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To Johannesburg in Search of Hope

by Rashmi Mayur

We are in the last stages of preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26 August to 4 September this year. Four PrepComs (or preparatory meetings) have examined the critical issues facing the earth and humanity and plans are being prepared to make the earth sustainable. It however became clear at the last Prepcom in Bali, Indonesia, that the ‘stakeholders’, especially from the corporate world would hijack the Summit’s Agenda but for the NGOs and people everywhere protesting against what is now being termed as the ‘corporatisation of the Earth Summit’. Despite the enormous logistics involved in organizing the Summit in which nearly 70,000 people are expected to participate, the outcome depends on how people, governments and the UN will implement the Johannesburg Declaration or the plan of action if its fate is not to be that of the Rio Summit. Our participation in the WSSD is for creating hope.

The new millennium was heralded with love and joy as if the world was in euphoria. But soon as the first year waned, shock and gloom set in worldwide. Following the collapse of the World Trade Centre Towers and the attack on the Pentagon in the United States on 11 September 2001, a historic turn of events happened in the world. The United States, a gargantuan military power with enormous wealth, took over the affairs of the world as an imperial power and all the other 189 member-states of the United Nations submitted to it as vassals. We are going to Johannesburg in the light of a transformed world in which many decisions will be influenced by the new rules of law.

At the ECOSOC meeting during the first week of July, governments emphasized poverty as the central crisis of the human society–1.3 billion people living at the edge of survival–all in the South. It was recognized that the situation is worsening. Then, what about the AIDS epidemic (affecting 40 million people), T. B., Malaria and the curse of illiteracy–one out of six not knowing how to read and write?

Among the environmental issues, increasing greenhouse gasses and resulting climate-change are wreaking havoc in the form of floods and droughts in Africa and Asia, besides about 30 new diseases developed during the last 15 years. Almost 40% of the people in the developing world are victims of insufficient and contaminated water.

Our bag of crises is overflowing–we have 80 million additional people to accommodate annually and 840 million people going to bed hungry everyday. We are not even speaking about the menacing problems of arms, armaments, conflicts and wars consuming more than $800 billion every year in a world deprived of even basic resources.

In India, one out of four people do not have access to safe and clean water and 90% of water sources are polluted. By 2010 a majority of the people will be living on less than 10 gallons per day per person. According to TOE (The Other Economy ), 20% of the elite of India consume 73% of the resources of the country. This is devastating, criminal and not acceptable.

It is in this context that we are going to South Africa with the aim, of challenging the gloomy prophesy that the earth as a living system may collapse within the next few decades unless we take global actions at every level to bring in sustainable development. Our ultimate goal is to bring conservation as a fundamental principle of human living. Water development should be a global priority–protection of ground waters, surface waters, rivers and more.

India does not need more cars; it needs better bullock carts and public transport in rural areas. Mumbai does not need flyovers; it needs improved train and mass public transport systems. For reduction and elimination of poverty, people at the local level should organize to develop agriculture, cottage industries and rural development plan, as we are doing in Dahanu area. We are building eco-villages, in which people grow organic agriculture, protect water resources, plant trees and challenge MNCs. That is the future of India since 700 million people live in rural areas.

The World Bank estimates that an additional $35 to $60 billion is required to reduce poverty to half by 2015. Where will these resources come from? Poverty is the root of many human crises. We must demand that the criminal waste of resources in the warfare system be directed for feeding, providing health-care and education to the people. NGOs and grass-root workers must demand governments to develop a global machinery to resolve international conflicts under the United Nations and bring in global disarmament.

The goals of the UN Millennium Declaration are modest. They should be integrated with the sustainable plans of the WSSD according to the needs, hopes and aspirations of 6.1 billion people. We cannot allow corporations, which control vast amount of wealth, as well as governments to manipulate global finances unethically for their personal enrichment and gains. People of the world do not need a plethora of statistics or profound theories in order to make a difference–assure their survival and improve their quality of life. Our struggle shall continue until we reconstruct a world of equity, global rule of law and sustainability. Rashmi Mayur, Ph. D. is President, Global Futures Network and Director of the International Institute for Sustainable Future. Rashmi may be reached at: rmayur@iisfb.org

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