I am now working in Ethiopia. I am working in the capital at the moment, Addis Ababa, but on Friday I fly north to the Amhara region. Where I am going is not on the tourist route, so I am interested to see what it is like.
My job is to develop a social and behaviour change communications strategy to try and increase the uptake of fresh fruit and vegetables and protein products. My target audiences are:
1. Pregnant women
2. Women who are breastfeeding
3. Children between 6 months to 2 years (post the six-months exclusive breastfeeding stage)
I have worked in many developing countries over the past ten years, but even though I had prepared myself for the poverty, it still took me by surprise.
I have also seen a lot of plastic rubbish lying about in the street –plastic bags, water bottles, and other plastic food waste. I will not be plastic free here, as I will be using bottled water. I am well aware that my stomach wouldn’t cope with tap water!
When I think about how you could get mass behaviour change in developing countries, in relation to plastic use, I always think about the first psychological model I was ever taught – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Abraham Maslow ‘hierarchy of human needs’ consisted of five needs, ranked in a pyramid: physiological (hunger, thirst, warmth, sleep, etc.), safety (protection, order, law, etc.), belongingness and love (affection, family, etc.), esteem (competence, approval and recognition), and self-actualisation needs (realising personal potential, self-fulfilment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences).
Basically, he argued that you could not reach the upper parts of the hierarchy, until you had met those lower down. The model has been heavily criticised. For example, individuals can have affection even if their physiological needs are not fully satisfied.
However, I think this model rings true on many levels; If you cannot drink the tap water, you are going to have to buy bottled water. If you don’t feel safe in your own home, why would you care about plastic pollution?
I fear that, until the basic needs are met, plastic will continue to be used in vast quantities in countries such as Ethiopia. And believe me, it is a beautiful country and one that should not be spoilt by non-biodegradable waste.