Archive for October 2011
Our record population size can be viewed in many ways as a success for humanity. But not everyone has benefited from this achievement or the higher quality of life that this implies. Great disparities exist between and within countries. Disparities in rights and opportunities also exist between men and women, girls and boys. Charting a path now to development that promotes equality, rather than exacerbates or reinforces inequalities, is more important than ever.
The Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in its World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision (published in May 2011), foresees a global population of 9.3 billion people in 2050, and more than 10 billion by the end of this century. Much of this increase is expected to come from high-fertility countries, which comprise 39 in Africa, nine in Asia, six in Oceania and four in Latin America.
Asia will remain the most populous major area in the world in the 21st century, but Africa will gain ground as its population more than triples, increasing from 1 billion in 2011 to 3.6 billion in 2100. In 2011, 60 per cent of the world population lives in Asia and 15 per cent in Africa. But Africa’s population is growing about 2.3 per cent a year, a rate more than double that of Asia (1 per cent). Asia’s population, which is currently 4.2 billion, is expected to peak around the middle of the century (5.2 billion in 2052) and to start a slow decline thereafter.
The populations of all other major areas combined (the Americas, Europe and Oceania) amount to 1.7 billion in 2011 and are projected to rise to nearly 2 billion by 2060 and then decline very slowly, remaining still near 2 billion by the turn of the century. Among the regions, the population of Europe is projected to peak around 2025 at 0.74 billion and decline thereafter.
This report makes the case that with planning and the right investments in people now—to empower them to make choices that are not only good for themselves but for our global commons—our world of 7 billion and beyond can have thriving, sustainable cities, productive labour forces that can fuel economic growth, youth populations that contribute to the well-being of economies and societies, and a generation of older people who are healthy and actively engaged in the social and economic affairs of their communities.
In many parts of the developing world, where population growth is outpacing economic growth, the unmet need for reproductive health care, especially voluntary family planning, remains great. The attainment of a stable population is a sine qua non for accelerated economic growth and development. Governments that are serious about eradicating poverty should also be serious about providing the services, supplies, information that women, men and young people need to exercise their reproductive rights.
Kanak Dixit of Kathmandu will embark on a fundraising drive across South Asia – from Kathmandu to Lucknow to Delhi to Amritsar to Lahore to Rawalpindi to Peshawar, to raise funds for spinal injury centres in all three countries at the rate of USD 100 per mile for a journey of 1,100 miles (EUR 45 per kilometre, GBP 62 per mile, INR 3,089/km) or 1,760 kilometres.
Here’s what his campaign flyer says:
The Journey: Our 1973 model VW Beetle will start its journey from Kathmandu Valley on 4 of November 2011. Coming down to the plains, it will enter Uttar Pradesh and reach Lucknow. Westward to Delhi, it will arrive at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC). Travelling along the Grand Trunk Road, it will pass Amritsar and the Wagah-Atari border to Lahore and its Mayo Hospital. We will then take the M-1 motorway to Rawalpindi / Islamabad, and end our journey at the Paraplegic Centre in Hayatabad Peshawar on 16 November 2011.
Why the Adventure: The sudden rise of the number of patients over the last year has forced us to raise our service from 39 beds to 51. This has led to an unexpected financial crunch. The rally will help meet the challenge of growth even as we make plans for sustainability.
One More Reason: The Spinal Beetle Rally is also an effort to raise awareness of spinal injury prevention, rescue, care and rehabilitation in the Subcontinent. In this effort, the Spinal Centre is assisted by ISIC-Delhi and the Paraplegic Centre-Peshawar.
The Rallyists: The Spinal Beetle will be driven by journalist and civil rights activist Kanak Mani Dixit, Founder Chairman of the Spinal Centre Nepal. He will be accompanied by Shanta Dixit, board member and educationist. It was Kanak’s trekking accident a decade ago, resulting in a broken spine, which led to the establishment of the Spinal Centre.
Done it Before, Twice: Kanak has driven the Spinal Beetle Kathmandu-Dhaka, in 2002 and 2005, to generous response.
