A friend of mine told me how she berated a development officer in India for introducing tractors to Indian farmers. In a pointed response, he simply told her that when people in North America begin ploughing their fields with bullocks, then they will have the right to criticize the introduction of tractors in India.
This exchange points up the complexity of the whole area of development, examined in this issue of Compass, and the conflicts that often arise between different models and approaches. Gigantic development efforts have been undertaken, but these efforts have not been comprehensive enough to stay, let alone reverse, the growth of poverty. More and more people are asking why.
For example, it is now generally known that the earth produces enough food to feed its entire population, and that the technology is available for the distribution of this food. Yet millions in the world are still hungry. Given these facts, one can only conclude that we do not have the will to eliminate hunger in the world. This unpalatable and often ignored truth is a disgrace for the largely Christian West, which has most of the wealth, and a scandal to the rest of the world with its massive poverty.
Despite these failures, the free-market model of development reigns supreme, and is preached as a gospel, as Bill Ryan SJ puts it. He speaks of a new and hopeful emphasis on integrate cultural and spiritual factors into development. And yet, as Agnes Abuom points out, this integration will have to be done with great care if old structures under which women are disadvantaged are not simply to be perpetuated.
One thing is clear: our way of life in the First World will have to change, in some ways drastically, before widespread and effective development occurs in the Third World. Hence the source of our lack of will. We resist change at our peril, for we cannot long remain the aristocrats of the world when poorer countries are becoming increasingly militant and better armed. And yet we balk at the idea of a much simpler lifestyle that might entail some inconvenience or inefficiency. Acceptance of the price that needs to be paid in the First World is one of the major hurdles that needs to be crossed before genuine development is possible.
And even if that obstacle could be overcome, there would be another price to pay, this time for the developing societies themselves--at least as long as we continue to see development as a process of making those societies more like our own. Majid Rahnema argues that the consequences of western-led development have been largely negative, and compares development ideology to the AIDS virus in its capacity to turn people in the Third World into agents of their own destruction.
I became aware of what the Third World had to lose when I worked briefly in India. In the evening, I would walk through the slums to get home from work. In these horrendous places where people lived on the fringe of the fringe, I saw a quality of communal life that I rarely if ever saw in Canada. In the worst possible conditions, I sensed a resilience that was remarkable. If these people ever did rise out of their destitution, I wondered, would they at the same time lose their unique quality of community?
Sometimes, people are willing to sacrifice their culture and traditions to raise their standard of living. North Americans have given up much to attain affluence. Is such loss a necessary consequence of development? Or rather we might ask: if we have lost so much, can we really say we are developed?
© 1996 Compass, A Jesuit Journal and Gail van Varseveld