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A measure of progress

The first issue of The Internationalist was put together using a set of printer’s galleys, a tin of cow-gum, and half a dozen sheets of Letraset (ask your parents). Its cover story was an interview with Julius Nyerere, President of newly independent Tanzania, first university graduate of his country, translator of Shakespeare into Swahili, author of African Socialism, and a political hero for many of us in that long ago time.

A couple of years earlier, during our final undergraduate year, we had started a movement called Third World First.1 The aim was to raise money for charities like Oxfam by inviting students to sign a banker’s order donating one per cent of their incomes every year to overseas aid. More than 25,000 students signed up in the first 18 months or so and The Internationalist was launched as a termly magazine to keep them involved. Two years later, Oxfam and Christian Aid backed our proposal to relaunch the magazine as a monthly aimed at a wider audience. And so, 40 years ago this month, the New Internationalist was born with a cover price of 25 pence (60 cents), hardly any white space, and an interview with President Kaunda of Zambia.

Making the best of life in a poor district of Mumbai, India – the struggle to meet basic human needs is ‘the great unfinished business of the 20th century’.

Cubo Images/Robert Harding

Nyerere and Kaunda were not arbitrary choices. Both had argued that 10 per cent of all overseas aid, including the aid given by charities, should be spent on educating the public in the ‘first world’ about the real causes of world poverty. In essence, they wanted it to be understood that their poverty was not the result of some historical game of chance in which they happened to be the losers; it was the result of a set of economic relationships, rooted in the colonial era, that served to enrich a minority by impoverishing the majority. In one variant or another this has been a central message of the New Internationalist ever since.


Looking back on those early issues provokes mixed feelings – and the mix is approximately one part pride to nine parts embarrassment. The pride part is obvious: for 40 years, the New Internationalist co-operative has helped to keep the flag of a fairer world flying and we are proud to have been involved in its beginnings. The embarrassment part is equally easily explained: far too much pontificating based on far too little knowledge. We were in our early twenties and did not know enough to understand how little we knew. Yet this did not inhibit us from pronouncing with confidence on international aid, trade, finance, commodity agreements, world hunger, population dynamics, and many other topics that we thought we had mastered sufficiently well to begin telling the world about.

Such confidence was parented not only by youth and inexperience but also by the spirit of the times. And that spirit was overwhelmingly one of optimism. At home in the UK, the stuffiness and austerity of the 1950s had given way to a decade of economic growth and social liberation. Harold Macmillan’s 1957 prediction that ‘you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in the history of this country’ seemed to be coming true around us. Living standards were rising, inequalities were slowly being eroded, and the working class was by and large employed, unionized, and aware of its majority power. Socially, too, these were times of change. That first issue of the New Internationalist also carried an article by Roy Jenkins, the son of a coalminer who, as Home Secretary (1965-67), had ended capital punishment, legalized abortion, ended theatre censorship and decriminalized homosexuality.

In the wider world, too, optimism seemed justified. The winds of change were blowing strong and dozens of former colonies had become independent, many under inspiring and seemingly idealistic leaders. In the 1960s alone, more than 40 new nations had become members of the United Nations. The first UN ‘Development Decade’ had been proclaimed in 1961 and its growth targets had, by and large, been met. By 1975, following the OPEC shock, a majority of the world’s countries were using their power in the United Nations General Assembly to declare a ‘New International Economic Order’ that would rewrite the rules of world trade. In retrospect, this might seem like a high water-mark of international naïvety. But at the time even the political establishment seemed to agree that a new economic order was right and necessary. UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim called it ‘the price of world peace’ and the British prime minister, Harold Wilson, had this to say:

‘My government fully accepts that the relationship, the balance, between the rich and poor countries of the world is wrong and must be remedied… that the wealth of the world must be redistributed in favour of the poverty-stricken and suffering. This means a new deal in world economies, in trade between nations and the terms of that trade.’2

Ending poverty

Of course it was not all fair winds and clear skies. The threatening backdrop of the arms race and the Cold War, the ticking of the population ‘time-bomb’,3 the mass famines regularly predicted for the Indian sub-continent,4 the dawning awareness of environmental costs and limits, the new power of multinational corporations, the realization that economic growth itself was no panacea – all of these were big concerns. But in 1973 none seemed sufficient to dim our confidence in the progress to come.

Above all, we expected the war on want to be won. And there was little soul-searching about what that meant. The sheer scale of malnutrition, illiteracy, disease and preventable death in the world of the early 1970s made debating ‘what do we really mean by development’ something of an indulgence. Whether in the General Assembly of the United Nations or in the pages of the New Internationalist, ‘meeting basic human needs’ was the mantra of the 1970s.5 And the great hope was that the day was coming when every man, woman and child on earth would have enough food, adequate shelter, safe water, basic healthcare, schools to go to, and the knowledge and means to decide how many children to have.

Today’s is a more complex world, and today’s New Internationalist is a more sophisticated and better-informed publication. But its 40th anniversary may nonetheless be a good opportunity to revisit those hopes.

The spirit of the times was overwhelmingly one of optimism. Living standards were rising, inequalities were slowly being eroded

Even taking only the very poorest countries, those with a 2010 per capita gross national income of under $1,000, what has been achieved is remarkable. Average life expectancy has increased from just over 40 years to just under 60 years. Child malnutrition and child death rates have been more than halved. Almost all children go to school and can expect, on average, more than eight years of education.

As for the knowledge and means of controlling fertility, average family size for the world as a whole has been approximately halved from 6 to approximately 3 children per couple – a demographic transition that has astounded even the optimists of the 1970s by its speed and scale.

Remarkable, too, is the progress against the major diseases and disabilities which devastated the lives of millions of families every year in the early 1970s. Immunization coverage, for example, has risen from under 20 per cent to almost 80 per cent across the low- and middle-income world. In the 1970s, the number of children being paralyzed every year by polio exceeded 500,000; the corresponding figure for 2012 was just over 200. Similarly, enormous if un-newsworthy efforts have protected about 70 per cent of families from the Vitamin A and iodine deficiencies which used to inflict blindness, mental impairment, frequent illness and early death on many millions in the 1970s. Slowest to give way has been malaria, especially in Africa, but three-quarters of the hundreds of millions at risk are today using insecticide-treated mosquito nets and this most stubborn of killers is beginning to retreat.

Jaideep Hardikar

This list of achievements could be doubled without too much strain; and by any historical standards it represents remarkable progress in little more than a generation. So why are we not all rejoicing?

The excluded

There can be no doubt that a great leap forward has been made towards meeting basic human needs. But there is another story to be told of these 40 years. In country after country, the upward sweep of national statistics has tended to hide the fact that the very poorest have often been excluded from the great gains that have been made. In the last few years, the increasing availability of disaggregated data has confirmed what many have long suspected. The progress made – whether in incomes or life expectancy, malnutrition or mortality rates, or the outreach of basic services – has tended to bypass the poorest. To take just one example, India’s enormous achievement in immunizing 80 per cent of its children masks the fact that vaccines have reached fewer than 40 per cent of the children of the poorest fifth of the population.6

Of course it can be argued that progress cannot be expected to happen everywhere at the same rate, and that it can only be a matter of time before the basic advantages of progress are available to all. But such arguments ignore the fact that there are reasons why the poorest have been left behind. Exclusion takes many forms, but the principle is usually the same: the excluded are the politically powerless, the socially disregarded, the geographically isolated, the ethnically, or culturally discriminated against. And, until this changes, there can be no guarantee that ‘more of the same’ will do the job. Nor should it be forgotten that many of the most basic problems – whether it be lack of safe water or a disease vector or a micronutrient deficiency – are concentrated among those least likely to be reached by basic services (this would be too obvious to mention were it not for the fact that there has been a persistent tendency to see an improvement that reaches 75 per cent of a given population as meaning that the problem is three-quarters solved).