Support and Sponsorship: The Indian Spinal Injuries Centre in Delhi is 540 miles from Kathmandu. The final destination, the Paraplegic Centre in Peshawar is 1100 miles away. Supporters are asked to sponsor the drive at the rate of USD 100 per mile, or any fraction or multiple of that amount. Payment details are given below. If you find the payment procedure cumbersome, please just pledge and we will revert.
About the Spinal Centre Nepal: Inaugurated by Sir Edmund Hillary [the mountaineer, think ‘Everest’] on April 2002, the Spinal Centre will be ten years old in 2012. Originally catering to patients from traditional accidents such as fall from trees and cliff-sides, spinal injury victims of ‘modern-day accidents’ related to construction, rock mining and traffic events are more and more filling our wards. We offer physiotherapy, occupational therapy, nursing, medical care, counselling and home rehabilitation. We are also involved in prevention. The Spinal Centre is run by the non-profit Spinal Injury Sangha Nepal.
Three ways to support the Spinal Beetle Rally:
1. Donate online on our webpage www.sirc.org.np : through our project partner Livability Ireland at the Biggive – free of charge!
2. Contact us: (if you want to hand over the money personally) kanakd@himalmag@.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Transfer money to our account: Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre, Current Account No. 00501030250429 – Nepal Investment Bank Ltd., Banepa Branch, Kavre, Nepal (Swift Code: NIBL NPKT)
More information: Contact Ms Esha Thapa, Director, Spinal Centre Nepal | Tel: +977 11 660847/48 | email@example.com | firstname.lastname@example.org
The World Development Movement has been bringing to public attention, and to policymakers in Britain, the effects of financial market speculation in food. Recently, a WDM campaign group circulated a letter amongst economists in all countries addressed to the finance ministers of the countries that make up the G20. They met in Paris, France, on 15 October.
I am honoured to be amongst the 450 who have signed the statement. Those who have lent their names to the statement are amongst a group of economists, social scientists, academics and activists who are witnessing – every day no matter where they live – the impacts of relentless food inflation on the lives of poor households whether urban or rural. This statement is one way to remind the G20 powers of their social responsibilities.
Here follows the text of the letter, which is available on the original site here:
11 October 2011
Dear G20 Finance Ministers,
We write to you ahead of the October meeting of the G20 Finance Ministers to urge you to commit with your counterparts to take effective action to curb excessive speculation on food commodities. Excessive financial speculation is contributing to increasing volatility and record high food prices, exacerbating global hunger and poverty.
While there are many pressures on food prices, fundamental changes in supply and demand cannot fully account for the dramatic price fluctuations that have occurred in recent years.
In June, a report for the G20 by international organisations including the IMF and the OECD noted that “too much speculation can cause frequent and erratic price changes” in futures markets.
Evidence suggests that financial speculators are less likely to make trading decisions based on information regarding supply and demand and are more prone to herding behaviours than commercial traders. Excessive speculation undermines the price discovery function of futures markets, driving real prices away from levels determined by supply and demand.
The High Level Panel of Experts on food security for the Committee on World Food Security at the FAO reported in July that “tighter regulation of speculation is necessary.” The panel suggested that “Increasing transparency, by requiring exchange trading and clearing of most agricultural commodity contracts, and setting lower limits for noncommercial actors could be the first set of measures taken by the countries that house major commodity exchanges.”
Increasing market transparency is vital, but will not go far enough to tackle excessive financial speculation. We therefore urge you to support the establishment of position limits to cap the proportion of agricultural commodity derivatives markets that can be held by financial speculators.
Limits could be set at a level that would maintain sufficient liquidity in the markets while preventing an excessive concentration of purely financial actors. The US has already passed legislation including provisions to introduce such limits and the G20 should act to prevent regulatory arbitrage between exchanges.
Position limits would be more effective in tackling excessive speculation than position management powers, which rely on the use of judgement by exchanges and provide little assurance that powers will be exercised effectively. Clear limits would provide regulatory certainty, promoting stable and sustainable derivatives markets to the benefit of food producers, consumers and broader economic stability.
