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Eradication of poverty and sustainable development in developing countries: an oxymoron?

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  1. Introduction
  2. Confronting and juxtaposing theoretical arguments
  3. Development policies as presented by the WB or the IMF
  4. The implications of the theory
  5. Sustainable development
  6. The imbalance between North and South countries
  7. Conclusion
  8. References

Adopted in 2000 by ?all the world's governments as a blueprint for building a better world in the 21st century? (Kofi Annan, 2005), the Millennium Development Goals are quantified targets for addressing poverty in its several dimensions (United Nations, 2005). The first Millennium Development Goal is to reduce by half the population living in extreme poverty and hunger before 2015. The World Bank (WB), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are satisfied by the current results, pointing out that consequently to ?free-market policies' the number of people living on less than 1$ a day is decreasing. So what is poverty and how can it be measured? Knowing that 1% of the world's richest people receive as much income as the poorest 57% (Weissman, 2003), the WB's definition of poverty ? only based on a certain level of income- seems problematic. Therefore, to understand the complexity of the concept of poverty, it is important to consider not only its economical or financial dimensions, but also to take into account indicators such as access to health and education, the existence of social security, and a safe environment. As suggested by A. Elliot (2006), concepts of poverty in developing countries now also include an environmental dimension. As first officially mentioned by the Bruntland Commission in 1987 and in the Earth Summit in 1992, sustainable development (SD) can be defined as ?development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs?. Since then, the term SD has been widely debated and over one hundred definitions have been proposed. In this essay, I will take into account the original definition (Bruntland report), though considering its different dimensions: economic, social, and environmental (Barbier, 1987). The theme of SD, from the 1960s, first appears in the context of the industrialized countries' concerns about the environmental damages created by their ways of development (economic growth). Thus it seems immediately to be a western notion, which does not necessarily meet the needs and concerns of developing countries. This seems to be confirmed as when looking to the recent treaties, conferences, and reports of international organizations; it is obvious that the link between sustainable development and eradication of poverty (EP) is never defined as a fundamental principle guiding economic and development policies.

Confronting and juxtaposing theoretical arguments and the empirical reality, this essay proposes to discuss the extent in which policies implying a strict protection of natural resources and the environment are sustainable and achievable in developing countries. This essay especially explores and discusses the possibilities of combining sustainable development policies and achieving the objectives related to the eradication of poverty in developing countries.

[...] Between 1990 and 1999, developing countries' rates of population growth vary from three to four percent a year, whereas in industrialised countries the rate of population growth reaches an average of less than 1.2 percent a year. The statistical projections for the period 1999-2015 show that the average annual population growth will still increase in developing countries, stabilize in transition countries, and decrease in developed countries. On the other hand, Southern countries blame the north over- consumption and production for having generated the majority of environmental damages for more than two centuries. [...]

[...] This essay especially explores and discusses the possibilities of combining sustainable development policies and achieving the objectives related to the eradication of poverty in developing countries. If it is often agreed that for poor countries to develop, environmental concerns have to been sacrificed, I will however argue that, as the causes of poverty and environmental degradations are interrelated, the objective is to ?address poverty alleviation policy strategies within a sustainable development framework' (International Institute for Sustainable Development, IISD). In the framework of UN and other international organizations (IMF, WTO, SD is still mainly defined within the mainstream paradigm of development, which gives primacy to the rules of the market in both resources' allocations and development policies. [...]

[...] Therefore, to address both issues of sustainable development and eradication of poverty supposes a better cooperation between industrialized and developing countries. However as we shall see in the third part, the burden of the ?north/south imbalance' (Wise, 2001) makes the setting of the cooperation difficult. The imbalance between North and South countries, finds its origins in the historical context of colonialism. Currently in a postcolonial north/south divide, the imbalance is expressed in the growing global inequalities both between and within the nations. [...]

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