International development

For other forms of development, see Development (disambiguation).
These key indicators of human well-being have all improved since 1970

International development or global development is a wide concept concerning the level of development on an international scale. It is the basis for international classifications such as developed country, developing country and least developed country. There are, however, many schools of thought and conventions regarding which are the exact features constituting development of a country.

Historically it has been largely synonymous with economic development. Recently it is also often used in a holistic and multi-disciplinary context of human development as well as other concepts like competitiveness, quality of life or subjective well-being.[1]

International development is different from simple development in that it is specifically composed of institutions and policies that arose after World War II. These institutions focus on alleviating poverty and improving living conditions in previously colonised and other poor countries.[2]


Although international relations and international trade have existed for many hundreds of years, it is only in the past century that international development theory emerged as a separate body of ideas.[3] More specifically, it has been suggested that 'the theory and practice of development is inherently technocratic, and remains rooted in the high modernist period of political thought that existed in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War'.[4] Throughout the 20th century, before the concept of international development became a common word, four aspects were used to describe the idea:

Post World War II

The second half of the 20th century has been called the 'era of development'.[5] The origins of this era have been attributed to:

International Development in its very meaning is geared towards colonies that gained independence. The governance of the newly independent states should be constructed so that the inhabitants enjoy freedom from poverty, hunger, and insecurity.[7]

It has been argued that this era was launched on January 20, 1949, when Harry S. Truman made these remarks in his inaugural address:[8]

We must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas. The old imperialism – exploitation for foreign profit – has no place in our plans. What we envisage is a program of development based on the concept of democratic fair dealing.
Harry S. Truman, 1949

Before this date, however, the United States had already taken a leading role in the creation of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (now part of the World Bank Group) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), both established in 1944, and in the United Nations in 1945.

The launch of the Marshall Plan was another important step in setting the agenda for international development, combining humanitarian goals with the creation of a political and economic bloc in Europe that was allied to the U.S. This agenda was given conceptual support during the 1950s in the form of modernization theory espoused by Walt Rostow and other American economists. The changes in the 'developed' world's approach to international development were further necessitated by the gradual collapse of Western Europe's empires over the next decades; now independent ex-colonies no longer received support in return for their subordinate role.

By the late 1960s, dependency theory arose analysing the evolving relationship between the West and the Third World. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the modernists at the World Bank and IMF adopted the neoliberal ideas of economists such as Milton Friedman or Bela Balassa, which were implemented in the form of structural adjustment programs,[9] while their opponents were promoting various 'bottom up' approaches, ranging from civil disobedience and conscientization to appropriate technology and Rapid Rural Appraisal.

In response various parts of the UN system led a counter movement, which in the long run has proved to be successful. They were led initially by the International Labour Organization (ILO), influenced by Paul Streeten, then by UNICEF.[10] Then UNDP, even though headed by a conservative US republican, put forward the concept of Human Development, thanks to Mahboub ul Haq and Amartya Sen, thus changing the nature of the development dialogue to focus on human needs and capabilities.

By the 1990s, there were some writers for whom development theory had reached an impasse[11] and some academics were imagining a postdevelopment era.[12][13] The Cold War had ended, capitalism had become the dominant mode of social organization, and UN statistics showed that living standards around the world had improved over the past 40 years.[14] Nevertheless, a large portion of the world's population were still living in poverty, their governments were crippled by debt and concerns about the environmental impact of globalization were rising.

In response to the impasse, the rhetoric of development is now focusing on the issue of poverty, with the metanarrative of modernization being replaced by shorter term vision embodied by the Millennium Development Goals and the Human Development approach. At the same time, some development agencies are exploring opportunities for public-private partnerships and promoting the idea of Corporate social responsibility with the apparent aim of integrating international development with the process of economic globalization.[15]

The critics have suggested that this integration has always been part of the underlying agenda of development.[16] They argue that poverty can be equated with powerlessness, and that the way to overcome poverty is through emancipatory social movements and civil society, not paternalistic aid programmes or corporate charity.[17] This approach is embraced by organizations such as the Gamelan Council seeking to empower entrepreneurs (e.g., through microfinance initiatives). These criticism have been somewhat addressed in the more embracing form of international integrated development Runde (2016) [18] on which the Strategic Development Goals of the United Nations are based, and which aim to integrate institutional approaches to reduce overlap and conflicting objectives and to address the overall wellbeing of development recipients.

