with more than a big potential to be proud of.

Captura de pantalla 2016-01-10 a las 17.31.43

“Those who keep holding on to the weird idea that Puerto Rico is self-governed, simply do not go by the same compass as the rest of the well-informed world”

Trías Monje, J. Puerto Rico: The trials of the Oldest Colony in the World.

SOURCES:

Carrillo Martín, F. (2013). “¿Ciudad sin ciudadanos? Mapas coloniales de Puerto Rico” in  Revista CIDOB. Barcelona center for international affairs.                   http://www.cidob.org/es/articulos/revista_cidob_d_afers_internacionals/104/ciudad_sin_ciudadanos_mapas_coloniales_de_puerto_rico

Dietz, J. (1989). Historia Económica de Puerto Rico. Ediciones Huracán.

Granados, O. (2014). “Puerto Rico, una economía en vilo” in EL PAÍS.     http://economia.elpais.com/economia/2014/04/04/actualidad/1396636853_834670.html

Picó,F. (1988). Historia General de Puerto Rico. Huracán Academia Series.

Denis, N. (2015). “Free Puerto Rico, America’s colony” in The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/06/opinion/free-puerto-rico-americas-colony.html?_r=0

Campoy, A. (2015). “End no longer meet in Puerto Rico” in The Wall Street Journal. http://www.wsj.com/articles/ends-no-longer-meet-in-puerto-rico-1435880300

Spanish American War. http://www.history.com/topics/spanish-american-war

Carroll, R. (2015). “U.S  shippers push back in battle over Puerto Rico import costs” in Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-puertorico-shipping-idUSKCN0PJ2TF20150709

No name (2015). “Expuesto Puerto Rico a una crisis alimentaria” in El nuevo día. http://www.elnuevodia.com/negocios/consumo/nota/expuestopuertoricoaunacrisisalimentaria-1717099/

Krogstad, J.M. (2015). “Puerto Ricans leave in record numbers for mainland U.S” in Pew Research Center. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/14/puerto-ricans-leave-in-record-numbers-for-mainland-u-s/

Mercado Díaz, M. (2015). “El pueblo murió: la crisis económica de Arecibo” in 80 grados.  http://www.80grados.net/el-pueblo-murio-la-crisis-economica-de-arecibo-puerto-rico/

Lúgaro, A. (2015). Message from Puerto Rico to the U.S Government.


Climate Change – Lost of Livelihoods – Urbanization Action is needed in Bangladesh.

 

Khulna in southern Bangladesh(Picture taken by Edouard Leonet – Khulna Bangladesh)

Bangladesh is globally recognized for being the country that is the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The regular natural hazards that damage the country – heavy monsoon rainfall, tropical cyclones, flood and river erosion are set to experience an increase in frequency as a dramatic consequence of global warming. A situation that has become inevitable, a constant struggle for the millions of people living in Bangladesh.

Further to this Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated nations, with an estimated population of 152,4 million. The life expectancy at birth is around 71 years (2013). The human development index report has ranked Bangladesh number 142 of 187 nations.

It is clear at this point, that the adverse impacts of climate change has heavy repercussions for Bangladesh’s development and economy. However, one of the biggest challenges that the country is currently faced with and will face in the futur is the forced migration of people towards the capital – Dhaka.

 

How climate change affects the most vulnerable sector of the Bangladesh economy ?

Bangladesh, being one of the most disaster prone countries in the world, is at the forefront of climate change. The harsh impacts of hotter temperatures, sea level rising and monsoon becoming irregular are already being experienced in Bangladesh. These so called impacts have resulted in progressive changes such as the variability in the climate and an increase in extreme events, for instance storms, floods and droughts. In the next section, we will see how these changes in the climate have impacted an essential sector in Bangladesh’s economy – agriculture, and the effect it has on the people who are engaged in such activities.

Over the years, the agriculture sector has observed major setbacks with regards to the direct effect of climate change. An issue that has become a global concern, however for Bangladesh it is a matter of national food security. Indeed, the agriculture sector plays a vital role in the Bangladeshi economy. According to the last available statistics, this sector encounters for 13% of the GDP (2013- 2014). This might seem like a small slice of their economy, however it is essential to underline that an amazing 2/3 of the population (roughly 100 million people) are engaged within this sector.

