4 Worldviews

1. Climate Change & Development

Tadesse Dadi, Ethiopian development worker, debates the issue of climate change, its impact and the challenge of responsibility:

‘Climate change may not yet be a problem for people in Europe, but here in Ethiopia its effects are being felt today by millions of ordinary men and women farmers. Aside from the awful drought currently devastating parts of Somalia, southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya, the impact of climate change is being faced every single year by peasant farmers in different parts of our country.

An 82-year-old farmer in northern Ethiopia, Mr Mengesha, recently told me that 30 years ago his harvest lasted his family for more than two years, but now erratic rains mean his sons barely harvest enough to last them seven months. With the exception of a tiny and fortunate minority who have access to irrigation, most Ethiopian peasant farmers depend on rain to grow traditional varieties of crops. These varieties have adapted over decades to the local climate and soil type. And planting and harvest are fine-tuned to very specific times of year. So when rains arrive late and finish early, poor farmers can expect drastically reduced harvests for their families.

Mrs Suufee, a 62-year-old widow who lives in one of the river valleys in central Ethiopia, had her sorghum crop fail two years out of five. She told me: “In recent years, the rainfall that used to start as early as February does not start until June. And then, when we expect the rains to continue until October, they stop in August.” The seasons have shrunk and there simply is not enough time to grow the crops.

For one of Africa’s poorest countries in which the majority of our 74 million people rely on rain, this spells regular disaster for us. The truth is that climate change has affected people’s ability to grow crops, rear livestock and find water to drink. Even malaria has become more and more life threatening in many places as it spreads to warming regions.

Many of the rural Ethiopians I meet do not directly associate the worst effects of climate change with human activities in richer countries. Yet it is precisely those Western activities which are principally behind the climate change they now experience in their daily lives… In a nutshell, Western lifestyles are the principal cause of climate change; to Western societies falls the responsibility of supporting people like Mrs Suufee and Mr Mengesha as they struggle against its impacts.

I think it is also important that governments and the people of developing nations take our share of responsibility in mitigating the effects of climate change. In Ethiopia deforestation and soil erosion had been allowed to go on at alarming rates for over half a century, if not more… The nation has to wake up to the fact that it is destroying itself by letting its natural vegetation disappear, irrecoverably in some places.

I do not wish to be pessimistic, but it is more realistic to assume that things are more likely to get worse in the future. I would urge people in the UK, Europe and elsewhere to be informed about the issues of climate change, to lobby decision makers in their countries and to mobilise support for NGOs engaged in helping poor countries adjust to climate change.

They can also make changes in lifestyle that reduce wastage and promote the conservation of resources… the media in Britain and other Western countries can help prevent further disaster by alerting the world to the climate crisis facing countries like Ethiopia, and by urging their governments and peoples to accept that their lifestyles are responsible for the crisis.

Supporting poor farmers to adjust to the worst effects of climate change will minimise the human tragedies that have haunted much of Africa during the last three to four decades. Although charity is a good thing and has indeed saved millions of lives, supporting people to stand on their own feet is a more dignified way of reaching out to people before it is too late.

Source: BBC Thursday, 27 April 2006

2. Resource Consumption & Development

Geographer Jared Diamond, New York Times January 2nd, 2008 (summary)

What’s Your Consumption Factor?

The number 32 is important because it measures the difference in lifestyles between the First World and the Developing World; the average rates at which people consume resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australia than they are in the developing world. This has big consequences.

Today, there are more than 6.5 billion people, and that number may grow to around 9 billion – this matters because people consume and produce and what matters is total world consumption (all ‘local’ consumptions added up) which is the product of local population times the local per capita consumption rate.

The estimated one billion people who live in developed countries have a relative per capita consumption rate of 32. Most of the world’s other 5.5 billion people constitute the Developing World, with relative per capita consumption rates well below 32, mostly down toward 1.

Despite the fact that population numbers in the Developing World are growing, this is not a burden on the whole world as Kenyans, for example, consume so little.

The real problem for the world is that the 300 million Americans consume as much as 32 Kenyans. With 10 times the population, the United States consumes 320 times more resources than Kenya does.

