visser_logo_small.gif (1783 bytes)Development and Environment: 
A Perspective on Labour Force Employment and Poverty Eradication

A Viewpoint from Pacific Asia
Zhang, page 2 of 2  Back to page 1
Section headings:

dot.gif (101 bytes) 1. Labour Force Employment and Poverty Alleviation dot.gif (101 bytes) 3. Conclusion: Environment, Technology and Employment
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2. Environment Problem and the Relations to Employment and Technological Capabilities

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4. References

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Table 1 Asia in the Fastest Economic Growth, 1985-92:  Average annual % increase in real GDP

dot.gif (101 bytes) Table 2 Differentiations in Reaction v. Environment & Development between Developed & Developing Countries


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2. Environment Problem and the Relations to Employment and Technological Capabilities

There is a sharp differentiation in development trends in Asia due to the diversity of natural resources (e.g. geographical position), culture (religions, and traditions), and political division (socialism and capitalism). As developing countries do not have a comparative advantage in industrial technologies on the same scale in developed countries, "they would be better off using the limited resources available to them in areas where they do have a comparative advantage" (Hewitt 1992:201). The success of the rapid economic development in Asia and Pacific has relied strongly on resource utilization [For example, among the countries of the ASEAN, the Philippines, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore produce 82 percent of the world's production of natural rubber, 70 percent of copra and coconut products, 70 percent tin, 56 percent of palm-oil and 50 percent of hardwood. (Hurst, 1990; Ghee, 1990).], together with industrialization, urbanization, and increasing use of energy. The economic development, to a certain extent, has been accompanied with progressively worsening and spreading environmental pollution and deterioration, specially, in the developing countries. Many of the environmental problems in this connection affect agriculture, such as the continuing decline of arable land due to industrial construction and urban expansion, soil erosion, deforestation, severe constraint of water resources, decrease of soil fertility, shortage of rural energy supplies and agricultural pollution, often in conjunction with natural disasters. Decrease of land carrying capacity is considered to be attributable to application of chemical fertilizers. The relatively fast population growth has made the constraint of land resources more severe. Moreover, decline of arable land has also resulted in the loss of agricultural land due to land requisitioning for economic development construction. For instance, in China, between 80 to 90 per cent of the total area of development sites presently under or awaiting construction is farmland. [Nongmin rebao (Farmer's Daily), 20 April 1993, P. 1.]

Deforestation is most critical in Asian and Pacific. [It is estimated that each year an area of 134,300 of tropical forest is depleted on our planet. In Asia the estimation of annual forest loss is 42,000 of which 25,000 sq. km. in South-East Asia (Lindsay, 1993: 22).] Tropical forests are of economic importance for the world markets, especially, towards the enrichment of Western industries. The world timber trade and its by-products have imposed various conflicts over natural resources, generating from competition at international, national and local level. As Rajni Kothari (1982) pointed out: "The major conflicts are now global in scope. The may be economic, military and strategic in nature, with the different regions and nations confronting each other over the control and distribution of world resources, patterns of international trade and control of technology, and regulations governing the environment, the ocean floor or nuclear energy. Underlying all these conflicts are the increases in poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and population growth." The social and ecological consequences of dominant patterns of global and national development often reinforce the dimensions of patterns of growth driven solely by markets and search for profits.

There are two distinct types of environmental problems faced by developing countries: those emerging from development itself (i.e. application of modern technology), and those resulting from underdevelopment (i.e. poverty), but the major forms of environmental degradation are largely created by livelihoods: "participation in primary commodity production as wage labourers in mining, forestry, and agriculture, or as petty commodity producers (sometimes degraded to 'subsistence' producers)" (Allen and Thomas, 1992: 115). As many of developing countries are facing the transition period of their economies -- from a predominant agricultural society to an industrialised society, the management of the economy must be a priority on the national agenda. The issue of the interrelationship between development and environment is that environmental problems are largely developmental issues. Development in these countries often depends on building infrastructure (e.g. roads, energy, heavy industries, transportation and communication), increasing food production, stabilising production growth, and abolishing poverty problems (severe lack of clean drinking water, inadequate sanitation, land degradation, etc.). The Chinese official authorities think that only when the national strength is boosted along with economic and technological progress, environmental protection can obtain a material base. Without economic development poverty cannot quickly be eliminated, while without a solidarity base laid by the development for her people, environmental protection will also become an empty phrase. [Sustainable Development in China. Essays on International Workshop on China's Agenda 21, 25-29 October, 1993, Beijing: Haiyang chubanshe, 1994]  The country aims to move from the provision of adequate food and clothing to the achievement of a relatively comfortable life for her people during the coming century. To fulfill the target, economic incentives are offered and increased. The agricultural policy has consistently been to achieve near self-sufficiency of the staple food, but the policy may not be appropriate in relation to environmental problems. A solution to both economic and environmental problems at one go is difficult to be found at the present state of development in China, and certainly in many other developing countries in Asia as well.

