North-South, A Question Of Imbalance
The international economic
Throughout history our world has
been the subject of multiple divisions. Romans divided the
world into the Roman Empire and the Barbarian World; after
the voyages of Columbus, people spoke about the New and
the Ancient Worlds; an "iron curtain" was built
to separate Eastern from Western Europe at the end of the
Second World War; and more recently we have begun speaking
about the world divided into the North and the South.
What other divisions can you think of?
This differentiation between the
North and the South does not refer to the geographical situation
of each country in relation to the Equator, (Australia is
economically in the North!), but to a much more complex
economic and political situation.
Only a small minority of this planet's
inhabitants enjoy the benefits of this smaller world we
referred to earlier: technological advances and consumption
levels which surpass basic needs. The terms "North"
and "South" are generalisations, and there are
lots of differences among countries from each group. But
it is undeniable that the real frontier dividing the North
from the South is poverty. Although poverty exists
also in the Northern countries, the situation of their poor
could sometimes be viewed as a privilege compared to those
in poverty in the South. Go to the sections on Globalisation
in Compass for further discussion of these issues.
What is your idea of poverty? How many people live in poverty
While much of the world experienced
sustained economic growth in the 1990s, 54 developing countries
suffered average income declines over the course of the
decade, reveals the United Nations Development Programme's
Human Development Report 2003. Most of the countries
that were poorer in 2000 than in 1990 are in sub-Saharan
Africa. When a country is "under developed", this
means that it loses the ability to dictate its own development;
it has to depend economically and culturally on other countries.
What is "development"? What is "growth"?
Who sets the criteria?
This situation of poverty has
not occurred naturally: in many cases the countries concerned
have more natural resources than those of the developed
countries and in the past they had thriving economies. So,
what are the reasons for this unequal and unjust situation?
At the risk of over simplification, it may be said that
these countries' situation stems from the international
system that dominates politically and, above all, economically,
An imbalance everyone
of us helps to maintain
After the Second World War the
present international economic order was created by a small
number of "Northern" countries. These countries
imposed rules and created structures that reflected their
interests (for example, the International Monetary Fund,
the World Bank, trade agreements...) and made use of resources
that were not theirs... In a few words: they designed a
system by which the development of the few was supported
by the poverty of the majority.
Other, subtler forms of dependency became
the norm and their main expression can be found in the concept
of foreign debt, which burdens most of the developing
countries. The countries of the South became trapped into
a system of having to exploit and sell their primary resources
in order to pay for machinery and technology.
Many countries are in the very difficult position of paying
huge proportions of government income to service their foreign
debt. Who do you think is responsible for such situations?
What do you think of the global campaign to "Drop the
Debt" - which would mean cancelling the foreign debt
of the world's poorest countries?*
Basic inequality of the economic
system, civil wars (Rwanda, El Salvador...), environmental
disasters (desertification, earthquakes), famine and a strong
increase in the level of population (particularly in Africa)
all combine to produce a dramatic situation. Increasing
numbers of people have been forced to take a painful if
not traumatic decision: to leave their homes, emigrate or
seek asylum. They do this to survive, despite being aware
of the difficulties involved in living in a foreign country.
What do you think is the difference between "a migrant",
"a refugee" and "a displaced person"?
In January 2004, the number of
people "of concern" to the United Nations High
Commission for Refugees was 20,556,781 (in 1974 the
figure was 2.4 million) - that is roughly one out of every
300 people on the planet. Can you imagine what these figures
really mean in terms of human tragedy? Increasingly, in
the North, our attention has been diverted away from the
South: particularly in Europe we have been looking at ourselves.