It is at this point that the story of the struggle to meet basic human needs – the great unfinished business of the 20th century – runs into the great development challenge of the present. The exclusion of the poorest from recent advances is part of a near-universal story of growing inequality in almost all nations, rich or poor. We did not know it at the time, but the early 1970s were a kind of equity watershed. In the United States and the United Kingdom, for example, the 30 years before the mid-1970s were years of slowly declining inequality, whereas the 40 years since that time have seen a gradual, and recently accelerating, reversal of this trend.7

Progress that leaves the poorest behind is not to be considered progress at all

At the same time, the progress of the majority has changed the political dynamics. Whereas once the poor and the marginalized had at least the latent power of their majority, the marginalized in many countries today are becoming a fragmented minority: a large minority in many cases, but still a minority. The traditional socio-economic pyramid is therefore morphing into something more like a diamond with its bulk in the upper middle, gradually making it easier for the new majority to disregard and disrespect those at the bottom.

There is no opportunity here to examine the grinding of tectonic plates that is creating this new landscape of inequality – the rise of knowledge-based economies, the globalization of production and marketing, and the disproportionate lobbying and political power of those who are the principal beneficiaries of a very different new economic order from the one envisaged in the 1970s. Nor is there space to argue the case that, of course, ‘basic needs’ is really a moving target and that poverty is essentially relative to time and place.8

Instead, let me conclude with the prediction that, alongside related environmental concerns, it is the issue of equity that will be the great challenge of the next 40 years – and with a small proposal relevant to what can be done about it.


Social statistics and targets have played an important role in the achievements to date and are a driving force behind the current Millennium Development Goals. But this has not always been the case. The progress of the first UN Development Decade in the 1960s was measured almost entirely by economic indicators. Then, in the early 1970s, when it was found that economic growth targets had been met but the poor had seen very little change, a campaign began to deploy new measures that would better reflect progress for people rather than economies. The widespread use of social indicators such as average life expectancy, school enrolment and literacy, child malnutrition and mortality rates, is now conventional practice. At the time, it seemed like a radical way of measuring progress.

Today an equivalent revolution is needed. In the years to come, progress should be measured not by statistics that capture national averages but by data that capture what is happening to the poorest 20 per cent – in any country and for any indicator that is meant to measure human well-being. Even five years ago, such a suggestion would not have been statistically feasible. But data broken down by economic quintiles are becoming available for an increasing number of countries and an increasing number of indicators. For the first time, therefore, it is becoming statistically feasible to look specifically at what is happening to the poorest 20 per cent (the bottom quintile, known to statisticians as Q1).

Statistics and measurement may seem abstract and lifeless. But their power should not be underestimated. Measurement guides policy, informs advocacy, makes possible transparency and accountability, and fuels media and public debate. Ultimately it is the choice of measures that is the clearest statement of aims and priorities. And if progress and protest is to be made against the Age of Inequality then, as in the 1970s, new measures are needed to reflect that new priority. The increasing use of Q1 – what is happening to the lives of the poorest 20 per cent – could be the equivalent of the effort in the 1970s to establish social alongside purely economic measures of progress. And it could help to underpin the message that, in the years ahead, progress that leaves the poorest behind is not to be considered progress at all.

Since he left New Internationalist in 1980, Peter Adamson has had a distinguished career with UNICEF and still works regularly for its Innocenti Research Centre in Florence, Italy.

  1. Third World First continues today under the name People and Planet and supports 2,000 volunteers in campaigning groups at schools, colleges and universities across Britain. peopleandplanet.org

  2. Harold Wilson, speech in Kingston, Jamaica, 1 May 1975.

  3. Anne and Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 best-seller The Population Bomb (Ballantine Books 1968) had opened with the statement: ‘The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programmes embarked upon now … nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.’

  4. See also William & Paul Paddock, Famine 1975! America’s Decision: Who Will Survive?, Little, Brown & Co, 1967.

  5. Two special issues of the New Internationalist on ‘How can the basic needs of all the people in the world be met’ were published in August and September, 1976.

  6. Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity, UNICEF, Sep 2010.

  7. For a clear exposition of this trend in the US, see Robert Frank, Falling Behind, University of California Press 2007.

  8. This argument is presented in detail in Measuring Child Poverty, Innocenti Report Card 10, UNICEF, Florence, May 2012.

Women work twice as hard as men

Developing World

*Peter Adamson* reports on the results of recent research on women's role in world development.

For millions of women in Africa, Asia and Latin America the working day commonly begins at 4.30 or 5.00 am and ends sixteen hours later, as they struggle to meet the most basic needs of their families - for food, water, firewood, clothes, health care and a home.

The reason for this 'hundred-hour week' is that most women do two jobs - in the home and in agriculture.

In the popular imagination the women of the Third World look after the house and raise the children whilst the men look after the land and raise the crops. But recent research has blown this myth sky-high.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome, women are responsible for 'at least 50 per cent of all food production'. A study by the Economic Commission for Africa, for example, has shown that women do 60 per cent to 80 per cent of all the agricultural work on the continent plus 50 per cent of all animal 'husbandry' and 100 per cent of the food processing.

In one region studied - Bukaba in Tanzania - the men work an average of 1800 hours a year in agriculture and then their work is largely done. The women, on the other hand, work an average of 2600 hours a year in the field . . . and their work has only just begun. In the local Haya language, the word 'to marry' literally means 'the man gets a hoe'.

It's the same story in India where women also do more than half of the subcontinent's agricultural work. 'It is usually thought that it is the man who is responsible for farm work, assisted by the woman', writes Shanti Chakravorty in a study of India's wheat-growing Haryana State, 'but in most cases now it is the woman who does the farm work, assisted by the man'.

Taking labour in both homes and fields into account, the Haryana study found that the average working day for women was between 15'/a and 16 hours long. In one particular family, the work load of the three adult women and one twelveyear-old girl totalled 58 hours a day - 12 hours doing household chores, 9 hours tending cattle, and 37 hours in agriculture. In a second family, a woman of seventyfive was putting in a ten-hour day.

In the case of younger women, such work loads are commonly combined with frequent pregnancy, childbirth and breast feeding - exhausting processes for any woman's body but particularly debilitating when compounded by inadequate food and long hours of back-breaking work in the fields.

What all this adds up to is that one of the most important and most ignored health problems in the world of the 1980s is that millions of women are suffering from chronic exhaustion.

Unfortunately, numerous studies over the last five years indicate that the development effort itself can actually make matters worse.

In the effort to improve nutrition, the prevalent myth that farmers are always men has meant that most of the agricultural training and technology has been geared to men's work. Tractors, for example, can shorten the work of the men who do the ploughing and lengthen the hours of the women who do the weeding.

In a now famous African study, Esther Boseup noted that in villages where modern technology had been introduced the women's share of agricultural labour had risen from 55 per cent to 68 per cent.

If the effort to improve food production illogically by-passes women, then so too does the effort to improve health. According to the World Health Organisation, about three-quarters of all illness in the developing world could be prevented by better nutrition, water, sanitation, immunisation and health education - all areas in which women take the major responsibility. But three-quarters of health budgets are being spent - by men on men - to provide expensive curative services to a small fraction of the population.

Similarly, the drive for literacy and education, which has seen school enrolment rates more than double in the developing countries since 1960, has also seen women come off second best. Two out of every three illiterate people in the world today are females. Yet as food producers and processors, as home-makers and health workers, and as the principal educators of the next generation, it is at least as important for women to be educated as men.

In the effort to improve nutrition, health and education - basic building blocks of a better life for the majority of the world's people - the rights, needs and contributions of women are being largely ignored. Recognising the importance of women to the development effort is therefore not only a matter of principal to be enshrined in dusty declarations. It is an urgent practical issue. For nothing could do more to take the brakes off economic and social progress than the ending of discrimination against half the world's people.

