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Friday, September 21, 2012

Peak Oil and Global Health – Eric's reflection on an interesting paper by Winch and Stepnitz

There’s a lot of talk about systems and boundaries in our recent discussions about sustainability (mostly in health, but generally in social development).
We always emphasize that, no matter how compact, the social systems we work with in developing countries*are connected to a larger environment (“open systems” in Systems Thinking parlance).

Here’s a piece of thinking and analysis which looks at the rather Big System of Global Health work and the potential effects and scenarios following peak oil. Beyond Jesuitical hair splitting about “what do we really mean by sustainability?”, one part of sustainability thinking is to help actors consider the options in front of them to preserve progress for the future.

Peter Winch and Rebecca Stepnitz’s paper Peak Oil and Health in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Impacts and Potential Responses offers an interesting analysis. As an interesting focus, they take the example of delays in receiving care for maternal emergencies (the three delays) and look at pathways for effects of peak oil and factors affecting utilization and outcome. The analysis is grounded in the contextual reality of poorer countries and looks at the links of energy and economy to people’s mobility, food security, and trade-offs with health (which we have documented for example for the 2008 food price crisis in the Middle East for example).

Winch and Stepnitz conclude with recommendations at a global level. I was particularly tickled by the fact that their conclusion takes them back to Alma-Ata, not out of nostalgia, but maybe because sound principles for local development and governance for now are also the sounder principles for preserving tomorrow’s options.

An interesting read  (access article on CEDARS website or through this link).


* I more and more think that this “developing country” distinction is making less and less sense. What we’re talking about are poor communities lacking essential resources—a situation which our “developed nations” are seeing more and more of as [pick your position] (1) the economy is slowing down, (2) safety nets are shrinking, or (3) all of the above. At the same time, the wealthy are getting wealthier, even in “developing countries.”