While some critics have been debating the end of development others have predicted a development revival as part of the War on Terrorism. To date, however, there is limited evidence to support the notion that aid budgets are being used to counter Islamic fundamentalism in the same way that they were used 40 years ago to counter communism.[19]


Main article: Development theory

There are a number of theories about how desirable change in society is best achieved. Such theories draw on a variety of social scientific disciplines and approaches, and include historical theories such as:

Millennium Development Goals

In 2000, United Nations signed the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which includes eight Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015 or 2020. This represented the first time that a holistic strategy to meet the development needs of the world has been established, with measurable targets and defined indicators.[20]

Because the MDGs were agreed as global targets to be achieved by the global community, they are independent of, but by no means unrelated to, individual national interests. The goals imply that every state has a set of obligations to the world community to meet and that other states, who have achieved those goals, have an obligation to help those who have not. As such they may represent an extension of the concept of human rights.

The first seven Millennium Development Goals present measurable goals, while the eighth lists a number of 'stepping stone' goals – ways in which progress towards the first seven goals could be made. Each goal uses indicators based on statistical series collected and maintained by respected organisations in each relevant field ( usually the UN agency responsible but also the OECD, IMF and World Bank)

The MDGs have catalysed a significant amount of action, including new initiatives such as Millennium Promise. Most of these initiatives however work in small scale interventions which do not reach the millions of people required by the MDGs.

Recent praise has been that it will be impossible to meet the first seven goals without meeting the eighth by forming a Global Partnership for Development. No current organisation has the capacity to dissolve the enormous problems of the developing world alone – especially in cities, where an increasing number of poor people live – as demonstrated by the almost nonexistent progress on the goal of improving the lives of at least 100 Million slum dwellers.

The Institution of Civil Engineers Engineering Without Frontiers panel and its recommendations, and the 2007 Brunel Lecture by the ICE's 2009–2010 president Paul Jowitt, are representative of a change of approach in the UK at least to start drawing together the huge capacity available to western governments, industry, academia and charity to develop such a partnership.[21][22]

Other goals

International development also aims to improve general government policies of these developing countries. "State building" is the strengthening of regional institutions necessary to support long-term economic, social, and political development. Education is another important aspect of international development. It is a good example of how the focus today is on sustainable development in these countries; education gives people the skills required to keep themselves out of poverty.[23]


International development is related to the concept of international aid, but is distinct from disaster relief and humanitarian aid. While these two forms of international support seek to alleviate some of the problems associated with a lack of development, they are most often short term fixes — they are not necessarily long-term solutions. International development, on the other hand, seeks to implement long-term solutions to problems by helping developing countries create the necessary capacity needed to provide such sustainable solutions to their problems. A truly sustainable development project is one which will be able to carry on indefinitely with no further international involvement or support, whether it be financial or otherwise.

International development projects may consist of a single, transformative project to address a specific problem or a series of projects targeted at several aspects of society. Promoted projects are ones which involve problem solving that reflects the unique culture, politics, geography, and economy of a region. More recently, the focus in this field has been projects that aim towards empowering women, building local economies, and caring for the environment.[24]

In context of human development it usually encompasses foreign aid, governance, healthcare, education, poverty reduction, gender equality, disaster preparedness, infrastructure, economics, human rights, environment and issues associated with these.[25]

In terms of international development practice on the ground, the concept of community development has had an influential contribution since the 1950s. The United Nations defines community development as "a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems." It is a broad term given to the practices aiming to build stronger and more resilient local communities. Community development is also a professional discipline, and is defined by the International Association for Community Development (, the global network of community development practitioners and scholars, as "a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes participative democracy, sustainable development, rights, economic opportunity, equality and social justice, through the organisation, education and empowerment of people within their communities, whether these be of locality, identity or interest, in urban and rural settings". Community development practitioners, using a myriad of job titles, are employed by governmental and non-governmental organisations to build the capacity of vulnerable people to engage in development projects and programmes. According to the IACD, there are national networks of community development practitioners in many countries, several hundred graduate programmes training practitioners and an extensive canon of research and scholarship, including the international Community Development Journal(

