Posts Tagged Kiva

People, People Everywhere

Forget climate change, oil supplies or the rise of Manchester City. The biggest threat to civilization is the seven billion people who are wandering around even as we speak. If this number was cut to one billion or less we could probably exploit, pollute and destroy to our heart’s content without causing more than local perturbations. But, because there are so many of us doing it, the ramifications tend to be much more major. The Rwandan genocide did not really occur because of ethnic differences between two tribes of people. It occurred because Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries on earth resulting in an extreme scarcity of resources. When there is plenty for all we can’t usually be bothered to make war on our neighbour no matter how much we dislike them.

As mentioned on previous blogs I am a big fan of the TED talks (http://www.ted.org), and there was a particularly good one recently by Hans Rosling, a Swedish doctor and statistician, who drew attention to the fact that population growth, is declining. The data is quite elegantly displayed at http://www.gapminder.org. According to Rosling there are four reasons for this decline: increase in wealth, decline in child mortality, education of women, and access to contraception. If the world is to have a long term future these are the areas we must target.

We must help countries to drag themselves out of poverty. Individually we can facilitate this through the agency of organisations such as Kiva (http://www.kiva.org), which provide interest free loans to people in developing countries.

We must do what we can to decrease child mortality by supporting organisations such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI at http://www.gavialliance.org). Diarrhoea is the second biggest child killer in the world wiping out 1.3 million children each year, and rotavirus is the main culprit responsible for 450,000 deaths annually. GAVI plans to distribute rotavirus vaccine to 40 countries by 2015.

Women must have access to education and couples must have access to contraception, so they can decide for themselves how many children they want. There was another excellent TED talk by Melinda Gates on this topic (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/melinda_gates_let_s_put_birth_control_back_on_the_agenda.html). See also http://www.impatientoptimists.org/Topics/Family-Planning for more information.

David Attenborough, in his documentary, “How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?” stated, based on Canadian academic William Rees’s concept of an ecological footprint that we can support 15 billion if we live the way the average Indian does and possibly up to 18 billion if we all live like average Rwandans. However, if we wish to live like the Europeans that number drops to 2.5 billion and falls to 1.5 billion if we all decide to become Americans.

While we have seen an exponential growth in human numbers from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 7 billion now that does look like levelling off at around 9 billion by 2050. To continue to grow at our current rate in order to support our aging populations, as some would suggest, is total nonsense and completely unsustainable. We cannot produce more children to support those who are now aging, because we would then need to keep producing even more children to support those when they age, resulting in an ever increasing spiral of disaster. The concern centres around how many people, who are not working, can be supported by those who are. With our increasing emphasis on technology and movement away from manual labour older people can remain active in the workforce for longer. Bear in mind that, generally speaking, children do not work and need to be supported and educated for 16 years or more, especially in developed countries. This means parents and caregivers are also drawn out of the workforce to provide that care. Fewer children mean lower education and health care costs and more people working. According to figures from Population Matters in 1976 there were 71.6 dependents for every 100 working people in the UK, more children than older people. By 2011 total dependents had dropped to 60.8. With lower birthrates and longer lives this is projected to rise again so that, by 2051, it will be back to 71.5. This time there will be more older people than children but the net result will be the same (http://populationmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/ageing_populations.pdf).

Unless we discover other suitable planets that will allow human habitation we cannot permit ourselves to be sucked into any arguments that favour a continuing increase in human population. As a result of gains made in prosperity, health and freedom of choice our population is beginning to level off. We need to make sure that continues, while devising new and innovative ways to feed, water and care for the billions that are already here and still to come.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Make Poverty History

I confess to being totally fed up with this slogan and others like it that adorn the backs of cars. Car stickers are advertising and, as advertising goes, this one is a total failure. If I want to make poverty history how is this facile slogan going to help? It is nothing more than a vague catch phrase that someone can put on their car to make themselves feel less guilty about their rapacious consumerism. They don’t actually have to do anything. A more practical and effective slogan would tell us in 25 words or less what we can really do to facilitate this aim. Perhaps “Help Make Poverty History: Buy Fair Trade Coffee”? Or “Help Make Poverty History: Don’t Buy Nestle” (as they have encouraged mothers to buy their products instead of feeding their infants breast milk). Something tangible that might, in some tiny way, make a difference.