Agricultural crops in Bangladesh are influenced by the various seasonal characteristics and of course the many variables of the climate, for instance humidity, temperature, rainfall and the length of the day. However, with the increased frequency of natural disasters the country has experienced, the production of crops is often constrained. To put in another way the climate and agriculture are interconnected, therefore when a small change in one variable occurs it will automatically provoke a change among the other variables, which will affect the productivity of the operation. Additionally, constant instability of the climate makes it extremely difficult to plan agricultural operations.

Further to this the sea level rising has become an increasingly severe threat to the coastal agriculture farmland. According to the NyTimes : «  The country’s climate scientists and politicians have come to agree that by 2050, rising sea levels will inundate some 17% of the land and displace about 18 million people. » I belief this highlights the importance and the urgency of this issue, as so many lives are at stake !

It goes without saying that the rural communities (66% of the population in 2014) are dependent on agricultural activities as a vital source of income or livelihood. However, as the impacts of climate change increases the agriculture sector becomes increasingly vulnerable. We can now ask ourselves, what impact this has on these exposed communities ?

 

Population migration and living conditions.

As mentioned previously many inhabitants of Bangladesh especially the rural communities are reliant on farming activities to earn the barest of living. With this in mind and as the impacts of the climate increases in intensity, people are struggling to make ends meet, in other words they are no longer able to live and earn their livelihoods from their agricultural labor. As a result of this, we have seen over the years a massive influx of people leaving their respective villages to settle in Dhaka with a hope of a better life.

In the past, people would make their way to the city in order to earn some sort income and then return to their home villages. According to Friendship, a valued based NGO in Bangladesh that has a holistic approach to development ; today between 2000 to 3000 people daily leave their countryside to migrate to Dhaka (Friendship NGO). As a matter of fact the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has projected that around 20 million individuals will be displaced in Bangladesh in the next 5 years – climate refugees ! Further research states that most of the migrants arriving to Dhaka hail from the southern coastal area, as stated previously rising sea level, water salinity and floods have become the daily struggle for million’s of Bangladeshis. Indeed the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has predicted that 70% of Dhaka’s slum-dwellers have migrated due to environmental hazards.

The term «  overpopulated » is often used to describe the capital of Bangladesh. Dhaka is currently the fastest growing megacity in the world with approximately 15 million inhabitants on less than 325 square kilometers. A density of 115,000 people per square mile. A city that faces many challenges, a city on the brink of collapse. The Bangladeshi capital is not controlled in any way, with very little and effective work put into the urban planning of this metropolitan sprawl. Dhaka consists of urban slums who are harmful for the sustainable development of the city as nothing is well organized. With hardly any laws in place to design and maintain sewage drains, garbage dumps and of course industrial waste, the city has become chaotic. Additionally buildings are constructed aimlessly for the advantage of a few privileged individuals but at the cost of the community. This underlines another important issue in Bangladesh – corruption. Transparency International a corruption measurement tool has ranked Bangladesh 145 out of 175 countries as of 2014. Unfortunately considered as « a way of life » in the country, corruption is everywhere and has become a serious obstacle to a healthy development.

Nonetheless many Bangladeshi’s migrate to Dhaka with a hope to find security and job opportunities, even though Dhaka is far from being a promised land.Naturally for the people coming from rural areas ; a city often comes with more opportunities and benefits for instance better healthcare services and education for children. Yet what really happens is that people exchange their countryside poverty with poverty within the city as they cannot afford any essential services.

Considered as « illegal » by the government due to their housing status, they do not in any case receive any basic services, as a result of this the slum – dwellers see their living conditions deteriorate. Access to acceptable sanitation and water quality are non – existent. Additionally garbage collection is inconceivable – which in many cases becomes a breeding ground for insects and mosquitos. Cooking facilities are very basic and represent a dangerous threat to the slum inhabitants as they become increasingly exposed to indoor pollution. This is the rough reality of the slums of Dhaka with entire families living under 2$ a day, which in the long-run represents a high risk of malnutrition for infants and children. According to water.org, an organisation trying very hard to address the water crisis in the slums of Dhaka « thousands of episodes of diarrhea occur in children and adults each day ». A problem that is directly linked to the socio – economic conditions in which slum – dwellers live in, a problem needing immediate attention !! Further to this overcrowding in the slums is an urgent issue to tackle too as it poses significant amounts of stress on its inhabitants, who can turn to violence and drugs as a way to escape the harsh reality they are faced with.