During recent decades, development thinking has shifted from modernization and structural adjustment programs to poverty reduction. Under the former system, poor countries were encouraged to undergo social and economical structural transformations as part of their development, creating industrialization and intentional industrial policy. Poverty reduction rejects this notion, consisting instead of direct budget support for social welfare programs that create macroeconomic stability leading to an increase in economic growth.

The concept of poverty can apply to different circumstances depending on context. Poverty is the condition of lacking economic access to fundamental human needs such as food, shelter and safe drinking water. While some define poverty primarily in economic terms, others consider social and political arrangements also to be intrinsic – often manifested in a lack of dignity.

International Economic Inequality

International development institutions and International Organisations such as the UN promote the realisation of the fact that economic practices such as rapid globalisation and certain aspects of international capitalism can lead to, and, allegedly, have led to an economic divide between countries, sometimes called the North-South divide. Such organisations often make it a goal and to help reduce these divides by encouraging co-operation amongst the Global South and other practices and policies that can accomplish this.[26]

International development can also cause inequality between richer and poorer factions of one nation's society. For example, when economic growth boosts development and industrialisation, it can create a class divide by creating demand for more educated people in order to maintain corporate and industrial profitability. Thus the popular demand for education, which in turn drives the cost of education higher through the principle of supply and demand, as people would want to be part of the new economic elite. Higher costs for education lead to a situation where only the people with enough money to pay for education can receive sufficient education to qualify for the better-paying jobs that mass-development brings about. This restricts poorer people to lesser-paying jobs but technological development makes some of these jobs obsolete (for example, by introducing electronic machines to take over a job, such as creating a series of machines such as lawn mowers to make people such as gardeners obsolete). This leads to a situation where poorer people can't improve their lives as easily as they could have in a less developed society. That is partially why institutions such as the Center for Global Development are searching for "pro-poor" economic policies.[23]


Main article: Dignity

Modern poverty reduction and development programmes often have dignity as a central theme. Dignity is also a central theme of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the very first article of which starts with:

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."

The concept of dignity in development has been extensively explored by many, and related to all of the development sectors. For example, in Development with Dignity Amit Bhaduri argues that full employment with dignity for all is both important and possible in India,[27] while the UN Millennium Project's task force on Water and Sanitation links the sector directly to dignity in the report Health, Dignity and Development: What will it take?.[28] The Asian Human Rights Commission released a statement in 2006 claiming that:

Human dignity is the true measure of human development.
Asian Human Rights Commission and People's Vigilance Committee for Human Rights press release[29]


See also: Orality

The concept of participation is concerned with ensuring that the intended beneficiaries of development projects and programmes are themselves involved in the planning and execution of those projects and programmes. This is considered important as it empowers the recipients of development projects to influence and manage their own development - thereby removing any culture of dependency. It is widely considered to be one of the most important concepts in modern development theory.[30][31] The UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security describes participation as:

one of the ends as well as one of the means of development
UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security[32]

Local participants in development projects are often products of oral communities. This has led to efforts to design project planning and organizational development methods, such as participatory rural appraisal, which are accessible to non-literate people.


The concept of something being appropriate is concerned with ensuring that a development project or programme is of the correct scale and technical level, and is culturally and socially suitable for its beneficiaries. This should not be confused with ensuring something is low-technology, cheap or basic – a project is appropriate if it is acceptable to its recipients and owners, economically affordable and sustainable in the context in which it is executed.

For example, in a rural sub-Saharan community it may not be appropriate to provide a chlorinated and pumped water system because it cannot be maintained or controlled adequately – simple hand pumps may be better; while in a big city in the same country it would be inappropriate to provide water with hand pumps, and the chlorinated system would be the correct response.