With around 1 billion people enduring chronic hunger worldwide, action is urgently needed to curb excessive speculation and its effects on global food prices.
This is worth a close read for it reflects, in my view, the pull and tug of various opinions and convictions inside the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the single entity that we rely on the most to inform us about the state of cultivators, what they’re growing in our world, and who isn’t getting enough of those crops as food.
I have extracted some important paragraphs of this publication [get it here as a pdf], and commented on them. Here goes:
“At the level of individuals, people living on less than US$1.25 a day may need to skip a meal when food prices rise. Farmers are hurt too because they badly need to know the price their crops are going to fetch at harvest time, months away. If high prices are likely they plant more. If low prices are forecast they plant less and cut costs.”
Yes and no. The one-dollar-a-day global poverty line really ought to be done away with. It means nothing at national level and less within countries. Trying to equate real prices and actual consumption (in grams or hundred grams a day) with purchasing power parity-adjusted international dollars is generally a pointless exercise that generates lists and rankings that distract rather than inform. Anyway, the important part of what FAO said here is that when they’re under a certain daily income line, people can’t buy food to eat what they need to. The comment on farmers making decisions based on expected prices is a good one, something that most people miss, assuming that farmers are as interested in food security as academics are – which is quite untrue. For a farming household, sowing a field is a cost, and that cost needs to be more than recouped in order to make the decision to sow a good one.
“Rapid price swings make that calculation much more difficult. Farmers can easily end up producing too much or too little. In stable markets they can make a living. Volatile ones can ruin them while also generally discouraging much-needed investment in agriculture. Recognizing the major threat that food price swings pose to the world’s poorest countries and people, the international community, led by the G20, moved in 2011 to find ways of managing volatility on international food commodity markets. Under the presidency of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, the world’s 20 largest economies agreed that any strategy directed to that purpose should have the protection of vulnerable countries and groups as its main priority.”
Now here’s the FAO getting to grips with today’s problem. Rapid price swings is what we tend to call volatility – this can be volatility in retail food prices, or in input prices for farmers, or in offtake (purchase at the farm gate or local market) prices of harvested crops. I don’t see any stable markets the FAO is referring to here. Under Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) the stability is constructed by coordinating a monstrous array of incentives and subventions – causing instability elsewhere in the world and particularly when that ‘elsewhere’ is importing (under duress) European agri products and processed food. But that’s another though related story.
The idea of “much-needed investment in agriculture” is an ill-defined one. The best investment a farmer can make, so goes an old Indian proverb, is that she walks the soil of her field every day with her bare feet – and that means for the farmer to till her land and come face to face with her natural resources and biodiversity. It is not the sort of investment the ‘market’ can understand. But FAO ought to, especially since it also has a Save And Grow programme aimed at addressing the organic, low input, community side of cultivation. This is an example of the contradictions in this FAO document. The “international community” is a tired and non-existent label, describing nothing while pretending to be collegial. Mediocre editorial writers still use it but no realists do. The G20 statement this time around may be a little less wishy-washy than it was last year, but that is scant comfort to the hungry or to the cultivators of small plots.
“Today’s turbulent commodities markets contrast sharply with the situation that characterized the last 25 years of the twentieth century. Between 1975 and 2000 cereal prices remained substantially stable on a month-to-month basis, although trending downwards over the longer term. For despite rapid population growth – world population doubled between 1960 and 2000 – the Green Revolution launched by Dr Norman Borlaug in the 1960s helped food supply to meet and even exceed demand in many countries, including India, thanks to the work of M. S. Swaminathan, then Director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.”
Oh dear. This is one step forward and three back for the FAO. It should not – not – go looking at Green Revolution history in an attempt to encourage beleaguered small farmers and consumers battered by food price inflation. Yes, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and CIMMYT (the CGIAR International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre) will establish the Borlaug Institute for South Asia in India. This institute will be at the forefront of the so-called Second Green Revolution in eastern India (and thereafter sub-Saharan and East Africa). The kind of infrastructure demanded by the first Green Revolution by way of irrigation canals, dams with extensive command areas, provision of rural electricity to run pumpsets with, heavily subsidised inorganic fertilisers produced by a monolithic industry closely allied to the petro-chemicals industry and fossil fuel suppliers – all these were overlooked in the rush to raise yield per hectare. We do not want to see that being attempted again with public monies. It is this investment – rather this big fat public money pipe – which kept cereal prices “substantially stable on a month-to-month basis” in what used to be called the First World. It is not possible there now, it is not possible here (Asia and Africa) now. And that’s what FAO should have said, clearly and bluntly.