A sad reality that has become the every – day life of millions of Bangladeshis, a life without dignity.

 

Action is needed !

In Bangladesh, the term « urbanization » is a consequence of an erratic rural economy, which is of course closely linked to the dramatic impacts of climate change. There is no more doubt in saying that that greatest threat human’s currently face in the 21st century is climate change ! A few weeks ago history was made with regards to the COP21 held in Paris. Indeed 195 nations agreed to combat climate change and to take action vis – à –vis a low carbon, resilient and sustainable future. I do not in any case undermine this great achievement but looking back on the agreement it is supposed to kick start in 2020. Time is of the essence, we cannot afford to wait any longer to put in place strong actions to tackle the climate change issue. This is especially critical for disaster prone countries like Bangladesh, as so many lives and livelihoods are at stake. The government of Bangladesh is currently overwhelmed with the massive influx of climate refugees in Dhaka, strong measures need to be taken with respect to the urban planning of their capital, as the city is on the verge of collapse.

 

The power of change and action in Bangladesh are in the hands of the current politicians – can we hope to inspire them to do the right thing ?

 

Edouard Leonet

Reference list :

UNDP Bangladesh. (04/2014). UNDP Regional Director commends community-led development approach in urban programming. Available: http://www.bd.undp.org/content/bangladesh/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2014/05/18/undp-regional-director-commends-community-led-development-approach-in-urban-programming.html. Last accessed 05/01/2016.

Tarannum Dana. (2011). UNHYGIENIC LIVING CONDITIONS AND HEALTH PROBLEMS: A STUDY IN SELECTED SLUMS OF DHAKA CITY.International Development Agency. Unknown (3), 27;28;29;30.

World Bank . (2014). Bangladesh – country at a glance. Available: http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/bangladesh. Last accessed 02/01/2016.

Transparency International . (2014). Corruption by country – Bangladesh. Available: https://www.transparency.org/country/#BGD. Last accessed 02/01/2016.

Gardiner Harris. (2014). Borrowed time on disappearing land . Facing Rising Seas, Bangladesh Confronts the Consequences of Climate Change. Unknown (Unknown), 1-3.

Cities Alliance. (2014). CLIMATE MIGRATION DRIVES SLUM GROWTH IN DHAKA. Unknown. Unknown (1), 1.

Global Climate Change Alliance. (2014). The Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund (BCCRF). Available: http://www.gcca.eu/national-programmes/asia/gcca-bangladesh-climate-change-resilience-fund-bccrf. Last accessed 18/12/2015.


A “small player” with a big footprint… SMEs, CSR and the SDGs

On September 25, 2015 the transition from the Millennium Goals (established in the year 2000) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) became a reality.

These new set of 17 goals with 169 targets for 2030 is a great challenge for every stakeholder.

One of the most important stakeholders is the private sector; its role is central to achieve the new SDGs. But most of the research focuses only on the big players, the multinational corporations or big companies that have a say in the world’s economy.

From my perspective we are leaving behind one of the most important players, one of the biggest drivers of the economies of most countries, which is the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME).

The SME holds a very important role in the fulfillment of this new set of goals the accomplishment of which is expected by 2030. As we know they represent the majority in most of the markets, and they need to be acknowledged and very much involved in the process to achieve the SDGs.

Even though there are numerous targets of the SDGs that require the action of SMEs, there is one of crucial importance, in the 8th goal (Decent Work & Economic Growth) that mentions them directly:

This target may sound ambitious but it is a key element to the fulfillment of the 8th goal. This is why it is crucial that SMEs are made aware of the important role they need to play in achieving this goal.

With this post I intend to take a closer look at the importance of SMEs and the actions that must be taken to support them by focusing on my country, Mexico.

pyme-vestido-mexico

Mexican textile. Picture: Archive./ elempresario.mx

Here is an impressive fact, in Mexico 99.8% of the total economy are SMEs (5.1 million) generating more than 50% of the GDP and offering more than 70% of formal employment in the country. Mind-blowing…

This gives us a clear picture of how important they are to the Mexican economy. And also, the great a difference we could make in the country, by helping them become more sustainable and socially responsible. Nowadays the life expectancy of SMEs in Mexico is 7.7 years on average.

