By Kunda Dixit*
TOKYO, Oct 13 – Civil society activists are not surprised that there has been a reversal in some countries in progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), because they say it was based on flawed premises to begin with.
Many poor countries are facing a challenge in meeting the goals on poverty, nutrition, health and education because of falling incomes due to inflation, the global recession and climate change. All three causes are linked to neo-liberal values and marketisation that have driven growth and globalisation, they say.
The roots of the crisis are all interlinked: Unsustainable growth based on petro-based economies led to global warming, which resulted in the increased frequency of droughts. This reduced food production, so countries tried to reduce their carbon footprints by turning to bio-fuels which in turn put additional inflationary pressure, and volatility in food prices hit vulnerable populations in poor countries hardest. This meant parents send their children to work in the fields instead of sending them to school. Which, in turn, resulted in countries regressing in efforts to meet their primary-school enrollment MDG targets.
Speakers at a seminar on ‘From MDG1 to Inclusive Economy’, organised at the sidelines of the World Bank-IMF meeting in Tokyo this week, felt that international development organisations have finally seen that the growth models they were pushing were not sustainable, but still don’t dare to make a paradigm shift.
China has often been cited as a country that has been the most successful in world history in reducing poverty. In fact, China has already met most of its MDG targets, including over-achieving the goal to reduce extreme poverty by slashing it from 85 million to 35 million between 2000 to 2009.
While admitting that progress has been made, activists say, the Chinese model masks a widening gap between the rich and poor, huge out-migration from rural areas, a big problem with water and air pollution, glacier retreat in Tibet because of the impact of China’s growth on the global climate. China’s e-waste is exported around the world, and its demand for wildlife products has decimated national parks and oceans. Arable land is decreasing, and the use of chemical fertilisers has destroyed existing farms.
Lau Kin Chi is a professor at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, and the author of books, including ‘China Reflected’. She said: “China may have reduced poverty, but its development model has increased inequality and exacerbated environmental problems.”
“Inclusive growth” is a term being used in World Bank-IMF documents, and activists fear it will become a buzzword like “green growth”. The jargon doesn’t mean anything until economic justice, sustainability and the environment are taken into account.
“China’s growth model produces poverty. We need to redefine what we mean by growth and progress,” Ki Chi said.
To be sure, at a stock-taking of the MDG targets at a Saturday panel discussion, the World Bank’s new president Jim Yong Kim said that a post-2015 goal had to take into account inclusive and equitable development.
India and China took different roads to spur economic growth, and they are also taking different paths to poverty eradication. While China has increased outlays for social welfare, environmental cleanup and promoting green technology, it still faces huge social problems with managing the expectations of its disenfranchised.
The Indian government has been even slower in addressing equitable growth, and today is numerically the world’s poorest country. There are 2 million NGOs in India and they were all doing piecemeal work, but lately they have taken a collective rights-based approach to work with parliament to legislate the right to health, education, jobs.
The most successful example of this is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) which, since it went into effect in 2006, has improved the purchasing power of rural people, a third of them women. It has cut down on rural-urban migration by creating jobs in conservation, water supply, forestry all over the vast country and benefited 80 million households.
“India has shown that social movements can force a national parliament to act to look at poverty reduction holistically,” explained Vinod Raina, of the All India People’s Science Network. Combined with right to health and education, it provides income, decreases inequality and people can keeping living in their own areas keeping their ties to the land. Such holistic programmes will have far-reaching impact on India meeting MDG targets.
Japanese civil society activist Masaaki Ohashi of the Japan NGO Centre for International Cooperation (JANIC) summed it all up: “In the 1970s, the Rome Report showed us the limits to growth. We are now seeing it happen all over the planet through climate change, and proof that poverty comes from excess.”
*Dateline Earth is a column written by Kunda Dixit, editor and publisher of ‘The Nepali Times’, during this TerraViva edition.