“In fact there was, in the Western Hemisphere at least, an over-abundance of food, caused in no small part by the generous subsidies which OECD countries paid to their farmers. But the picture today is a very different one. The global market is tight, with supply struggling to keep pace with demand and stocks are at or near historical lows. It is a delicate balance that can easily be upset by shocks such as droughts or floods in key producing regions.”
So it does try to say this, in a push-me-pull-you sort of way, but the truth is there is no delicate balance. Markets do not tolerate delicate balances because investors have no time for such niceties.
“In order to decide how, and how far, we can manage volatile food prices we need to be clear about why, in the space of a few years, a world food market offering stability and low prices became a turbulent marketplace battered by sudden price spikes and troughs.”
“The seeds of today’s volatility were sown last century when decision-makers failed to grasp that the production boom then enjoyed by many countries might not last forever and that continuing investment was needed in research, technology, equipment and infrastructure. In the 30 years from 1980 to date the share of official development assistance which OECD countries earmarked for agriculture dropped 43 percent. Continued under-funding of agriculture by rich and poor countries alike is probably the main single cause of the problems we face today.”
Why does the FAO continue stubbornly to see “investment” as an output of only, and exclusively, national agricultural research systems that are in the vast majority of countries government departments with little real connection to growers and household consumers, or are adjuncts of industrial agriculture multinationals? The seeds of volatility (FAO’s pun, not mine) were planted when commodity exchanges invented commodity futures in collusion with banks and investment consulting companies – production booms were not, in the ecological economics framework of measuring things, booms of any kind, nor were they seen in many countries other than the subvention-drunk OECD of the 1970s and 1980s. In this para, FAO has blundered clumsily by now apportioining some blame to “continued under-funding” while having already mentioned the “generous subsidies” years in the West.
“Contributing to today’s tight markets is rapid economic growth in emerging economies, which means more people are eating more meat and dairy produce with the need for feedgrains increasing rapidly as a result. Global trade in soymeal, the world’s leading protein feed for animals, has grown 67 percent over the past 10 years.”
Hear, hear. Type 2 diabetes and the burden of non-communicable diseases (see the WHO’s recent campaign) have also increased dramatically as a result of the wanton carpet-bombing of “emerging economies” (another revolting label) by the food-agbiotech-retail MNCs.
“Population growth, with almost 80 million new mouths to feed every year, is another important element. Population pressure is compounded by the erratic and often extreme meteorological phenomena produced by global warming and climate change. A further contributing factor may be the recent entry of institutional investors with very large sums of money into food commodity futures markets. There is evidence to suggest that food prices may have surged partly as a result of speculation. But there is considerable debate over the issue.”
Yes and no. FAO is right about the impact of population growth, about climate change (it has an enormous amount of documentation on the subject), about institutional investors and how they distort prices and about food speculation and its effects on street prices. There is plenty of evidence. There is not “considerable debate”, unless the FAO thinks that the angry bleatings of bankers to the contrary is some sort of debate. If so, it should consult its fellow UN agency, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which this year released a study titled ‘Price Formation in Financialized Commodity Markets: The Role of Information’. The UNCTAD experts who wrote this paper concluded that the commodities market isn’t functioning properly, or at least not the way a market is supposed to function in economic models, where prices are shaped by supply and demand. But the activities of financial participants, according to the study, “drive commodity prices away from levels justified by market fundamentals”. This leads to massively distorted prices, which are not influenced by real factors but by the expectation that economic developments will improve or worsen.
