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Environmentally Sustainable Development in the Third World

Examples of countries that have developed in a Western way

Some countries have followed the path of Western industrial countries in selling cheap goods internationally, by keeping their manufacturing costs down through control of labour. Then, through wealth creation they reach Western standards but at the same time create considerable environmental damage:

Taiwan. Taiwan was originally a rural society. The Nationalists were defeated by the Communists in China in 1949 and retreated to Taiwan, where the Nationalist Party or Kuomintang established a government. A policy of import substitution was introduced, whereby an attempt was made to produce everything locally. This was subsidised by the USA. From 1960, the USA reduced the subsidies, and the Taiwanese realised that they would need to establish industries that would earn hard currency to pay for their imports. The first developments were agricultural i.e. sugar and mushrooms, which were followed by a move into light manufacturing, then heavy industry and more recently, computers and electronics. There was a large surplus labour force drawn from agriculture. Taiwan reached a GDP per capita of US$23,400 in 2003 and only one percent of the population was estimated to be below the poverty line. In comparison, the USA’s GDP per capita in 2003 was US$37,800, and 12 percent of the population was estimated to be below the poverty line). However, Taiwan now has air and water pollution from industrial emissions, contaminated water, waste disposal and raw sewage problems.

Singapore. Singapore’s only resource was its labour force and focussed upon developing a high level of training. The Singaporeans turned to trade and high-tech industries. It is now the world’s busiest port in terms of the volume of shipping. Its GDP per capita is slightly higher than that of Taiwan. Singapore has a limited land area for waste disposal and suffers from air pollution.

South Korea. Similar to Taiwan, South Korea pursued a policy of import substitution. From the end of the Korean War in 1953 it also received subsidies from the USA, which were reduced during the 1960’s. South Korea then developed an export trade; initially the emphasis was upon heavy industry and chemicals. More recently, there has been a shift to light industries. It had a GDP per capita of US$17,700 in 2003 and an estimated 4% of the population lived below the poverty line in 2001. South Korea’s major environmental problems are air and water pollution, and acid rain.

Other countries in this category include Malaysia, the Czech Republic (formerly a centrally planned economy after the Soviet model) and Portugal. Portugal has undergone more privatisation and has had considerable growth in exports since joining the European Community in 1986.

Economies in transition

There are a number of countries which could be described as transitional, as they are on the way to Western-style development but still have a large rural sector where the population is at subsistence level, or below. Some of these are:

India. From independence in 1947, the Indian economy was based on the Russian model of central planning and state-owned industries. India aimed to be economically self-sufficient. For many years there was a mixture of state capitalism and private enterprise. Businesses were subsidised to avoid having to retrench workers but had to submit to a number of governmental directives as to what was produced, and the scale of the business operation. Since 1990, there has been a reduction of bureaucratic controls and more privatisation. Poverty has been reduced by approximately 10%. However the overall literacy rate is about 60% and the GDP per capita was less than US$3,000 in 2003. In 2002, about 25% of the population was estimated to live below the poverty line. India’s very large population strains both the environment and the infrastructure. Environmental problems include air and water pollution, soil erosion and deforestation. Tap water remains undrinkable throughout the country.

Indonesia. Indonesia is an exporter of oil, gas, timber and other commodities . More recently it has become a source of low cost labour for multinational companies producing clothing, footwear and electrical appliances. It is no longer receiving funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but the country still suffers from high unemployment and poverty. The GDP per capita is a little higher than India’s at US $3,200 in 2003. Environmental problems include deforestation, water and air pollution.

Thailand. Thailand has long been a free enterprise economy. There are the traditional exports of rice and rubber, but more recently Thailand has become a significant exporter of textiles, computers and electrical appliances. Its GDP per capita is much higher than that of India or Indonesia at US$7,400. There is a high literacy rate of 96%. However, 10% of the population lives below the poverty line and there is water pollution from industrial waste, air pollution from cars and other vehicles, deforestation and soil erosion.

Other countries in this category include Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico and China.

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