Industrialised World

*Eve Hall* looks at ten years of women's liberation in the developed world and finds that everywhere women still work longer for less.

One of the greatest economic and social changes of the post-war years has gone largely unnoticed. It is that more and more women are going out to work. Today in the United States, in Japan and in the United Kingdom, almost 40 per cent of the work force is female.

In theory this should mean that women are becoming better-off, liberated, equal. But in practice it is a different story.

Most women now work far longer hours than men - in factory, shop or office as well as in the home as cook, cleaner, child rearer, shopper and homemaker. This 'double burden' means that the average woman who goes out to work is now putting in an 80-hour working week - twice as long as most men.

So equality depends not only on women sharing in paid employment but also on men sharing in the tasks of the home. At the moment husbands in all industrialised countries contribute very little to domestic work and recent research shows that this contribution does not increase when the wife goes out to work. American researcher Joan Vanek, for example, found that the average father in the United States spends only 12 minutes a day with his children. Overall, women's unpaid work in the U.S.A. is estimated at about 40 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.

But even in the work-place itself, women's wages are everywhere lower than men's. In the U.K., women are paid an average of 25 per cent less. In the U.S.A., they are paid 40 per cent less. And this is despite equal pay legislation in most industrialised countries.

The reasons why women earn less than men go deeper than legislation. And again the main cause is the 'double burden' of home responsibilities which means that many women have to take part-time jobs, or less demanding jobs, and that they have less time for training and less opportunity for promotion.

As children, girls are educated and conditioned either for no employment at all or for more menial and lower-paidjobs. As workers, they are crowded into industries like textiles, food, clothing, retailing - where they compete with each other for low-paid and insecure jobs which require little skill or training and offer little chance of promotion. A recent survey in Sweden shows that women have a choice of about 25 different occupations whereas a man chooses from over 300 careers. Indeed certain countries, says the OECD, 'have come to rely on a supply of female labour which costs little and enjoys little protection'.

The result of this inequality is that women have more than their fair share of poverty. And particularly hard-hit are the families dependent on a woman's earnings.

Single parent families are increasing in almost every industrialised country. In Britain at least 600,000 families are now headed by single mothers and the number is growing by 6 per cent a year. The main cause is the rise in divorce rates which have doubled in many countries (including both the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.) during the last 15 years.

It is these single-parent families, says the International Labour Organisation, 'which make up the fastest rising group in any classification of the poor population. Even after the receipt of benefits, the incidence of poverty is only just below that of pensioners and is much higher than in any other group.

As the ILO notes, pensioners are the poorest social group in the industrialised world. But here too it is the women who are worst off - partly because they tend to live longer than men and partly because inequality during their working lives is reflected in reduced pensions. In the United States, for example, the 8 million women who are over the age of 65 make up by far the poorest group of people in America - with almost half of them living below the official poverty line.

For women at work, the final irony is that the trades unions - which have done so much to improve the pay, conditions and benefits of work forces in the industrialised world - are also dominated by men. In America's garment industry, 80 per cent of the union members are women but 21 of the 22 member board of the union are men. In New Zealand only 15 of the country's 323 unions have any women executives despite the fact that women carry over a third of all union membership cards.

The first half of the U.N. Decade for Women (1975-80) has now gone and the vast majority of women in the industrialised countries have seen little or no benefit. Equal-pay legislation in almost all industrialised countries has been one of the big achievements of these five years. The task for the next five years is to achieve equal work which will give substance to equal pay. The biggest barrier is that working women now do two jobs. And overcoming that barrier is as much of a challenge to men as it is to women.

The art of development


The 1970s was the Decade of the Conference. In 1972 we had the first World Conference on the Environment in Stockholm, followed by World Conferences on Food (Rome 1974), Population (Bucharest 1974), Women (Mexico City 1975), Employment (Geneva 1976), Housing and Cities (Vancouver 1976), Water (Mar del Plato 1977), Health (Alma Ata 1978), Land Reform (Rome 1979), Science and Technology (Vienna 1979), plus three United Nations Conferences on Trade and Development (Santiago 1972, Nairobi 1976, Manila 1979) and two Special Sessions of the U.N. General Assembly (New York 1974 and 1977).

It is easy to be cynical about such conferences. Hypocrisy and humbug have run through them all; airlines, hotel chains and restaurateurs have been their most immediate beneficiaries; and increasing bureaucracy and paper have been their most tangible results.

But it is equally hypocritical to subscribe to the theory that nations should sit down and talk about their problems rather than stand up and fight about them, and then to criticise the forums in which this happens as 'talkshops'. And it is surely naive to expect organisations which are responsible to over one hundred and fifty governments, facing every barrier of linguistic, historical, cultural, economic and ideological difference, to be unbureaucratic.

On the positive side, these set-piece conferences have served as sponges to soak up the experience and perceptions of governments, national and international organisations, research institutions and experts, action groups and committed individuals. And what has been wrung out of them is a new understanding about global problems.

If there is one common conclusion to be drawn from what has been learnt it is that the old solutions have been rubbed threadbare. At the beginning of the decade it was widely and confidently assumed that public and private investment, plus the aid the technology of the developed nations, would lead to economic growth in the developing world and that this in turn would seep down to the poor majority of their populations and solve the problems of poverty and malnutrition, illiteracy and ill-health.

On that premise the prospects looked good. Many developing countries looked to be entering a period of sustained economic growth and the armoury of available or about-to-be available technologymiracle seeds, wonder drugs and contraceptive pills looked impressive and hopeful.

The Seventies were not more than a few years old when this dream began to turn sour. Far from narrowing, the economic gap between developed and developing nations was seen to be widening - and widening quickly.

Within the developing world itself unprecedented rates of economic growth brought little or no benefit to the poorest 40% to 50% of its population. Studies in India, Pakistan, Brazil and the Philippines, where the average incomes rose as a result of economic growth rates reaching 6 per cent a year or more, revealed a stagnant standard of living for the poorest half of their people. "When you rip aside the confusing figures on growth rates," wrote World Bank economist Mahbub ul Haq in 1974, "you find that for at least two-thirds of humanity the increase in income has been less that $1.00 a year for the last twenty years.'

The other half of the bargain - technological ingenuity - also failed to live up to its promises. The development of cheap, safe and effective contraceptive methods did not solve the problem of rapid population growth; the development of new strains of wheat and rice did not stop the numbers of malnourished people from increasing the impressive list of medical breakthroughs were seen to be beyond the physical or financial reach of the 1'/z billion people whose need was greatest.

And as it became clear that the forces which create and control economic growth and technical advance are not neutral, when it comes to its distribution, so it became apparent that the problems are not technical but structural relationships both between rich and poor countries and between the rich and the poor within those countries.

Scapegoat of the '70s

The rate of world population growth peaked at some point around the middle of last decade and has since stalled. Latest estimates from the UN Population Division suggest that total world population, which now stands at just over 4 billion, will touch 6 billion by the end of the century.

At the very beginning of the 70s it was widely believed that rapid population growth in the developing world was the most important cause of continuing poverty. The population 'explosion', it was argued, was wiping out any economic development which the developing countries managed to achieve. 'No other problem casts a darker shadow over the prospects for international development than the staggering growth of population,' said the Pearson Commission Report on 'Co-operation for Development', published in 1970.

But as the decade progressed this view began to give ground under repeated attacks from a Third World which was profoundly suspicious of the convenient Western argument which laid the blame for poverty at the feet of the improvident poor.

The counter-argument ran like this. Large families and rapid population growth are in themselves a result of poverty. In the absence of social security, unemployment pay, sickness benefits and old age pensions, poor people need children to look after them when they are out of work, sick or old. Secondly, the millions of poor people who live in the rural areas of the Third World need children to help with the daily 'survival' jobs of collecting wood and water and looking after animals, which commonly take up to twelve hours a day every day and which children can and do perform throughout the developing world.