“Lastly, distortive agricultural and protectionist trade policies bear a significant part of the blame. In addition, with agriculture now substantially part of the wider energy market, any shock to the latter – such as unrest in a producing country – can have immediate repercussions on food prices. Responding to food price volatility therefore involves two different kinds of measures. The first group addresses volatility itself, aiming to reduce price swings through specific interventions while the other seeks to mitigate the negative effects of price swings on countries and individuals. One measure frequently invoked under the first heading is the setting up of an internationally held food stock able to intervene on markets to stabilize prices. But FAO’s view is that such a stock would be of dubious value, as well as expensive and difficult to operate. Also, government intervention in food markets discourages the private sector and hinders competition.”
Again the FAO push-me-pull-you is at work here, but the premier food agency has made some important points. The connection between agriculture and energy is one – and that means biofuels, which has a para to itself in the FAO document. Conflict is also brought in as a factor affecting prices – in how many food-producing and exporting countries is there now war or armed conflict? The idea of ‘strategic food reserves’ – which countries in South-east Asia and in the Persian Gulf region are pursuing – has been given short shrift, rightly in my view. But once again the FAO makes a tired attempt to placate the pro-WTO groups by bemoaning protectionist trade policies – which in WTO-speak means no barriers to entry for OECD food products anywhere so that all that accumulated legacy subsidy can pay back a little. Not acceptable, FAO folks. And to round off the contradictory para, the FAO statement again criticises “government intervention” as hindering competition. Governments have to serve their citizens according to constitutions and charters – these are internal matters and this is where sovereignty and self-determination come before market. Better believe it FAO. At least, for now.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have released ‘The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011’ (SOFI).
This year’s report focuses on high and volatile food prices, identified as major contributing factors in food insecurity at global level and a source of grave concern to the international community. “Demand from consumers in rapidly growing economies will increase, the population continues to grow, and further growth in biofuels will place additional demands on the food system,” the report said.
Moreover, food price volatility may increase over the next decade due to stronger linkages between agricultural and energy markets and more frequent extreme weather events.
Price volatility makes both smallholder farmers and poor consumers increasingly vulnerable to poverty while short-term price changes can have long-term impacts on development, the report found. Changes in income due to price swings that lead to decreased food consumption can reduce children’s intake of key nutrients during the first 1000 days of life from conception, leading to a permanent reduction of their future earning capacity and an increased likelihood of future poverty, with negative impacts on entire economies.
Small import-dependent countries, especially in Africa, were deeply affected by the food and economic crises. Some large countries were able to insulate themselves from the crisis through restrictive trade policies and functioning safety nets, but trade restrictions increased prices and volatility on international markets.
High and volatile food prices are likely to continue. Demand from consumers in rapidly growing economies will increase, population will continue to grow, and further growth in biofuels will place additional demands on the food system. On the supply side, there are challenges due to increasingly scarce natural resources in some regions, as well as declining rates of yield growth for some commodities. Food price volatility may increase due to stronger linkages between agricultural and energy markets, as well as an increased frequency of weather shocks.
Price volatility makes both smallholder farmers and poor consumers increasingly vulnerable to poverty. Because food represents a large share of farmer income and the budget of poor consumers, large price changes have large effects on real incomes. Thus, even short episodes of high prices for consumers or low prices for farmers can cause productive assets – land and livestock, for example – to be sold at low prices, leading to potential poverty traps. In addition, smallholder farmers are less likely to invest in measures to raise productivity when price changes are unpredictable.
Large short-term price changes can have long-term impacts on development. Changes in income due to price swings can reduce children’s consumption of key nutrients during the first 1,000 days of life from conception, leading to a permanent reduction of their future earning capacity, increasing the likelihood of future poverty and thus slowing the economic development process.
High food prices worsen food insecurity in the short term. The benefits go primarily to farmers with access to sufficient land and other resources, while the poorest of the poor buy more food than they produce. In addition to harming the urban poor, high food prices also hurt many of the rural poor, who are typically net food buyers. The diversity of impacts within countries also points to a need for improved data and policy analysis.
