Economic Problems

The countries most in need are the least able to afford the vast sums necessary to provide the infrastructure that is essential for their development. They lack the technical expertise and the trained manpower to build their own power stations, and so have to import them from abroad. The same applies to all the other large-scale industrial equipment that will enable them to stand on their own feet and not be dependent on aid and imports. Many of the poorer countries have huge debts and so have to devote much of their agriculture to cash crops to repay even the interest on the debt instead of growing the food they desperately need.

Generous aid from the richer countries is needed, but it must always be with the object of eventually securing the economic independence of the recipients, and discouraging a complacent begging-bowl mentality. Arrangements whereby foreign companies are encouraged to build power stations and factories as a long-term investment with the eventual aim of transferring ownership to the recipient country may provide one way of getting the economy started. The raises delicate political problems, as such arrangements are often seen as economic imperialism. A condition of their success is that such investments must be protected against unjust taxation and confiscation. The willing co-operation of the recipient country is essential for success.

In the case of highly sensitive industries, such as nuclear power stations, it is necessary to ensure that they are not used to manufacture weapons. In countries with unstable political regimes, this might be done under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency, supported by the United Nations.

In some countries African dictators have illegally amassed huge personal fortunes that are now in Swiss banks. It has been estimated that such sums, equivalent to many billions of pounds, are similar to the total debts of all African countries. Means must be found to release these sums and make them available for development.

The economies of many poorer countries have been severely harmed by programmes of nationalisation and by the confiscation of farms owned by immigrants or their descendants. These farms are given to politically approved people who lack the knowledge to run them, so production falls and everyone suffers.

The economic problems of many countries are further exacerbated by the rapid growth of population due to improved medical care. Parents welcome large families as they help to safeguard their future. This is now offset by the growing scourge of AIDS which leads to growing numbers of orphaned children which places an increased burden on already overstrained medical resources.

One of the greatest needs of the developing countries is for more energy. As already mentioned, this is essential at both the industrial and the domestic level, and has a strong correlation to health and general well-being and quality of life. The population of the larger cities is rapidly increasing, and many of the largest cities in the world are in the poorer countries: Mexico City with 25 million, Calcutta and Cairo with 20 million and countless cities with a million or more. The demand for energy in developing countries is likely to grow by 150% by 2030 and globally to more than double by 2050. Only nuclear power is able to provide this energy without serious pollution. I recall attending a conference in Calcutta some years ago and the pollution caused by about six million wood and dung fires was such that about one-third of the participants experienced bronchial problems.

The need for energy can be met by nuclear power, but then there are to problems of paying for it and preventing the diversion of fissile material for illegal purposes. Most of the developing countries are already heavily in debt, and have urgent problems that they have to tackle with their limited means. One possible way to solve this problem is to encourage companies, under the auspices of the United Nations, to build nuclear power stations at their own expense and then sell the electricity produced. It may be desirable to designate the land on which the power stations are built as United Nations land, and keep it well guarded to prevent sabotage or theft of fissile material. Such reactors could also produce radioisotopes for medical purposes.

Most nuclear power reactors are 1000 MW; this is excellent for large cities but not for smaller ones, especially in countries without a well-developed grid. These can be served by smaller reactors of 50 to 500 MW They are inherently very safe and easy to operate, and also very secure. They have long fuel load lifetimes that may be sufficient to last throughout their life, so that refuelling is not necessary. Such reactors have been proposed by the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), an international consortium of the leading nuclear nations, namely the US, France, China, Russia and Japan. Several countries have extensive reactor research and development programmes; for example France spends about $500M per year and Japan over $2000M per year. Shamefully, the UK has practically ceased such work, and so is present at GNEP meetings only as an observer (Nuclear Issues, September 2007).

While there is a general agreement that in order to avoid serious climate change the emission of carbon dioxide must be controlled, there is a disagreement about the reductions to be undertaken by different countries. The poorer countries argue that the industrialised nations have developed their industries taking no account of the pollution they have caused, so that it is unjust to retard their own development by imposing reductions on them. The developed countries find it difficult to accept this because of the extra cost that this would impose on their industries, which would then be economically disadvantaged. The arguments centre around proposed reductions by 10% or 20% in a few decades, whereas the reality is that every country must reduce their emissions practically to zero if serious consequences are to be avoided.

In all countries there are rich and poor people, but it is particularly scandalous that this is also true for many developing countries. In the big cities there are areas with vast opulent mansions where the richest people live in luxury, waited on by countless servants. Not far away, and also in the surrounding towns and villages, there are millions living in abject poverty in crowded shanty towns with no access to water, electricity or basic health care. They are well aware from discarded magazines and television of the high standard of living of the rich and are filled with a burning sense of injustice. This is an unjust and potentially explosive situation that calls for urgent action.

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