_The Pump Handle_ often addresses the same issues that I do, from a public health perspective and is one of my favorite reads. As the UN Convenes to evaluate progress on the Millenium Development Goals – designed to reduce poverty worldwide, Liz Borkowski has done an admirable job of describing exactly what these are and how they work.
At the same time, however, I think both Borkowski and most evaluators don’t explore the ways that the Millenium Development Goals simply begin from assumptions that don’t allow them to succeed. That’s why many of them are simply failing. The most basic one is that we can depend on the trickle-down benefits of a growing economy that can be passed on to the Global poor without any real and fundamental reapprising of the idea of Development itself. But both limits on fossil fuel resources and the realities of climate change – the Stern Report documents the high economic costs of unchecked climate change (the only kind we’ve got) – mean that we have to find ways to address poverty that don’t start from the assumption that if we all get a little richer, the poor might get a little less poor.
Emphasis on global agricultural productivity (something I don’t have any real debate with) both assumes that food supplies are fundamentally global – that we’ll be able to keep moving grain around the world as needed, and also fails to address problems of equity and allocation as an equal priority to increasing production.
Emphasis on women’s rights and empowerment often focuses on bringing women out of the domestic economy and into the formal one – which may offer short-term economic gains but leaves families vulnerable to global economic cycles. Shifing people into cities in the name of development looked good in a growing economy – but the new landless and the emerging class of the urban hungry lack even the minimal security of land access that once sustained the poor. The vast mega-cities depend heavily on cheap energy supplies to sustain them/
Moreover, by placing environmental sustainability as just one of many goals, rather than the fundamental resource and ecological base on which all the other goals rest, they conceal the fact that even short term gains, say, in clean drinking water are likely to be undercut by rapidly progressing climate change.
It would be as much a failure to stick to investing in goals for eradicating poverty that depend on cheap energy, a growing and stable economy and a stable climate as it would be to throw up one’s hands at hunger, poverty and suffering. Instead, we need a new set of Millenium Goals, ones that take energy depletion and climate change fully into account, and that can be accomplished in society grappling with climate change and depletion.
This is obviously not an easy goal. But we should not conceal the fact that many of the great advances in public health came to the Global North before the widespread advent of fossil fuels, and they aren’t dependent on heavy energy investments. Education for women, primary education, access to clean drinking water, public health training, better seeds and support for local agricultures can be accomplished in either low or high input manners. We need to shift to ways that can truly be sustained, or there will be more and more conferences in which we attempt to conceal the fact that we are losing the battle. The only way to win is to be honest about what’s at stake and where we are going.