Global Problems, Global Solutions
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Global Problems, Global Solutions

Prospects for a Better World

JoAnn A. Chirico

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eBook - ePub

Global Problems, Global Solutions

Prospects for a Better World

JoAnn A. Chirico

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About This Book

Global Problems, Global Solutions: Prospects for a Better World by JoAnn Chirico approaches social problems from a global perspective with an emphasis on using one’s sociological imagination. Perfect for instructors who involve students in research, this text connects problems borne by individuals to regional, global, and historical forces, and stresses the importance of evidence in forming opinions and policies addressing social issues. The book introduces readers to the complexities of the major problems that confront us today such as violent conflict, poverty, climate change, human trafficking and other issues that we encounter in our lives. It book concludes with a chapter on politics and government, underscoring the need for good governance at all levels–and cooperation among many layers of government–to build a better world.

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Chapter 1 Private Troubles and Social Problems: Developing a Sociological Imagination

Learning Objectives

After completing this chapter, students should be able to do the following:
  • 1.1 Distinguish between personal and social problems, societal and global problems
  • 1.2 Understand how the political, economic, and cultural features of a society comprise its social location and influence both individual and societal vulnerability to global problems
  • 1.3 Document global goals for improving people’s life chances and progress made toward those goals
  • 1.4 Apply theoretical frameworks to the analysis of global problems
  • 1.5 Outline the major features of the global economy, global governance, and global culture

Finding Solutions: Tarun Bharat Sangh (Young India Organization) Building From the Grassroots

Because the problems that we face are interrelated, so are the solutions. Affecting change in one problem can trigger a cascade of improvements in all areas of life if done correctly. This is what the villagers in the Rajasthan area of India discovered. Facing overwhelming problems, such as poverty, water scarcity, hunger, forest degradation, pollution from mining, and little education and health care, the villagers of Rajasthan partnered with Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS). Energized and empowered, they overcame the odds. It started with water management but accomplished much more.
Rajasthan is harsh territory in northwest India—arid and semi-arid lands, mountains and desert. Like the rest of India, it is extremely vulnerable to climate change. Its temperatures range from 0°C (32°F) to 49°C (120°F). Nearly all of the water that arrives in the monsoon runs off the land or evaporates. The people are poor. Although Rajasthan is about 10 percent of India’s land area, it has only 1 percent of India’s water. Its forests are dying. As in many water-scarce communities, women and girls sacrifice education and employment opportunities to spend hours every day fetching water.
That was then, about 30 years ago. Today, although the climate is no friendlier, people’s lives are much better. The key to the success in Rajasthan is the local community’s involvement in and control of every phase of development. Spearheading a grassroots effort rather than coming in and taking over, TBS energized the local communities to restore traditional water and resource management. In 1987, TBS helped villagers to construct a small johad, a traditional water management technique that directs rainwater underground to prevent evaporation and runoff. Seeing the success of this small demonstration, a johad craze overtook the region. The water table began to rise after decades of depletion. Rivulets ran year-round. Enriched, forests and scrub in the area came alive and prevented even more runoff.
Empowered by the recognition of their traditional knowledge and skills, the villagers have taken charge of water management and much more. The wells and aquifers are replenished. This has revitalized agriculture for both crops and livestock. Agricultural production for subsistence improved, and villages generate income from milk products made possible by the increase in biomass for livestock fodder. One of the major foci of TBS is the empowerment of women and girls. Women and girls no longer spend up to 18 hours a day hauling water, fodder, and fuel wood because of their scarcity. Relieved of much of this hardship, girls are more often in school and women assumed important roles in their communities in resource management, health, and education. They have revived traditional knowledge of herbs and healing and provide health care for the community. Primary schools are established throughout the area. TBS provides extensive training for the community teachers and infrastructure. Alternative educational centers for women provide training and platforms for self-help and discussions on topics such as girl education, child marriage, child labor, and rights and responsibilities.
The keys to success in Rajasthan are community inclusion and building on cultural traditions and values. Rather than taking over and excluding local people from development efforts, TBS worked at the grassroots level, promoting and nurturing village councils. It recognized the dignity of and value in traditional knowledge and practices. TBS supplies some funding and support, but villagers direct all aspects of the processes. They make the decisions through village councils and do all of the labor. At the village level, the council, Gram Sabha, is composed of representatives from all households. The council meets twice monthly, and all households must attend the meetings. There is no formal leader or hierarchy, and decisions are consensual.
At the regional level, The Avari Sansad (River Avari Parliament) meets twice a year, with representatives from 72 of the river basin villages. It is participatory, egalitarian, and decentralized, following Ghandian ethos. Parliament determines the best practices for water management and enforces the rules. Violations are handled in the community where they occurred through dialog and deliberation. Parliament decides which crops are recommended and those that are forbidden, which industries are allowed and where, whether or not boreholes may be drilled in the catchment area, grazing rights and limits, and other considerations that bear on protecting the natural resources and thus the health of the communities. Every decision is made with concern for long-term sustainability.
Empowered, the villagers learned to fight to protect their interests. Recognizing the importance of fish to the ecosystem, the communities fought off the government’s efforts to allow a contractor to exploit the fish that had returned to the river. The people resisted, even though most are vegetarian, and won. They saw that mining was degrading their forests, disturbing the delicate balance in their mountains, threatening the animals therein, and affecting their natural water system. Despite violence against them by pro-mining elements, the people fought the mining operations. They succeeded in having 470 mines closed by an order of the Supreme Court of India.
TBS succeeded over the course of 30 years to restore the Avari River and its tributaries. Little of the monsoon rain is wasted. There are now more than 10,000 rain harvesting structures in the region. The entire region is revitalized, and people have life chances that seemed impossible just a short time ago. TBS has won national and global awards for its work. It is a model non-governmental organization.
Source: Adapted from Tarun Bharat Sangh (n.d.). See the website for more information:

