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Towards needs-based policy for uncertain times: Is it needed?


After some students in a class I was taking responded in what I thought to be  an unnecessarily harsh way about the needs of refugees in New Zealand, I got the class to focus on designing a policy for meeting “needs.”

I wanted them to pretend they were real policy advisors. What would they advise? What was a need? While much current policy is designed for ‘others,’ like the refugees, I asked them to design policy to meet the needs of themselves, their families and friends.

I recall one student saying she and her family just needed clothing that would be warm in winter and cooler in summer. However, when I asked if she would feel okay about her grandmother walking down the road in winter looking very warm, but decidedly odd and out of place and disconcerted about this, she became less sure.

In the developed West, it has been possible for most people to meet most basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter, so priority has shifted to meeting other, more personal and social needs and tastes, such as not seeming to be odd (unless that is the intention), and realising full human potential or fulfilling aspirations.

However, I think that the issue of meeting basic needs in both the so-called developed and developing countries will arise again and this issue needs to be put on the policy agenda, now, while there is time to act effectively.

I think the present global financial crisis combined with peak oil and looming environmental crises should be a wake-up call to look ahead and begin some contingency planning. There are many credible people who have expressed their concern about what will happen if the decision makers do not understand possible problems, and begin to act directly (refer to links for Credible warnings of environmental crisis unless there is pre-emptive action for more details).

I think we should be asking what disruption could there be for/to/within our various countries?

New Zealand is considered a developed country and it is a successful food producing country, so one would imagine people living here could easily meet their basic food needs, yet I don’t think this will necessarily be the case. We are one of the best food producing nations, but most of us are reliant on transport to deliver food supplies from elsewhere – from within New Zealand and overseas. Major disruption of transport, possibly caused by disruptions to fuel supplies, and even to financial flows in general, could put us in big trouble.

I think most people know there are problems ensuring basic needs, such as food security, are met in the foreseeable future, yet there is no policy, national or international, addressing this. It seems that any response is expected to be at the level of the individual (individual action and individual responsibility).

I think we are in this together. We can be much more effective if we can act together.  It is easiest and most effective to come together in the first instance at the local level where we all live.

There is much talk of major economic problems and the need for solutions. Yet thus far there has been no mention of putting the meeting of basic ‘needs’ on the agenda, or of helping to ensure local communities are or can become “resourceful” enough to assist.

Can we expect that somehow and in some way our basic needs will go on being met by national and global food delivery and financial systems, and that these systems will hold up in the current crisis? And will they continue to hold up with environmental disruption? Can we count on local community to be automatically up to the task, if the flows of needed goods are disrupted by major environmental and infrastructural breakdown?

Why do you think no one – not even the Green Party – is ensuring these issues are put on the agenda? Is it because, as the saying goes, “humankind can not bare too much reality?” or am I too alarmist?

I’d be interested in any comments.

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