We must promote actions to help them increase their competitiveness and their environmental performance. They need to incorporate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders.

The question…How to achieve this? Well…

According to Christophe Yvetot, the Head of UNIDO Liaison Office to the EU:

“SDGs are about achieving development goals from an economic, social and environmental perspective. In this view, we can think about CSR as a way to implement these goals at the level of enterprises.” “It is essential to support SMEs in developing countries in utilizing CSR as a management tool to improve their competitiveness while complying with international standards and norms.”

I think this is one of the steps that could be taken by SMEs in order to gain more competitiveness. CSR involves all stakeholders and every action taken towards it will help SMEs increase the possibilities of differentiation, which, in the long-term, reads survival…

Furthermore, another step that would be helpful to increase SME competitiveness is the integration of energy efficiency in every aspect of their business. It not only would represent a reduction in costs, which clearly is very helpful for business growth, but it would also represent a small step towards the long fight against climate change by reducing emissions through energy savings.

And if we want to take it to the next level, the introduction of renewable energy in high-energy consumption business would not only reduce their energy costs, but also make a great positive impact on the CO2 emissions of this sector on the environment.

As we can see, these steps are not impossible to accomplish and are very much needed to make a difference in the country.

But how might it be possible to attract the attention of these businesses in order for them to join the mission of the SDGs?

I think the answer lies in the approach of the delivery of the proposal. The benefits of becoming more sustainable and socially responsible must be clear to SMEs in order for them to be attractive to the sector. Making it clear that it is not charity or a mandate by the government or an organization.

The reduction of costs (i.e. energy costs) is one way to incentivize sustainability but also the integration of new ways of doing business (i.e. CSR) is another way they can accomplish it.

The SDGs by themselves present an attractive market potential in which there are a lot of needs to be fulfilled. New markets, diverse business and new revenue models for them are some of the opportunities that are set by these 17 goals.

SMEs have the opportunity to fulfill these needs and become more competitive by doing so.

In conclusion, small and medium enterprises in Mexico greatly need to improve their competitiveness in order for them to achieve a greater life expectancy (7.7 years in average as mentioned).

To help the fulfillment of the SDGs in Mexico, SME’s must become one of the main focuses for development. This could be accomplished by promoting incentives for the use of renewable energy and sustainable technology, training, consulting, and the creation of governmental bodies specialized in these subjects.

 

References:

Mariana Viesca García de Alba

 

 


Critical Reflections on Development: Ambivalence, Hope and Necessity

Preamble:

Over the past decade, I have observed, contributed to and contemplated the subject of international development (or simply development). Development as a concept is loaded with connotations, negative and positive. As a field practice, it is no less contentious.

Reconciling the enigmatic and even polarizing nature of development is confounding. More often than not, ambivalence is the binding constant among my thoughts, reservations and questions regarding development theory and practice.

To explore my misgivings and to posit considerations for changing how development is approached and understood, I have opted to do so in an open-letter.

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Dear Development,

I have so many questions.

What are you? Who do represent? Why don’t you work? Are you needed? Such questions, fill me with intrigue and consternation.

Your notions of societal betterment (equity, happiness, prosperity) are morally seductive but also catalyzing, in rousing the imaginations of people to want, even demand a more just world. You draw attention to unmet social needs and unnecessary suffering (poverty, preventable disease, social exclusion, etc.).

In a world of abundance, where so few have so much and so many have so little – you are hope, and you are freedom.

Yet, for others you are not who you say you are. Your benevolence superficial, your actions rapacious. You are a project of domination (e.g., Chossudovsky, 2003; Veltmeyer, 2005; McMichael, 2007). The perpetuation and maintenance of an asymmetrical power structure premised on political submission and economic exploitation. A figment, necessary for global order. You are packaged and sold as a dream that is likely unrealizable.

These conflicting characterizations lead me to think – at worst you really don’t care about the betterment of humanity, and at best, your ‘experts’ really don’t know what they are doing, despite their earnest of intentions.

