Secure development requires a practice of political economy that takes into account the uniqueness of the habitus of different segments of every slice of society. In this sense, it is more idiographic than nomothetic. From this vantage point, fresh perspectives emerge when, for example, the nexus of fuel and food is examined among the urban disadvantaged. A study published in Oxford Development Studies, Volume 50, Issue 4 (2022) examined the transmission of fuel prices to food insecurity among households in Ouagadougou.

Low-income levels and unproductive rides reinforced exposure to such vulnerability. The study also showed that sensitivity to food insecurity is bolstered when the head of the household is a woman, non-salaried, and with low education realization. John Baffes observed that the shrinking value of the currency of some developing economies is driving up food and fuel prices. Food prices have also surged in response to pandemic induced supply chain constraints and surges in energy and fertilizer prices.

Secure development examines what separates a country from all others. The focus is on what is unique in its resources, social contours, and the specific exposures of its population to a net zero carbon future and the digital transition. It takes into account measures of vulnerabilities that are balanced by resilience, to reduce continuous dependence. Dr. Eric Williams in “From Columbus to Castro” (1970, p.501) wrote that dependence in the Caribbean is not just economic. It is intellectual, psychological, institutional, and cultural. For Williams, “dependence is a state of mind,” (p.502). And it is this vulnerability that blockades the formation of “an identity for the region and its peoples,” (p. 503).

The most vulnerable countries face unfading structural challenges that are closely intertwined and gaining strength. Some of these challenges are culturally and symbolically created, and re-legitimised through the interplay of unfreedoms and socialised norms in the form of lasting dispositions, trained capabilities, and propensities to think and act in determinant ways. These vulnerabilities are epistemic. Epistemic poverty is a vulnerability that is addressed by realms of meaning that are elastic enough to nurture the talents of lifelong learners to be pliable enough for the future of work.  In this sense, secure development is a skills and cap-abilities approach to development.

Secure development measures a country’s exposure, sensitivity, and ability to adapt to risks like the failure of SVB. The collapse of SVB exposed the weaknesses of regulatory reforms since the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. A focus on specific vulnerabilities would have pointed to SVB’s disproportionate exposure to technology startups. The fact that SVB exposure to long-date fixed interest bonds made it especially defenceless was not obscure. The gradual easing of the Dodd-Frank law of 2010 that imposed larger capital, liquidity and other requirements on banks with at least $50B in assets, also created some exposure.

In tackling vulnerabilities for resilience against future pandemics, it is evident that the rise in Zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 is worrisome. The 2021 Global Health Security Index concludes that despite some advances, all countries remain “dangerously unprepared” for the next major outbreak.

Reducing known vulnerabilities is a key ingredient in any agenda for improving human development, according to Nobel Laureate Professor Joseph Stiglitz. Measuring vulnerability remains an important ingredient in dismantling barriers to resilience. During the pandemic, many Small Island Developing States were far more vulnerable than their income level would suggest. Results of studies of vulnerabilities during the pandemic strengthen the call for concessional financing for middle and high-income countries based on their vulnerabilities and not their income classification.

Many vulnerable countries rely on external financing to assist in disaster preparedness and recovery and they find costs increasing and debt more expensive to service. Moreover, development assistance is not elastic enough. Many are among the poorest nations, and accessing financing is difficult. Their relative earnings disqualify them for the cheaper finance set aside for lowest-income countries.

Furthermore, the methods used to apportion external financing do not take into account their unique vulnerabilities. While Gross National Income (GNI) accounts for income instead of output, it does not unravel the costs associated with disaster management or the cost of servicing debt. Since GNI is the primary measurement for the allocation of concessional financing for developing countries, it may not be the best tool to manage the secure development of these countries.

A unique nexus exists among water, food, and energy. Water is integral to the production of many forms of energy. The primary consumer of  freshwater resources is agriculture. Today, the pressure on the nexus for water, food and energy is increasing. The minuscule droplets of forest condensation in the canopies of the cloud forests on the Main Ridge in Tobago are the first links in a life-giving chain. That water refills the rivers, reservoirs, and filters through the forest to pastures, and flows through pipes into factories and homes.

The droplets sustain villages and the biodiversity that flourish in cloud forest ecosystems. But already cloud forests are under threat. As water resources are stretched, progress in energy and food is reduced. Policymakers in all three fields must collaborate on the secure development of cloud forest ecosystems, agriculture, energy systems, and water supply and sanitation.