To all these commonsense reasons for large families is added the pressure of child mortality rates which still mean that up to one child in three born in the developing world will die before reaching his or her fifth birthday.

Here was the explanation of the fact that the poor people of the world have on average about twice as many children per family as the rich and that the 29 poorest nations in the world have the highest birth-rates.

From this base it was possible to argue that improving living standards - in nutrition, health, education, employment, incomes and housing - were the keys to falling birth rates. 'Development is the best contraceptive' became the new slogan and its advocates backed it up by pointing to the historical experience of the industrialised world itself where family size had begun to fall rapidly after improvements in living standards and before the massavailability of effective methods of contraception.

The clash between these opposing views of the relationship between population and poverty culminated at the 1974 World Population Conference in Bucharest, Rumania. Out of the turmoil that followed, an uneasy concensus emerged. Almost every developing country now accepts that the availability of the means and the knowledge to plan family size is an important part of any development strategy. Similarly it is also widely accepted that family planning will only make an impact in the context of economic and social change which benefits the majority of the people. 'It has been made clear,' says Rafael Salas, Executive Director of the UN Fund for Population Activities, 'that even the broadest family planning campaigns on their own are largely ineffective in producing a lower rate of population growth.'

Once again the idea that a major global problem could be solved by technology and policy changes without the need for more fundamental economic and political changes had been exposed as inadequate.

Let them eat flowers

In 1970 the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that there were approximately 400 million people severely malnourished. By 1975 that figure had risen to nearer 460 million - half of them children.

In the early years of the decade the favoured remedies were birth control and the upgrading of agriculture through farm mechanisation and the use of highyielding varieties of wheat and rice. In the meantime, staving, off even worse famine would have to depend upon the continued generosity of food-aid suppliers, principally the United States.

As the 1970's wore on this analysis began to look increasingly shaky.

Food aid, which was in any case under attack for depressing prices in receiving countries and driving small farmers out of business, began to look even less dependable as a means of averting famine. In 1973, within a few days of President Ford agreeing to sell 2.2 million tons of grain to the Soviet Union, his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, was telling the government of India that the US could only afford to sell 0.5 million tons of grain to that hungry sub-continent.

At about the same time, it was becoming clear that the Green Revolution was faltering in its promise to reduce malnutrition. To make a success of the new high-yielding varieties, a farmer must have the knowledge and the means to take the risk, to buy the seeds and to apply the necessary fertiliser, pesticides and irrigation. By definition, this restricted the benefits of the green revolution to the richer farmers.

Successful use of the new seeds by larger farmers often had the effect of depressing prices and many subsistence farmers were forced into debt and eventually into selling their land.

By the end of the 1974 World Food Conference in Rome, the idea that hunger results from too many mouths and too little land had been comprehensively shot down. A few facts will illustrate why:

* Despite rapid population growth, world food production had kept pace. Indeed per capita food production grew at 0.2% a year between 1970 and 1976. * Even in the hungriest years of the decade the world produced enough food in grains alone to provide more than enough calories for every man, woman and child on earth.

* China and Taiwan, which have many more people per cultivated acre of land than India and Bangladesh, were seen to have little or no malnutritio

* In some countries, half of the people were manlourished whilst half of the agricultural land was growing crops for export to the rich world. In Colombia, for example, large landowners were switching from wheat to cutflowers (exporting over $18 million dollars-worth of carnations in 1975 alone).

It was under the weight of such facts that the conventional wisdom on world hunger collapsed. Thereafter poverty, not population growth, moved to centre stage. Only the poor starve. And they starve because they are poor, because they do not have the means to grow food or the money to buy food. In short, because of structures which put economic demand before human need.

'The market playing freely,' summed up the then Director General of FAO at the end of the World Food Conference of 1974, 'will always feed the rich'.

Since that time world hunget has come to be seen more and more as a structural problem. Successful solutions, whether in left-wing. countries like China or right-wing countries like South Korea, have depended on the redistribution of land and the means to grow or buy food.

A New Prescription

Supported by the developed countries most developing nations have spent their health budgets on training westernstyle doctors and building hospitals for them to practice in.

But over the last decade it has become clear that such a cure for the Third World's health problems was bypassing the majority of its populations.

A sample of the facts from the 70s which brought down yet another branch of the tree of conventional wisdom: -

* 80 per cent of the health budgets of the developing nations were being spent on expensive city-based curative medicine serving only 20 per cent of the population.

* 70 per cent of the population, meanwhile, had no access to modern medical care at all.

Inadequate nutrition, water supply, sanitation, immunisation and health education probably account for 90 per cent of illness in the poor world, • Every year, according to UNICEF, 250,000 children go blind in the developing world because of a lack of Vitamin A which could be rectified by 'a daily handful of green vegetables'.

Such examples of skewed priorities flooded in during the second half of the 70s. And out of them came the concept of Primary Health Care. As an idea, it was an unashamed crib from China's, 'barefoot doctor' approach.

The basic principle of Primary Health Care (PHC) is cheap prevention for the majority rather than expensive cure for the few. At the international level, the new thinking surfaced at the 1978 World Conference on Primary Health Care held at Alma Ata in the Soviet Union and jointly sponsored by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF.

It simply does not need seven years of training and sophisticated hospitals, the argument ran, in order to be able to prevent or treat the major causes of ill-health among the vast majority of the world's poor.

Instead, the front line of the battle for improved world health should be manned by tens of thousands of Primary Health Care workers who, in a few months and at a cost of around $1000 each, could be trained to immunise people against infectious diseases; to advise on maternal and child health and discuss family planning, treat common illnesses and injuries, and educate their communities in the need for and the means of providing improved nutrition, safe water and hygienic sanitation. Backed up with training and referral services by the medical profession, such strategies could make drastic improvements in community health for as little as $2 per head.

If the priority is the greatest health of the greatest number, then the case for such a Primary Health Care strategy is clearly overwhelming. But just as it can be in the interest of those who control the land to grow flowers rather than food, so it can be in the interest of those who make the decisions on health priorities to train western-style doctors rather than invest in Primary Health Care.

Therefore the switch from curative medicine for the few to preventative health care for the many, requires not only a technical change or a policy decision, but a more fundamental structural change in the decision-taking process itself - in the distribution of economic and political power - if the needs of the poor majority are to be reflected in the allocation of health resources.

The Chosen Few

In September of 1977, UNESCO announced that, for the first time, more than half of the children of primary school age in the developing world were actually attending school.

But because 40 per cent of the poor world's population is under the age of fifteen (as opposed to only 27 per cent in the industrialised world) an even greater effort will be called for in the 1980s if enrolment rates are to be even maintained at present levels. On the most optimistic projections, the number of adults without the ability to read and write is due to increase by about 46 million between 1980 and 1990, even though the percentage of illiterate people in the developing world will fall from about 52 per cent to about 49 per cent in the same period.

Faced with such facts, the SouthEast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation has already said that 'The formal school system cannot meet the demand of the rising school population for general education, let alone cover the wide range of skills needed for social and economic development.'

In other words, education has somehow to be rationed. And, once again, the issue moves out of the classroom and into the political arena. For priorities in education inevitably reflect the present structure and the future aims of the society which set those priorities.

In most developing countries today, more than half of all the resources available for education are being used to create an educated minority for the modern sector of the economy. School examinations, and thereby school curricula, are usually designed to give pupils the beginnings of the skills required to be engineers, scientists, accountants, doctors, civil servants and administrators - and to select out those few who are capable of acquiring those skills at secondary schools and universities.

