Why is a small amount of salt so valuable? While it is undoubtedly true, we must first examine the sustainability aspect of this issue.
In the previous article “UN Sustainability Expert Professor Huey-Jen Jenny Su: Dancing with AI requires two key abilities!”, Professor Huey-Jen Jenny Su, the head of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network （SDSN）in Taiwan and former president of Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University, used reflections on new technology and small stories from remote villages to tell us that the next challenge in sustainable development will be related to the quality of education. Today, Professor Su and《The Icons》will further extend this topic.
A Pinch of Salt is Worth Millions of Dollars
“Suppose a remote village is suffering from a long-standing public health issue like diarrhea or other infectious diseases that are difficult to control. One might suggest a complicated solution that involves various aspects, such as treating the drinking water, building a local infrastructure, or implementing policy changes.”
However, these solutions may be a bit “unattainable” because they require significant investments in human resources, the environment, and equipment, taking a long time. “Doctors can prescribe medication and scientists can propose complete solutions for water purification systems, but these solutions may not be feasible due to various constraints such as lack of resources, limited access to technology, or local conditions that do not allow for relevant system construction. Additionally, there may be issues related to affordability or willingness of drug manufacturers to mass-produce these medications.”
Solutions that can be gradually implemented in relatively affluent regions or countries are completely unfeasible in impoverished areas. Therefore, when this information reflecting the actual situation on the ground returns to the laboratory, we need to change our thinking:
“We need to consider practical solutions that are feasible and sustainable within the local context. This may involve education and awareness campaigns to encourage healthier eating habits, sourcing and utilizing locally available resources for water purification, and collaborating with local community members to develop solutions that are tailored to their needs and capabilities. It’s important to consider not only the technical aspects of a solution, but also the social, economic, and cultural factors that may impact its effectiveness and sustainability in a particular context.” Professor Su revealed the answer:
“For instance, instead of prescribing a complex solution, a more effective approach would be to focus on changing the amount of sodium or potassium ions in the body of one villager who may need to consume a sufficient amount of salt every day.”Professor Su emphasized that local action and feasibility are key issues, which are more critical than complex scientific theories.
Millions of dollars in investment can build pharmaceutical factories, hospitals, and improve water systems over several years, but adjusting daily salt intake can quickly and effectively improve the common diarrhea problem among local villagers by changing the concentration of sodium or potassium ions in their bodies.
The Basis of “Compromise” Comes from “Value”
“Therefore, from the perspective of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the biggest challenge is not how each goal progresses, but how these goals can be applied in different places, times, and contexts. In other words, ‘feasibility’ is absolutely the key core of sustainable issues!” President Su emphasized that scientific and technological research is a process that involves many adjustments and challenges. During this process, there may be a need for strategy changes, which may require compromise before achieving the desired outcome.:
“Scientific and technological research often involves complex policy decisions, such as whether to vaccinate, the appropriate dosage for different age groups, follow-up treatment timelines, and what measures to take in case of adverse reactions. These decisions require a scientific approach and the input of knowledgeable decision-makers who can navigate economic models to find feasible solutions. This often involves making compromises in order to move forward collectively. “
The question then becomes, how do we ensure that these compromises are based on sound science and serve the greater good?”
“The foundation of compromise lies in the underlying values we uphold. Take, for example, the phrase “Leave no one behind” (note 1). It is not about guaranteeing that everyone receives all they want, including food and clothing, without working from birth to death. Rather, the value of this phrase lies in ensuring that we provide support and assistance to target groups as much as possible, in order to ensure that they are not left behind in the pursuit of progress.”
So, what kind of assistance is effective? For example, providing tablets to students. After digitizing education, if there are not enough resources to guide and accompany children, is it a blessing or a curse for children to freely roam the internet world? Looking at it from another perspective, in poor areas, there may be tablets but no internet, or there may be internet but electricity bills cannot be paid.
In such situations, Professor Su reminds us that “what children truly need is the effective companionship of their parents and teachers”.
Note 1: In September 2015, the United Nations adopted the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and introduced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a continuation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, proposed the fundamental principle of sustainable development, “Leave no one behind,” signifying the United Nations’ determination to enhance the quality of life for all people. Thanks to the joint efforts of countries worldwide, these goals have shown tangible progress by 2019. However, since the global outbreak of the new coronavirus in late 2019, these goals have encountered various challenges.