Providing basic needs

Supplying necessities for existence
Meeting essential needs
Effecting primal subsistence
Improving access to basic needs
Assuring basic needs
Guaranteeing minimal needs
Satisfying basic human needs
Serving local needs
Meeting human needs
Helping societies meet human needs
Basic needs have been defined in different ways, but a representative perception of the concept is that of Frances Stewart who sees the approach as: "one which gives priority to meeting the basic needs of all of the people. The actual content of basic needs have been variously defined: they always include the fulfilment of certain standards of nutrition (food and water), and the universal provision of health and education services. They sometimes also cover other material needs, such as shelter and clothing, and non-material needs such as employment, participation and political liberty".

A considerable amount of work has been devoted to the basic needs issue, but the dominant themes concerned attempts to identify and quantify features of basic needs and evaluate programmes designed to meet them. The studies concentrated on methodological and statistical aspects of basic needs, such as elaborating on specific country, regional or sectoral data; identifying population segments lacking goods and services; outlining the characteristics of basic needs, searching for indicators to measure the extent of those needs, and attempting to define common grounds and understanding which could help in formulating targeted policies; evaluating countries' performance in meeting basic needs. The role of technology, its application and diffusion, and its policy-related aspects with respect to basic needs was scarcely reflected in this material.

Six integrating themes can be identified as a focus for grouping strategies. These can be considered as the main "pillars" in the effort to tackle the question of basic needs fulfilment resting on a sound science and technology policy foundation. They are: education, information, participation, health, basic infrastructure, and small-scale activities.

1. Education is an area where economic gains from meeting basic needs are most distinct. Investment in primary education in developing countries has very high rates of return, both for society and for the individual. These monetary returns do not take directly into account mutually reinforcing non-monetary returns especially pronounced with respect to the education of women, such as reduced child mortality, altered fertility patterns and better human development in general. Differences in educational attainment are extremely important in explaining differences in income. Donors and nations suffering serious basic needs deprivation could make the provision of quality education a cornerstone of their basic needs strategy.

The concept of education as used here has connotations that go beyond those traditionally ascribed to the term, that is, almost exclusively the process of formal education. Education for increasing the capacity of the poor to gain access to and understand technology must create the instruments that are indispensable for progress. To this end the following objectives are suggested: (a) education for increasing production and productivity of small-scale economic activities; (b) education enabling the poor to participate effectively and constructively in community life; (c) education enabling the poor to put into practice policies and programmes of preventive medicine, indispensable for improving the levels of health and nutrition; and (d) education for the poor that will give impetus to a process of sustainable development, that is, one that will preserve and protect the environment. Accordingly, education expenditures and curricula should be carefully reviewed and evaluated in terms of these objectives.

Nations with significant shortfalls in meeting basic needs would benefit from undertaking a review of the composition of their education expenditures in terms of primary, secondary and higher education, and the geographic configuration of these expenditures. Thus they could determine whether the composition and pattern of investment in education is consonant with optimal social returns and basic needs objectives. In reviewing their school curricula, careful attention should be devoted to seeing that students are taught science in a manner that is meaningful and that they are exposed to techniques of production relevant to future income-generating activities. Countries should be cognizant of new effective technologies for assisting the process of education that involve computer networking and other micro-electronics-based tools for learning.

Technical assistance and extension services for micro and small enterprises (MSEs) can reach the poor through delivery systems that function well. Careful comprehensive surveys could be made of existing programmes for supporting technical improvement of small enterprises and those that seem best suited to the circumstances adopted. International agencies can furnish the raw material, for example, through evaluative case-studies. Such surveys have been initiated by specialized United Nations agencies, for example the International Labour Organisation, in the case of a delivery system for Ghana. International financial institutions and non-governmental organizations can play an important role (cf biovillage experiments).