Over the past five decades more than $2.3 trillion in foreign aid has been spent on signature projects espousing Western conceptions of ‘progress’, countless workshops and publicity tours held by development gurus touting the next ‘big idea’ and numerous fleets of Land Cruisers and office air conditioners purchased.

To what end? What results are there to show? For instance, the World Bank estimated that the failure rate of its structural adjustment programs in the poorest countries was 65 to 70 percent and 55 to 60 percent in all developing countries (Bello, 2006).

In spite of the suffering instigated by such neo-liberal reforms, your proponents in the United Nations, World Bank or International Monetary Fund want us to continue to believe, to have faith in your prescriptions and experiments will pull poor nations from poverty to prosperity.

At the heart of your present orthodoxy is the narrative that measures like trade liberalization, financial deregulation and privatization have been instrumental in achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty by fifty percent by 2015. The World Bank estimates that the number of people in the developing world living on less $1.25 a day has dropped from 50 percent in 1981 to 21 percent in 2010.

I want to believe the purported poverty reductions are true. But so much of beating poverty is tied to how it is measured.

To start, is a poverty line of $1.25/day a reasonable proxy for individual survival?[1] I have concerns this figure may disguise or underestimate the scale of global poverty (Edwards, 2006). Conversely, it may inflate the degree of success.

Second, do your reductions include or exclude for the effect of China? It is widely known that the increasing incomes in China in recent decades have had a disproportionate impact on poverty rates globally (Woodward, 2015).

Third, why do your poverty statistics focus on proportions rather than absolute numbers? Are you trying to shift the poverty line downwards to make things appear better than they are?

I ask these question because when the absolute numbers are examined and China controlled for, the poverty head count is unchanged from 1981, when using the poverty line of $1.25 per day (Hickel 2014; 2015).

The growing disparity between wealthy and poor nations also leads me to question that the war on poverty is being won.

An examination by the Economist found that “in every decade from the 1950s to the 2000s, proportionally more poor countries than rich ones saw falling living standards.” Additionally, the growth rates of the bottom quintile of 22 nations saw their annual per capita GDP decline from 2.2 percent in 1960 to 0.67% in 2010.

The declining incomes reflect a broader pattern of growing wealth inequality. Oxfam (2015) reported that the richest 1 percent have seen their share of global wealth increase from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014. At this rate, it will be more than 50 percent in 2016.[2]

Despite the above concerns, I do believe that progress is being made. Data from the three decades of Human Development Index reports seem to suggest that even the poorest of countries have made incremental gains.

Whether such marginal gains are true or merely a ‘statistical sleight-of-hand’ remains an elephant in the room. Equally paradoxical given your dubious record is whether the appearance of success is more important than validated results?

Sadly, I am loathed to believe that without the perception of success the impetus for saving the world  would be displaced by fatalistic notions of your demise.

Despite your past failings, the immense and unprecedented challenges of the present (e.g., climate change, urbanization, mass extinction and ecological decline, etc.) have only emboldened your potential value (if not necessity).

To be clear, there is no place for the development of old. At stake is a new paradigm. One that has purged itself of false ideas, historical biases, path dependence, and conflicting and counter-productive policies.

Principally, your past manifestations have been an Orwellian exercise in doublethink leaving injustices unchallenged and conflicts of interest unquestioned. For instance:

Despite these two illustrations of the contradictions and dissonance between your rhetoric and action, change is possible but it has be transformative.

You must be reconceptualised in how you are understood and approached. To this end, I offer you three considerations:

  1. Development is not just for poor countries, it applies to all nations.

All nations are developing. Why? Because development is not an end-state but a (uneven) process of perpetual improvement. Therefore, a country (regardless of wealth) should not be defined as ‘developed’ or ‘undeveloped’ because achieving the status of ‘developed’ is impossible as it is constantly being redefined.

The intent is to unfix the definition to eliminate a singular model or understanding. We need a plurality of models that give deference to context, respect the right of self-determination, and cultivate a diversity of approaches that enrich human life.

  1. Development is shackled by the tyranny of economic thought.

The reductionism of neoclassical economics has falsely equated prosperity with increasing material consumption. Investments in human, social and physical capital aligned to this end.