Although a certain level of urban and rural labour force employment has been achieved in many Asian developing countries such as China, the quality of the employment is often characterized by a relatively high ratio of unskilled workers in labour force and corresponding large wage differentials between skilled and unskilled work force. Because of that, productivity often stagnates due to the small stock of physical capital and a high rate of return on human capital, resulting from low economic growth measured by the gross national product. The problem is identical in respect to technology, and the management ability of the labour force. In Thailand, low-productivity employment, in fact, does not contribute to the expansion of employment in high-productivity sectors. The export activities in Thailand created large qualities of low-productivity employment. However, the average living standard of the poor households was not likely to be immediately raised by the expending export activities alone. Thus, the poor households are still remaining in relative poverty. Poverty alleviation is not stabilized. But from another point of view, in Singapore and Malaysia, "the strategy of relying on low-wage labour has been successful, in part because the cost of production has been born by the household." "Women's concomitant entry into the formal sector labour force is without precedent" (Lin, 1987: 254).

3. Conclusion: Environment, Technology and Employment

This paper shows that Asia's economic growth, since the 1960s, has been increasing at a rapid pace. Although many westerners believe that the economic growth in Asia stays even stronger than any other regions of economies in the world, the question of sustainable development including the issues of resource degradation and regeneration in the development process is immediately linked to the issues of labour force employment, poverty alleviation, and technological levels and capabilities.

There is a new concept, attempting to challenge development and environmental problems faced by the least developed countries, introduced by Karshenas. Population, technology and employment have been taken as the core issues in his analysis of relationship between economic growth and environmental degradation.

Thus, sustainable development is defined "in terms of the pattern of structural change in natural and man-made capital stock (including human capital and technological capabilities), which ensures the feasibility of at least a minimum socially desired rate of growth in the long-run" (Karshenas, 1994: 745).

The "desired rate of growth" refers necessarily to catering for the basic needs of the population. "Below this minimum rate of growth, options open to the economy in terms of environmental resource depletion rates become increasingly limited, and a process of forced environmental degradation will take place (more on the relation between environment and poverty below), Karshenas points out.

Karshenas has distinguished between environmental problems in developed countries (high income levels and technological progress) and those underdeveloped (technological stagnation). Based on his highlights, and cited from his words, I hereby provide Table 2 in order to contrast the major differences he has made. It demonstrates that labour productivity, income per capita, work conditions and quality of life in general are crucial in the translation of the relationship between development and environment. In relation to environmental policy debate in developing countries, "one implication is that policies which may be appropriate in the context of environmental problems related to growth and technological dynamism, may not be appropriate in relation to environmental problems resulting from underdevelopment and technological stagnation" (1994: 724) Is the interrelationship between development and environment environment-growth trade-offs or complementarities?

For many developing countries, e.g. China, severe environmental degradation is viewed directly originating and increasing from the ratio of population and natural resource in their proportion. According to Karshenas' opinion, "'poverty' in itself cannot be regarded as an exogenous cause of environmental degradation. Poverty is rather a condition of being of the economic agents caused by a complex set of socio-economic and physical processes, including the environment itself" (Karshenas, 1994: 751). Ellis expresses the similar view that "population growth does not necessarily result in environmental degradation; under advantageous conditions it can stimulate more conservation" (Ellis, 1993: 271). Karshenas went on to point out that we can not underestimate the importance of population policy, but "the point being made is rather that economies with similar population: natural resource ratios and similar population growth rates can experience either sustainable or unsustainable development, depending on their pattern of employment generation and technological trajectories" (1993: 752). Thus, the development issues with environmental concerns are the issues of sufficient and adequate use of labour force depending on technological levels, and "the relevant use of technology depends on learning how to acquire technological capability. This involves much effort. It certainly does not happen automatically or passively. It requires organized and broad systems of acquisition to build technological capability" (Hewitt 1992: 221).