Clearly overall responsibility for providing education to the very poor rests with national governments, although regional and local levels can make valuable contributions, not the least by making suitable adjustments for local circumstances. As to training, private and public sector partnerships may well be practicable also. Donors and education administrators should possibly give first priority to the teaching of teachers and the training of trainers rather than to the building of new schools. Decision-makers in countries with a deep low-income social strata and, in fact, the entire global scientific community must become more aware and more sensitive to the potential contributions which science and technology can make to improving the income, productivity and quality of life of the very poor. This is of the utmost importance. An effort needs to be launched and vested with sufficient international prestige and publicity to galvanize further actions aimed at rechannelling, to some extent, the direction of the world's scientific and technological undertakings.

2. Access to information is an essential pillar for employing technologies for the provision of basic needs. Students and teachers in low-income communities, striving to keep abreast of the changing economic, political, social and technical configurations that affect their lives, require access to information. It is basic for activities geared to participatory action and movements to gain empowerment for poor populations. It is extremely useful for smaller enterprises attempting to gain knowledge concerning how to go about applying for credit, possible product diversification, market conditions for their product, product specifications established by state regulations or by buyers, price and availability of inputs, transportation alternatives and schedules, and alternative techniques of production. Decision-makers must also be able to find out the extent to which resources intended to alleviate basic needs deficiencies are "hijacked by income strata that are not really in dire need: programmes designed to alleviate poverty could be periodically reviewed so as to determine whether the targeted group is actually benefiting. While this is a national matter, non-governmental organizations are strategically placed to provide information on how much benefit is being reaped by the very poor.

There is a rich variety of media for sources of information that includes printed matter, telephones, radios, personal contact, and computers, for example. The central idea is to use all information avenues that are practical in the effort to increase the poor's exposure to information that is comprehensible and useful. As in the cases of education and small-scale economic activities, the scientific and technological community can be of great value by initiating participatory explorations with targeted groups to identify and facilitate access to such information. The information needs to be structured and intelligible to poor populations; the flows should not be unidirectional. The international community, donors, non-governmental organizations and state agencies all need to receive, process, analyse and share data collected at the local level on quality-of-life indicators, progress of development programmer, and new opportunities for, and challenges to, achieving further impetus to technical learning and improvement in regions characterized by low-income populations. Furthermore, the international community must take a leadership role in monitoring technological progress in those areas likely to yield benefits to poor communities.

3. Participation: When poor populations are introduced to technologies, the chances for successful outcomes are improved markedly when the prospective users are directly involved in the process of selecting adequate technologies, properly adapting them to prevailing economic activities and conditions, disseminating the technologies among themselves, and mastering and improving on them. It is recommended that agents responsible for upgrading technologies and skills in poor communities build a strong participatory dimension into such programmes.

Participation in a more general sense could have equally important beneficial effects with respect to low-income people's innovativeness, incentives to risk experiments with new technologies and their ability to recognize opportunities inherent in market-oriented national and international economies. When poor populations are politically impotent and socially marginalized, all of the foregoing attributes are severely diminished. The keys are political empowerment and greater social integration of poor populations; closely associated with these objectives is greater decentralization of government towards increased local decision-making. As one report on human development observed: Greater peoples participation has become an imperative, a condition of survival. 35 one of the most effective avenues for fostering participation by the poor is the decentralization of state functions, thus freeing, indeed obliging, local communities to engage in problem-solving activities and in the formulation and execution of development policies. It is important that governments recognize the political, economic and social benefits flowing from decentralized governance, empowerment and social integration of poor populations and so implement actions supporting these objectives. Particular attention and special effort should be devoted to encouraging participation of both men and women. While a role is to be played by all levels of actors in achieving these objectives, the linchpin is the engagement of intermediate and fundamental nongovernmental organizations that can assist local organizations in attempting to solve their own problems. This fits comfortably with the emphasis given by the World Summit for Social Development to the goal of social integration.