Development is more than fulfilling one’s consumer potential. It is dynamic and multifaceted process connecting human and environmental systems in ways that should promote harmony, happiness and sustainability (of which economic considerations are part but not the totality).

  1. Development is constrained by the integrity of political systems that govern it.

Many of the undesirable, even deplorable aspects of development reflect deficits in representativeness, transparency and accountability within political systems internationally and nationally. For instance:

These questions draw focus to the fact that development falters when political systems do not represent the interests of people, exclude the people and are not accountable to the people.

Reforms must place people at the centre, emphasizing inclusion and participation in the decision-making process.

The above considerations are neither exhaustive nor novel but are necessary in provoking an epistemological reflection of who you are and who you may wish to become.

Please remember that humanity is at a critical juncture. The problems are grave. The stakes are high. There is no room for development as usual.

Notes

[1] One World (2008) report suggests that more representative poverty line may be $2.50/day depending on region. Others like Hickel (2014) or Woodward (2015) have suggested much higher poverty lines – $3.50 and $5.00 respectively.

[2] The Oxfam report highlights that the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent (3.5 billion people). That figure is now 80 – a dramatic fall from 388 people in 2010. The wealth of the richest 80 doubled in cash terms between 2009 and 2014.

 

References

Bello, W. (2006). The Capitalist Conjuncture: over-accumulation, financial crises, and the retreat from globalisation. Third World Quarterly, 27(8), 1345-1367.

Chossudovsky, M. (2003). The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order. Montreal: Global Research Publishers.

Edward, P. (2006). The ethical poverty line as a tool to measure global absolute poverty. Radical Statistics(89), 53-66.

Hickel, J. (2014, August 21). Exposing the great ‘poverty reduction’ lie. Al Jazeera. Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/exposing-great-poverty-reductio-201481211590729809.html

Hickel, J. (2015, March 30). It will take 100 years for the world’s poorest people to earn $1.25 a day. The Guardian. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/mar/30/it-will-take-100-years-for-the-worlds-poorest-people-to-earn-125-a-day

Intergovernmental Pannel on Climate Change. (2014). Summary for policymakers. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts,Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Klein, N. (2010). Shock Doctrine. New York: Picador.

McMichael, P. (2007). Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective. Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press.

Veltmeyer, H. (2005). Development and Globalization as Imperialism. Canadian Journal of International Development, 26(1), 89-106.

Woodward, D. (2015). Incrementum ad Absurdum: Global Growth, Inequality and Poverty Eradication in a Carbon-Constrained World. World Economic Review, 4, 43-62.

 

 


Climate change is real. A global and equal solution is needed.

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This December Paris will host the 21st United Nations Climate Conference. The main objective will be to achieve an international agreement between the 195 countries that are going to participate for reduce the GHGs emissions. The problem? Not all the countries have the same goals and without this international cooperation, we all will face huge damages and risks from the climate change. The transformation of economic growth towards a lower dependency on fossil fuels and related GHG emissions is necessary for the viability of a successful global climate strategy.

According to several OECD reports, if we do not adapt our environmental behaviour, the global temperature could increase 1.4 to 5.8ºC and the global sea level could rise by 9-88 centimetres by 2100. Unless this data may seem for many people like minor changes, they will have several adverse effects. Our ecosystems, unable to adapt to changing temperatures, will be harmed tremendously. These ecosystems, which provide us with natural resources in order to produce goods and services, are necessary for our economic development. So, at some point damaging these resources will implicate the long-term stagnation of human ability to maintain the lifestyle that we are currently living.

Years ago it was unimaginable to reduce GHG emissions without affecting negatively the economic growth. However, there is some hope for our future. The year 2014 was the first in decades that has shown a worldwide economic growth and a reduction of energy related to GHGs emissions. That demonstrates that developed countries have the possibility to invest in renewable energies to reduce their emissions.

And the developing countries, do they have the same opportunities? Do they have a real chance in order to avoid these risks? According to an article by the “The Guardian” Low-income countries will remain on the frontline of human-induced climate change over the next century, experiencing gradual sea-level rises, stronger cyclones, warmer days and nights, more unpredictable rains, and larger and longer heatwaves. However, developing countries do not have a history of large emissions of green house gases and thus have not contributed significantly to the causes of climate change, this countries are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. They have a fewer resources to adapt: socially, technologically and financially. So it is in the responsibility of the industrialized countries, which have caused the problem, to support the people in the developing countries to mitigate climate risks and to enable them to adapt to the negative effects of climate change.