As a concept of education, it is like a religion in which many are called but few are chosen. And the net result is that the 80 per cent of pupils who do not qualify for secondary school are left with a sense of failure and frustration, and with the beginnings of an education geared to the needs of a small minority and largely irrelevant to the mainly rural and agricultural occupations which are the only opportunities open to almost three-quarters of the developing world's school-leavers.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere challenged this patterns of priorities and outlined an alternative: 'The education given in our primary schools must be a complete education in itself. Instead of primary school activities being geared to selecting the few who will go on to secondary school, there must be a preparation for the life which the majority of children will live. They must prepare people for life and service in the villages and rural areas of this country. For in Tanzania, the only true justification for secondary education is that it is needed by the few for the service of the many'.

In the Third World as a whole, this plea has gone unheeded. The annual rates of increase in enrolment have been greater in higher education than in secondary, and greater in secondary than in primary. Foreign aid programmes have reinforced this trend, with only 6 per cent of aid for education currently going to primary schools.

But the 1970s have also witnessed some important pioneering attempts to introduce 'Basic Education' geared to the needs of the majority. Examples of subjects on the 'Basic Education' syllabus:
* Literacy and numeracy.
* Preventative health and hygiene.
* Nutrition education.
* Techniques for increasing food production.
* Child-care, home-management and family-planning.
* House-improvement and construction skills.
* Appropriate technology.
* Local resources and environment.
* Participation in the community and political life.

The most basic need

The answer to poverty is a fourletter word: jobs. With productive and remunerative work to do, people can meet their own and their family's needs and contribute to and benefit from their country's development.

The conventional strategy of employment through growth is visibly failing. Despite sustained high rates of economic growth in many developing countries, unemployment and serious underemployment (which means earning less than $50 a year) is flickering between 25 and 30 per cent of the Third World's labour force. And it is getting worse. The ILO estimates that about 1,000 million new jobs will need to be created by the end of the century.

The debate on the New International Economic Order, which has been the focal issue of international development discussions in the 1970s (see pages 20-23) is essentially about jobs. 'The New International Economic Order will remain, an empty slogan on a piece of paper': says Hungarian Professor of Development Studies Taman Szentes 'unless it gets real meaning and lasting content by giving birth to a new worldwide division of labour.'

In practice this means lowering tariff-barriers and opening up the markets of the industrialised world to the manufactured products of the developing countries - shoes, textiles, paper products, furniture, glass-ware, vegetable oils, plywood, veneer, processed foods and many others. That would help to create employment in the Third World, but with seventeen million unemployed in the developed world it is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. And that is where and why the New Economic Order debate is stuck.

The 1976 World Employment Conference in Geneva concluded bluntly that a redistribution of opportunities for economic growth from the rich world to the Third World was necessary for job creation in the Third World and that job creation was necessary to alleviate poverty. But it also said that a parallel redistribution of income and opportunity was also needed within the developing countries themselves.

If a small number of people have a large surplus of wealth above their needs, the argument ran, then they tend to spend it on imported luxury consumer goods from the West or on investment abroad - and this does nothing for the balance of payments, nothing for selfreliance, nothing for local employment and nothing for the alleviation of poverty. If, on the other hand, a very large number of people have just a small surplus over and above their minimum needs then they are more likely to spend that surplus on basic necessities - a new roof or new furniture for the home, a small threshing machine or new tools for the farm, more and better food - so creating a pattern of industrial demand which is more likely to be met by local skills, local resources and appropriate technologies, so helping the balance of payments, increasing self-reliance, creating employment, and reducing poverty.

'Employment is the best way to do something about income distribution' said Louis Emmerij, Director of the World Employment Programme in 1955, 'and income distribution is the best way to do something about employment.'

This, the most basic of issues, has again come back to structural change and a redistribution of economic power within and between countries.

1970s: the decade that limped

Sceptical boy

The optimism of the early 70s has given way to widespread gloom about world development as, one after the other, technological breakthroughs which promised to solve the problems of poverty, hunger and ill-health have failed to do so. Peter Adamson argues that such failures are the result of fumbling with the wrong key in the development lock and that success in the 80s will depend on a humbler and wiser approach.

The popularity of crossword puzzles has something to do with the problems of world development. A crossword is a paradigm of a certain kind of problem. It can be solved. There is only one solution. And when you have arrived at that solution you know that it is the right one. The individual answers interlock and confirm each other, and the whole adds up to a solution which is self-evidently correct, complete, selfcontained, unimpeachable and momentarily triumphant. And there is nowhere else to go.

The problem of how to make a relationship work or how best to bring up your children is a different kind of problem. There is no one answer. There may be many possible and partial solutions from which the best must be chosen. And when you think you have an answer it cannot be easily checked and may change with time and circumstance. Its component parts need not interlock and may even contradict. And the whole adds up to something which is messy, incomplete and elusive.

These two types of problem have been called by different names. But at the risk of inventing more jargon let us call them 'reducible' and 'irreducible'. The 'reducible' problem, the crossword puzzle, can in the end be solved. In theory it can be boiled down to a = b.

No matter how complicated the equation may be in practice, it is ultimately reducible to a formula which can be written down and passed on intact to solve the same problem for somebody else in a different place or time. I can be told that the square on the hypotenuse will equal the sum of the squares on the other two sides and it will work as well for me as for the person who told me. But I cannot be told, in the same way, how to make a relationship work or how to appreciate Michelangelo. The solution to this kind of problem will never be 'reduced' to a formula.

The distinction between these two kinds of problem may go some way towards explaining why it is that a world which has made such impressive strides in its ability to solve its problems has so manifestly failed to do so: to explain, for example, why there is still a food problem when we have discovered how to grow three or four times as much food from the same acre of land; or why there is still a population problem when we have discovered cheap, safe and effective methods of contraception; or why more than half the world is still suffering from ill-health when almost all of the major diseases have been 'conquered'; or why there is still so much poverty when our capacity for the conversion of our environment into material wealth has never been greater.

Recent advances in human capacity have been confined almost entirely to increasing our capacity to solve ,reducible' problems. By contrast, our capacity to cope with 'irreducible' problems has barely grown and may even have shrunk. Imagine, for example, a Plato or a Buddha transported, without notice, into the twentieth century. It is safe to say that they would be lost in a fourth-grade science class let alone a discussion of particle physics. But it is equally safe to say that they would not be out of their depth in a discussion of, say, how to balance personal and social freedoms or what constitutes a just relationship between two people. Or take all the sophisticated computerised world economic models published in recent years by organisations like the Club of Rome. Perhaps their most significant feature is that they feel the need to head each chapter with a quotation from Aristotle or J. S. Mill or Mahatma Gandhi. It is almost an unconscious confession of the fact that we have grown in knowledge but not in wisdom, that one leg has grown long whilst the other has remained stunted. And the result is a pronounced limp and a more than occasional stumble.

Good News and Bad News

The main lesson of this last decade is that it has shown the limitations of ,reducible' solutions when applied to 'irreducible' problems.

How did it happen for example, that the new high-yielding 'miracle seeds' which promised 'to banish the age old spectre of famine from the pages of human history' made so big an impact on yields per acre and so little impact on the incidence and severity of malnutrition?

In practice, an agricultural extension worker brings the good news about the new seeds from the laboratory to the fields. First, he probably makes an appointment with the relatively prosperous farmer, say with 200 acres of land. The farmer is used to dealing with government officials, understands their language, and can read the literature they leave behind. Most important of all, he has 200 acres and can afford to risk 20 of them on the experimental seeds. He can also afford the irrigation, fertiliser, and pesticides without which the new varieties are unproductive. The result is a bumper crop - perhaps three times his previous yield. The next year, he puts all 200 acres under the new seeds.

