How to speed read on development

Background reading occupies so much of my time that I’ve acquired a set of subconscious reflexes which provide the excuse to quit an article or report.

Uncertain whether this is entirely wise, I’ve made an effort to identify these prejudices that make me stab the back button.

Some relate to criticism of aid. Neither emergency relief nor long term development aid delivers perfect results but the tragedy in Haiti reminds us why we persist.

Human compassion compels the former. The latter depends more on analytical logic, in that narrowing the gap between rich and poor countries will, amongst other things, reduce the incidence of homes and workplaces which cannot withstand the elements.

Back to those phrases and opinions that switch me off:

economic growth is (good) …not unless qualified by reference to the many acknowledged shortcomings of the measure. This is my weapon of mass destruction. I can get through the whole of the Financial Times over cornflakes.

globalisation is (bad) …it has worked out this way but globalisation could be a force for good in the right hands

poverty is X% …meaningless without reference to the basis of calculation

global poverty is falling …true only if expressed as percentage of population and untrue if you exclude China

small farms cannot contribute to food security …jury is still out on this difficult subject

antiretroviral treatment has increased to X% …not without mentioning how other health indicators such as maternal mortality are progressing

overpopulation causes poverty/food insecurity/water scarcity etc …it’s just one of many contributory factors

global unemployment is 10% (or thereabouts) …the concept and measure of unemployment is rich countries has limited application in undeveloped economies

aid is a waste of money …until the alternative of macro-economic stimulus achieves something better than enriching elites, pro-poor aid must be part of the picture

aid should be phased out …debate is invalid unless the impact of climate change on the poor is recognised

scientists say that 2 degrees of global warming is safe …they don’t say that and any safety zones are unlikely to welcome migrants from the many unsafe zones

US offers emissions reductions of 17% …relates to a base year of 2005. From the 1990 baseline used by everyone else, the current offer is only around 4%

aid promised for climate mitigation/adaptation/REDD is $$$ …only valid if accompanied by credible assurances of additionality and detail of who pays how much

emissions reductions will be X% …credible only if it is the gross figure ie. before any exclusions such as aviation, shipping and carbon trading.

carbon neutral …as above, which makes it almost impossible unfortunately

this hurricane/flood/drought was caused by climate change …if we go down that route, the climate change deniers will have a field day every time we get a cold winter or the global average temperature falls in a particular year

atmospheric concentration of CO2 is X% …must be clear whether it excludes the CO2 equivalent of other greenhouse gases and/or the cooling effect of particles

camps in Sri Lanka accommodate XX refugees …or any other confusion between refugees and internal displacement

corruption only happens in Africa …whoops

electoral irregularities only happen in Africa …whoops again

(my pet cause) is a human right …only if that status is established in international law

our company offers an employee volunteering scheme …sorry but volunteering involves work without pay, not time off from the office


this article was first published by OneWorld UK