High food prices present incentives for increased long-term investment in the agriculture sector, which can contribute to improved food security in the longer term. Domestic food prices increased substantially in most countries during the 2006–08 world food crisis at both retail and farmgate levels. Despite higher fertilizer prices, this led to a strong supply response in many countries. It is essential to build upon this short-term supply response with increased investment in agriculture, including initiatives that target smallholder farmers and help them to access markets, such as Purchase for Progress (P4P).
Safety nets are crucial for alleviating food insecurity in the short term, as well as for providing a foundation for long-term development. In order to be effective at reducing the negative consequences of price volatility, targeted safety-net mechanisms must be designed in advance and in consultation with the most vulnerable people.
A food-security strategy that relies on a combination of increased productivity in agriculture, greater policy predictability and general openness to trade will be more effective than other strategies. Restrictive trade policies can protect domestic prices from world market volatility, but these policies can also result in increased domestic price volatility as a result of domestic supply shocks, especially if government policies are unpredictable and erratic. Government policies that are more predictable and that promote participation by the private sector in trade will generally decrease price volatility.
Investment in agriculture remains critical to sustainable long-term food security. For example, cost-effective irrigation and improved practices and seeds developed through agricultural research can reduce the production risks facing farmers, especially smallholders, and reduce price volatility. Private investment will form the bulk of the needed investment, but public investment has a catalytic role to play in supplying public goods that the private sector will not provide. These investments should consider the rights of existing users of land and related natural resources.
The Occupy Wall St movement is spreading quickly across the USA. Mother Jones magazine has put together an interactive map on where the protests are spreading to, and at last count there were over 60 locations!
The ‘Occupy’ demonstrations are the blowback – long overdue – of the foreign-plus-financial policy of a great power which has for long dampened criticsm and fair a representative politics at home.
The ‘Occupy’ demonstrations express a broader public understanding that the basic source of the crisis facing millions of people lies in the social interests of the sprawling and powerful global financial system – of which Wall St is one symbol; a powerful symbol but nevertheless one amongst many similar symbols.
Dogged by debt and haunted by ever newer forms of deprivation, the American protesters have ‘taken’ Wall St to call and end to the reign of the giant banks that dominate the US and world economy. Their politics is determined not by the popular will, but by the interests of a cunning financial aristocracy ruthlessly absorbed with defending its wealth by impoverishing the majority of their fellow citizens.
The answer – Occupy Everywhere!
Mother Jones has provided a very useful timeline of the Occupy Wall Street movement:
- July 13: The Canadian magazine Adbusters makes a call to Occupy Wall Street.
- August 30: The hacktivist collective known as Anonymous releases a video answering the call and encouraging others to follow suit.
- September 17: Nearly 1,000 gather to protest corporate greed and begin occupying the financial district in New York City.
- September 19: Roseanne Barr is the first celebrity to lend support to the so-called NYC General Assembly.
- September 20: The NYPD starts arresting protestors for wearing masks, citing an arcane law that prohibits masked gatherings of two or more people with an exception: “a masquerade party or like entertainment.” The police soon become more forceful.
- September 22: Demonstrators interrupt a Sotheby’s Auction, “in a show of solidarity with the art handler’s union that had been locked out.” This is the first instance of labor unions and the movement locking step.
- September 24: 80 protestors are arrested during a peaceful march; a video of a police officer pepper-spraying a nonthreatening woman goes viral.
- September 26: Anonymous allegedly leaks the name and details of the police officer who wielded the pepper spray.
- September 27: The Occupy Wall Street campaign comes out in support of postal workers who are protesting their reduced five-day work week.
- September 28: Transport Workers Union votes to support Occupy Wall Street; over 700 Continental and United Airline pilots demonstrate in front of Wall Street.
- September 30: More than 1,000 demonstrators march on NYPD headquarters, protesting the police response against the demonstrators.
- October 1: Over 700 demonstrators are arrested for marching across the Brooklyn Bridge and blocking traffic.
- October 5: Major labor unions endorse the movement and join in a march on New York’s financial district. According to ABC News, as many as 15,000 participate in the march.
The New York Observer has 50 portraits of people who have been in on the action in New York City. The Nation‘s Greg Mitchell is blogging “Occupy USA” developments daily. The Guardian is also producing ongoing coverage.
