2002/05/27 IMF and World Bank: Out of Control
THE International Monetary Fund and World Bank are institutions out of control. For evidence, consider the institutions' feeble and fatally flawed debt relief program. Under their Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative, the world's poorest countries can receive reduction of approximately one third of their current payments to overseas creditors -- if they endure six years of closely monitored, extremely intrusive "structural adjustment." ... HIPC is the institutions' most important fig-leaf, a program designed to obscure the view of the harm they are doing to poor countries.

Greenwash + 10
The UN's "Global Compact" with global corporations associates with notorious violators of UN values -- Global Compact companies have already violated the Principles of the Compact, without censure -- or even acknowledgement -- from UN officials. The Global Compact represents a smuggling of a business agenda into the United Nations. It should not be considered a contribution to or framework for the Johannesburg Summit. Here's the evidence.

Technology and the poor
The United Nations Development Programme's "Human Development Report 2001 -- Making new technologies work for human development" attempts to address a key question for the 21st century: will technology entrench millions in even greater poverty -- or can it be used to eradicate poverty and suffering? But it chooses the wrong challenge. The key issue is not "making new technologies work for human development". The challenge is enabling poor people to make technologies work for them.

Philip Morris Sees the Light
After decades of denial about the hazards of tobacco, Philip Morris has been promoting the benefits to society of premature deaths from smoking, in a study that found the early deaths of smokers have "positive effects" for society that more than counteract the medical costs of treating smoking induced cancer and other diseases.
Updated resources.

The Enemies of Democracy
Report of a chilling, documented history of ongoing corporate efforts to use propaganda and "public relations" to distort science, manipulate public opinion, discredit democracy, and consolidate political power in the hands of a wealthy few. Details, references, and lots of resources.

Murder that is a threat to survival
There is a strong link between diminishing global biodiversity and the disappearance of languages. While new trees can be planted and habitats restored, it is much more difficult to restore languages once they have been murdered. It has taken centuries for people to learn about their environments and to name the complex ecological relationships that are decisive for maintenance of biodiversity. When indigenous peoples lose their languages, much of this knowledge also disappears. And languages are being murdered today faster than ever before in human history.

Seed patents threaten world food resources
Just as the Prince of Wales launched a millennium gene bank in Britain last November to conserve 10% of the plant kingdom, in Switzerland a threat appeared to the future availability of the seeds used to feed the world. Negotiations to keep their ownership in the public domain were only rescued at the 11th hour. These negotiations are a life insurance for humanity against rapid environmental, social and economic changes. Future food supplies will be under threat unless the talks succeed.
Updated resources.

The wreckers who trade in misery
Dedicated and well-organised groups are ruthlessly chipping away at the remnants of the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) credibility. There is a real danger that they will cause the rules-based trading system to collapse, destroying efforts to reduce poverty and global inequality. The wreckers are not from the broadening anti-globalisation, anti-WTO protest movement. They are the governments of the world's richest countries, using their power to subordinate the WTO to their national interests and to the pursuit of corporate profit, regardless of the cost to poor countries, public health and the environment.
Updated resources.

BP -- Beyond Preposterous
BP Amoco won a Corporate Watch "Greenwash Award" for its thoroughly misleading ad campaign "Beyond Petroleum". The slogan "Beyond Petroleum" is supposed to mean moving "beyond fossil fuels" to renewable fuels, but BP uses it to refer to its marketing push for natural gas -- a fossil fuel. BP spent more on its new eco-friendly logo in 1999 than on renewable energy. This was BP's second Greenwash award in 18 months. Read how BP boss Sir John Browne won a Greenpeace "Academy Award" for "Best Impression of an Environmentalist" for creating "an environmental fantasy of epic proportions". And behind the fantasy? Spin, lies, cheating, abuses, broken laws, pollution on a grand scale.
Updated resources.

Shell wins Greenwash Award
Corporate Watch awarded its Greenwash Award to Shell for its ad claiming that Shell is at the forefront of reducing harmful greenhouse gases. Kenny Bruno, co-author of "Greenwash: The Reality Behind Corporate Environmentalism", takes a deeper look and finds that the company is full of hot air. Journey to Forever takes a further look, and finds that it's worse than that.
Updated resources.

Talking pure manure
Agribusiness mouth Denis T. Avery keeps claiming that "people who eat organic and 'natural' foods are eight times as likely as the rest of the population to be attacked by a deadly new strain of E. coli bacteria (0157:H7)" -- despite solid proof that his "evidence" and "tests" are all falsified. In fact nearly all cases of E. coli 0157:H7 poisoning result from contaminated meat from industrial factory farms and meat processing plants, NOT organic farms. So why does he keep claiming it? Because the truth hurts.
Updated resources.