When the agricultural extension worker calls on the small farmer down the road, subsisting on perhaps one acre of land, his reception may be different. Unused to dealing with city officials, unable to read the literature, unable to afford the inputs, the small farmer may well feel that 'this is not for him'. Most important of all, he has only one acre of land and cannot take a risk on the new seeds because if anything goes wrong he and his family will go hungry. He politely listens, accepts the pamphlets, and carries on, with his wife and children, trying to maintain their precarious hold on the basic necessities of life.

Large grows Larger

Next year, his richer neighbour's higher yields have depressed the market price slightly and so the poor farmer has not earned enough cash from the sale of his small surplus crop to pay for the necessities he must buy. And perhaps he has gone into debt with a local money lender. Meanwhile, the larger farmer is looking round to invest his new profits in more land and in machinery which more land will justify. He sees his neighbour struggling along in debt on his one acre and makes him an offer for his land, throwing in the chance of seasonal employment. A bargain is struck between unequals. And the net result is that the large farmer grows larger and the small farmer joins the ranks of the landless labourers amongst whom poverty and hunger is at its worst. And all this may eventually turn up in regional and national statistics which show increased food production per head and hence 'development'.

This small dramatisation, although obviously telescoped, is nonetheless not unrecognizable in countries like Mexico, birthplace of the Green Revolution, where the average farm size has increased from 400 to over 2000 acres and the proportion of landless labourers has risen from 57% to 75%.

In this case, tackling the 'reducible' problem of increasing crop yields whilst ignoring the 'irreducible' problem of inequalities in land holding actually exacerbated the problem of hunger which it sought to alleviate. Indeed it is almost an unwritten law of the development effort in the 1970s that the injection of technical improvements into unequal situations tends to increase the inequality and so work against the interests of the poorest.

In Africa, where the unequal relationship between men and women is manifested in the far longer hours worked by women, the tractor has been introduced to enable larger acreages to be ploughed in less time. This has further shortened the working day of the men who do the ploughing and lengthened the working hours of the women who do the weeding.

A similar analysis of the inadequacy of 'reducible' solutions when applied to 'irreducible' problems could be made of contraceptive pills and population growth, of medicines and health (see pages 14 and 15) and of other development problems which seemed, ten years ago, to be chiefly problems of technique.

No formula

What these brief examples argue for is that man cannot live by the reducible alone. It is not that the pill, the miracle seed, and the medical breakthrough are in themselves failures. They are brilliant solutions to the 'reducible' part of the problem. But when treated as solutions to the problem as a whole they are, to borrow an image from Zen, like the sound of one hand clapping.

In each of the major problem areas to which we have failed to find satisfactory answers in the 70s and which face us still in the 80s, the 'reducible' approaches are nearing the limits of their potential. To move forward, and to make what has been achieved in the realm of technique more truly useful, we shall have to turn and wrestle again with the 'irreducible' problems which humanity has always had to struggle with but from which the drastic increases in our capacity to solve 'reducible' problems has given us a temporary respite.

By definition, there can be no formula for the solution of 'irreducible' problems. They are, in short, the business of living. And if there were an equivalent of E = Mc2 to deal with them life would be as unchallenging as the Garden of Eden.

In this sense, the main lesson of the last decade and main challenge of the next is that development is quintessentially an 'irreducible' problem. Hard as it may be to accept, there is no formula. But it is perhaps possible to go as far as to say that the core of the problem lies not in our capacity to manipulate external circumstances but in our ability to create and be involved in just and sustainable relationships.

Creative Ideas

If that is indeed where the problem of development lies, then however messy and inconclusive the struggle may be, it at least signposts a new direction.

First of all, it implies that development is essentially a decentralised process. For one of the definitions of the 'irreducible' problem, whether it be making a relationship work or achieving social justice in a community, is that it is not susceptible to the imposition of centralised solutions worked out in one place by a few and applied in all places to the many. Such a technique may work for the application of 'reducible' solutions such as new seeds, but the solution of 'irreducible' problems depends on a diversity of approaches and experiments, on accumulated wisdoms and creative ideas in context.

Secondly, it implies that just relattionships between countries, and between communities and individuals within countries, are the fundamental precondition for development.

In this way also, the 'irreducible' approach demands decentralisatior. and allows of genuine participation. For if the problem of development is ultimately a problem about relationships then it need not be the preserve of experts, the conventionally educated and conventionally intelligent, who are not noticeably better at forming and sustaining just and loving human relationships than are the poor and the illiterate. In the area of human relationships, in the heart of the matter, there are no experts to alienate.

For all these reasons, no amount of 'technological fix' can resolve the problems of poverty and development. And progress in the 80s will depend not on 'more of the same', on the continued throwing of 'reducible' solutions at 'irreducible' problems, but on changes in the economic, social and political relationships which are and will remain the rockbed of the development problem.

Man on the Moon

There are some signs in both industrialised and developing countries that the honeymoon with technology is over and that fundamental questions will resume their pre-eminent place. There are also signposts in the opposite direction. One concerned and committed movement in the United States is now campaigning around the idea that 'we decided to put a man on the moon and we did it - now let's decide to get rid of malnutrition on the earth and we'll do that too'.

Art of Development

However well-meaning such a sentiment may be, it is dangerous. Ending hunger and putting a man on the moon are extreme examples of 'reducible' and 'irreducible' problems and as such they require fundamentally different approaches.

The one demands an attitude of aggression and arrogance, of the will to compete and dominate, and depends upon the centralisation of effort and the input of more money, more scientists, and more technology. The other demands an approach of humility and respect, of co-operation and the sacrifice of cherished vested interests, and it depends upon participation and wisdom. Development, in short, is an art as well as a science. That is its real challenge. And from that perspective the walk on the moon was a very big step for a man but a very small step for mankind.

The case for the new economic order

If ever there was a tide in the affairs of men and women, this is it.

The earth community stands before a gathering storm of crises. And it knows it.

460 million people are actually starving. An estimated 200 million are unemployed. A guessed-at 75,000 people a day are migrating to overcrowded cities. Population is about to double in the next thirty years. The resources of the planet are steadily running out. The natural systems which encompass and sustain all life are nearing the outer limits of their tolerance.

In response, the international community has added to its understanding and awareness of these problems with unaccustomed speed over the last three years.

There has been a World Environment Conference (Stockholm, 1973), a World Population Conference (Bucharest 1974), a World Food Conference (Rome 1974) and, rest assured, there will be a World Employment Conference (Geneva 1976) and a Human Settlements Conference (Vancouver 1976).

These cumbersome conferences, rippling with expert muscle but lacking in political scope have sometimes seemed to flounder like whales in a swimming pool – all splash and no swim. But to dismiss them as a waste of time is just fashionable nonsense.

All of them have widened the world’s knowledge of its problems and that alone is an indispensable, if insufficient, step towards genuine solutions.

And the cross-fertilization – some would say in-breeding – of ideas which these conferences have permitted has sired a new generation of studies and seminars and reports whose analysis and proposals are as radical as the change that is needed.

From all this, a consensus is now emerging which, if taken at the flood, could yet lead on to fortune.

Signs of the times

The most important theme to be crystallized out of this solution of words is that the major crises of our times are not unrelated accidents, mere coincidental aberrations from an otherwise well-regulated world system.

The problems of food, population, employment and environment are now recognized as symptoms of the same sickness. And it is clear that a cure will not be found without a diagnosis of what that sickness is.

'The central problem of our times is this "two-tier" world'

The 1975 Dag Hammarskjöld Report, for example, describes the various crises as ‘only the most obvious signs of a great disorder under heaven’. And the latest Report to the Club of Rome by Mesarovic and Pestel also opens with the statement that ‘the whole multitude of crises appears to constitute one single global crisis of world development’.

Recent events have made it blazingly clear that this single global crisis, the sickness which underlies the symptoms, is none other than common poverty compounded by chronic inequality.

