Frank Furedi's bum (was: help sustainable development)

Russell Grinker grinker at SPAMmweb.co.za
Sat Jun 10 04:25:38 MDT 2000


From: Louis Proyect
>Russell, I grow increasingly impatient with you. I advocate socialism, not
>World Bank 'sustainable development'. Get your nose out of Frank Furedi's
>bum and read something other than cult literature.

I haven't been near Frank's bum for about a decade - promise! I'm clearly
however in need of some serious re-education and I await your cargo plane
with a load of suitable literature...

Seriously though...what a pity that you never took the trouble to answer any
of my substantive points about the current form taken by "sustainable
development" in theory as well as practice (at least here in Africa - maybe
it's different in NYC).

I think we need to pay much more attention to the current bourgeois rhetoric
of sustainable development. This argues for a lowering of expectations in
the economy and just about every other sphere of life. It stems from their
insecurity about their system and how uncertain they now feel about their
own mission. As a result it is now fashionable to inflate every difficulty
into a problem of universal proportions. As is shown by current panics about
climate, global warming etc (and the virus has certainly infected some on
this list), there is now a tendency to represent routine (and certainly
significant) problems as signs of the possible extinction of humanity. Their
obsession with risk (which you laugh off as inconsequential) actually serves
to justify restraint, austerity and low expectations. Maybe that's not too
important in the first world but out here that kind of restraint is often
the difference between a decent life and eking out survival at the lowest
material level.

Here's just one practical example of what I'm talking about (the concept of
sustainability comes up all over the place in policy documents these days).
Current debates over public water policy here include a government proposal
to reduce the minimum supply of water per person per day to 7 litres from
the current 25 litres (WHO recommends 50 litres as a minimum for a healthy
existence). Just to give an indication of how little 7 litres is - it takes
about 120 litres to fill the average bathtub. The 7 litre level is justified
on the basis that this is all people who already have water schemes are
currently using (because this is all they can afford to pay for) and that
this is therefore the sustainable level of water supply which should in
future be designed for in all rural areas. Government argues that if it
provides more - which will require that it subsidises consumption - others
needing water will lose out. A higher level of service is therefore
"unsustainable".

To give you more of the flavour of what's happening, I quote from various SA
government policy documents (note also the stuff about "responsible"
behaviour - this is a big element of what sustainability now means): First,
the Water and Sanitation White Paper states that if government covers
operating and maintenance costs, there will be a "reduction in finances
available for the development of basic services for those citizens who have
nothing. It is therefore not equitable for any community to expect not to
have to pay for the recurring costs of their services. It is not the
Government who is paying for their free services but the unserved." The
White Paper thus argues for a "some for all, not all for some" approach.
Second, the White Paper states that payment for services is the single
defining feature that determines whether people and communities behave
responsibly: "The other reason why operating and maintenance costs should be
borne by the communities is the principle of Community-Based Development. If
the community expects some outside agency to be responsible for keeping
their supplies going, they will have no control over the processes and lose
leverage and ownership. Responsibility for keeping the service going is
placed with a remote authority and accountability is lost. This will have an
impact on the reliability of supplies". The National Sanitation Policy White
Paper, released in 1996, reiterates the "some for all, not all for some"
approach and included as a principle that the user pays: "Sanitation systems
must be sustainable. This means they must be affordable to the service
provider, and payment by the user is essential to ensure this".

So ultimately, if your average consumer can only afford to purchase 7 litres
of water per day, this becomes the sustainable level for which all future
water schemes will be designed. "Sustainability" in this case means
condemning most rural people to a supply of water perpetually limited to
about half a bucket a day. We're talking here about making extreme
deprivation sustainable into the indefinite future.

Russell








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