An economy is often defined as “the wealth and resources of a country or region”. Few would contest that the greatest wealth and most fundamental resource for humanity is the earth on which we live; yet most do not see our environment as an economy in itself. Conversely, nearly all contemporary economic and development models see the natural economy as a resource to be exploited (or at best managed) to serve the needs of the monetized economy.
While this perspective is certainly predominant, it is neither intrinsic nor universal. It is also increasingly proving to be unsustainable.
Focus on the Global South and The Sombath Initiative, in cooperation with the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, held the Sombath Symposium on February 15-17, 2016, to present and discuss knowledge and practice drawn from different cultures and traditions that can serve as an alternative foundation to the predominant growth-driven development model.
This publication, “Humanity and Nature: Traditional, Cultural and Alternative Perspectives”, compiles essays discussing these perspectives, as well as syntheses of the different parts of the symposium. The Sombath Initiative and Focus on the Global South hope that this publication will serve as resource material, as well as a guide document for the ongoing and future work on alternative perspectives on humanity’s relationship with nature.
The classification of Least Developed Country (LDC) was established by the United Nations in 1971. The main purpose was to enhance support those countries facing severe and persistent challenges to economic growth and development.
The criteria for LDC status have evolved over time. They currently are:
Gross National Income (GNI): The average income per capita must be less than US $1,035 (2015 standard).
Human Asset Index (HAI): Based on indicators of undernourishment, under-five mortality rate, secondary school enrolment, and adult literacy.
Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI): Based on indicators of population size, remoteness, instability of agricultural production and exports, effects of natural disasters, etc.
In 2016 it will be 20 years since the Government of Laos (GoL) first announced its goal to graduate from Least Developed Country (LDC) status by 2020.1 During this time, much has changed. With the exception of a few years following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, economic growth has remained strong and in 2011 the World Bank raised Laos’ income categorization from a low-income economy to a lower-middle income economy.2 Foreign Direct Investment has also growing rapidly and strong progress has been made on a number of the country’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets. This has led the UNDP to categorize Laos as the 6th most successful country for improved human development over the past 40 years.3
Yet alongside these markers of progress, there is another story to be told about ‘development’ in Laos. This is a story of widening inequality, severe environmental degradation, human rights abuses, state and private sector corruption, persistently high maternal mortality and malnutrition rates, land grabbing and forced resettlement as well as tensions with fellow ASEAN countries over controversial Mekong hydropower projects.4 These widespread and often interrelated challenges have led to new forms of poverty and damaged the country’s international reputation. Continue reading “Laos in 2016: Sustainable Development and the Work of Sombath Somphone”
The Sombath Initiative is sponsoring a writing contest about issues in Laos. Any age or nationality can enter, but Lao youth are especially encouraged to apply.
Essays should be about any one of the following topics (Please select one topic only):
Sustainable development in Laos
Youth and education in Laos
Civil society in Laos
Entries should be in either Lao or English, and between 500 to 1,000 words (approximately 2-3 pages) in length.
Three prizes will be awarded for both Lao and English (six total prizes):
$300 for first prize
$200 for second prize
$100 for third prize
Following the philosophy of Sombath Somphone, essays that are positive and inspiring will be given preference over those that are critical or negative.
Winning essays will be posted on the website, Facebook and Google+ If contestants request, their name will not be included with the posting.
Entries must be sent to [email protected] no later than January 31st, 2016. Winning contestants will be notified by email.
“The working climate of Lao CSOs, which has been restricted by the government since Sombath’s disappearance, is an outstanding issue, so I wonder if development partners … will be willing to raise it. So far, I see that CSOs operate in fear—being threatened by governmental officials,” the official said.
As Somphone’s abduction highlights, attempts to redistribute power away from national governments towards community-identified needs is a highly politicised endeavour that can result in severe, and often violent, suppression. This is particularly so in non-democratic states. Yet it is not an unachievable shift. Indeed, while the post-2015 agenda has displayed a number of weaknesses in its attempts to encourage disparate viewpoints within the agenda-setting process, it nonetheless makes an explicit call for the advancement of such participatory approaches.
For this to occur, however, national governments, global development institutions and bilateral aid donors need to relax their current stature as the privileged interlocutors of development and become more supportive of community-oriented development agendas. It is not uniformity but diversity that holds the key to culturally sensitive development…
Kearrin Sims, in “Culture, community-oriented learning and the post-2015 development agenda: a view from Laos,” in Third World Quarterly,September, 2015.
The bank will continue to be the bank and continue to operate as a bank. The people who work in the bank are the people who are the product of the education system which basically doesn’t make the connection between things.
…To ask the bank to be part of sustainable development is very difficult, because that have a certain mandate which is basically to give loans. So they can be a part of the players, but we cannot rely on them too much.
Remarks by Sombath at a panel discussion held at the FCCT in Bangkok, Thailand, 10 November 2008
We need to have a balanced development. Balance between economic development, social development, environmental harmony, and most important of all is the development of our young people. They are the cornerstone and the future of our country.
At last year’s RTM we raised the issue of the unexplained disappearance of Mr Sombath Somphone. We were re-assured by the government that it had taken all steps to continue the investigation and to bring the perpetrators to justice. One year later (and almost two years after the disappearance occurred), we note with grave concern that no progress has been made and Mr Sombath has still not returned to his family. Once again, we urge the government to resolve this case urgently.
…we encourage the Lao government to consider shifting to a growth model that is more quality-based and in line with a sustainable management of natural resources, reducing the negative effects of climate change and ensuring food security. “Green growth” does have enormous potential in Laos if the right incentives and regularly frameworks are put in place. This would also support social inclusion including for the growing number of young people that enter the labour market.
…a more sustainable model of growth…better management of natural resources…more social inclusion, particularly for young people… Who had been advocating these things for years before being disappeared?