Radix - Economic Development and Politics

Letter sent to the Guardian:

By David Sanderson

"Sir, We welcome the announcement by international development minister George Filches that Britain has committed funds to the rescue effort (UK gives £600,000 to quake victims, 16 January).

"But this tragedy highlights a problem long ignored by governments and institutions. By 2015, 600 million people will live in the burgeoning cities of the developing world. The overwhelming pressures of urbanization force the very poorest citizens into a city's most dangerous and disaster-prone areas.

"Inadequate urban management, and the subsequent rise of unplanned shanty towns - with little in the way of city services or building regulations - puts citizens at the mercy of natural disasters. Earthquakes, hurricanes and everyday emergencies, like fires and landslides, continue to claim thousands of lives, perpetuate poverty and erode poor people's savings.

"By 2025 over three fifths of the world's population will live in cities. If more support was given to development and urban planning in the third world, then fewer funds might be needed to respond to the growing global tally of natural disasters."
[ emphasis added] David Sanderson, Technical and Policy Advisor, CARE International, UK. 16 January 2001

This comment is basically correct, but what good does it do to exhort donors to support urban planning and development with they have no leverage of the "growth machine" that profits from uncontrolled growth in cities all over the world (see Sustainable Development and Political Issues)

"Oscar Ortiz, mayor of Santa Tecla ... a former guerrilla fighter ... took over as mayor for the FMLA ... says his office has been left alone to provide for the hundreds of homeless." [A. Bounds and R. Lapper, "Earthquake opens up some old divisions," Financial Times , 20 Jan. 2001, p. 3]

Note from Steve Bender, OAS ( http://www/oas.org)

As in the case of Haresh, I want to build on Ben's communication and note that an open alternative to address the vulnerability reduction of populations and their social and economic infrastructure to natural hazards is to continue to tie vulnerability issues directly to economic development, particularly at the national and regional scale since development loans and programs are set at those levels, and through sectoral mechanisms.

To that end, I am enclosing information about the upcoming Hemispheric Conference on Vulnerability of Reduction of Trade Corridors to Socio- Natural Disasters (TCC), organized by the OAS, to look at the linkages of the agriculture, energy and transportation sectors to national and regional development through the perspective of trade corridors, such as the Central America Pan American Highway, which was severely impacted by the earthquake.

Please consider your participation and I would be glad to answer any questions you might have, or they can be directed to Laura Acquaviva <lauacqua@cpsarg.com> at the TCC secretariat. I apologize if you have previously received this information and already acted on it.

To carry through with international declarations in 2000 that disaster reduction is a development problem entails linking disaster management issues to high profile development issues.

"The task of rebuilding 75,000 houses fully or partially destroyed is 'a massive challenge,' said deputy housing Minister Cesar Ceron.

"'I have traveled through dozens of communities and villages and the scene is the same: homes are in ruins,' he told AFP, adding: 'We have no option but to ask for aid.'

"Even before the crisis, El Salvador, with a population of 6.1 million people, had a shortage of half a million houses, according to official estimates."   [AFP, 19 January 2001, emphasis added]

"There has been some criticism leveled at the government - that they have being giving priority to the population base of its own political party rather than targeting on a needs basis." [Ros O'Sullivan, Concern (Ireland), 19 January 2001]

"Salvador's former leftist rebel group Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, now a political party, called on Congress to revoke a recent law making the US dollar legal tender in El Salvador.

'We ... ask that the dollarization (of the economy) be rolled back, because we feel the measure is making the uncertainty and confusion caused by the earthquake even worse,' FMLN leader Leonel Gonzalez told AFP." [AFP, 18 Jan. 2001]

"...rebuilding will cost $1billion , or 50% of the budget. But budget approval has been held up because the main opposition, the former guerrillas of the FLMN, want more flexibility in spending. For that reason, they have also called on Mr. Flores t o suspend a newly-introduced plan to adopt the dollar as currency." ["Lessons from El Salvador's tragedy," The Economist, 20-26 January, 2001, p. 31]

Of course houses and infrastructure need to be rebuilt, but how and in what economic context? What is also required is a national dialogue on the meaning of "development", an open discussion that begins with human needs and does not take the dogmas of neoliberalism for granted. In Nicaragua, for example, the two years since Mitch have seen the evolution of such a new vision of a possible future, articulated by 350 non-governmental groups involved in recovery work. These groups represent a wide cross-section of the population and of sectors (see CCER web site, http://ccer.ipeople-international.com/).

"Inter-American Development Bank President Enrique V. Iglesias and the president of the Coordination Center for the Prevention of Natural Disasters in Central America, Claudio Gutiérrez Huete, today signed documents that provide $1,410,000 in nonreimbursable financing to strengthen the capacity of six countries of the Central American Isthmus to prevent or mitigate the most devastating effects of natural disasters. [IAB, 4 August 1999]

Has there been an annual review of that has been accomplished with this investment? It's been more than a year. There are minimal things that one might expect: protection for schools and hospitals, identification of landslide hazard (as mentioned earlier), protection of life line infrastructure. What's been accomplished? ( See http://www.cepredenac.org/)

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