Measuring policy as an increase in wellbeing
January 10, 2005 | Time.com | Nadia Mustafa
When Jigme Singye Wangchuck was crowned king of the Himalayan nation of Bhutan in 1972, he declared he was more concerned with “Gross National Happiness” than with Gross Domestic Product.
This probably didn’t come as a surprise to the forest-laden country’s 810,000 to 2.2 million (estimates vary greatly) residents, most of whom are poor subsistence farmers. Bhutan’s GDP is a mere $2.7 billion, but Wangchuck still maintains that economic growth does not necessarily lead to contentment, and instead focuses on the four pillars of GNH: economic self-reliance, a pristine environment, the preservation and promotion of Bhutan’s culture, and good governance in the form of a democracy.
King Wangchuck’s idea that public policy should be more closely tied to wellbeing — how people feel about their lives — is catching on. “There is a growing interest in some policymaking circles in looking at these measures,” says Richard Easterlin, economics professor at the University of Southern California. “We have been misguided in dismissing what people say about how happy they are and simply assuming that if they are consuming more apples and buying more cars they are better off.” There are efforts to devise a new economic index that would measure wellbeing gauged by things like satisfaction with personal relationships, employment, and meaning and purpose in life, as well as, for example, the extent new drugs and technology improve standards of living.
The independent London-based think tank New Economics Foundation is pushing the implementation of a set of national wellbeing accounts that would tote up life satisfaction and personal development as well as issues such as trust and engagement. The accounts would also include liabilities, such as stress and depression. The logistics won’t be hard, says Hetan Shah of NEF, because much of the data is already captured by the government. In 2002, the Strategy Unit, an internal government think tank that reports to Prime Minister Tony Blair, conducted a seminar on life satisfaction and its public policy implications. Shah says Germany, Italy and France are also looking into the issue, one he predicts will become increasingly important as people continue to seek the good life.
With reporting by Helen Gibson/London
Ancient Tribes May Have Survived Tsunamis
Age-Old Knowledge May Have Given Endangered Peoples Prior Warning
January 5, 2005 | Neelesh Misra | Victoria Advocate
PORT BLAIR, India - Two days after a tsunami thrashed the island where his ancestors have lived for tens of thousands of years, a lone tribesman stood naked on the beach and looked up at a hovering coast guard helicopter. A Sentinel tribal man aims his bow at an Indian coast guard helicopter as the patrol searches for survivors after tsunamis hit the area. The fate of the tribes, which are very small in number, has yet to be fully assessed; however, experts believe that the tribes survived the massive waves.
He then took out his bow and shot an arrow toward the rescue chopper.
It was a signal the Sentinelese have sent out to the world for millennia: They want to be left alone. Isolated from the rest of the world, the tribesmen need nature's sights, sounds and smells to survive.
Government officials and anthropologists believe that ancient knowledge of the movement of wind, sea and birds may have saved the five indigenous tribes on the Indian archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar islands from the tsunami that hit the Asian coastline Dec. 26.
"They can smell the wind. They can gauge the depth of the sea with the sound of their oars. They have a sixth sense which we don't possess," said Ashish Roy, a local environmentalist and lawyer who has called on the courts to protect the tribes by preventing their contact with the outside world. The tribes live the most ancient, nomadic lifestyle known to man, frozen in their Paleolithic past. Many produce fire by rubbing stones, fish and hunt with bow and arrow and live in leaf and straw community huts. And they don't take kindly to intrusions.
Anil Thapliyal, a commander in the Indian coast guard, said he spotted the lone tribesman on the island of Sentinel, a 23-square-mile key, on Dec. 28.
"There was a naked Sentinelese man," Thapliyal told The Associated Press. "He came out and shot an arrow at the helicopter."
According to varying estimates, there are only about 400 to 1,000 members alive today from the Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas, Sentinelese and Shompens. Some anthropological DNA studies indicate the generations may have spanned back 70,000 years. They originated in Africa and migrated to India through Indonesia, anthropologists say.
It appears that many tribesman fled the shores well before the waves hit the coast, where they would typically be fishing at this time of year.
After the tsunami, local officials spotted 41 Great Andamanese - out of 43 in a 2001 Indian census - who had fled the submerged portion of their Strait Island. They also reported seeing 73 Onges - out of 98 in the census - who fled to highland forests in Dugong Creek on the Little Andaman island, or Hut Bay, a government anthropologist said.
However, the fate of the three other tribes won't be known until officials complete a survey of the remote islands this week, he said. The government reconnaissance mission will also assess how the ecosystem - most crucially, the water sources - has been damaged.
Taking surveys of these people is dangerous work.
The more than 500 islands across a 3,200-square mile chain in the southern reaches of the Bay of Bengal appear at first glance to be a tropical paradise. But even one of the earliest visitors, Marco Polo, called the atolls "the land of the head hunters." Roman geographer Claudius Ptolemaeus called the Andamans the "islands of the cannibals."
The Sentinelese are fiercely protective of their coral reef-ringed terrain. They used to shoot arrows at government officials who came ashore and offered gifts of coconuts, fruit and machetes on the beach.
The Jarawas had armed clashes with authorities until the 1990s, killing several police officers.
Samir Acharya, head of the independent Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, said the Jarawas were peaceful until the British, and later the Indians, began encroaching on their territory. British bullets killed thousands of bow-wielding Jarawas in 1859.
Over the past few years, however, relations have improved. The government has banned interaction with the tribes, and even taking their pictures is an offense. Many tribe members have visited Port Blair, capital of the Indian-administered territory, and a few Great Andamanese and Onges work in government offices.
Outsiders are forbidden from interacting with the tribesmen because such contact has led in the past to alcoholism and disease among the islanders, and sexual abuse of local women.
One of the most celebrated stories of a tribal man straddling both worlds is that of En-Mai, a Jarawa teenager brought to Port Blair in 1996 after he broke his leg. Six months later, he looked like any urban kid, in a T-shirt, denim jeans and a reversed baseball cap. But he is back on his island now, having shunned Western ways.
"He took to the ways of the certain, out of a certain novelty," said Acharya. "It's like eating Chinese food on a weekend."