Philippines ‘Very Complicated,’ Sachs Says

Posted on May 06, 2012 11:15:22 PM


THERE ARE SIMPLY too many babies being born in the Philippines, making it “very hard” for poverty-reduction efforts to make even a dent, according to one of the world’s most influential economists.

Asia has to ‘constitute its own growth pull’ — Sachs

Fertility rates are “too high” and something should be done to bring down the number of babies born per household to an average of two instead of the current three to promote economic growth and achieve “social inclusion,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Mr. Sachs, who was in Manila last week for the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), told BusinessWorld that a country with limited resources must prioritize basic needs like nutrition and education, and be able to fight extreme poverty.

“The Philippines of course is a very complicated country, very diverse; it’s an archipelago. It’s very crowded. The population has increased more than four times since 1950. The fertility rates remain quite high in this country, I think too high, actually, because most places that have really made the breakthrough — sustained economic growth, more social inclusion — had their fertility rates coming down voluntarily to the replacement level, two children per household,” said the special adviser to the United Nations (UN) for the Millennium Development Goals and erstwhile contender for the top World Bank post.

The latest census, conducted in 2010, placed the Philippine population at 92.3 million. The population grew by 1.9% annually between 2000 and 2010, meaning two persons were added for every 100 each year, according to the National Statistics Office.

About a quarter of Filipinos live in extreme poverty by the government’s reckoning.

“In the Philippines, [fertility is] still on average about three and it’s much higher in rural areas, of course. This is very hard for this archipelago,” Mr. Sachs added.

He stressed, however, that fertility reduction should be on a “voluntary basis” — through education, family planning and delayed marriages for girls, for instance.

He cautioned against relying on population to produce economic growth, saying the number of people on earth shouldn’t go past 10 billion from the current seven billion and should stabilize at eight to nine billion.

“The world should aim to stabilize the population within the next 30 years. We’re a very crowded planet. Rapid population growth in this era of environmental troubles creates big problems — lots of poverty, lots of marginalization, lots of environmental stress,” he said.

In this regard, the Philippines should make itself resilient to natural disasters as it is “uniquely vulnerable to shocks.” The Philippines can use this position to call on the rest of the world to act decisively on climate change, he said.

“Resiliency [is] going to become more and more central because the climate is becoming more dangerous and more unsustainable. So, climate change from the point of view of the Philippines is not a small matter, it’s a very large matter,” Mr. Sachs said.

The four-day ADB meeting, which ended Saturday, focused on achieving “inclusive growth,” an economic buzzword for years now.

Mr. Sachs — who has advised such world figures as Boris Yeltsin and Pope John Paul II — said sustainable development, which covers the environment aside from economic growth and inclusivity, should be the overall objective.

“The phrase sustainable development is the summary of what needs to be done, and I think the world will adopt sustainable development goals … Everybody is coming to understand GNP (gross national product) is not enough, it doesn’t really summarize very well what society needs to do. It doesn’t capture the environmental side, it doesn’t capture the inequalities. Therefore, keeping sustainable development is the challenge. It will not only reorient policies but it will also reorient the way we measure things,” he said.

Eventually, it all boils down to whether citizens are happy with their lives, he added. This is why some governments are looking at direct measures of life satisfaction or “subjective wellbeing.”

Mr. Sachs pointed to the “World Happiness Report” released by the Earth Institute for the first time last month, which saw rich Scandinavian countries on top of the list of happiest nations. The Philippines did not figure prominently in the report commissioned by the UN, ranking 103rd out of 156 countries.

“On the positive side, it’s good to be in the dynamic part of the world. The North Atlantic right now is in crisis. It grows slowly, unemployment is high; whereas in the Philippines, the Asian developing countries are the fastest-growing region in the world … [A]ll the benefits of rapid technological improvement and lots of market opportunities, a lot of dynamism and shifts of production, [are] within this region. So, a country that really makes a determined effort to be competitive in Asia can have very big results,” Mr. Sachs said.



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