As CEIBA is currently redifing itself as a disater relief and reconstruction NGO to a disaster prevention and sustainable development NGO, we have been exploring other models in development. The release of the UNDP's 2010 Human Development Report, named "From Poverty and Consumerism to the Well-being of the people: A New Model of Development," I was pretty excited. FINALLY! Sustainable Development and Environmentalism can take center stage for development in El Salvador. Are people finally waking up?!?!
I walked into the room along with Tedde Simon, Director of the Grassroots Program for the SHARE Foundation. She has a pretty neat blog as well.
Everything was GREEN! Yes...I thought to myself. This is going to be all about environmental problems and disasters and climate change! That would be really important for our communities in Santiago Texacuangos and the thousands of other vulernable communities in El Salvador. You see, the UNDP report is what most major NGOs and Foundations base their investments in development on. This report will dictate major projects from USAID to Catholic Relief Services, because governments investing in El Salvador hold up this UNDP report as the Gold Standard of all reports that to analyze the social situation in El Salvador.
The room has well over 500 people present in El Salvador's ritzyest of hotels, the Sheraton. Hundreds of people in heels and ties awaited the arrival of President Mauricio Funes, the first Salvadoran President to ever be present at the UNDP Human Development Report presentation, and he officially endorsed the report. I was even more excited to hear the new model for development in El Salvador.
The presentation started out with general stats and figures I could agree with. For example:
- more than 50% of medical costs for Salvadorans are spent on pills. El Salvador has the highest priced pharmecueticals in Central America. Legislators need to urgently push through laws to reduce pharmecuetical costs and the corrupt market lock big companies have to artificially inflate prices
-El Salvador's education system is one of the worlds worst, rated 121 out of 136 countries in the world. This is surprising given that El Salvador is a middle income country. yet many african nations out-beat El Salvador's education system
-there are 112 women for every 100 men in El Salvador. This is in thanks to migration to the USA, and high rate of homicide for young salvadoran men (linked to gang violence).
- El Salvador's GDP was -2.5% in 2009, and rates of growth over the past 30 years only TOTALs 1.1%, and as such El Salvador trails 29 years behind Costa Rica and 45 years behind Chile.
-5% of Salvadoran income are spent on cellphone bills (it costs 10 cents a minute to call the US but between 14-25 cents a minute to make calls in country)
But there was a lot that I did not agree with.
-66% of Salvadorans are "satisfied with life" I wonder if that survey included the nearly 2 million Salvadoran in the United States, who cannot survive in their own country. I bet they were not satisfied with life in El Salvador, or perhaps they would have stayed....Besides, what does that word even mean to a Salvadoran? In a country where 60% are now Evangelical Christians, we have to ask ourselves what the rise of religions that (I argue) detract Salvadorans from reality to focus on the after life, combined with rises in gang membership, and immigration to the USA...really UNDP?
-El Salvador needs to focus on "Fordism", or articulating its economy and be more like Norway and Singapore. This reccomendation clearly must come form the fact that the UNDP report was funded by USAID this year, and so free market suggesstions abound. The report is peppers with quotes from...North Americans and europeans like Albert Einstien, Adam Smith, and JFK. for EL SALVADOR?!?! Singapore is the Asian Center of Finance! Are they suggesting that San Salvador be Central America's Finance Capital when Costa Rica and Panama both have more stable economies and financial policies? As for Norway, their prosperity was built on social democracy, and very high taxes. El Salvador doesn't even tax large corporations, in an attempt to attract more factories and free trade. The Norway model requires dramatic restructuring of the tax and (non existent) welfare systems, which I would totall support. However, the report goes on to suggest a completely diffrent model of development. What the "Fordism" really refers to is the idea that Henry Ford produces cars at a price that was available to his factory works. They were paid just enough to keep themselves and Ford in business by buying the cars they were making. This is known in economics as an articulated economy. Super idea, but unfortunately free trade agreements like CAFTA have destroyed this from becoming a possibility. Salvadorans should eat salvadoran corns and beans right? THEY CANT. Corn is imported to cheaply from the US, and beans too cheaply from Nicaragua and Ethiopia that Salvadoran farmers can't compete in their own country. There is no articulated economy when the producers must compete with subisdies and technified and over fertiziled products from Big Ag in the US and elsewhere. Globalization destroyed articualted economies. The Ford Era and Fordism iteself prospers in a USA full of import restictions and subsidies, that always made it cheap and easy to Buy American. But its often too expensive to Buy Salvadoran for the Salvadoran people.
