What is Sustainable Development?

Sustainable Development

The U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development was held last year at Rio de Janeiro – also known as Rio +20 because it was 20 years prior when the U.N. Earth Summit was held in Rio and the term “sustainable development” became mainstream. Sustainable development is defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Although The Earth Summit was focused on environmental conservation, sustainable development actually has a broader application. It is now the main approach of development work today.

Earlier, foreign aid was similar to the U.S. Marshall Plan that injected millions of dollars into the post-world war II recovery of Europe. However, the gap between rich nations and poor grew as time went along. After World War II, many countries gained independence but remained economically dependent on their colonizers. Witnesses to this growing divide between the more and less developed countries suggested an approach that was in the middle ground between the state-controlled economics of communism and the hands-off free market approach of capitalist societies. One implementation of this method was the levying of high import tariffs to shelter infant economies from global competition.

This seemed to work well for the Asian Tigers like Singapore and South Korea who today have graduated from developing world status, but it didn’t seem to work for the extremely poor countries – especially those that fell into civil war after decolonization. As more and more people suffered in poverty, developed countries gave food and money to quell emergencies that would spark up. But the aid helped only temporarily, and the need arose again. It was under these circumstances that the term “Sustainable Development” came into being.

At the 1992 Earth Summit, attendees agreed that development should incorporate sustainability and mandated a multi-prong approach. Instead of just giving handouts or concentrating on a single, top-down approach, conditions should also be in place to ensure the development of women, justice, and health. Sustainability requires that economic growth must be equitable and environmentally sustainable in a democratic society, and at all levels. At a micro-grassroots level, for example, a clean water project in a rural village is more likely to be effective if the villagers, both men and women, are involved in the planning and decision making. This involvement in the process increases local ownership of the project and therefore its sustainability. And while the water project is underway, other projects coincide: education projects to help the villagers learn about waste management in order to keep their water supply clean, and agricultural projects to grow food with the increased supply of water. This holistic approach has been more effective than the paternalistic do-gooder coming down to “rescue” the villagers from their plight. It is more empowering for the villagers to find their own solutions rather than have foreigners tell them what they should do.

Written by Maria Caluag

Posted by Aezed Raza on Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 at 1:48 pm.