2000/5/19 Hi-tech crops are bad for the brain
"Miracle" crops, hailed as the answer to global famine, are contributing to widespread brain impairment in the developing world, a new report concludes. The high-yielding rice and wheat varieties of the "Green Revolution" are among a range of environmental factors undermining the intelligence of millions of people.

2000/5/3 The WTO: "These guys just don't get it!"
In response to the anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) protests, a Washington think-tank sponsored a day-long seminar entitled "After Seattle: Restoring Momentum in the WTO". "This was supposed to be a seminar on how to rebuild public confidence in the WTO, not transform the agency into the former Soviet KBG."

2000/4/5 Countering myth with facts
"Agriculture needs to counter false charges" and to "educate the general public and government officials" in order to "counter myth with facts", say two spokesmen of the American poultry industry. Myths to be countered with facts: animal welfare, worker safety, environmental contamination, antibiotic use.
Updated resources.

2000/4/1 Rape of a rainforest
Malaysian timber companies have become notorious for their systematic destruction of the world's remaining rainforests. Latest victim is Liberia, which has one of the largest surviving rainforest areas in West Africa -- report on an ecological and social crime.
Updated resources.

2000/3/17 Do pesticides cause cancer?
The answer, straight from the horse's mouth -- chemical corporation Monsanto's "Fact Sheet On Pesticide Use": "Number of active ingredients in pesticides found to cause cancer in animals or humans: 107." Read on!


Technology and the poor

Technology, Poverty and the Future of the Developing World

-- from
Human Development Report 2001 - ITDG response, Intermediate Technology Development Group (now Practical Action), see Practical Action website for further information:

UNDP website for HDR

The United Nations Development Programme's "Human Development Report 2001 -- Making new technologies work for human development" attempts to address a key question for the 21st century: will technology entrench millions in even greater poverty -- or can it be used to eradicate poverty and suffering?

Revolutionary changes in technology are driving forwards globalisation. But globalisation is creating greater inequalities than at any time in history.

The Human Development Report 2001 (HDR) is a vital and powerful first contribution which can inform a new worldwide debate.

But it chooses the wrong challenge. The key issue is not "making new technologies work for human development". The challenge is enabling poor people to make technologies work for them.

The Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), with 35 years' hands-on experience with technology issues in poor countries, says the HDR reflects old thinking about new technologies. What is required is new thinking about all technologies which are of use to poor people -- whether those technologies are "old" or "new".

This means starting with poor people and what they need from technology -- not starting with technologies and "applying" them to "poverty".

It means building the capacity of poor women and men to choose and use technology; to adapt, develop and improve it; and to manage it sustainably over time. Without addressing these factors, no technology can be successfully "applied" to their livelihoods.

And it means subjecting any new technology choice to the "three As" analysis -- whether it is Affordable, Accessible, and Appropriate (see below).

Under this approach the HDR's concentration on "new" technologies and global policy frameworks fails the key challenge -- enabling poor people to make technologies work for them.

Old thinking, false assumptions

The HDR reflects old thinking about new technologies. It starts with the technologies, not with the people and their environment. It assumes a model of technology transfer in which a technology is researched and developed far from its potential application and then taken out and "diffused" to tackle poverty.

It assumes that this transfer of the "new" technologies is both practical and desirable (for example, it does not question the as yet unproven benefits of biotechnology in agriculture). It assumes that "countries" make these technology choices.

Despite analysing some technologies which are "old" but have still to diffuse to poor people it has no answer as to why this should be so. Some transforming technologies which clearly reduce poverty include: electricity, still not available to two billion people; technology for safe water supply, still denied to one billion people; and adequate sanitation, which over two billion still lack.

How can we be sure that, for example, information and communications technologies will not meet the same fate -- particularly when one third of humanity has yet to use a telephone? What are the barriers to people's access to technology, and how can they be tackled?

The three As test -- affordable, accessible and appropriate?

The barriers to technology diffusion are best understood by using the three As analysis. The grassroots partners of ITDG -- poor women and men -- would look at any technology option and consider whether it is:

The "new" technologies are not immediately affordable or accessible to poor people. And there are serious questions about their appropriateness.

New technologies developed for and within rich countries are not easily affordable to people surviving on $1 a day. The HDR itself vividly illustrates the distorted priorities and injustices of new scientific and technological development within a liberalised framework for trade and investment -- static levels of public-sector R&D and a rapidly growing dominance of private-sector R&D, almost all of it in OECD countries and addressing rich men's desires and anxieties, not poor women's suffering.

