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Rich nations paying more lip service to concept of sustainable development

The New Straits Times, September 1, 2002

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

THE World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) began in Johannesburg last Monday, and the prospects for the vast majority of the people of the world don’t look good.

The Johannesburg Summit is a continuation of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (better known as the Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro a decade ago.

At Rio, the concept of sustainable development as a political model and a new dimension in developmental issues was introduced.

Rio held so much promise.

Significantly, a link was bridged between environment and development in a new paradigm termed as “sustainable development”.

Agenda 21, a 800-page blueprint with more than 2,500 recommendations, was adopted by the international community as a global plan of action, an attempt to redress the situation. In Johannesburg, these recommendations will be revisited.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on the Summit to focus on actions that address water and sanitation, energy, health, agricultural productivity, and biodiversity and the protection of ecosystems.

But based on the United Nations document, Global Environment Outlook, charting the environmental degradation that took place in the past three decades, the outcome is not at all encouraging.

In fact, this seems to be case even for the next 30 years, until 2032.

Indeed, Annan in a report, Implementing Agenda 21, laments that progress towards the goals established at Rio has been slower than anticipated. More worrying is the admission that in some respects conditions are worse than they were 10 years ago.

This is echoed by the most recent UN report, Global Challenge, Global Opportunity, which highlights the urgent need to address such damaging trends.

The WSSD secretariat suggests that if current patterns of development continue, “nearly half of the world's people will suffer from water shortages within the next 25 years, the use of fossil fuels, along with greenhouse gas emissions, will grow, and the world's forests will continue to disappear.”

Not surprisingly therefore, air pollution kills three million people a year, 300 million suffer from malaria, 1 billion lack access to clean water and 2 billion lack access to proper sanitation facilities.

There are over 2.5 billion people who depend on fuel-wood for cooking and heating,a major cause of indoor air pollution, and people in developed countries are using up to 10 times as much fossil fuel as people in developing countries.But this is only a tip of the iceberg. Recently, Harry Petrequin, a former faculty member of the National Defense University, put a clear perspective to the sad state of injustice when he wrote: 

“The G-7 nations (US, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada), with 20 percent of the world’s population, utilise 86 per cent of the resources made available each year.

The US is a good example. With only 4 per cent of the world’s population, alone utilises 33 percent of these resources, produces 30 percent of the waste, and 25 percent of the gases causing global climate change (cgi.citizen-times.com/cgi-bin/print/4346).

In addition, two-thirds of the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is made up of personal consumption; that two-thirds is larger than the combined Gross National Product (GNP) of more than 100 developing nations. It is said that if this lifestyle were replicated all over the world, as globalisation tends to promote, “another two planet Earths would be required to produce the resources and absorb the wastes.”

Often enough, we have been reminded that about a half of the world’s population of six billion people is struggling to survive on US$2 (RM7.6) or less a day.

In other words, a total of three billion of the human race struggle to just  survive each day, especially children. Still the world spends nearly US$800 billion annually on armaments compared with less than US$50 billion on economic development.

Since 1992, 14 out of 21 donor countries have slashed their aid budgets. In 2000, only five, namely Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, met the target of 0.7 percent of GDP.

Ironically, since the 1960s, US, purportedly the largest exporter of arms, “has slipped into last place among the 22 industrialised nations as a donor of foreign assistance when such aid is measured as percentage of GNP.”

To feel the full impact of what this actually means for the larger majority, nothing is more scary than the analogy put forth by Petrequin.

If we shrink the Earth’s population to a village of precisely 100, but all of the existing human ratios remained the same, our world would look like this: 50 percent of the entire world’s wealth would be owned by only six people, and all six would be citizens of the US; 70 would be unable to read; 50 would suffer fram malnutrition; 80 would live in substandard housing; 15 would have a disability, and one would have a college education.

This being the case, as widely predicted, WSSD will be an uphill battle.

Now that the rich nations are intensely focused on the ‘war on terrorism,’ they have conveniently forgotten the other forms of terrorism that they themselves helped to spawn – poverty, starvation, disease, homelessness.

These more prevalent forms of terrorism are causing premature death of millions around the world. In the countries of the South, the infant mortality rate is about 10 times higher than the industrialised north.

The promises agreed at Rio will continue to be neglected, and more lip services will be rendered at Johannesburg.

After all the death of the millions of poor people is yet to be regarded as an evil act of terrorism, what’s more if the unjust act involves the rich whose terror does not count as terror.

Recommended website: http://www.johannesburgsummit.org/index.html



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