The economist E. F. Schumacher championed the cause of appropriate technology and founded the organization ITDG (Intermediate Technology Design Group), which develops and provides appropriate technologies for development (ITDG has now been renamed Practical Action).

The concept of right-financing has been developed to reflect the need for public and private financial support systems that foster and enable development, rather than hinder it.


Sustainable business practices lead to economic growth and empowerment for farming communities in northern Uganda.

A sustainable approach to development is one which takes account of economic, social and environmental factors to produce projects and programmes which will have results which are not dependent on finite resources. Something which is sustainable will not use more natural resources than the local environment can supply; more financial resources than the local community and markets can sustain; and will have the necessary support from the community, government and other stakeholders to carry on indefinitely.

It is one of the key concepts in international development, and is critical in removing dependency on overseas aid.

Capacity building

Main article: Capacity building

Capacity building for some is concerned with increasing the ability of the recipients of development projects to continue their future development alone, without external support. It is a parallel concept to sustainability, as it furthers the ability of a society to function independently of external factors. For others it has had a wider connotation for several decades.

For example, the lead within the UN system for action and thinking in this area was given to UNDP and it has offered guidance to its staff and governments on what was then called institution building since the early 1970s. This involved building up the ability of basic national organizations, in areas such as civil aviation, meteorology, agriculture, health, nutrition to do their tasks well. All UN specialized agencies were supposed to be active in support of capacity building in the areas for which they were technically qualified e.g. FAO for the rural sector and agriculture, WHO for health etc., but they achieved mixed results. USAID UK/DFID and some of the Nordic donors were also active in the area, as were some of the Soviet bloc countries, but the success of their efforts were affected by the perception that national political interests motivated their efforts.

By 1991, the term had evolved and become 'capacity building'. UNDP defined 'capacity building' as the creation of an enabling environment with appropriate policy and legal frameworks, institutional development, including community participation (of women in particular), human resources development and strengthening of managerial systems, adding that, UNDP recognizes that capacity building is a long-term, continuing process, in which all stakeholders participate (ministries, local authorities, non-governmental organizations and water user groups, professional associations, academics and others).

By 1995, the UN General Assembly had commissioned and received (1998) evaluations of the impact of the UN system's support for capacity building. These evaluations were carried out as part of the UN General Assembly's triennial policy review during which it looks at and provides overall guidance of all UN system development activities ( 2nd& 3rd entries). It remains a protean concept used by different agencies in different ways to serve their respective agendas. One essential element common to most serious organisations working in the field is that it covers much more than training.

Rights-based approach

Rights-based approach to development has been adopted by many nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations as the new approach to international development. Rights-based approach combines many different concepts of international development, such as capacity building, human rights, participation, and sustainability. The goal of the rights-based approach to development is to empower the rights-holders, or the group that does not exercise full rights, and strengthen the capacity of the duty-bearers, or the institution or government obligated to fill these rights.



World map indicating Human Development Index
(colour-blind compliant map).

The judging of how developed a country or a community is highly subjective, often highly controversial, and very important in judging what further development is necessary or desirable.

There are many different measures of human development, many of them related to the different sectors above. Some of them are:

An interesting way of seeing development in Third World countries is through modernization. This includes electronification of households and increases in phone plans. This does not accurately convey social development although it is hard to precisely measure, and institutions differ greatly in their methods.[33] This goes into the debate on whether economic growth causes social growth or vice versa. Indicators of social change can be used to complement economic factors as indicators of development and in formulating development policies.[7]

In a multi-country review of development progress, improved outcomes on these measures has generally been found to be driven by a combination of smart leadership, policies, institutions, and friends, according to the Overseas Development Institute.[34]

Migration and remittance

See also: Codevelopment

Migration has throughout history also led to significant international development. As people move, their culture, knowledge, skills and technologies move with them. Migrants' ties with their past homes and communities lead to international relationships and further flows of goods, capital and knowledge. The value of remittances sent home by migrants in modern times is much greater than the total in international aid given.[35]


International development and disaster relief are both often grouped into sectors, which correlate with the major themes of international development (and with the Millennium Development Goals – which are included in the descriptions below). There is no clearly defined list of sectors, but some of the more established and universally accepted sectors are further explored here. The sectors are highly interlinked, illustrating the complexity of the problems they seek to deal with.

