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Thursday, January 15, 2009

‘We can reverse poverty, but not global warming’

Paris-based political scientist Susan George, one of Europe's best-known public intellectuals, spoke to Pamela Philipose during her recent visit to Delhi:

Would you change the argument you made in your first book of the 1970s, 'How The Other Half Dies'?
No. Unfortunately. Of course, there have been changes in the scope of hunger and where it's most prevalent. Another big change is the fact that the food riots of last spring were global in scope. That's a world first: earlier they were either local or national. It's obvious now that neo-liberal answers to the crisis are discredited. Meanwhile, millions of small farmers have been ruined. They have been dispossessed of any possibility of either growing their food or buying it because they don't have jobs. Governments, if
they continue like this, are playing with fire because they are not only contributing to destroying the base of food security, they are creating conditions for future social upheaval. So, it seems to me that this is a time when one can advocate different policies and hope governments listen.
Women seem to be among the
worst affected in such times.
In most societies, women are the first victims of hunger. I was shocked to read that nine out of 10 pregnant women in India are getting less than 80 per cent of the necessary caloric and protein supply. Women are very often food producers but are not in control of its marketing and, therefore, the resultant income. This is an ongoing problem. It has nothing to do with the actual amount of food available. Cultural and anthropological factors determine how food is distributed — inside families, communities, countries.
    What do you see as the big crisis facing the world?
There are so many that you can talk about them in many plurals. The social crisis of poverty is getting worse: the rich are getting richer, the poor, poorer. There's no hope of ever reaching the Millennium Development
Goals. The social crisis is aggravated by the food crisis. There's a water crisis, which means increasing numbers won't have access to sanitation and drinking water, which in turn means a health crisis. Then, of course, recently, we had the financial crisis, which affects everybody even if they don't have a rupee in the stock market because it impacts the real economy.
    But the most serious crisis of all is the ecological crisis. We can reverse poverty today, but not global warming. Once it's off the charts, it's off the charts. It's going to make the lives of poor people unbearable in large swathes of the world. This process is happening faster than scientists had predicted. We haven't even begun to measure the impacts of this crisis. So that's the one that keeps me awake.
    Women's Feature Service


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