I do wonder about the origins and continuation of poverty. Why are some countries developed, while others never seem to stop developing? I thought Jared Diamond made an interesting point in his Pulitzer Prize winning book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” (unfortunately I haven’t read the book, only seen the TV series: http://www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/). He believes that the wealthier nations were lucky enough to settle on fertile ground containing animal species suitable for domestication making it easier to grow crops, feed their families and improve their standard of living, while the less fortunate ones spent proportionately longer periods of time foraging for grubs and berries. The free time not spent on agriculture was available for extra activities such as inventing the wheel, dreaming up imaginary friends to keep the populace in check, and exploiting those other less fortunate cultures. Once the ball of inequality had been set rolling it quickly gathered pace and momentum with the wealthier and more powerful nations dominating and exploiting the rest with ever greater ferocity.

This economic exploitation of the poor by the rich has certainly been well documented with particular emphasis usually being placed on the role of the US. For an especially florid account of their raping and pillaging read John Perkins’ book “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” (http://www.johnperkins.org/).

While it is easy and often justified to point the finger at developed countries as the cause of the entire developing world’s problems this view is far too simplistic. Why have some countries, such as the Asian tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan), been able to drag themselves out of the mire and into the light, while others continue to go nowhere but down? Of the 183 countries listed in the United Nations 2011 Human Development Report (http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Summary.pdf) all but one of the bottom 29 countries is in Africa (Afghanistan is the exception in case you are wondering. And Norway tops the list followed by Australia, the Netherlands and the US, in case you are thinking of emigrating). Surely this can’t be blamed solely on the Americans? Developing countries need to shoulder at least some of the blame for the state of their backyards because at least some of the impediments to development are entirely home grown.

One of these is war, which has become a constant companion in places like Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. While the influence of external politics and interference in these conflicts can be argued it is obviously impossible to develop an economy, educate children and live happily ever after while ducking bullets, dodging packages of anthrax and avoiding land mines.

The other home grown issue delaying development is corruption. Each year Transparency International releases its Corruption Index (http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2011/results/). Not surprisingly our friends in Somalia are top of the list, along with North Korea, Myanmar and Afghanistan. And where is the best place to do business? New Zealand is the world’s least corrupt country, closely followed by the Scandinavian countries and Singapore. And what does this mean?

Botswana is the least corrupt country in Africa and also has that continent’s highest per capita GDP. As for the corruption kings, Somalia and North Korea are so bad that figures are not available while, according to the IMF, Afghanistan’s GDP ranks 168 out of 183, with Myanmar coming in at 156. The bottom 15 countries for GDP are all in Africa. Regarding GDP for our non-corrupt friends New Zealand comes in at 23, Singapore at 11, and the lowest of the four Scandinavian countries comes in at 13. Clearly corruption isn’t the only issue but it certainly doesn’t help matters.

The Doing Business Project (http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings) provides objective measures of business regulations and their enforcement across 183 economies. Not surprisingly GDP is often related to the ease of doing business with Singapore topping the list followed by Hong Kong, New Zealand, USA and Denmark. Fourteen of the bottom 17 countries are in Africa. Starting to see a pattern?

With high levels of corruption and difficult business conditions it is hardly surprising that African countries rank so low in terms of GDP. The World Bank’s Africa Competitiveness Report 2011 (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GCR_Africa_Report_2011.pdf) also makes illuminating reading. This report tries to quantify the reasons why doing business is so difficult on this continent. Of the 35 countries listed in this report (which doesn’t include some of the past and present basket cases such as Somalia, DRC, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan) 21 listed corruption as one of the top three impediments to successful business ventures, 12 listed inefficient government bureaucracy, 13 mentioned inadequate infrastructure, eight complained of poor education but, overwhelmingly, 28 out of 35 listed inadequate access to finance with 19 of those citing it as the number one barrier.

Unfortunately things like corruption need to be dealt with by the countries themselves and, until they are, will always be a millstone around the neck of developing economies. But what we can help with is providing access to finance. This does not have to occur on a grand scale but can be as little as providing a loan to a struggling business person to help them grow their business and prosper. If you really are serious about doing something about poverty check out http://www.kiva.org. The Kiva organisation facilitates the provision of interest free loans to small business entrepreneurs around the world. These are not handouts. Loans are expected to be repaid and start from as little as $25. This is real aid provided to people who want to help themselves. You can loan money as an individual or as part of a team. Vetsbeyondreason have gotten on board this exciting initiative. How about you? Do something real to “make poverty history.”

Dr. F. Bunny

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