This difference produces frustration and anger in the Third World and even, terrorist attacks – there will be more of these as long as that factorial difference of 32 in consumption rates persists.

Tens of millions of people in the Developing World seek the First-World lifestyle by emigrating; each such movement raises world consumption rates, even if not immediately.

Today, China stands out; it has the world’s fastest growing economy, and there are 1.3 billion Chinese, four times the US population. The world is already running out of resources, and it will do so even sooner if China achieves American-level consumption rates although per capita rates in China are still about 11 times below the US and, if China seeks to achieve US rates (even with its current population) this would roughly double world consumption rates. Oil consumption would increase by 106% and world metal consumption by 94%.

If India were to catch up, world consumption rates would triple and if the rest of the Third World were to catch up, world rates would increase eleven-fold. It would be as if the world population ballooned to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).

The promise that the world could support such rates of consumption is a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people. To tell the world’s poorer countries and populations not to try to catch up would be futile. What is needed is to make consumption rates and living standards more equal around the world.

Are we heading for disaster?

No. We could have a stable outcome if we recognise that we will soon have to lower consumption rates, because present rates are unsustainable. Much of our consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to our quality of life (gasoline is an example). Other examples include the world’s fisheries and forests which are still operated non-sustainably even though we know how to sustainably manage them. It is certain that within our lifetimes we’ll be consuming less than we do now and it is also certain that per capita consumption rates in many Developing Countries will be more equal to ours.

In recent years, concern about climate change has increased greatly in the US and elsewhere and even in China.

‘Hence I am cautiously optimistic. The world has serious consumption problems, but we can solve them if we choose to do so.’

Geographer Jared Diamond, New York Times January 2nd, 2008 (summary)

3. Life, Dignity & Development

Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Prize Laureate, Beijing, August 31st, 1995 (extracts)

‘…For millennia women have dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the task of nurturing, protecting and caring for the young and the old, striving for the conditions of peace that favour life as a whole… Now that we are gaining control of the primary historical role imposed on us of sustaining life in the context of the home and family, it is time to apply in the arena of the world the wisdom and experience thus gained in activities of peace over so many thousands or years. The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.

If to these universal benefits of the growing emancipation of women can be added the ‘peace dividend’ for human development offered by the end of the Cold War, spending less on the war toys of grown men and much more on the urgent needs of humanity as a whole, then truly the next millennia will be an age the like to which has never been seen in human history. But there still remain many obstacles to be overcome before we can achieve this goal. And not least among these obstacles are intolerance and insecurity.

This year is the International Year for Tolerance. The United Nations has recognised that ‘tolerance, human rights, democracy and peace are closely related. Without tolerance, the foundations for democracy and respect for human rights cannot be strengthened, and the achievements of peace will remain elusive’. My own experience during the years I have been engaged in the democracy movement in Burma has convinced me of the need to emphasize the positive aspects of tolerance. It is not enough simply to ‘live and let live’: genuine tolerance requires an active effort to try to understand the point of view of others ; it implies broad-mindedness and vision, as well as confidence in one’s own ability to meet new challenges without resorting to intransigence or violence. In societies where men are truly confident of their own worth women are not merely ‘tolerated’, they are valued…

…Often the other side of the coin of intolerance is insecurity. Insecure people tend to be intolerant, and their intolerance unleashes forces that threaten the security of others. And where there is no security there can be no lasting peace. In its Human Development Report for last year, the UNDP noted that human security ‘is not a concern with weapons – it is a concern with human life and dignity’. The struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma is a struggle for life and dignity. It is a struggle that encompasses our political, social and economic aspirations. The people of my country want the two freedoms that spell security: freedom from want and freedom from war. It is want that has driven so many of our young girls across our borders to a life of sexual slavery where they are subject to constant humiliation and ill-treatment. It is fear of persecution for their political beliefs that has made so many of our people feel that even in their own homes they cannot live in dignity and security.

