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With limited means, "third-world" countries need global environmental support

Michelle Udem

Issue date: 8/28/09 Section: Opinion
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Spending the summer in the archipelago nation of Indonesia gave me a dose of reality about what we call the third world. As an economics and environmental studies double major beginning my final year of college, I had learned to condemn China for unrestrained coal emissions, and to denounce most of Southeast Asia for lax deforestation laws. However, in the midst of my summer's immersion in Indonesian culture and society, I reconsidered my thinking the past three years: there are in fact issues that trump the environment, such as employment opportunities, prosperity, and education, to name a few. Jakarta's more immediate priorities therefore place the environment on a to-do list reaching beyond its city of 10 million and to all of us on a global scale.

By witnessing first-hand Indonesia's trashed rivers and mountainous garbage dumps, breathing the harsh air, and listening to its 2009 presidential nominees' speeches, I have come to understand that addressing environmental issues in developing countries is a 'luxury' few countries can afford. Instead, "third world" priorities are aimed at developing an economy, in order to provide employment to a growing and increasingly demanding population - whether that means surviving day-to-day challenges (such as having enough food for the family, a place to sleep, etc.) or preparing the next generation to attain a greater level of success (economically and socially). In the end, the success of those efforts by the government will determine the political and social stability of the nation.

So when and how will the environmental issues, such as the deforestation and air pollution that the developed world is already addressing, come into play in a country like Indonesia? It may be decades before Indonesia joins the G8. Unfortunately, it seems that it may take the occurrence of a major disaster before Jakarta would be forced to address specific environmental issues. A situation causing mass distress or peril, such as a break in a dam or a forest ablaze, may finally bring some priority to environmental issues.
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    Juli Purnamawati

    posted 9/14/09 @ 7:46 PM EST

    This is a great article.It is well written and quite thoughtful.

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