Most of the developing countries are rich of natural resources and also have a high potential to produce renewable energies in the future. In cooperation with industrialized countries these resources can be used to provide sustainable and clean energy for developing countries but also for industrialized countries and thus creating sustainable business opportunities and a better future for everyone. Strategic planning and capacity building are also needed to reduce the risk of disasters and raise the resilience of communities.

Hopefully we will manage climate change and succeed, but unfortunately this is not the only challenge we are facing. Inequalities, in terms of access to resources and thus barriers for economic development will remain and developing countries will again have to catch up. The only solution could be a proper international cooperation in order to reach sustainable development on a global scale, where social equity, economic productivity and environmental quality are consistent. We also have to take into account that developing countries have very different individual circumstances and that the specific impacts of climate change on a country depends on the climate it experiences as well as its geographical, social, cultural, economic and political situations.


The intergenerational dilemma and geographical unfairness of climate change

It is time again! By the end of 2015 governments, companies and organisations from 196 countries will participate in the COP21 in Paris to discuss climate change issues, impacts and problem solutions. This time it will be different, they say. It is not anymore about defining what to do, since all this seems crystal clear, it is about agreeing on the highest common denominator and giving the starting shot for a better future. Once again! The time for small commitments thus seems to be over, the reduction of CO2 emissions and an entire change of our environmental acting closer than ever. However, would not that implicate a damage of our economies, at least in the short-term? Hence doubts are justified, if our generation is really willing or even capable to risk recession in order to sustain a better life for future generations. On the basis of this doubt this article tries to consider and demonstrate the short- and long-term consequences for certain countries and generations.

 

How we will change

 

What are the environmental short-term impacts for the majority of the industrialized countries? Ebbing of the glaciers, weather extremes and drought. Since all this is already happening and industrialized countries do not really feel economic or environmental consequences on the whole, they do not see an urgency for change. Yet, the impacts for some certain other countries around the globe are already tremendously more dramatic and constantly deteriorating. In Bangladesh, for example, the first people and villages get already displaced by the consequences of climate change, such as melting of the glaciers of the Himalaya on the one side and an increase of the sea level on the other side. Other examples are the floods in Haiti and the Philippines in the last years. Not only that those natural disasters costed a high number of lives they also devastated towns, villages and agricultural areas. Needless to say that the economic impacts for those countries are enormous and the outlook on the future horrifying. Among other things, because there is always the possible threat that these natural disasters will happen again. By comparing these short-term impacts of developed and developing countries we can see an unfair allocation of climate change consequences. Once again certain countries have to pay the bill for something that they did not caused. This time, because of a disadvantageous geographical location.

In the long-term climate change and its consequences will get progressively more global, drastic and harder to manage. The right moment to take action would be the COP21. Though is a generation, holding the power, really able to initiate a change from which itself won’t really benefit? Doubts are justified! Since time immemorial power get passed down from generation to generation, and whenever a generation has its turn, it tries to maximal benefit from the power. Sometimes with positive impacts for future generations, sometimes with negative. However, climate change is probably the hugest threat for future generations and the impacts definitely will be negative. The dilemma? Future generations would need this power today, because the foundation for a sustainable future must be laid. But, since they have no voice today, a global and auspicious commitment at the COP21 seems far away. Anyways, one day the change of environmental behaviour will be inevitable and the change will be profitable, in whatever terms. And even if we manage climate change, inequalities between countries and geographical unfairness will remain. The natural resources for non-renewable energy will be depleted, but industrialized countries will have already created a new long-term advantage! The technology and know-how of renewable energy!

In conclusion, COP21 probably won’t be that game-changing as some people expect or hope, but rather a next step along the way. A generation delivers its input. The threat and impact of climate change is increasing, but a change in the required extent perhaps still not beneficial enough for the leaders of the current generation.  When the time has come, a certain future generation will have to take action, namely in form of re-action, as usual. Today three questions are remaining. Which generation pays the bill, which countries suffer the most along the way and who will finally benefit?

 

Christoph Kain



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