Thursday, June 12, 2008

Debt-for-Nature

In Malcolm Gladwell's second book, Blink, the focus is on our natural, immediate response when exposed to something based on our instincts and experience. One of Gladwell's examples was an art expert who simply glances at a painting then immediately replies, "this is a copy not an original......." -- well I had a definite "Blink" moment today after reading an email alert from the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF) based in Washington DC.

Had a thought about it I guess I would have realized that "debt-for-nature" (DFN) swaps exist in our world but reading the ICCF email today made it very clear to me how the DFN system works. ICCF's email noted that the government of Madagascar made an exchange/swap with the entities that own portions of its national debt by agreeing to set aside portions of the country as nature preserves for national debt forgiveness.

Now of course I see several positives with the DFN systems -- nature is preserved so we can all enjoy it especially since the ICCF email noted that a vast majority of animals in Madagascar are only native to this island nation. Secondly national debt relief for a poor country like Madagascar is truly a relief to them I imagine but at what true cost I ask?

"Modern day colonialism" I would answer. My realization today that the DFN system has a potential dark side was my personal "Blink" moment. One could agree that Madagascar's former colonial master - France - simply leveraged the national debt owed by Madagascar's government to achieve a French government goal of controlling a portion of Madagascar's land mass like it did in the colonial days but this time France is the "green knight" coming to the rescue not an imperial power focused on financial gain.

Yes indeed Madagascar reduces the level of its national debt but the bargain made via DFN forbids Madagascar to exploit its natural resources in the same way other nations did as they developed. Poor countries simply need to learn from the historical experience of today's richest nations -- a country tends to exploit its natural resources at the expense of its environmental quality ONLY until the country gains enough overall/per capita wealth. It is at this point that the rich/developed country's citizens value environmental quality as the expense of natural resource exploitation. Last week's conference in Hong Kong that I attended included a speaker who showed a line graph/chart during his presentation which depicted this same economic evolution.

Ideally Madagascar will benefit from the growing interest in eco-toursim but it that industry fails to develop then they have simply defaulted back to becoming a modern day colony of France via this DFN scheme.

Wealth is Health,

Todd

1 comment:

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