Opinion: Sustainability and societyPOSTED: 07/30/14 7:17 PM
It is my humble opinion that facilitating St. Maarten’s citizens’ basic needs, including, but not limited to, access to: quality education, employment opportunities, affordable utilities, reasonably priced housing, basic healthcare (insurance), affordable groceries and a healthy environment must be the core mission of all government legislation, policies, programs and initiatives. As a natural and cultural heritage activist, I must point out that preservation of and access to natural and cultural heritage promotes the general well-being of the population and is indeed also part of society’s basic needs.
In meeting the needs of today’s society, we must take note of St. Maarten’s size, as well as its limited natural resources and we cannot afford to undermine our ability to meet our own needs tomorrow, nor the possibilities for future generations to meet their needs. In other words, we must develop sustainably or we will risk losing the very resources which sustain us.
Some forty to fifty years ago, Sint Maarten’s decision makers opted to pursue tourism as a means to generate revenue in order to provide for peoples’ basic needs. The subsequent relative economic boom of these last decades has undoubtedly brought many improvements to island life, fostered numerous socio-cultural changes and has permanently transformed Sint Maarten’s natural environment.
International organizations have identified tourism, if properly managed, as a valuable tool in sustainable development. The question at hand is: Has the scope and rate of tourism and the associated development on St. Maarten over the past forty years, or even just the past five to ten years, been properly managed? Has this “development” really benefited all of society?
A straightforward answer to these questions is no, development on St. Maarten has not been sustainable and clearly has not benefited all of society. Case in point; although it often goes unnoticed, and is perhaps not entirely recognized as such by international standards, poverty is a growing reality on St. Maarten. One of every five participants in a recent government commissioned survey indicated that their household was dependent on an income of eight hundred and thirty three dollars ($833,-) or less per month. Assuming these figures are correct and provide a reflection of income distribution among the entire population, one could conclude that an estimated 20% (perhaps more) of Sint Maarten’s households are reliant on the equivalent of under twenty-eight dollars ($28,-) a day! With this limited income, people are expected to cover the costs of rent, electricity, water, groceries and other necessary expenses.
Putting statistics aside, a walk through many of our districts makes the presence of poverty and social exclusion hard to deny. Many people are in survival mode, constantly focused on paying today’s and tomorrow’s bills. They cannot afford to spend time worrying about what happens in their neighborhood or about playing an active role in society. Many are too caught up with life’s daily struggles to be the role models they would like to be for their children. United Nations studies have concluded that the well-being of societies and the long-term success of (economic) development strategies largely rely on the level of social inclusion and participation.
Numerous experts agree that poverty and increasing crime rates are interlinked. Fact is that depending on social circumstances, some people (far from all) will resort to committing crimes, such as robberies and break-ins, if the perceived benefits of the crime outweigh the potential consequences of committing the crime. Crime affects the business climate and in the long-run may lead to business closures which in turn lead to unemployment and economic instability, a vicious circle. Substantial income inequality among small population groups and the social exclusion this results in, therefore ultimately affects the entire population’s quality of life.
In summary, I reiterate that it is my belief that development gains of previous years are diminishing or are threatened at best. Increasing socio-economic inequality, rising crime rates and social disintegration especially amongst the younger generation are serious reasons for concern.If we intend to continue living healthy lives on Sint Maarten, if we truly aim to improve every citizen’s quality of life and if we wish to maintain our tourism based economy, we will have to make real changes. Sint Maarten cannot continue to make the same mistakes which have been made over the past forty years. We cannot allow ourselves to be led by those same leaders who are responsible for the island’s uncertain state of affairs.
Please consider visiting and liking my page at www.facebook.com/thompsonsxm where I will be regularly posting my thoughts on where St. Maarten should be headed.
Moving forward positively,
Rueben J. Thompson
Candidate # (4)
United Sint Maarten Party