In T&T, the likelihood of dying from a non-communicable disease between the ages of 30-70 (cancer, respiratory, cardiovascular, diabetes, obesity) is 26 per cent (WHO 2012). In 2017, T&T was ranked the 10th most toxic country in the world, where IAMAT reported that the mean concentration of PM2.5 (particulate matter) is 24 ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre), exceeding the recommended maximum by 14.
T&T has the highest number of vehicles per capita in Latin America and the Caribbean, which contributes to poor air quality along with the petrochemical, paint and wood industry emissions. Our 2018 GDP per capita is US$17,130 (TT$120,000), the inequality (Gini) index hovers around 41 per cent.
These figures are dated, and I would conjecture that inequality has been aggravated and worsened by COVID-19. And while T&T continues to boast of a 97 per cent literacy rate, the IADB reports that we have a 35 per cent high school dropout rate. We rank 106th in the world with a life expectancy of 71.8 years.
The wildlife population has plunged by 94 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean between 1970-2016. Food production is the biggest driver of nature loss. We have used much of our best arable land to build a peri-urban concrete sprawl. Almost 25,000 Ha of land burned in bushfires from 1990-2000.
Keeping this patchwork of data in mind, let’s consider some of our citizens. For example, Vinnie. He is 17. His single mother has abandoned him to his grandmother. He is in school sporadically, on the fringes of gangs (already has a knife wound that almost killed him) and hustles people for money at Maracas Beach. He got a job packing boxes for a manufacturing company but could not get along with co-workers and could not stick to a schedule. His phone is always broken, or he can’t afford a card. Vinnie is almost homeless and does not have anyone to mentor and guide him to make up for the psychological abuse and neglect of his childhood. Can we get Vinnie to wellbeing?
What about Rani and Rini, twin girls now 18, ejected from the orphanage where they had been living for the past four years because they are too old to be wards of the state. Their mother died but the father is still alive, an abusive alcoholic mechanic. Rani got three passes and Rini none. The father has put Rini to work in a bar, but Rani has disappeared. Can our society put them on a path to wellbeing?
And then there is Jack, who has a UWI degree and an MBA from a US university. He came back to Trinidad after five years of working abroad and started as a junior executive with a foreign-owned conglomerate. After two years, he was downsized and now with a wife and small child, he is struggling to pay the mortgage and uncertain of future opportunities. He is not dealing well with the stress. How do we help his wellbeing?
Each of you readers can create a vignette of someone in T&T who is not experiencing wellbeing: the financially successful father with the drug addicted child; the farmer, whose fields just got flooded and cannot even reach an extension agent for help; the small business person spurned by the bank who cannot pay her suppliers; the rude red tape of getting a license or any kind of permit; the traffic jams, “power gone,” “no water in de pipe”, internet not working; on hold for hours to unmanned public offices. As we say “Pressure duz buss pipe!”
So, what about working with those already engaged in trying to build back better and see if we can give these stories a happy ending and create the wellbeing economy we all deserve.
As we approach the annual budget exercise, it would be very interesting to hear from each ministry how they intend to promote the wellbeing of citizens through defined objectives in their substantive areas. Perhaps, by actually hearing such wellbeing objectives articulated by local government councils, ministries, mayoralties and other public bodies, we all might have a better sense of how we might achieve increased wellbeing as a country. We might better see where the objectives intersect and dovetail, leading to complementary budgeting instead of competition for dwindling financial resources. We might also better understand that community wealth is not solely financial but includes the creation of beautiful, clean, peaceful environments and social connectivity among and across classes and ethnicities—the intangible benefits of a wellbeing economy.
Let me suggest a few goals:
1) Prioritising the wellbeing of the most vulnerable people in our society. If we put social justice and ecological balance at the top of our agenda for those most in need, we will create real jobs educating these under-resourced individuals and communities so that they become productive, resourced and capable of contributing to not only to their own but to the larger societal wellbeing. At the same time, we will uncover stranded resources in the private sector looking to be profitably repurposed.
2) If we simultaneously place the utmost importance on the protection and preservation of our natural geography and environment, we inevitably create the knowledge and skillsets for a 21st century regenerative and/or circular economy and begin to build the appropriate technological infrastructure required. Pushing STEM capacity into communities to grow their own food, harvest rainwater and develop software also creates livelihoods and more importantly participation in finding solutions for local wellbeing and consensus-building.
3) Finally, if we commit to the development of “iwa pele,” the ancient Ifa concept of good and noble character, we cannot help but move our people towards integrity, transparency and accountability as they seek consensus with one another for their mutual protection and flourishing. We can call this participatory democracy.
Member of the Wellbeing