Session 1: Impacts, Coping Strategies and Livelihoods

A Report from the UN Conference on the Social and Political Dimensions of the Global Crisis: Implications for Developing Countries (12-13 November 2009)

Organised by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), Geneva, Switzerland. Held at the Palais des Nations.

Session 1: Impacts, Coping Strategies and Livelihoods

The first session addressed one of the seismic shifts of our time: that we are witnessing the largest migration in human history from rural, agricultural communities to megacities. In 2007, the world became a majority urban place, with profound consequences for rural communities. Arindam Banerjee, Centre for Development Studies, pointed out that despite India’s high growth rate over this decade, agriculture experienced a low growth rate. This led to a lack of respect for farmers, who were dealing with falling prices and reduced credit. And when commodity prices do rise, farmers do not benefit under the current system.

The percentage of credit advanced in rural areas in India has been on the decline since 1991. People have now become dependent on informal credit sources with higher interest rates. Banerjee suggested some solutions to this crisis: boosting domestic demand, reducing dependence on exports, price support to growers, strengthening co-op credit services, and more employment programmes like NREGA (http://nrega.nic.in/) (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) to support purchasing power in the rural sector. India needs to prevent a depression in the rural sector and find a solution to the fact rising prices are not going into producer’s pockets.

And how do people cope in villages when a crisis hits? May Tan-Mullins from the University of Durham compared fisher folk in Indonesia and China and their responses to economic crises in 1997 and now. In the Indonesian village during 1997’s Asian crisis, low-income families lived on US $30 to US $45 a month. In today’s Chinese village of 700 households, low-income families are living on US $300/month. The village also benefits from money made during a yearly fishing festival. Average earnings in the community are relatively good: between US $700 and US $1,000/month.

The Indonesian village during the 1997 crisis saw a big drop in the currency and it didn’t stabilise until 1999. Indonesian government stimulus through a health card scheme came along, but it wasn’t rolled out until 1999. The people were basically left to cope on their own with the crisis.

The current crisis in China in 2009 has had fewer effects on the village. The currency is under control and stable. The government has introduced stimulus packages, and the village is part of a long-term strategy to integrate it into the urban economy. In visits, Tan-Mullins had observed people had not suffered much, but they feared the real impact will come in 2010. The stimulus works out to about 2,000 Yuan (US $292) per household. However, low-income families have not benefited because they can not access formal supports like unemployment insurance.

The Indonesian fishing village survived by turning to informal credit sources. One example was to exchange ice and petrol in return for guaranteed deals for the fish at below market prices. A local mosque offered help with food parcels for 6 months in what was called a “trans-village religious network.” Women moved out of households and started working in the market, while some women made extra money cracking cashew nuts.

The Chinese fishing village has also seen social changes. There has been a cutback on perceived unnecessary education for girls. People are turning to family networks, or to gaunxi (doing favours for friends) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guanxi). Marriage, for some fishing men, is seen as a way to use a woman to help out at home. Tan-Mullins concluded Asian communities cope better with downturns because their informal networks kick in. The Chinese are good natural savers: up to 30 to 40 percent of monthly income, which can help families weather the bad times. She called for a better understanding of these complex networks.

In Mexico, the country faces multiple challenges and social trends that were already heading in a negative direction before the crisis erupted. Lourdes Arizpe, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, gave a sobering account of the extent of Mexico’s social breakdown. She called ita profligate economy and an orphan society.” She detailed how migrants and drug dealers create new social and economic realities for the country. Mexico’s drug war alone has killed over 6,000 people in recent years. While some segments of the working population are finding their creative side during the downturn, others are turning to destructive behaviour. Mexico is suffering from too much legal and illegal drug use, and the medical costs of diseases of over-consumption (obesity, diabetes). The social breakdown has led to more teenage suicides and youth hooligans. Overall, Arizpe believes “all trends over the past 20 years have become worse.”

This has led to many crises being hidden from the official statistics. For example, the migration from Mexico of women for the global care market is harming Mexican children who are denied a full-time mother. This is causing a care deficit in the Global South. Teenage boys without authority figures are then recruited into drug dealing.

Arizpe’s solutions include recommending the Mexican government have a scheme for the unemployed, which would help take away the incentives to migrate for employment to other countries. She also encourages using the substantial remittance payments sent back to Mexico by migrants to invest in business and capital investment, rather than just homes.

Relevant stories previously covered in Development Challenges, South-South Solutions:

Model Indian Villages to Keep Rural Relevant (https://davidsouthconsulting.wordpress.com/south-south-case-studies/development-challenges-south-south-solutions/model-indian-villages-to-keep-rural-relevant/)
A New House Kit for Slum Dwellers that is Safe and Easy to Build (https://davidsouthconsulting.wordpress.com/south-south-case-studies/development-challenges-south-south-solutions/south-south-case-study-24/)

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