Water and sanitation

See also: Water supply and Sanitation

In development, this is the provision of water and sanitation (toilets, bathing facilities, a healthy environment) of sufficient quantity and quality to supply an acceptable standard of living. This is different from a relief response, where it is the provision of water and sanitation in sufficient quantity and quality to maintain life.[36]

The provision of water and sanitation is primarily an engineering challenge, but also often includes an education element and is closely connected with shelter, politics and human rights.

The seventh Millennium Development Goal is to ensure environmental sustainability, including reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and achieving significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020. UN-Water, a body of 26 UN agencies that work on water issues, is responsible for the triennial UN World Water Development Report which monitors progress towards the Millennium Development Goals related to water. The World Water Assessment Programme, which produces the Report, has articulated how eight of the MDGs are linked to water resources.[37]

Examples of organisations specialising in Water and Sanitation are:


This is provision of access to quality healthcare to the population in an efficient and consistent manner and according to their needs. The standard and level of provision that is acceptable or appropriate depends on many factors and is highly specific to country and location. For example, in large city (whether in a 'developing' country or not), it is appropriate and often practical to provide a high standard hospital which can offer a full range of treatments; in a remote rural community it may be more appropriate and practical to provide a visiting healthworker on a periodic basis, possibly with a rural clinic serving several different communities.

The provision of access to healthcare is both an engineering challenge as it requires infrastructure such as hospitals and transport systems and an education challenge as it requires qualified healthworkers and educated consumers.

The fourth Millennium Development Goal is to reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five.

The fifth Millennium Development Goal is to reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio.

The sixth Millennium Development Goal is to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and to halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

Reaching these goals is also a management challenge. Health services need to make the best use of limited resources while providing the same quality of care to every man, woman and child everywhere. Achieving this level of services requires innovation, quality improvement and expansion of public health services and programs. The main goal is to make public health truly public.

Examples of organizations working in health are:


Main article: Education

The provision of education often focuses on providing free primary level education, but also covers secondary and higher education. A lack of access to education is one of the primary limits on human development, and is related closely to every one of the other sectors. Almost every development project includes an aspect of education as development by its very nature requires a change in the way people live.

The second Millennium Development Goal is to Provide universal primary education.

The provision of education is itself an education challenge, as it requires qualified teachers who must be trained in higher education institutions. However, donors are unwilling to provide support to higher education because their policies now target the MDG. The result is that students are not educated by qualified professionals and worse, when they graduate from primary school they are inducted into a secondary school system that is not able to accommodate them.


The provision of appropriate shelter is concerned with providing suitable housing for families and communities. It is highly specific to context of culture, location, climate and other factors. In development, it is concerned with providing housing of an appropriate quality and type to accommodate people in the long term. This is distinct from shelter in relief, which is concerned with providing sufficient shelter to maintain life.[36]

Examples of organisations specialising in shelter are:

Human rights

Main article: Human rights

The provision of human rights is concerned with ensuring that all people everywhere receive the rights conferred on them by International human rights instruments . There are many of these, but the most important for international development are:

Human rights covers a huge range of topics. Some of those more relevant to international development projects include rights associated with gender equality, justice, employment, social welfare and culture.

The third Millennium Development Goal is to promote gender equality and empower women by eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015. Accomplishing this goal could assist in the achievement of the other Millennium Development Goals. Rates of poverty, education, child mortality, for example, are in direct correlation with the status of women. Low social status and limited access to productive resources inhibit women from participating equally in their communities. Providing girls with equal access to quality education brings the global community steps closer to achieving universal primary education.


This is concerned with ensuring that all people are able to make a living for themselves and provide themselves with an adequate standard of living, without compromising their human rights and while maintaining dignity.

