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Underdeveloped Nations in the Times of a World Pandemic

The Human Development Index (HDI) is the benchmark that determines which nations are to be qualified as underdeveloped or not. It studies indicators such as life expectancy, education, and per capita income to draw its conclusions. The HDI uses the following ratios: Low Human Development (0 -.55), Medium Human Development (.55 -.70), High Human Development (.70 -.80) and Very High Human Development (.80 -1.0). Accordingly, the following nations rank amongst the poorest in the world:

Niger (.354), Central Africa Republic (.367), South Sudan (.388), Chad (.404), Burundi (.417), Sierra Leone (.419), Burkina Faso (.423), Mali (.427), Liberia (.435), Mozambique (.437).

Underdeveloped nations are qualified as having widespread poverty,  less economic development than other nations, a low per capita income, limited access to education,  healthcare, high birth rates and population growth all contributing to their impoverished states of being. Due in part to these realities, some scholars such as Barbara Wards argue that the masses in underdeveloped nations may even seek vengeance at some point in time. Her book, notably The Angry Seventies elaborates on how colonialism is to be blamed for the current inequalities between the global North and South. She suggests that in order to amend the current trade imbalances, one percent of the Gross National Product (GNP) of the wealthiest nations should be redistributed to the less fortunate ones.

According to the Wikipedia.com encyclopedia, underdevelopment is characterized by poor democratic political regimes, great poverty, malnutrition and fragile education and health systems. The benchmarks used to determine nations that fall under this category, according to the same source, are the following: human development measured by macro-economic growth, health, education and living standards.

Within the context of post-colonial studies, the terms “development” and “underdevelopment” saw birth during the colonial era and because of the post-World War II Project seeking to intervene on the so-called “Third World”. According to Mexican activist Gustavo Esteva, “underdevelopment emerged with the American President Harry Trumans’ inaugural speech in 1949. It is at this particular period in time that poverty was discovered on a large scale in underdeveloped regions of the world”. Mr. Esteva states that: “On that day, two billion people became underdeveloped”. This equates to more than half of the globes’ nations. He goes on further to underline that most of the European experts dealing with the matter at hand saw underdevelopment as an economic problem, thus overlooking the crucial political and social aspects of the puzzle that they tried to remedy in vain: colonial legacies and geopolitics.

One of these North/South solutions, notably, the Green Revolution, entailed an approach that consisted of modernizing the global agricultural sector by exporting the Industrial Agricultural Model of Production. At first, the U.S, Canada and other developed European nations shipped their surplus crops to underdeveloped nations in the form of “food aid” to respond to the widespread hunger faced by these poorer nations. The recipients became highly dependent on crops that they could not grow in their local economies. Henceforth, the U.S. imposed a condition for such countries to keep receiving the aid. They had to implement the entire  Industrial Model of Agriculture. This model was also used to fight Communism in these poorer nations. Nonetheless, the farmers adapting these methods needed fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation systems. The lack of these key components made them operate at a loss and to become dependent on the companies that supplied the materials at a later stage. In the long run, the populations’ poverty in these underdeveloped nations was accentuated.

Two Theories, notably the “Modernization Theory” and the “Dependency Theory” have expressed themselves in the form of large scholarships, public opinions and political policies. The “Modernization Theory” can be defined as being an extensive influence exercised by Western Nations to facilitate development in poorer nations. It combines the following three components according to the Wikipedia.com encyclopedia:

  1. A hierarchical identification of nations or societies and an explanation of how those designated as “modernized” or “relatively modernized” differ from others.
    2. Specification of how societies become modernized, comparing factors that are more or less conducive to transformation.
    3. Generalizations about how the parts of a modernized society fit together involving stages of modernization and ideal types of successfully modernized countries.

An outstanding scholar in regards to this theory is Walt Whitman Rostow. He wrote an essay, notably “The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non Communist Manifesto” in which he outlines five stages of growth for nations to adhere by:

  1. Traditional Society
    2. The Pre-Condition for Take-Off
    3. The Take-Off
    4. The Drive to Maturity
    5. The Age of High Mass Consumption

According to him, if undeveloped nations follow this track line, they can shape themselves into modern industrialized and urban societies.

The second theory up for discussion is the “Dependency Theory”. This concept, according to intellectuals from both “Third and First Worlds” suggests that wealthier nations need poorer subjugated nations to maintain their advantage. The poorer nations supply the natural resources, cheap labor and consumer markets to the richer nations. These well off nations in return indirectly impose policies and initiatives that encourage and maintain the dependency. Non-compliance from poorer nations could lead to economic sanctions and military invasion in rare instances. The fact of laying down the rules for International Trade and Commerce is the common approach utilized by wealthier nations. This theory first saw the light in 1950 with an advocate named Raul Prebisch. It later evolved into different schools of thought and some of the most prominent scholars to note in that respect are Andre Gunder Frank and Walter Rodney who turned it into Marxism. This concept that is different from standard dependency argues that progress in less developed nations will not succeed in internationalizing or industrializing themselves without a liberating revolution.

Pandemics like COVID-19 are challenging the global economies and forcing them into a recession similar to the one of the Great Depression. How resilient are these underdeveloped economies to cope and barricade themselves with the expected rise in unemployment and the potential collapse of their fragile health systems? How will international trade barriers restricting them from raising foreign exchange and revenues for their various economic sectors affect them? How will these nations highly dependent on tourism survive when this sector alone employs more than 123 Million individuals worldwide and that more than 100 countries have closed their borders indefinitely? Challenging times call for challenging measures.

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