4. Health is basic for being independent and becoming more productive, and for people taking direct responsibility for their own development. In fact, health, sanitary conditions and, accordingly, life expectancy are fundamental indicators of basic needs satisfaction. It is important to emphasize that health, together with education, housing and food, are determining factors of the social position of low-income populations. Health problems of these populations show a specific pattern related to deficiencies and hazards originating from poverty. Some 1,000 million people live without adequate water and sanitation, and this is the cause of many of the most prevalent diseases in developing countries. Many health problems can be prevented, diagnosed and treated with available, relatively simple and affordable equipment, and work in the field of sanitation and waste management through promotion of technologies affordable by low-income communities, as well as that promoting technology development in vaccines and diagnostics is proving to be critical. HABITAT and UNIDO have been active in these fields. At the same time, recent technology based on physical and engineering sciences has provided new health-care devices and techniques. However, many of these technologies are complex, costly and technically demanding, particularly for developing countries. Their effective introduction, use and maintenance requires sophisticated managerial, medical and engineering talent, and points to the need to evaluate health priorities and allocate scarce resources. In the specific context of basic needs, WHO's efforts to provide guidance on essential equipment for health facilities and to strengthen national capacities for the use of health technology as integrated components of overall health systems development are of particular importance. Such efforts require sustained support by all of the international community.

5. Basic physical infrastructure constitutes another critical "pillar" supporting the bridge between basic needs deficiency and prosperity, providing an atmosphere in which innovative behaviour can be meaningful, and facilitating the attainment of necessary inputs and the marketing of products. Many of the methods for providing basic infrastructure are already on the "technology shelf"; it is mainly a question of giving infrastructure the priority and commitment that it deserves. Special attention should be directed to such considerations as ease of obtaining water and fuel. This for example can reduce or eliminate the burdens falling disproportionately on women. It is recommended that very high priority be accorded to the provision of basic infrastructure to poor populations. Clearly, in this area the responsibility often rests with the State, but donors, especially those supporting least developed countries, can be extremely helpful in influencing priorities. Since infrastructure is almost always construction-intensive, there may be scope for utilizing local resources including income-generating employment of unemployed or underemployed members of the local labour force. In this respect, local and regional agencies can serve a useful function. In addition, longer-term efforts might focus on feasibility studies investigating the viability of large-scale science-cum-engineering projects. More ambitious projects in this respect have included water diversion schemes.

6. Small-scale economic activities will, for the foreseeable future, constitute the primary source of employment and income for poor populations; this alone renders such activities critical in terms of the pillars of the bridge between unmet basic needs and prosperity. There is now ample evidence that small loans to low-income entrepreneurs starting or operating a micro and/or small enterprise can be made available on commercial terms or with a very modest subsidy. Governments without adequate methods for financial delivery to these enterprises could initiate such a programme after careful investigation of the experiences of countries with such mechanisms in place. The primary impetus must be at the national level, although international actors can be instrumental in conducting evaluative case-studies of credit delivery to low-income entrepreneurs in developing countries; non-governmental organizations might be useful as a conduit and screening agency between the centrally provided credit and the borrowers.

However unintentional, certain macroeconomic policies frequently have deleterious effects on both labour-intensive production techniques and smaller enterprises. Given the importance of the informal sector, governments should consider ways to reduce antagonism between players in the informal sector, the formal sector and the State. Monetary and fiscal policies, as well as policies affecting trade, exchange rates, pricing, labour and wage regulations, can be biased against micro and small and medium-sized enterprises. Given this possibility, it may benefit nations with poor populations to examine systematically their policy framework and take measures to address any unwarranted disincentives to the promotion of the micro and small/medium-sized sector. Other aspects are also critical, particularly technical assistance, including assistance for identifying promising projects, preparing feasibility studies, organization and management of an enterprise, the process of selecting technologies and using them efficiently, quality control, means of transportation, and marketing. The advisability of regulatory provisions hampering the technical progress of enterprises in the informal sector should come under close critical scrutiny. While the national level is the prime mover, technical assistance from international agencies should be available as needed.

While all such measures could be implemented in fairly short order, in the long-run, however, technological progress is necessary, especially in emerging technologies amenable to achieving viable technology blends with traditional production methods.

Type Classification:
C: Cross-sectoral strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal