What is development?
Providing a framework
To provide a framework for progress, 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been set for countries by the UNDP. These include targets on levels of hunger and poverty, primary education, gender equality, child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and environmental sustainability.
‘People are the real wealth of a nation.’ This is the saying of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), whose aim is for all people to have 'long, healthy and creative lives'.
For a long time, people thought standards of living would automatically improve with the creation of monetary wealth. Africa’s economy is predicted to grow by 7% each year over the next two decades. Shouldn't this growth lead to development?
Growing economies and greater foreign investment do create jobs and raise living standards – but not necessarily for everyone. A country’s wealth needs to be well-managed and money spent on improving health and education services.
Angola and Nigeria are rich from oil, yet many here are extremely poor and lack basic services. Countries not doing so well economically and with fewer natural resources, such as Togo and Tunisia, have nevertheless seen improvements in life expectancy and school enrolment.
Peace is key
Many African countries have made huge strides after electing stable governments. Countries such as Mozambique, Namibia and Ghana suffered years of war, but are now peaceful and prospering under democratic systems.
Nations need to focus on the welfare of their people and view improvements in health and education as a priority. To do this, governments have to be committed and well-managed. And this can only happen when countries are at peace.
Peace and stability are essential for development. The poorest countries in Africa are those which regularly suffer from conflict.
Peace often comes through democracy. However, even where governments are not models of democracy and accountability, development can still be a priority.
In countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, years of conflict mean some people lack even the most basic of services. This is why famine hit Somalia hard in 2011.
What is the cost?
1 dollar can save a life
One of the most effective ways to improve the health of children is to introduce a package of six vaccines which costs less than 1 dollar.
Development does not have to be expensive; many vaccinations and medicines are very cheap. Sometimes, there is no cost at all. Lives can be saved by providing the right information. When parents know fluids should be given during bouts of diarrhoea, children are more likely to recover. And ensuring homes have proper ventilation reduces the risk of pneumonia brought on by cooking smoke.
However, sometimes real investment is needed. Rather than giving annual handouts to countries with food shortages, experts believe it is better to help local farmers invest in producing more food – see Famine & Agriculture.
In Ethiopia and Uganda, trading schemes have been set up (with foreign aid) which assess the quality of a farmer’s coffee/cereal and ensure a fair price from buyers.
Trading conditions also need improving, both locally and internationally. The ending of Western farm subsidies (which lower food prices to levels where others cannot compete) and the removal of trade barriers would be a huge help to African farmers.
And investment is needed to help Africans adapt to climate change and protect their environments. For example, energy-saving stoves reduce the need for firewood and help prevent deforestation.
Around the Mau forest in Kenya, farmers are learning to sow crops and rear livestock in ways which don't need trees to be cleared.
Fairer and more equal societies
Africa is the fastest-growing continent, with a population forecast to reach 2 billion by 2050. With its growing workforce and rising economies, the continent is expected to become more prosperous.
Success of women
Given access to finance (through banks providing micro-credit/loans), women often invest more successfully than men to increase their family's income.
As countries get richer, women tend to have fewer children. This happens as girls become more educated and are able to exercise choice over the size of their family.
When women have greater knowledge and equality in making decisions about families and livelihoods, they raise the productivity of a society.
Choice, freedom and ‘tireless efforts’
But freedom isn’t only important for women. In an ideal society, ALL people have the freedom to shape their own environments and lead “creative lives”. The work of development is therefore not only to provide better food, health, education and livelihoods, but also to promote equality and choice.
Human progress….comes through tireless efforts and persistent work.
And EVERYONE needs to be involved. Martin Luther King said, “human progress….comes through tireless efforts and persistent work.” For peaceful, just and healthy societies, every individual has to be active in their community and working for the benefit of all, however long that takes.