Titel: Technological fixes
Bron: The Hindu
Datum: 13 juli 2001

Via: Biotech Activists (07/14/2001,ngin@icsenglish.com)

Technological fixes

The Hindu, Chennai/Bangalore/Hyderabad/New Delhi; July 13, 2001

IN MORE THAN a decade of publication, the annual Human Development Report
of the United Nations Development Programme has usually steered clear of
controversy while making out a case for expanding the understanding and
measurement of development beyond the traditional approaches of
increasing the gross domestic product of an economy. In the 2001 HDR,
however, the UNDP has managed to anger its ``traditional'' support base
of citizens' groups and organisations critical of the dominant
development paradigm by suggesting, first, that modern technology can
offer solutions to many of the problems of the developing countries and,
second, that the benefits of biotechnology and transgenic crops probably
outweigh the risks, especially when it comes to meeting the challenges
of increasing food production.

To be fair to the HDR, it is explicit in its argument that technology is
not a silver bullet for removal of poverty. Yet, if there is one running
strand in the 2001 report it is that the advances in modern technology
combined with the forces of globalisation - constituting the "networked
society" - offer the developing countries an opportunity to leap-frog
out of poverty. Unfortunately, the understanding of technology is a very
restrictive one, with the discussion confined to information and
communication technologies, biotechnology and in a very limited fashion
to advances in medicine.

Besides, there is little that the HDR offers beyond a few historical
examples to suggest that these new technologies by themselves will do
much more for development than innumerable other technological advances
of the past. As the report itself notes, many of the benefits of older
technologies are yet to be distributed as illustrated, for example, in
the fact that a third of the world's population is still without
electricity and two billion people do not have access to low-cost
essential medicines.

The UNDP study does argue that in biotechnology, as in other
technologies, there is a need to weigh the benefits against the risks.
But all the careful language does not hide the case that is made, in
particular, for a more open welcome to transgenic crops in the
developing countries. Yet, as the report itself notes, many of the
world's national scientific academies have asked for a "thorough risk
assessment" of the consequences of development of transgenic crop

A more explicit and potentially more dangerous argument contained in the
HDR is that the standards of risk and safety are different in rich and
poor countries. That is, while consumers in the advanced countries can
afford to worry about the safety of transgenic crops, the citizens of
the developing countries cannot afford to do so because their first
priority is food. Safety concerns in a variety of areas in the developed
societies on occasion are indeed taken to unreasonable and unrealistic
levels. But more generally the relevant question is, are basic standards
of safety breached by certain technologies? It cannot be that there must
be lax standards for poor societies and another set of stricter
standards for the rich societies.

The HDR 2001 contains, as usual, the latest measures of the human
development index for most countries in the world. The picture over the
longer term, since 1975, shows substantial progress in some,
retrogression in a fairly large number and an unsatisfactory pace of
growth in most countries in the developing world. The HDR's appraisal
reveals a mixed record so far on the very modest United Nations goals
for development for the year 2015 in income, health and education. In
some areas (hunger and education), more countries are on track than
falling behind in meeting the targets for 2015. In others, (infant,
child and maternal mortality and access to safe water), the reverse is
true because of an extremely slow pace of improvement.