Asia's development strategy (open door policy and export-growth approach) shows that political stability is essential for economic growth. Many westerners regard the phenomenon of Asian growth, especially in Asia and Pacific, with Japan at the head, followed by the "Four Dragons", the ASEAN countries, and then the regional group of Laos, Kampuchea, Vietnam and Burma (the economic development is now re-engaging with international capital investment), with shifting comparative advantage as the countries advance in technological sophistication, as a new pattern of world production beginning to merge (Shibusawa, 1992). However, political stability will become an important issue challenging Asian countries, particularly, the Pacific Asian region, as the major changes will occur in generation leadership, such as China, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia. Both within and beyond the region, some economic linkages, mainly trade flows, foreign direct investment and bilateral aid, will show more complex patterns of interdependence. The possibilities of export expansion in developing countries depend on world market conditions.

All over Asia there is a fast rise of wage labour, a large number of workers experience job insecurity, lack of access to social welfare and periods without gainful employment, although they have made their living in all sectors of the urban economy. Obviously, there is a close relation between the allocation of resource and the scope for employment creation, capital stock and sustainable growth, and labour and capital stand in basic conflict to each other.

4. References

Allen, Tim and Alan Thomas (eds) (1992), Poverty and Development in the 1990s. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ellis, Frank (1993), Peasant Economics. Farm households and agrarian development (3rd edt). Cambridge University Press.
Ghee, Lim Teck and Mark J. Valencia (1990), Conflict over Natural Resources in south-East Asia and the Pacific. New York: The United Nations University.
Hewitt, Tom, Hazel Johnson and Deve Wield (ets) (1992), Industrialization and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hurst, Philip (1990), Rainforest Politics: Ecological Destruction in South-East Asia. London: Zed Books.
Karshenas, Massoud, Environment, Technology and Employment: Towards a New Definition of Sustainable Development. Development and Change. 1994 Vol. 25.
Kothari, Rajni (1982). 'Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific.' UNEP Report on Environment and Development in Asia and the Pacific: Experience and Prospects. Nairobi: UNEP.
Lindsay, Jonathan M., Overlaps and Tradeoffs: Coordinating Polities for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific. Journal of Developing Areas. Vol. 28. No. 1. October 1993.
National Report of The People's Republic of China on Environment and Development. Beijing: China Environmental Science Press. 1992.
Oshima, Harry T., Employment Generation: The Long-Term solution to Poverty. Asian Development Review. 1990. Vol. 8. No. 1.
Pinches, Michael and Salim Lakha (eds) (1987) Wage Labour and Social Change. The Probetariat in Asia and The Pacific. Victoria: Centre of Southeast Studies Monash University.
Sabin, Lora, New Bosses in the workers' State: The Growth of Non-state Sector Employment in China. The China Quarterly, December 1994. No. 140.
Shibusawa, Masahide, Zakaria Haji Ahmad and Brian Bridges (1992), Pacific Asia in the 1990s. London: Routledge.
Shirin M. Rai and Zhang Junzuo, Competing and Learning: Women and the State in Contemporary Rural Mainland China. Issues and Studies, March 1994, Vol. 30. No. 3.
Sustainable Development in China, essays on International Workshop on China's Agenda 21, 25-29 October, 1993, Beijing: Haiyang chubanshe, 1994.
Taylor, Jeffrey R. (1993) Rural Employment Trends and the Legacy of Surplus Labour, 1978-1989. Kueh, Y.Y. and Robert F. Ash. Economic Trends in Chinese Agriculture. The Impact of Post-Mao Reforms. New York: Oxford University Press Ltd.
The Economists (1995), World in Figures. London: The Economists Books Ltd.
Vogel, Ezra F. (1990), The Four Litter Dragons. Massachusetts: Harvard University.
World Bank Policy Research Report (1993), The East Asian Miracle. Economic Growth and Public Policy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wu, Harry Xiaoying, Rural to Urban Migration in the People's Republic of China. The China Quarterly. September 1994. No. 139.
Yeung, Yue-man (1993), Pacific Asia in the 21st Century. Hong Kong: The Chinese University.
Zhang Junzuo (1992), Gender and Political Participation in Rural China, in Shirin Rai (et al) (eds), Women in the Face of Change, London: Routledge.

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