El Salvador is "insecure" What a vague way of putting it. El Salvador has a serious gang problem, where there are 3 times as many gang members as policement. El Salvador has a lack of prevention and rehab programs, and a broken prison system that is corrupt and run by the gang leaders themselves, who hang out at the beach on the weekends while the army roams the streets inhibiting even the most positive youth organizations from forming. Perhaps a broken education system has something to do with "insecurity." We need to starting owning up to social problems, and telling it like it is. Burning buses full of people alive (Sept 2010) is not merely "insecurity," its a massacre.
Salvadorans need to Save not Spend to Save the Economy-
The meat of the report is this: Salvadorans spend too much and consume more than they produce (104% consumption, third highest in the world). This is obviously because of remittances, which make up 17% of GDP. Salvadorans don't make enough money to save and invest! Families buy food and send thier kids to college because of aunts and uncles working minimum wage jobs in the states. The hand to mouth existences of nearly every Salvadoran I have ever met living paycheck to paycheck and beyond (most Salvadoran I know owe money to at least 4 people at a time). This is a cash poor country. The UNDP proposes job creation and industry, but in WHAT sectors? How can there be entreprenuesrship if their is basic lack of access to capital and credit (El Salvador is the hardest place to get credit in Central America). At this point, I realized the theme color for the report was GREEN not because of the environment, but because of $$$$$$$$$.
My expectations were shot. Visions of the UNDP supporting renewable energy, reforestation, ecotourism, local agriculture, food soveriegnty, natural medicines etc. etc. were quickly deflated. More production, not less. More use of El Salvador's few resouces, not less. Suck up the water and trees as quickly as possible to jump start industry.
As I was handed the published copy of the report at the end of the presentation (a 500 page clunker of a book), and quickly flipped to the section about Disasters. After all, El Salvador has a record year for loss of life, crops, and houses. ONE PARAGRAPH. One mention of Hurricane Ida and Agatha, no mentions of other storms, and NOTHING about climate change. El Salvador is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world, and lost over $1b in natural disasters this year! Why is dealing with this not a priority for human development? Is losing houses, lives, and crops not important? How "sensational" must disaters get and how much environmental destruction must happen for institutions and governments to make Disaster Risk Reduction a priority for vulnerable countries? The UN itself said that over 94% of El Salvador's GDP was high vulnerable to disasters in the April 2010 UNDAC report detailing and analyzing damages from Ida.
What does this mean for our communities? if the new model of development in El Salvador focuses on Salvadoran Savings and has nothing to do with climate change adaptation and disaster prevention, the communities will continue to be marginalized by mainstream models of development.
But there are organizations that will not write their projects based on this UNDP report; check out The Share Foundation, UNES (Salvadoran Ecological Unit), Anmutspicial, FUNDESYRAM, CRIPDES, and CEIBA will be one of them.
CEIBA model of development will be COMPLETELY CENTERED UPON CLIMATE CHANGE. And the only lesson we will take from the UNDP development report, is to hold it up as the wrong model of development to build the world we vision with the communities. A world of healthy food for all; of trees for the birds, water recharge, and flooding prevention; of industry based on a healthy relationship with the environment and reduction of resource use; of community empowerment that dictates a decentralized development that include the participation of youth and women etc. etc. etc.