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It makes no sense. We know it makes no sense. It doesn’t change.

Baffled? I am.
It’s rare I let myself think about these sort of things. I read about them all the time, sure. I study the causes and effects of poverty, underdevelopment, corruption, conflict; but I don’t think about them. I don’t have the time to feel the emotional distress or analyse my personal failure for not making a difference.

What am I talking about? Well it could be anything really. I’ll stick to this though: technology. Covers a lot of ground. Decades after the take-off of post-industrialism, technology rules our lives more than ever. We can clone sea-horses and send condiments to space. We can finally foresee creationism trumped by the almighty ‘God particle’. I can tweet Justin Bieber from the toilet and play a never-ending game of transatlantic Pictionary at the same time.

So why is all this technology benefiting those who already have everything? And why can’t we muster the intelligence to implement a few simple irrigations systems in Brazil or a million or so pills to eradicate intestinal worms? Technology is rapidly changing the context of the global South, it’s true. The Economist reported this week that Africa far surpasses other regions in the use of ‘mobile money’ bank management. In Kenya, for example 68% of adults access their bank accounts via mobile phone. Incredible.

Despite this progress and that of corporate responsibility programmes (like Unilever’s hand soap campaign in India), technology is concentrated in the consumer-driven markets of the advanced economies. There is so much scope for profit-driven ventures to expand into the developing world with simple technology. Make money in an untapped market and make significant contributions to the world. Simple, right? It is, actually. Consider this concept; LifeStraw, uses basic filtration technology to improve conditions for the 884 million people in the world who do not have access to safe drinking water. Simply put, this is a straw that can filter contaminated water to prevent the spread of  infectious diseases that linger in polluted water. Diarrhoeal diseases like Cholera and Dysentery are life threatening, especially for young children. They are the leading cause of school absences and agricultural non-productivity in the developing world. LifeStraw is by no means perfect and it is unlikely to drastically reverse our problems of water supply. It is too expensive and too inefficient. The idea, however represents a vital dynamism that can be replicated and improved.

We can’t keep it to ourselves forever. Whether these technologies are brought to those who need them or taken by them, they will reach them eventually. Think of all the time (not to mind lives) that could be saved by doing it now and doing it right.

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Development Waste

In the 1970’s the UN set a goal to increase overseas development aid to 0.7% of GDP from all developed countries. In reality the average donor contributes approx. 0.35% of their GDP.  The quest to extend this figure continues, and does so in an increasingly apathetic environment. Although the need to do so still exists, there is a much more urgent ingredient in the concept of aid-waste.

Despite the on-going discourse, there has been little or no improvement in the effectiveness of these development funds. According to sources, as estimated 30-40% of UN-directed overseas aid is wasted every year.  But who is responsible for this waste?

Development Ministers from advanced countries forego responsibility for the effectiveness of their aid donations. Many of them chose to ignore the journey that this aid takes, instead lapping up the praise for transferring wads of cash into the wrong hands.

So what do we need to do? Well it’s no Eureka! moment but we need to implement a more effective monitoring system to allows the donors to coordinate with the on-the-ground action. How do we do this? There is huge debate around who controls this money. Does the donor state prescribe its application? Does the developing country take full responsibility? Or does the UN appoint an independent body to distribute these funds as they see fit? This is not a straightforward assignment. Its success should manifest differently across states and across peoples.

I suggest that a simple set of criteria be developed to assess the reliability of any honourable government. Where this body sees fit, responsibility for the distribution of foreign aid should be trusted upon the government of that state where they control the capacity to administer this aid. The annual loss of 30% of all development funds to carelessness and squander is unacceptable. Before we besiege our ministers and development workers, we must align our resources and assess each unique situation with the intention of distributing responsibility where we can.

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Sweet Dreams

In 1931, James Adams defined the American Dream as the vision that ‘life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.’ It is this idea, that everyone enters the American sphere with equal potential; that with hard work and determination, any of us can make our fortune or see our name in lights. In theory then, everyone has an equal opportunity to be unequal. In practice though, things are a little rougher around the edges.

In an increasingly polar, globalised world does America still hold it’s place as the land where dreams come true? The American Dream, if it exists at all, has certainly gone global. As the patriots of post-Fordism and huge state-driven capitalism, there is no doubt that the USA paved the way into the twenty-first century for the rest of the Western world.  This post-industrialist culture however, brought with it an urgent obsession for materialism. In writing beyond its years, Adams warned us against exactly that.

The US made strides in business models, promoting their entrepreneurs the world over while at the same time encouraging the phasing-out of the labour-driven economy. The US swiftly shifted from a manufacturing economy to one based excessively on consumerism. With this kind of new economic system, the recent recession hit hard. With few export, agriculture or manufacturing areas to draw on, a decline in consumer spending instantly meant a drop in national income. As Shellengurger and Nordhaus  explain, “The postindustrial conceit that the US could sustain growth through services alone, without producing good, has proven empty.” The recession it seems, showed that an economy of such a vast scale cannot retain growth levels on knowledge-based services alone.

And so, Obama and his trustee men came riding in to save the day. ‘Reform!’ he said, Hip Hip Hurray.

For a government who claims to encourage growth and American primacy, are their heads really in the game? We have established that the challenge for America is the low levels of production. As long as government spending continues to encourage consumer spending they will surely refurbish the happy ignorance of the golden years (circa 2007), no? As has been acknowledged by policy makers and analysts time and time again, we cannot change policy to reclaim the past, we need to build a new future. In this case that means measures to facilitate greater production and exports, not consumerism.

As George Carlin once said, “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it!”

WAKE UP AMERICA! In my simple mind, things are simple. The US invests in private businesses, startups and bright new innovative industries. Invest in kids, invest in technologies. After all, the success of industrialisation in American was brought about by government investments in new technologies, why not again?

If America gets out of the right side of the bed, I think they have a chance. If they hit snooze the rest of us will be saying byebye Hollywood, hello spring rolls, monks and Kung Fu Panda.

 

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Water

Water. We all know that we take it for granted. We know what we should do and how we could consume in a more sensible way. But in times like these, we have other things to think about.  This is Ireland and water is everywhere. Water’s abundance is a curse to us, if anything.

Water security, as the capability of states to secure the sustainability of their safe water supply is an issue of grave importance worldwide.  It is coming under increasing pressure in the developing world due to the effects of pollution, population growth, urbanisation and climate change. Water has been a huge source of tension throughout history, inciting and amplifying interstate conflict. The corollary of this is still obvious in many African and Middle Eastern countries. All of this is extremely important and is being addressed by several development bodies as well as the UN Commission on Sustainable Development and NGOs like globalwater.org and wateraid.org.uk.

So the attitude toward water in the developing world needs reshaping. We knew that. What may come as a surprise is that our actions here in the all-knowing Northern Hemisphere are having a much more severe impact than we might think. According to waterfootprint.org, it requires 5,000 Litres of water to produce 1 Kilogram of cheese and 15,500 Litres to yield 1 Kilogram of beef. These figures seem astounding and if we compare them to other nutritional sources, we have a problem. To substitute beef with chicken would spare 11,600 Litres per Kg and it is almost 80% less wasteful to produce bread than cheese.

Is there an onus on developed countries to alter our diets in support of food and water security worldwide? A reduction in water use in the developed world would greatly reduce our carbon footprint which in turn would help prevent water shortages where people are most vulnerable. The question is if the developed world was more responsible about the products we consumed, could we dramatically change the lives of billions of people in less developed countries. Yes, yes we could.

 

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