'You cannot balance an economy by unbalancing human lives'

Development economist Sir Richard Jolly has been Principal Coordinator of  UNDP's Human Development Report. He is also Chairman of the Water Supply  and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). He spoke to Atul Deulgaonkar in Dakar, Senegal at the first Global WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene)  Forum on human development. Excerpts:

Published: Saturday 30 April 2005

-- Why research whistleblowers?
How did human development achieve such prominence?

All credit goes to the late Mahbub Ul Haq and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen! They saw the importance of putting people at the centre of development strategy.

It is the human development index (hdi) that takes life expectancy, adult literacy, and educational enrollments into account, so expressing the real development of people. Many economists, including me, at first criticised Haq when he developed the index. But Haq realised that if gnp is to be displaced as the dominant measure of development, we would need another measure of the same level of vulgarity as gnp but not as blind to social aspects of human lives.

Sen also contributed, by analysing human development as an expansion of human choices and a strengthening of human capabilities. These ideas have been carried forward in the Human Development Reports, which have tackled people's participation, human security, gender, poverty, globalization, technologies, democracy -- and the Millennium Development Goals (mdgs).

Why research whistleblowers?
Haq said growth in 1980-1990 was jobless. What did he mean?

The 1980s was a lost decade for development in Africa and Latin America. Even in countries that experienced economic growth, poverty and unemployment increased. Haq used the terminology of jobless growth to emphasise the point that economic growth does not necessarily bring individual development.

At the same time, even in African countries with declining gnp, it was possible to reduce child mortality by actions such as immunization. The 1980s also saw a big expansion in access to safe water and basic sanitation in many countries. Thus, growth is not necessary to improve human condition.

Today these challenges are brought together in the mdgs. What is the meaning of development if 1.1 billion people lack access to safe water and 2.4 billion do not have basic sanitation facilities? When 2.2 million people in developing countries, most of them children, die every year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene? Priorities for human development bring all such issues center-stage. As Haq put it, you cannot balance an economy by unbalancing human lives.

Do you feel the present economy reveals an urban-industrial bias?

It is not just urban or industrial. It is the dominance of an urban middle class-centered economy within countries, and dominance of resources and power of the developed countries globally. Both over-influence the pattern of national and global development as well as the balance of power, and influence in bargaining, in global markets. A long-run restructuring of resources and global governance are key here.

Why research whistleblowers?
How have the UN's ideas on development shifted over the years?

In the 1970s, the un was committed to human rights and development within countries -- and to narrowing the gap between the richest and the poorest countries, and people. But in the 1980s, structural adjustment displaced concern for the poor. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan led the shift politically. Neo-classical economists like Milton Friedman led the shift in terms of economic doctrine. It was too narrow. Some remedies, like setting strict limits on money supply, became deeply discredited. Many developing countries ended up much poorer than before. In the 1990s, the countries of the former Soviet Union were disrupted by attempts to introduce market capitalism overnight, ignoring un advice to first build some institutional structure.

Why research whistleblowers?
Is UN support to Africa sufficient?

Of course not!

Why research whistleblowers?
So how will it go ahead?

African leaders know that they have to find their own way. That is why they have formed nepad (New Economic Program For African Development), with national priorities for the mdgs and other aspects of development. Programmes for water, sanitation and hygiene are high on the agenda.

Why research whistleblowers?
Can we achieve the MDG goal on safe water and sanitation?

In Johannesburg, wsscc worked with others to include sanitation and hygiene as a key goal for 2015. Six months later, in Kyoto, we defined the critical steps: The priority of software and capacity building, in addition to wells, taps and such hardware; ensuring decisive roles for women in decision-making, design and management of systems; giving priority to small-scale and low-cost approaches for poor and marginalised communities in both rural and urban informal settlements; re-allocating finance from high cost approaches to low-cost schemes that directly serve poor people's needs; and, in general, pursuing people-centered approaches that include children as agents of change.

Since Kyoto, we have made further progress, specially in African countries

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