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
—Charles Dickens (1859), A Tale of Two Cities
In 1859, Dickens thusly described the Paris and London of 1775, full of contradiction as the Enlightenment demands for the freedom and dignity of humankind challenged the heavy weight of tradition and monarchy. In its contradictions, the mid-1800s was equally stark. Each was a period overflowing with possibility and potential to provide a good life for everyone. Yet, each was a period in which much, if not most, of humankind was buffeted by forces beyond people’s individual control—forces of which Dickens himself had been a victim, forces that pushed many into the abyss of despair. Each of these periods inspired great literature, philosophy, social theory, and scientific thought as reformers sought to combat forces that overpowered people, stripping them of their dignity and opportunity for a good life. This was the consistent theme across Dickens’s work: how the personal and often tragic problems of individuals stem from the social and political forces over which they have no control.
The 21st century is a similar era; it could be the best of times. Like the 1850s, there is sufficient productive capacity in the world to give everyone a good life, a life of comfort. There is sufficient knowledge of how to do it sustainably in ways that will preserve our environment and resources. This is the promise of our era.
Yet, our world is full of contradictions. Vicious wars and violent conflicts still plague much of the world, killing hundreds of thousands and sending millions of people into life-threatening journeys to find refuge. Poverty and hunger still stalk many countries. People suffer violence, including violent death, because of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. People reject environmental science. Many do not want to acknowledge fact, putting their trust in the fictions spewed daily but presented as reality. Xenophobia and prejudices are growing in many countries. Within societies, inequality is increasing. Where there could be plenty, we find despair.
There is still promise. We have made progress. Violent conflict has lessened since the mid-1990s. Extreme poverty was halved from 1990 to 2015. Fewer children die from preventable illnesses or waterborne ailments. Many more people have access to education and health care.
We can do better. In today’s world, no people should be victims of tragic social problems any more than they should have been in Dickens’s time.

Private Troubles, Public Issues

It is hard to imagine a place so devoid of opportunity, where people have so little to lose that they would walk thousands of miles to escape it. That is the story, though, of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. Their story is a modern legend. It is incredible. It illustrates how personal and private troubles may be caused by social forces.

Victims of Circumstance: The Lost Boys

Sudan in the 1980s was a toxic mix of warfare, food insecurity, destruction, and death. Sudan was always an uneasy place; its borders, drawn by the British in 1947, merged an Arabic Muslim north with a Christian and animist south. During Sudan’s transition to independence, it was clear that the peoples of the south would have little power, being ruled by the government in Khartoum. Even before its official independence at the close of 1955, southern troops rebelled. Civil wars and violent conflict followed. Arms poured into the country. In 1982, full-fledged civil war broke out again. Civilians were slaughtered. As is the case today in Sudan and South Sudan, both sides committed atrocities.
To escape the violence and warfare, 20,000 boys, many as young as 5 or 6 years, left their villages in southern Sudan (South Sudan was not independent until 2011). In large groups, they walked over a thousand miles to Ethiopia, but war there forced them to walk again, again through war zones, this time to refugee camps in Kakuma, Kenya. Dehydration, exhaustion, drowning in rivers, war, and wild animals had claimed thousands, nearly half of them, along the way. When they finally reached camp, they were given food and medication. Some learned English and other languages. Some were eventually reunited with their families, but most were not. In the early 2000s, about 3,600 were settled in the United States and thousands more were settled in other countries. By then they were adults, but they did not know snow, let alone electric light switches, butter, flush toilets, or even calendars. They excelled in their new homes, many graduating from colleges, many starting businesses. Some have returned to their hometowns to help the new generation of lost boys as the wars in Sudan and South Sudan continue (International Rescue Committee 2014).
There is no mistaking that these boys are victims. In their cases, it is easy to see the role of social factors. In other cases, with other problems, the social factors may be more difficult to discern. But if you look, you will find them.
Here is an analogy that I use in my classes:
Imagine that you are working as an admissions clerk in the emergency room (ER) of a hospital. Among your duties is recording information concerning what brings people to the ER: what is wrong with them and how they got sick or were injured. It is obvious that each person coming into the ER has a problem.
You notice over a period of time that many people have been injured in car accidents. Furthermore, many of these accidents occurred at a particular intersection of highways, let’s say the intersections of U.S. Routes 119 and 22. The ER ph...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Global Problems, Global Solutions
APA 6 Citation
Chirico, J. (2018). Global Problems, Global Solutions (1st ed.). SAGE Publications. Retrieved from (Original work published 2018)
Chicago Citation
Chirico, JoAnn. (2018) 2018. Global Problems, Global Solutions. 1st ed. SAGE Publications.
Harvard Citation
Chirico, J. (2018) Global Problems, Global Solutions. 1st edn. SAGE Publications. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Chirico, JoAnn. Global Problems, Global Solutions. 1st ed. SAGE Publications, 2018. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.