- Live footage of Zuccotti Park can be found at the protest epicenter’s viral webstream, Global Revolution.
- The #occupywallstreet hashtag (as well as #ows and #occupywallst) has been the main engine on Twitter.
- OccupyTogether.org supplies a range of DIY downloadable posters.
- There is an Occupy Wall Street social app called The Vibe, which allows demonstrators to communicate anonymously.
- An Occupy Wall Street publication was launched on Kickstarter, originally asking for $12,000 in seed money to get the publication rolling. The project surpassed its funding goal and has now raised over $40,000.
- A Tumblr account, We Are the 99%, allows users to post personal anecdotes and stories about why they consider themselves part of the economically disaffected majority.
The mantra of urbanisation has been at the forefront of the exploitative and socially destructive economics of the last 20 years.
In recent years it has been chanted loudest by the global consulting firms – the same ones which audit the books of the banks that collapse, taking small savers’ money with them, and the books of the Wall Street firms, which destroy jobs and abet the plunder of resources the world over.
Why are they saying this? Let’s look at what one of these firms, McKinsey, has been saying about urbanisation (this firm has concentrated heavily on pushing urban finance, and is lobbying hard with Asian governments to do as it recommends).
“Asia’s growing economic power manifests itself in many ways,” McKinsey has said. “Back in 2007, for example, only 8 of the top 50 urban areas (by GDP) were located there. Half of global GDP came from the developed world’s top 380 cities, with 20-plus percent from just 190 North American ones.”
Over the next 15 years, McKinsey has said, the urban centre of gravity will move south and east. In the geography of globalisation, South means South Asia and India, East means China.
By 2025, this forecast posits that Asia will have upward of 20 of the top 50 cities, and Shanghai and Beijing will have GDPs higher than those of Los Angeles and London, according to this city-obsessed firm.
Why are they saying this? Pushing urbanisation means getting into one administrative unit more workers and more consumers at once. It means markets for goods and services (think finance, insurance, health, education) that are easier to reach and easier to shoehorn into uniform regulations.
It also means creating nuclei for rural migrants, who will be gradually but inexorably pushed out of their villages as the costs and burdens of smallholder farming become more unbearable, and as the levels of rural food and fuel inflation become more unendurable.
The success of the urbanisation that McKinsey and its peers and the collaborators in government want depends on the steady depopulating of the rural districts of our countries, the abandoning of land that will then be taken over by corporate and industrial agriculture which will then supply crop monocultures to the food processing industries and retail systems designed to feed the miserable millions in crammed, unlivable cities.
This is a document which does much to ensure that there is a North-South development divide and which also ensures that the flow of ‘aid’, of ‘development’ theory and of ‘development’ competence is one way only – North to South.
In the World Risk Report 2011, the philosophy of this view of the world is as much political as it is racially biased. I’m sorry for having to say that as bluntly as that, but there’s no getting around it or away from it. You can’t dress it up in pseudo-scientific gibberish and expect readers in the Brown and Black Two-Thirds World not to notice.
This philosophy is contained in the six maps that describe, in this strange way, ‘risk’ to the countries of the world. As you can see, the pinks which represent risk are overwhelmingly in Africa and Asia and in general in countries of the South. The green hues represent little or no ‘risk’ and are used to shade the countries of the North – USA, western Europe, the OECD countries.
I have extracted the maps and provide their titles so as to better understand why ‘aid’, ‘development’, ‘technical assistance’ and ‘knowledge’ flows the way it does, helped along its magnetic North-to-South channels by arm-twisting, by WTO, by the World bank and International Monetary Fund and their lesser lending cousins in all continents, and particularly by the thousands of economists who have been installed in the countries of the South, who have been trained and programmed by these institutions, and who are the purveyors of disastrous neo-liberal economics and social destruction from Manila to Morocco.
Internationial aid agencies and their partners large and small will use documents such as this and indices of misery such as this to deepen the dependencies of the poor, the marginalised, the vulnerable and the voiceless in the South, photographs of whom in poster size will nevertheless adorn the walls of Northern exhibitions and collaborationist Southern conclaves.
