30 June 2002

Africa: 'Development Has Meant Depriving Poor People of Their Resources'

Johannesburg — DEVELOPMENT has too often meant depriving the world's poor of their resources, Dr Wolfgang Sachs of Germany's Wuppertal Institute has observed.

Launching a memorandum entitled the Jo-Burg Memo for the coming World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) slated for Johannesburg in September, Dr Sachs called for a redefinition of development that would ensure equitable distribution of wealth and social justice.

He observed that there had been excessive exploitation of natural resources by only 20 per cent of the world's rich population while the rest of the global population were being denied access to their resources.

"Too often, development has meant depriving the poor of their resources to sustainable livelihood for the benefit of the rich who are exploiting resources even beyond their reach," he said.

Dr Sachs said as the WSSD was coming 10 years after the Earth Summit held in Rio de Jeneiro in 1992, there was need to take stock of the status of the implementation of the resolution branded Agenda 21.

However, Dr Sachs noted that it was a matter of concern that very little had been achieved or implemented, especially at a time when humanity had in the last 25 years outstripped the Earth's carrying capacity ecologically.

"It is a challenge for Johannesburg to move beyond Rio," said Dr Sachs, noting that it was further regrettable that the WSSD summit seemed to focus more on development rather than the environment.

"It should be noted that equity among nations can't be achieved without the environment." Dr Sachs said he anticipates this approach at the WSSD because most nations still viewed ecological concerns as an obstacle to development.

He further observed that the already disadvantaged poor societies who have survived from the environment were now suffering from the depleted fish in their fishing areas, reduced soil fertility in their fields, including fast reducing forests due to "the so called development projects" mostly driven by the corporate world.

"Any degradation of the environment means you are increasing these people's vulnerability," he said. Dr Sachs said he expects that it would also be taboo to talk about wealth alleviation even when the rich nations know that this cannot be detached from poverty alleviation, especially when the world's wealth lay in the hands of the rich minority.

He called for consumer classes in the developed world to immediately change to resource light production and consumption patterns that were rapidly affecting the Earth's environment. The Jo-Burg Memo was co-ordinated by Dr Sachs and commissioned by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung. It was jointly formulated with the collaboration of 16 other scholars and experts from around the world.

And South African scholar Professor Viviene Taylor, formerly of the University of Cape who also took part in the memorandum's formulation, called on world leaders to make people's rights a priority in sustainable development strategies to be tabled at the WSSD. She said there was need to move away from the notion that economic development, regardless of its impact, was justified.

Prof. Taylor further called for economic growth in the Third World countries which did not alienate the locals from the production and economic systems. She cited the South East Asian situation where the local people had not benefited from the economic block's boom.

And Kenya's Professor Wangari Maathai expressed concern at the world leaders' failure to implement international treaties. However, she noted that the problem did not only lie with leaders on the international scene but also on the African continent's leadership. Prof. Maathai said it was worrying that leaders did not seem to even understand the treaties they were signing .

"I am sure our leaders even forget whatever they sign after they leave the summits," Prof. Maathai said. "What is further unfortunate is that, it is these same leaders that we have entrusted a great deal in issues of governance, human rights and sustainable development." Prof. Maathai called on leaders in developing countries to continue lobbying the rich nations for social justice as they were not in any way compelled to change their current stance without such efforts.

"Do you think they will push for fairness on your behalf when they know they stand at an advantage to get whatever they want under the current world order?" asked Prof. Maathai.

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