Even could they afford them, poor people may find new technologies inaccessible. They may require extensive existing infrastructure, such as power and telecommunications, which do not exist in poor communities. Or they presuppose a high level of education, skills and training in the user. Or information about them is not available locally. Or there is no development of back-up services for the products such as computer software or replacement photovoltaic cells.

Technology developed at a great distance and for other markets is unlikely to meet the local needs of poor and often isolated communities. Agricultural biotechnology, for instance, is specifically targeted at medium- or large-scale commercial farmers. By encouraging dependence on single-seed varieties, it might drastically undermine the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who need a range of locally adapted varieties as a hedge against specific risks such as rain failure or pest infestation.

Even "appropriate technology", where it has not been actively developed in partnership with the users, will fail. Solar cookers, for example, are simple, efficient and low-cost alternatives to traditional biomass fuels. But they have not been adopted by local people -- whose labour patterns in their fields and markets do not fit with spending the main part of the daylight hours cooking.

Some new technologies may be adaptable to pass the three As test, but as yet the proof is slim.

So the technology question must be widened -- if technology is to benefit poor people, what is really required is new thinking on all technologies which they can potentially use.

Need for new thinking on all technologies

By contrast to the HDR, ITDG proposes that technology will only solve problems of poverty if we start from the people, and what they need from technologies.

With the decline in economic and political power of the nation state, "countries" rarely can choose technologies, except in a general policy sense. It is people, not countries, who make technology choices.

The focus of the 21st century technology debate should therefore not be falsely restricted to "new" technologies, but should include all technologies of use to poor people.

Some brief examples:

The "opportunity costs" of neglecting these low-cost technologies in favour of untested (and, in the case of biotechnology, potentially damaging) "new" technologies may be critical.

The 35 years experience of ITDG and many others in the "appropriate technology movement" is that any opening up of technology options ("old" or "new'), requires technology to be seen not only as technical hardware and software, but as a process comprising other variables such as information and knowledge, skills and training, organisational and management capacity, and the use of markets.

New technologies will only "transfer", and other existing technologies be adapted and improved, if there is:

Policy frameworks -- local versus global

While the HDR makes some very valuable recommendations for policies at the global level, these will have little relevance or effect unless accompanied by powerful new thinking on the use of technology at the local level.

This will require much more investment by multilateral agencies, donor governments and developing country governments in demonstration projects to assess how to build poor people's technological capacities.

It will then require commitment to expand upon the best of these local lessons on a widespread scale.

It will require the political will to enter partnerships with poor people, their associations and institutions, and to remove the barriers in their way.

ITDG's recommendations

ITDG welcomes the HDR's clarion call for new action on the role of technology in development. It welcomes many of the global policy recommendations made by the report.

In addition ITDG would recommend that:

  1. All technologies of potential use to poor people are considered in global and national technology strategies -- not just the "new" technologies. Which will be most sustainable, and create the biggest benefits?

  2. The most important efforts of multilateral agencies, donor governments and developing country governments should be directed towards building the technological capacities of poor people -- and particularly women, who are 70 per cent of the poor, and whose technological contributions are usually overlooked.

  3. Many more "intermediary" organisations, who can help poor women and men to expand their technology choices, should be stimulated and funded -- appropriate technology institutes, NGOs, local authorities, and associations of small producers, for example.

  4. On Research and Development, the new international partnerships recommended by the HDR should specifically aim to create greater developing country capacity for R&D; and at national level, public funds should be used to support low-income and marginalised technology users to undertake incremental R&D.

  5. The local and traditional knowledge which is one of the greatest technological assets of poor people should be protected by:

The HDR focuses on the "new" technologies -- principally ICTs (information and communications technologies) and biotechnology, with mention of renewable energy technologies and nanotechnology -- and examines how they can be made useful to poor people. Its starting point is the technologies, and it overlooks the vast range of technologies in daily use by poor women and men.

By contrast, ITDG's approach is founded on Schumacher's dictum: "Find out what people are doing, and help them to do it better." That is, ITDG starts with people and enables them to achieve sustainable livelihoods by building their own technical and organisational capacities, achieving technology choice, and adapting and improving technologies.

ITDG background briefing (Word document)

Questioning the technologies in the HDR (Word document)

ITDG's formal policy response to UNDP (Word document)

Technology Won't Feed World's Hungry

Think Tank Report Challenges U.N. on Genetic Engineering

Greenpeace hits UNDP report for blind biotech bias

See also:
Community development
Poverty and hunger
Rural development

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