A United Nations seminar in Cocoyoc, Mexico, for example, concluded that ‘The failure of world society to provide a safe and happy life for all is not caused by any present lack of physical resources… but by economic and social maldistribution’. The Dag Hammarskjöld report already referred to also concludes that ‘The true limits of mankind in our time are not primarily physical but social and political’.

A closer look at the signs of disorder under heaven does indeed show them all pointing the same way.

Food and poverty

No-one at the World Food Conference, for example, denied that there is surplus food in the world.

There is food for sale in the rich nations, but heavy buying by the nations that can afford it has depleted reserves and pushed the price beyond the reach of the nations that need it. Bulk purchases of grain by the Soviet Union, from the United States, for instance, contributed to a trebling of world wheat prices and left India, with much more need but much less money, unable to buy enough grain. As one observer at the Rome Conference put it, ‘the food crisis is a crisis of price and distribution’.

Even inside many of the hungry nations, there is surplus food and more could be grown. But the poorest 40 per cent who need it do not have the resources to grow it or the money to buy it. Therefore there is no ‘economic demand’, therefore food is either not grown or it is sold to the rich nations where there is an ‘economic demand’ for animal feed.

‘No doubt everyone realizes how preposterous it is,’ commented Professor Georg Borgstrom, ‘that the most protein-needy continents are the main suppliers of animal protein food – and they supply those who already have plenty.’

‘Less than one tenth of the grains fed to Northern beef cattle equals this year’s global deficit in food grains,’ says the United Nations Development Programme.

The sickness could hardly be more clearly exposed. Economic demand is effective; human demand is not.

The food crisis is a symptom of poverty and inequality. And today there is a boredom of evidence to show it.

People and population

It has also come to light in the last few years that rapid population growth is more a result of poverty than a cause. And the World Population Conference was the crest of a wave which left the pill-as-panacea high and dry on the barren beach of its own infertile approach.

By shifting the spotlight from the problems of population to the problems of people, the Conference illuminated the fact that poor people generally have larger families because children can bring security in illness and old age, help in fields and homes, and hope and joy into lives that often have little of either.

‘Every reputable demographer now knows,’ wrote Geoffrey Barraclough in the New Yorker this year, ‘that the only historically proven way of reducing population growth is to improve living standards and that it is the hungry, indigent and despondent who have large families.’

‘There will be little chance of bringing birth-rates down rapidly enough to avert disaster,’ writes food and population expert Lester Brown, ‘without a more equitable distribution of income and social services.’

Yes, the population problem also points its finger at poverty and inequality.

No jobs for the poor

The rich nations have the capital and the purchasing power to invest in factories, machines, research, new technologies, long production runs, cheap unit costs, subsidies, competitive exports, and jobs.

The poor countries have unemployment.

Inside developing countries too, the length of the job queues is roughly proportionate to the breadth of inequality. Paul Harrison, writing in the London Financial Times of 12 December 1974, reported that ‘World Employment Programme researches have shown that the rich in the developing countries spend more on imported luxuries and on expensive items produced by capital intensive methods. Redistribution of income would mean more spending on items produced locally and by labour-intensive methods. Redistribution equals more employment.’

Inside developing countries too, the length of the job queues is roughly proportionate to the breadth of inequality

The crisis of the overcrowded and underemployed cities can also be brought home to inequality’s door. In most developing countries, limited resources have been concentrated on the modern urban centres, creating what Dr E F Schumacher has called ‘the total imbalance between city and countryside, an imbalance in terms of wealth, power, culture, attraction and hope’.

‘The dual society,’ writes Indian economist A K N Reddy, ‘is associated with the evils of massive rural employment and underemployment, of mass migration to the metropolitan centres.’

Too much and too little

Finally, the environmental crisis itself is a running sore of inequality.

On the one hand the environment is threatened by too much – by the 1,000 new chemicals and 300,000 tons of pollutants being pumped into our atmosphere each year; by the industrial effluents and wastes from the manufacture of new products which we want but don’t need; by the 48 billion metal cans, 26 billion glass bottles and 7 million cars which are ‘junked’ each year by the United States alone.

On the other hand the environment is also threatened by too little – by the poverty and consequently accelerated population growth which forces people to cultivate marginal lands at great risk of soil erosion, the destruction of trees, and the advance of deserts.

Maurice Strong, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, told the 60th session of the International Labour Organization’s Conference this year that ‘the environmental problems of the industrialized countries stem from the excesses and abuses of the same process of industrial and urban growth which produced their present wealth and power, whilst the environmental problems of the developing countries are rooted primarily in the poverty and underdevelopment which still afflict the majority of the world’s people.’

Only One Earth, the book produced for the World Environment Conference in Stockholm, also concluded that ‘there is an inevitable and essential element of redistribution of resources underlying the problem of the environment’.

New cure needed

In these ways, the symptoms point to poverty and inequality. And today, these symptoms are so severe because the disease is so acute. ‘Judged against the sweep of history,’ writes Richard Jolly, Director of the Sussex Institute for Development Studies, ‘present world inequalities in income and wealth are recent and unprecedented.’

Although palliatives are plentiful, there is as yet no medically approved cure for chronic inequality. The Madame Guillotine and Robin Hood remedies are traditional antidotes, but the side effects of the atomic bomb are greater than those of the bow and arrow. A new cure is needed.

‘The central problem of our times,’ writes Professor Christopher Freeman, ‘is this “two-tier” world, and our central task is to explore paths by which inequalities between and within nations might be reduced.’

A new economic order

In May 1974 the governments of almost every nation in the world came together to discuss the central problem of inequality in wealth and opportunity. Meeting at the Sixth Special Session of the UN General Assembly – the first Special Session ever called by a developing country – they approved ‘by consensus’ a ‘Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order’. It was a hard-fought 2,000-word document, incorporating a coherent set of principles and accompanied by a definite Plan of Action, with the stated aim of ending the gross inequalities of the present time.

Since then, the New Economic Order has become almost synonymous with world development and provided a common focal point for a legion of conferences, studies, and reports over the last 16 months.

Despite the fact that the developed nations filed over 200 pages of reservations on the Declaration, and despite the fact that the degree of inequality inside many poor nations sometimes makes a mockery of their claims, the New Internationalist believes that a New Economic Order – between people as well as nations – is now the main hope and rallying point for change towards a more just, and therefore less hungry, less crowded, less violent and less physically degraded world.

Therefore this special issue is devoted to the content of, the case for and the consensus now gathering around the New Economic Order.

A population policy and a development policy are one and the same thing

We are all ex-babies. But, with flush toilets, pasteurized milk, mosquito nets and cholera vaccines, more and more of us are surviving to have babies of our own. That is why the population has ‘exploded’. It’s not that we’ve suddenly started breeding like rabbits. It’s just that we’ve stopped dying like flies.

This success has created new problems. How can the world feed, house, educate and care for a population that doubles every 30 years when almost half its people are already hungry, illiterate and diseased?

It can’t. Killing off half the world’s babies before they are five years old was perhaps nature’s way of keeping the population under control. But we have to find a better way.

A few years ago, we thought we had found the way – in the shape of the coil, the loop and the pill. This seemed to be the ideal answer – safe, cheap and sure.

It was apparent that the people of Africa, Asia and Latin America have twice as many children as the people of Europe and North America. Perhaps it was just assumed that this was because Europeans and Americans naturally ‘knew better’. But hardly anybody paused to consider why this was so. Whatever the reason, it was clear that the poor needed the pill.

Family planning programmes were started in many developing countries and the advantages of small families were paraded before the populace with various colourful gimmicks like touring elephants that gave away condoms, free transistor radios for men who volunteered to be sterilized and compelling radio jingles like ‘When you have two that will do’.

Less strain

At first all went well. There were, and still are, thousands of people who wanted to have fewer children and who flocked thankfully to the family planning clinics to be fitted with coils or given a month’s supply of pills.

