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RADIX  March 2018

RADIX March 2018

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Subject:

Worse than buzzwords: an incoherent defense of the status quo!

From:

Ben Wisner <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Thu, 29 Mar 2018 17:33:59 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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One should not blame the messenger, so first let me join Ilan in thanking Peter for sending along this ESCAP/ UNDP/ ADP document. Ilan thanks Peter and goes on to mention “buzzword bingo”. Ilan is too kind. Yes, this document bristles with buzzwords, however, even if these were carefully defined, this description of the upcoming Bangkok meeting would be incoherent and dangerously reductionist and conservative.

The fifth paragraph quoting Dr. Akhar asserts that the Asian-Pacific region “has gone through a transformation” (I’ll call this T1). If that is the case, what is the new “transformation” that is to be the goal (Call it T2)? If the negative impacts T1 have “fall[en] disproportionally on the most marginalized groups and communities”, wouldn’t one expect that T2 would address and attempt to reverse those driving processes? Instead, the 2030 Agenda in the Asia-Pacific emphasizes limited technocratic “capacities” to be used by authorities to stabilize a fundamentally pathological system of accumulation and growth that will continue to reproduce and intensity the drivers of T1. The use of adjectives such as “anticipatory”, “absorptive” and “adaptive” are meant to give this blatant defense of the status quo credibility but is no more than pseudo-science. This is an attempt to highjack the word “transformation” in aid of the status quo. ADB, UNDP and ESCAP are certainly not using the term in the way that Oxfam does: “transformation is a deep change in the very structures that cause and maintain poverty and injustice” (Oxfam, 2017 https://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/absorb-adapt-transform-resilience-capacities-620178). 

The “most marginal” suffer rapidly increasing inequality and access in these societies – within national territories between rural and urban and within cities between privileged and protected space and zones of sacrifice. An example is the 17 artificial islands being constructed off the coast of Jakarta, Indonesia, where high income residents will live and work in privileged and pampered space, allegedly making a sea wall and “green adaptation” to sea level rise economically viable (Jarkarta Globe, 2018 http://jakartaglobe.id/business/jakarta-start-ambitious-34b-giant-sea-wall-project/) -- even though this will not address ground water extraction:  the fundamental cause of Jakarta’s sinking. The vast majority of Jakarta’s residents will remain at increasing risk of flooding and disease. “Resilience capacities” will not substantively impact those risks. 

The phrase “vulnerable human systems” in paragraph 3 gives the game away. The billions ADB is pledging are not meant to empower and give voice and agency to the “most marginalized” but to ensure that this inconveniently surplus population (urban and rural) does not become organized and protest the division of wealth, income, resources, opportunities and safety. The Bangkok meeting is meant to shore up a "system", not to empower people. “Resilience capacities” are designed to manage political shock to a system of extraction and consumption, land use, gentrification and displacement that is benefiting a global elite. Despite triumphalist reports of decrease of percentage of people living in poverty and improvements in infant and maternal mortality, absolute numbers of people living with hunger and precarity is increasing, such as those waiting for the bull-dozers to destroy their homes in river and canal side locations in Jarkarta (Jakarata Post, 2018 http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2018/02/08/west-jakarta-residents-continue-staging-rally-ahead-of-eviction.html).  The elite-enriching system is vulnerable to growing discontent and awareness of these root causes of everyday and catastrophic risk. That is what the academic and professional servants of the elite will meet in Bangkok to discuss in the coded and mystifying language of “resilience”.

Regards,

BEN

Dr. Ben Wisner
Visiting Professor, Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London, UK
& Environmental Studies Program, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, USA

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