Europe risks future conflicts by turning its back on sustainable development By walking away from sustainable development programmes - European leaders will put at risk more lives and will incur bigger costs down the road from intensified climatic events, never-ending cycles of humanitarian relief and conflicts in fragile states - warns think-tank
In the middle of financial turmoil and institutional crisis, it is easy to be cynical about the European Union's Nobel Peace Prize. But the EU's past achievements - creating the European Economic Community, advancing economic integration and helping former Soviet bloc countries transition from dictatorship to democracy - are deserving accomplishments. And yet its commitment to human rights, freedom, democracy and justice was never intended to be exclusively for Europe; a principle that manifests itself today in European development policy.
The EU is the largest provider of foreign aid worldwide and offers market access to developing countries through low or zero tariffs. Each year European commissioners, parliamentarians and officials meet with representatives from the developing world at 'European Development Days' to share lessons on how best to address poverty in a world where one billion people still go hungry every day.
This year's EDD, which tacked inclusive growth and food security with an emphasis on the private sector, revealed a deep scepticism of the mantra that economic growth is the ultimate answer to our problems. In many developing countries, the link between growth and poverty reduction has weakened. For each additional percentage of gross domestic product growth, fewer lives are improved. The lack of inclusivity is also now a global problem, as income inequality features more prominently in both the United States and Europe. And in some fragile states growth can even prove disruptive, generating social unrest or conflict by marginalising segments of society.
How does a nation facing severe poverty simultaneously raise incomes and strengthen social bonds among its citizens? By investing in access to basic services such as water, health or education? By strengthening governance? By supporting entrepreneurs to create jobs? Typically, donors have brought their own prescriptions to these problems. At the EDD, deep social engagement among partners was called for in order to spark real transformation. Such dialogues, especially around agriculture - where most of the world's poor work - could help produce inclusive growth and lift millions out of poverty.
To address the issues of inclusivity and dialogue with local partners, the EU launched its paper 'The EU approach to resilience: learning from the food security crises" on the eve of the EDD. The paper recognises that poverty is about working with the most vulnerable - those living in parts of the world enduring frequent and intense droughts, climatic changes, economic shocks and conflict. The utter desperation of individuals in the Sahel and Horn of Africa come to mind. Those who have not already been displaced by famine are farmers or pastoralists with no incentive to invest in new seed varieties, livestock health or modern technologies. They cannot access capital since lenders perceive high risks and there is inadequate finance to build warehouses, roads and irrigation so as to boost productivity.
The EU proposes a policy of 'resilience', which links humanitarian relief; the provision of food, shelter, and medical assistance for those immediately facing starvation - to longer-term development. For instance, in the Horn of Africa, Europe has focused on early warning systems but also financing for agriculture production, nutrition, livestock health, water supply, natural resource management, trade, and research and development. Going forward public-private partnerships as well as insurance schemes, food reserves, access to markets and financial services will help households prepare for shocks and prevent them. The paper also wisely highlights the 'hidden crisis' of malnutrition, which kills 2.6 million children each year. Malnutrition stifles human cognitive development and undercuts workforce skills and GDP by an estimated 2-3 per cent each year, creating a major source of vulnerability for societies.
Crisis prevention is not a new idea. In the wake of conflicts in the Balkans and Rwanda and the humanitarian disasters of the 1990s, a good amount of research was done on prevention and addressing the root causes of crises. The real test for the union will be translating resiliency policy into practice. Both European Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva strongly endorsed this approach at the EDD. And they have already started to operationalise it through two initiatives: the Horn of African Resilience known as 'SHARE' and l'Alliance Globale pour l'Initiative Résilience Sahel or 'AGIR'.
Will Europe live up to its legacy as a peacemaker? The upcoming EU budget debate threatens efforts to prevent crises in a more effective manner as pressure builds for austerity. This budget will set European spending between 2014 and 2020, and includes the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. As member states enter EU budget negotiations and consider cuts to their own bilateral programmes, they should think hard about the consequences of abdicating their legacy. By walking away from these more effective development investments - European leaders put at risk more lives and will incur bigger costs down the road from intensified climatic events, never-ending cycles of humanitarian relief and conflicts in fragile states. Austerity like this would be bad policy and a catastrophic failure in leadership.
Jonathan White is a fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States think-tank in Washington, which first published this article: Austerity no excuse to reduce EU sustainable development programmes