The advantages seemed obvious. People could at last decide for themselves how many children to have and when to have them.

It’s not that we’ve suddenly started breeding like rabbits. It’s just that we’ve stopped dying like flies.

And it was soon found that as well as slowing down population growth, family planning can really help people to improve their lives here and now. It can mean less strain on the family budget so that there is enough for all. And it can mean better health for both mothers and children; for it is a medical fact that too many babies too close together depletes and exhausts a woman’s health and can mean that the babies themselves suffer both physically and mentally.

A new picture

But soon the euphoria began to blow itself out. Many large-scale family planning programmes proved to be costly failures. In India, which has one of the largest, fastest-growing and poorest populations in the world, family planning failed to catch on. In nation after nation the story was the same. Millions of dollars and thousands of experts had been pumped into family planning programmes, but after some encouraging starts the overall birth rate had remained more or less constant and in some cases actually increased. In the last few years, a great deal of research has gone into finding out why. And the conclusions have radically changed the whole picture.

It had been assumed from the start that most poor people wanted smaller families and that therefore all one had to do was provide the means.

But the one common theme that has come out loud and clear from the intensive research of recent years is that MOST POOR PEOPLE WANT LARGE FAMILIES.

Peace of mind

That was a staggering conclusion. The easy answers suddenly disappeared. The pill itself was made impotent. For although contraceptives can enable people to have smaller families they cannot make people want smaller families.

The centre of study now began to shift. The big question now became ‘why do people want large families?’

The answer was not difficult to find once the focus of attention was switched from the problems of population to the problems of people.

Most poor people in the Third World don’t have unemployment pay, sickness benefits, or old-age pensions. And when jobs are scarce, illness common, and old age comes early, children are necessary for protection, security and peace of mind. As Milkah Singh, an Indian farmer, told one researcher: ‘Without our children God knows what would happen to me and their mother when we are too old to work and earn.’

The assumptions of the West

This simple dominant fact of Third World life had escaped the attention of people in the affluent West, who were largely behind the family planning programmes and who brought to them a Western perspective which included welfare states and social security.

Another equally important mistake was the assumption that children are a burden on the family budget which poor people could not afford. This again was an assumption based on the experience of affluent countries where children mean larger homes, a longer shopping list, school uniforms, but don’t start earning or contributing to the family income until they are 16 or more.

Children, from a very early age, make an important contribution to the family’s work and well-being

For most Third World families the opposite is the case. Children don’t cost much extra. They don’t mean moving to a larger house with more bedrooms, they don’t mean buying prams and carrycots and bicycles and electric train sets. But they do mean an extra pair of hands around the home and in the fields.

Seventy per cent of the people in the Third World live in the rural areas. And children, from a very early age, make an important contribution to the family’s work and well-being. They can bring water out to the fields (jobs which can take four hours or more a day). They can help with the cooking and sewing and cleaning and washing of pots and pans and clothes. When they are just a little older they help with tilling the land, sowing, fertilizing and harvesting the crops. And thousands of young men and women in the Third World are now emigrating to the nearest town or city in order to find paid employment and send money back to their families.

For millions of low-income families, the actual job of staying alive, of keeping house and home together, of growing enough food to eat and bringing enough water to drink, is a hard daily struggle which children make possible and even bearable.

The realization that most children in the Third World are not a liability but an asset shattered another fragile myth which had been a foundation stone of many family planning programmes.

Mortality and machismo

Social and religious customs often serve to elevate and reinforce economic needs, and in many Third World nations these pressures have created a corresponding cultural climate which sees fertility in a woman and machismo in a man as norms or virtues. People in the West have often smiled at these ‘quaint’ religious customs and social pressures, regarding them as evidence of ‘backwardness’ while at the same time exerting their own femininity through the social convention of cosmetics or their own machismo through faster cars.

To all these pressures must be added the pressure of child mortality. Even today, a poor Indian family must have 6.5 children to be 95% certain of having one surviving son.

Under such conditions, it is not so astonishing that the people of the Third World have not been stampeding to the local pharmacy.

‘We know best’

In sum, the whole of the ‘population problem’ has been plagued by the almost subconscious assumption that poor people have many children because they don’t know any better; that they would be happier and better off if they had fewer children; that ‘we’ know what’s best for ‘them’. It is a measure of the depth of previous condescension that the most important lesson of the last ten years has been that poor people are not stupid; that they make rational decisions over their own lives; and that large families are usually an intelligent response to economic circumstances.

When the social and economic circumstances of poverty change for the majority of the people in the Third World, when they no longer need many children for security in illness and old age, when their lives are not so difficult that many children are needed to make life tolerable, when fewer of their babies die in childhood, then the pill and the coil and the loop may be welcomed. Family planning may catch fire and the world’s population explosion may be damped down.

Statistical evidence

All this observed evidence is backed up by recent statistical and economic studies. It has been fully demonstrated in such works as William Rich’s ‘Smaller Families Through Economic and Social Progress’ and James Kocher’s ‘Rural Development Income Distribution and Fertility Decline’ that the birth rate only falls significantly when the standard of living rises significantly for the majority of the people. Kocher concludes: ‘I am aware of no evidence of sustained fertility decline – either spontaneous or induced through a family planning programme – ever having taken place in the absence of significant socio-economic development and modernization that considerably altered the lives of most of the population.’

For crude but convincing evidence of this, one need look no further than the question we ignored earlier – why is it that population is growing twice as fast in the poor world as in the rich world?

William Rich has collated the data on how various factors influence the birth rate in a given country and clearly demonstrated that income levels, healthcare, life expectancy, employment opportunities, education and the status of women, are all major factors in determining the rate of population growth.

So the problem is not only population but poverty; and the solution is not only contraceptives but development. That much, at least, is now clear. And as the emphasis has switched from straightforward population control to the broader question of development, new light has been thrown on the nature of ‘development’ itself.

Striking evidence

More and more in recent years it has been said that development cannot be measured in terms of GNP and economic growth rates. The study of the relationship between development and population growth has given massive weight to that argument. As Rich concludes: ‘There is, however, striking new evidence that in an increasing number of poor countries… birth rates have dropped sharply despite relatively low per capita income and despite the absence or relative newness of family planning programmes. The examination of these cases… reveals a common factor. The countries in which this has happened are those in which the broadest spectrum of the population has shared in the economic and social benefits of significant national progress to a far greater degree than in most poor countries… Family planning programmes generally have been much more successful in those countries where increases in output of goods and social services have been distributed in such a way that they improve the way of life for a substantial majority of the population rather than just for a small minority.’

If there is one set of statistics that can summarize this complex but vitally important conclusion it is the comparison of the economies of five countries (the Philippines, Taiwan, Mexico, Brazil and South Korea) published by the Overseas Development Council in 1973.

A key weapon

Charts may be boring, but these statistics must now be regarded as a vital element in any discussion of either population or development. For they demonstrate that increasing equality of income distribution and access to social services is the major factor both in promoting development and in reducing the birth rate. A development policy and a population policy are one and the same thing, and the key to both is more equal distribution of income.

In simple economic terms, this would increase overall demand and stimulate the economy – and, just as important, it creates demand for labour-intensive ‘home grown’ products, so creating employment and making major import savings.

And in equally simple population terms, more equal distribution of income helps to create the necessary social and economic conditions in which, for the majority of the people, the need for large families is reduced and the incentive toward family planning is increased.

In short, the great lesson of all the recent studies on the population issue is that more equal income distribution and the development process which it stimulates is not only desirable in itself in order to end the poverty which afflicts half the world now; it is also the only way of significantly reducing the world’s population growth and preventing even more poverty in the world tomorrow. The wheel has come full circle, and the message of World Population Year must now be read as ‘look after the people and the population will look after itself’.