The first Millennium Development Goal is to reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

The concept of livelihoods is directly drawn from the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) to international development. The approach and subsequent practical framework is credited to Robert Chambers, who, writing from the mid-1980s and onward, was interested in fostering efficiency in development cooperation. The approach was later developed and utilized by the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID).The approach is considered to be more comprehensive than previous theories and methodology of "conventional" development initiatives. The core concepts include: taking a holistic view, building on community and individual strengths, focusing on linking both macro and micro-level thinking, sustainability, and maintaining a dynamic and ever-evolving framework.

Startup capital, which is represented by resources and financial investments, are allocated to communities by development agencies based on the specific needs of the communities as voiced by members of the communities. The two parties cooperate closely to achieve a goal set by the community. Combined with existing resources, capital provided by development agencies is utilized by communities to improve their quality of life.


Several organisations and initiatives exist which are concerned with providing financial systems and frameworks which allow people to organise or purchase services, items or projects for their own development.

The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank, which he founded, for their work in providing microcredit to the poor.


Main article: Development criticism

The terms "developed" and "developing" (or "underdeveloped"), have proven problematic in forming policy as they ignore issues of wealth distribution and the lingering effects of colonialism. Some theorists see development efforts as fundamentally neo-colonial, in which a wealthier nation forces its industrial and economic structure on a poorer nation, which will then become a consumer of the developed nation's goods and services. Post-developmentalists, for example, see development as a form of Western cultural imperialism that hurts the people of poor countries and endangers the environment to such an extent that they suggest rejection of development altogether. In relation to ethnic groups, these concerns are captured in Survival International's There You Go! (Oren Ginzburg).

See also




  1. Video with prof. Hans Rosling after 21 seconds
  2. 1 2 (2009). Development. In D. Gregory, Dictionary of Human Geography, 5th Edition (pp. 155–56). Wiley-Blackwell.
  3. Worsley, P. Culture and Development Theory, in Skelton, T. and Allen, T. (1999)
  4. Barlett (2007)
  5. Thomas, A. Poverty and the end of development in Allen, Thomas (2000)
  6. Browne (1990)
  7. 1 2 (2009). Retrieved from The International Development Research Centre:
  8. Esteva, G. Development, in Sachs (1992)
  9. Todaro, MP and Smith, SC. 2009. Economic Development, 10th Ed. Addison-Wesley, Essex, England. ISBN 978-1-4058-7424-3
  10. Giovanni Andrea Cornia, Richard Jolly and Frances Stewart, Adjustment with a Human Face
  11. Schuurman (1993)
  12. Escobar (1995)
  13. Fukuyama (1992)
  14. Wroe, Doney (2005)
  15. Utting (2003)
  16. Korten (1995)
  17. Parfitt (2002)
  18. Runde, Daniel. "Integrated Development Strategic Harmonization of Foreign Assistance" (PDF). Integrated Development Strategic Harmonization of Foreign Assistance. CSIS. Retrieved 2006. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  19. Moss, Roodman and Standley (2005)
  20. "Millennium Development Goals Indicators". United Nations Statistics Division. Retrieved 2008-01-13.
  21. Jowitt, Paul (2006). "Engineering Civilisation from the Shadows" (PDF).
  22. Jowitt, Paul (July 2004). "Engineering Without Frontiers" (PDF).
  23. 1 2 (2009). Retrieved from Center for Global Development:
  24. (2009). Retrieved from International Development Exchange:
  25. Oxford Department of International Development
  27. Bhaduri (2005)
  28. Stockholm International Water Institute (2005)
  29. "INDIA: Human dignity is the true measure of development" (Press release). 27 July 2006.
  30. "Participation, Power and Social Change research team – Overview". Institute for Development Studies.
  31. "Participation and Civic Engagement". World Bank.
  32. "Participation". UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security.
  33. International Development Association (IDA). (n.d.). Retrieved from The World Bank:
  34. "Mapping Progress:Evidence for a New Development Outlook". Development Progress. ODI. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  35. "Migrant remittances 'top $100Bn'". BBC News. 8 April 2005. Migrant workers are sending $100bn home every year in what has become the biggest source of foreign funds for developing countries, the IMF says
  36. 1 2 Sphere Project. (2004)


External links

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