What does it now mean to be a 'developed nation'?

Written by Jo Carroll.

It is a privilege to travel as I do.  I've watched the world go by from restaurants in New York and San Francisco, and from tiny cafes in the mountains of Nepal and jungles of South America.

I've noticed the huge efforts made is less developed countries to bring a minimal level of prosperity those living in poverty, including making it possible for everyone to be involved in commerce - even if this is nothing more ambitious than taking fruit from a smallholding to market.  There is a recognition that the economy grows if as many people as possible can be involved in it - and sometimes that means that the government has to invest in reaching those people who might otherwise be excluded.

Nepal is a prime example.  Transport in the Himalaya is a challenge - and yet I've seen rickety buses struggle up mountainsides in order to reach people living in tiny villages and enable to them to take their goods to town.  I've shared a seat with a woman with a live chicken on her knee, and another who tried to pay her fare in cucumbers.

There is a parallel understanding that education is a route out of poverty for those on the margins of society.  Books are precious, and expensive.  And yet access to learning is vital.  There is, now, a library in Pokhara (Nepal) - giving everyone has access to books and to learning.  Mothers borrow books to read to their children - a new experience for many. And these children will read to their children.  These are the seeds of a love of learning.

And here we are, a rich, highly developed country, cutting our buses and our libraries.  We might not take chickens to market any more, and the Internet may have replaced books for some of us.  But those on limited incomes need buses as much as those living in the mountains of Nepal. F amilies who cannot afford a computer are marginalised if they cannot even have access to books.

The unitary council, of course, has financial choices to make.  But it troubles me when those choices fall hardest on those least able to stand up for themselves.

It all makes me wonder how we should now define that valued adjective 'developed'.  There have long been nations sitting safely in the 'developed' column some of which are undemocratic and do not know what 'equality' means, and others that insist that economic prosperity is automatically inclusive.  

Do we now have to accept that so-called 'developed' nations have found ways to exclude the poor?


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