…There is an age old prejudice the world over to the effect that women talk too much. But is this really a weakness? Could it not in fact be a strength? Recent scientific research on the human brain has revealed that women are better at verbal skills while men tend towards physical action. Psychological research has shown on the other hand that disinformation engendered by men has far more damaging effect on its victims than feminine gossip. Surely these discoveries indicate that women have a most valuable contribution to make in situations of conflict, by leading the way to solutions based on dialogue rather than on viciousness or violence?…

…The last six years (of house arrest for her opposition to Burma’s military dictatorship) afforded me much time and food for thought. I came to the conclusion that the human race is not divided into two opposing camps of good and evil. It is made up of those who are capable of learning and those who are incapable of doing so. Here I am not talking of learning in the narrow sense of acquiring an academic education, but of learning as the process of absorbing those lessons of life that enable us to increase peace and happiness in our world. Women in their roles as mothers have traditionally assumed the responsibility of teaching children values that will guide them throughout their lives. It is time we were given the full opportunity to use our natural teaching skills to contribute towards building a modern world that can withstand the tremendous challenges of the technological revolution which has in turn brought revolutionary changes in social values.

As we strive to teach others we must have the humility to acknowledge that we too still have much to learn. And we must have the flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of the world around us. Women who have been taught that modesty and pliancy are among the prized virtues of our gender are marvellously equipped for the learning process. But they must be given the opportunity to turn these often merely passive virtues into positive assets for the society in which they live.

These, then, are our common hopes that unite us – that as the shackles of prejudice and intolerance fall from our own limbs we can together strive to identify and remove the impediments to human development everywhere….

Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Prize Laureate, Beijing, August 31st, 1995 (extracts)

4. Women’s Rights & Development: The New South Sudan

After decades of civil war that claimed the lives of up to 2 million people, South Sudan became an independent country as 98% of its people voted in a referendum on the 9th of July 2011. One year on, the women of South Sudan say that independence has not resulted in the positive political, economic and social changes that they had hoped for and that the new government has done little to improve their lives, particularly in the area of maternal health.

South Sudan maternal mortality rates remains the worst in the world – out of 100,000 live births, 2,054 women die – that’s a horrifying one in seven chance of dying during or after giving birth. Only 48% of Sudanese women access medical facilities during their pregnancy, just 13% deliver in a hospital and only 10% of births are attended to by skilled birth attendants. For every midwife, there are 30,000 women.

‘Women are still dying while giving birth. They are still not accessing maternal health services. A woman is not supposed to die because she is giving birth to a new life, a new baby. This is not acceptable…A mother should not have to travel all the way from Gondokoro to Juba to deliver a baby because there is no hospital in her home city,’ says James Elia, executive director of local women’s rights agency, Voice for Change.

The 2012 National Baseline Household Survey reveals that 37% of the poorest households in South Sudan have to travel for more than an hour to reach their nearest health facility. Many live great distances that any medical care is impossible. Because of the great distances that women often travel to seek medical care, some women die en route. Most often, the few available health-facilities lack supplies and adequately skilled staff to assist the women. This is reflected in 26-year old mother of five children, Grace Joan, who comments:

‘When my time is due, I just call my neighbour who helps me to deliver my children. But I am happy that we have our freedom, which will enable the government to provide health facilities to all people so that women and children do not die of preventable diseases.’

Grace has not accessed any medical facility in delivering her 5 children and has been fortunate not to have experienced any difficulties. Others have not been so lucky. Jessicah Foni 36 year old mother of 8 says that:

‘I come from a very remote village that is far away from any medical facility. I have lost two children due to problems related to delivery. Our new government should build hospitals close to us so that we can access medication’.

With the goal of improving the living standards of the South Sudanese, the new constitution sets the minimum age for marrying at 18, and that women (or men) should not be married against their will. This is particularly important in a country that continues to observe traditional law.

According to Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who recently visited the new country: domestic violence, rape, forced marriage and ‘an extreme lack of rights’ for women, remain common. In some cases young girls, some as young as 14, are beaten to death by their male relatives if they refuse a forced marriage. In Unity state for example (also known as the Greater Upper Nile region), nearly a quarter of girls are married by the age of 15 and nearly two thirds are married by 18. Handing over female members of the family, even girls as young as nine, for compensation in feuds is not uncommon.

Source: Inter Press Service www.ipsnews.net