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The Uneven Politics of Development

July 05, 2013

With the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire in 2015, the post-2015 agenda is generating a lot of commentary about where we need to focus our future attention. The MDGs constitute an important framework that emphasizes things like maternal health, gender equality and universal education as imperative to development. In other words, they highlight the link between people and development, and the importance of maintaining a focus that is not solely on the economic.

Under the current Humala government, Peru has come to be recognized in development circles globally. In a time of global economic instability, the International Monetary Fund  commended Peru on its spectacular economic growth, and Bill Gates even referred to it as ‘middle income’, suggesting that it doesn’t need aid the way that some other countries do. More recently at the World Economic Forum it was proposed that Peru sets an example of the potential inherent to other Latin American nations.

One of the most mineral-rich countries in the world, Peru’s development platform is grounded largely in the exploitation and exportation of natural resources . At the same time that Peru’s economic growth has been celebrated, as of August 2012 the Peruvian Human Rights Ombudsman cited 149 social conflicts related to extractive industries dispersed throughout the country. The northern Andean region of Cajamarca, home to the world’s second largest gold mine, is perhaps the most well known example of these social conflicts.  Starting in late 2011, the region gained international media coverage for the  violent and finally fatal clashes between police and the thousands of local citizens who stand in opposition to a new and even bigger extractive project. In the media, the social conflicts and their originating communities are often positioned as ‘holding the country back’, and local leaders are called out for being against regional and national development.

This message signifies a gross denial of the reality of many of these communities. The gold-abundant region of Cajamarca is one of the poorest in the country, with a total poverty rate of over 75%. Cajamarcans experience water shortages, unsafe transit options, scarcity of teachers, and grossly insufficient public health services. Gendered violence persists and there are high rates of maternal mortality and rising childhood malnutrition. In the nation’s capital city, however, one finds world-class private hospitals, international schools and multi-million dollar homes. The protests in Cajamarca generate from the fact that the vast majority of locals are aware of the paradoxical nature of their reality.

This stark disparity is indicative of an uneven pattern of development and an unequal redistribution of wealth. While Peru may be climbing the rank of economically stable countries, this is not the case in measurements of equality. Despite investments in state social programs, while overall poverty decreased  in 2012, inequality increased. Rural areas like Cajamarca continue to experience poorer access to quality health and education services, employment, and infrastructure than urban centers like Lima.

The message sent by this sustained social conflict should be taken to heart. Development cannot be just about economics – how many millions of dollars a foreign investment opportunity is worth, what it might do for GDP. It can’t even be mostly about economics. It has to be first and foremost about people. About how people live, about their access to services, their ability to exercise agency on their own behalf, about their quality of life.  And it has to be matched by a commitment to equality, to a wilful desire to see all people benefit from a given economic project or process.

The current debates around the post-2015 development agenda represent an excellent opportunity for all national governments, corporations, organizations and agencies to stop and reflect. Where do their development related priorities lie, and how does the course they’ve chosen to achieve it measure up in terms of delivering on equality? Are the concerns of all communities and regions similarly represented and attended to? Are social issues given the same weight as economic growth? The Millennium Development Goals are not perfect, and it is unlikely that what comes out of the post-2015 agenda will be either. However, they are an excellent place to start.

 
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