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Thursday, December 2, 2010

From Cancun to Ethiopia: Without the will, there Is no change

Details from the ongoing world climate talks in Cancun paint a picture of a tentative, quite torturous process, in which ‘the negotiations are going to be complex if there is no flexibility by the parties and no political will.’

By mid-December, we will know whether the participants have managed to work a deal out that will have enough parties making enough changes to curb emissions for the conference to have been worthwhile. Climate change is nothing if not a complex problem - difficult to understand, difficult to muster the will to respond to.

Helping the poor to transform their villages into viable communities is also nothing if not complex. As with climate change strategies, there must be sufficient ‘social will’, and everybody needs to participate if it’s going to work. If the results are not clearly understood or clearly valued, then the process is a non-starter.

These are the kind of social complexities that we take into account before we start working with a village or a group of people. It’s not enough to just plunk down a load of money, or a load of concrete, or a load of tools.

There has to be a will among community members to do what it takes, including make sacrifices. For example, in Ethiopia, people who work with us to build water systems for their villages will spend many days of very hard labour for no pay in order to clear the way for pipes.

Everybody must participate equally. When the water system is installed, people have to be willing to work on committees that will maintain the system, people have to pay their fees for repairs, et cetera, and people have to put into practice the health and sanitation training they were given, or else their health gains are nullified.

In every instance, a village will remain poor if the people living there are not truly leading the process. Money alone is no cure, just like a conference alone will not address the problems associated with climate change.

If poverty reduction were simple, it would happen quickly. But as with most wonderful, truly worthy goals, it’s more complicated than that.

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