On to the maps. These are captioned with their titles and followed by short commentaries guided by the experiences of our ‘developing’ peoples and their tribal roots.
Map 1 – “susceptibility, dependent on public infrastructure, nutrition, income and the general economic framework”. What we say: True, true, public infrastructure in the Brown and Black Two-Thirds World is lousy, fly-ridden and stinks. But, comrades, have you noticed how the working classes of the First World have, for well over a decade now, been complaining mightily about privatisation and its ills? Susceptibility to nutrition? Why, now, we didn’t invent Starbucks and KFC did we? We’re the ones who like our indigenous millets and tasteful tubers to be untouched by GM. Income? No we’re flat broke. But listen to the moanings of the European Central Bank these days and you’ll notice we’ve plenty of company.
Map 2 – “lack of coping capacities, dependent on governance, medical care and material security”. What we say: Let’s take this governance thing first shall we. You comrades in the First World long ago, for reasons unknown to us but risky in the extreme, ditched your tribal roots and turned to markets and finance and supermarket shopping carts. Shame you did, for that was the abandoning, the throwing away, of the original caring sharing wise governance that’s brought humans through generations. Coping capacities is a good one. We hereby solemnly invite all friendly First World comrades to come and spend a week in our shanty towns, our barrios and our favelas where they can learn what coping is and how to go about it. For medical care we recommend to you a journey to Havana, Cuba. For material security we recommend to you a rereading of any holy book of your choice.
Map 3 – “lack of adaptive capacities, related to future natural events and climate change”. What we say: Comrades and friends, we don’t sadly have as many shamans, diviners and ancient wise folk as we used to, but we can surely tell you this: future natural events and climate change is not going to choose between us and you, and you and them. We’re all in this together, you with your food coupons and us with our kitchen gardens. Adaptive? I do think we’ve got that covered good and proper.
Map 4 – “exposure, of the population to the natural hazards, earthquakes, storms, floods, droughts and sea level rise”. What we say: Friends and fellow inhabitants of Gaia, if we stop making Mother Earth angry every single day, She may relent. It’s up to you too. Oh and as for exposure, we’re used to it, you’re not, sad but true.
Map 5 – “vulnerability, of society as the sum of susceptibility, lack of coping capacities and lack of adaptive capacities”. What we say: Well, we’ve had quite enough of these colour combinations now. Our sincere and heartfelt advice is that you turn us all the same shade of pink, or turn us all the same shade of green. But that will ruin the difference between Us and Those Danged Others, you protest. Dear comrades, we do share the same air, water and sky. It’s about time you stopped seeing people coloured differently and started seeing people.
Map 6 – “world risk index as the result of exposure and vulnerability”. What we say: We must correct you. The real risk is to your perception, friends, which you can remedy by coming to live with us and learning our ways.
More about the World Risk Report 2011 – “The Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft (Alliance Development Works) publishes the World Risk Report to examine these issues at the global level and to draw conclusions for future actions in assistance, policy and reporting. The core of the World Risk Report is the World Risk Index, which was developed on behalf of the Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany. The World Risk Index indicates the probability that a country or region will be affected by a disaster. The index is the result of close cooperation between scientists and practitioners. Experts in the analysis of natural hazards and vulnerability research as well as practitioners of development cooperation and humanitarian aid have discussed and developed the concept of the index. Globally available data are used to represent the disaster risk for the countries concerned.”
“In the framework of the World Risk Index, disaster risk is analysed as a complex interplay of natural hazards and social, political and environmental factors. Unlike current approaches that focus strongly on the analysis of the various natural hazards, the World Risk Index, in addition to exposure analysis, focuses on the vulnerability of the population, i.e. its susceptibility, its capacities to cope with and to adapt to future natural events as well as the consequences of climate change. Disaster risk is seen as a function of exposure and vulnerability. The national states are the frame of reference for the analysis.”
[World Risk Report 2011, Published by Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft (Alliance Development Works) of Germany in cooperation with: United Nations University, Institute for Environment and Human Security, Bonn (UNU-EHS)]