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Sustainable Development

Sustainability is a dynamic concept born out of the environmental debate of the last quarter century. There is growing concern nationally and internationally about biodiversity and protection of plants and animals and community based activity. It is important to view sustainable efforts from global perspective that addresses socio-economic and environmental issues. The Rio Summit emphasized on economic growth and poverty alleviation for sustainable development.

The basic prerequisite of sustainable development is the evolution of a development process with focus on the enhancement of the living conditions of population as a whole with emphasis on raising the standard of living of the poor. The Agenda21 called all countries to develop national strategies for sustainable development to translate the words and commitments of Earth summit into concrete policies and actions. The important issue in the 21st century is to create greater economic and societal well-being without deterioration of the environment and depletion of the resources. There three fundamental questions about sustainability.

What Is Sustainability?

Sustainable Development as a norm has been accepted in the literature ever since the publication of the Brundtland Commission report in 1987.The Brundtland Commission defined Sustainable Development as that which "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs". The publication of this report has been followed by several attempts at defining Sustainable Development.

It is defined as "a pattern of social and structured economic transformations (i.e. development) that optimizes the economic and societal benefits available in the present, without jeopardizing the likely potential for similar benefits in the future." A primary goal of sustainable development is to achieve a reasonable and equitably distributed level of economic well being that can be perpetuated continually for many human generations. It also implies using renewable natural resources in a manner that does not eliminate or degrade them, or otherwise diminish their usefulness for future generations. Sustainable development also requires depleting non-renewable energy resources at a slow enough rate so as to ensure the high probability of an orderly society transition to renewable energy sources.

Sustainability for whom?

"There's enough in the world to meet the needs of everyone but there's not enough to meet the greed of everyone".
Mahatma Gandhi

Over the past 20 years total population in the industrialized countries has increased by 28%. These countries are facing many problems such as environmental degradation, over dependence on non-renewal sources of energy, declining standards of living. These problems are more acute in developing countries. These countries have formed their economic systems on western models ignoring their indigenous requirements. A great deal of harm has been done to agriculture sector. The percentage of cultivable land has been decreasing over the years due to increase in population and non-judicial use of resources. This has given rise to man induced degradation. Forests are being destroyed and concrete jungles are taking their place. It is within the cities that most of the world's resources are consumed. As most of these resources originate in rural areas, production decisions taken by urban enterprises bear a powerful influence on their existence.

Rapid ecological changes are taking place in the fringes and rural areas surrounding cities. History has led to vast inequalities, leaving almost three-fourths of the world's people living in less-developed countries and one-fifth below the poverty line. This has been compounded further by the long-term impact of past industrialization; exploitation and environmental damage. Human health in its broadest sense of physical, mental and spiritual well-being is to a great extent dependent on the access of the citizen to a healthy environment Citizens of developing countries continue to be vulnerable to a double burden of diseases. Traditional diseases such as malaria and cholera, caused by unsafe drinking water and lack of environmental hygiene, have not yet been controlled. In addition, people are now falling prey to modern diseases such as cancer and AIDS, and stress-related disorders. Many of the widespread ailments among the poor in developing countries are occupation-related. The concepts of interrelatedness, of a shared planet, of global citizenship cannot be restricted to environmental issues alone. They apply equally to the shared and inter-linked responsibilities of environmental protection and human development. Development in this new century has to be even more conscious of its long-term impact. The problems are complex and the choices difficult. Our common future can only be achieved with a better understanding of our common concerns and shared responsibilities.

How to achieve sustainability?

"We cannot have ecological movement designed to prevent violence against nature, unless the principles of non-violence become central to the ethics of human culture."
Mahatma Gandhi

Moving towards sustainable development presents tremendous challenges. We humans forget that in order to survive, we need to adapt to nature and not vice-versa. In Gandhian thought and action, humanity has all the tools it needs for sustainable development. This model aims for all round development of the villages thus helping in containing the large-scale migration to the cities. He stood for better life based on limited industrialization, decentralization and social reconstruction. He advocated small scale and cottage industries that are environment friendly and also less resource depletive.

This is relevant for most developing nations including India. Poverty and a degraded environment are closely inter-related, especially where people depend for their livelihoods primarily on the natural resource base of their immediate environment. Restoring natural systems and improving natural resource management practices at the grassroots level are central to a strategy to eliminate poverty. The survival needs of the poor force them to continue to degrade an already degraded environment. Removal of poverty is therefore a prerequisite for the protection of the environment. While conventional economic development leads to the elimination of several traditional occupations, the process of sustainable development, guided by the need to protect and conserve the environment, leads to the creation of new jobs and of opportunities for the reorientation of traditional skills to new occupations. Women, while continuing to perform their traditional domestic roles' are increasingly involved in earning livelihoods. In many poor households they are often the principal or the sole breadwinners. A major thrust at the policy level is necessary to ensure equity and justice for them. Literacy and a basic education are essential for enabling the poor to access the benefits offered by development initiatives and market opportunities. Basic education is therefore a precondition for sustainable development. A sizeable proportion (about 60 per cent according to some estimates) of the population is not integrated into the market economy.

Ensuring the security of their livelihoods is an imperative for sustainable development. With increasing purchasing power, wasteful consumption linked to market driven consumerism is stressing the resource base of developing countries further. It is important to counter this through education and public awareness. Several traditional practices that are sustainable and environment friendly continue to be a regular part of the lives of people in developing countries. These need to be encouraged rather than replaced by more 'modern' but unsustainable practices and technologies. Development decisions regarding technology and infrastructure are a major determinant of consumption patterns. It is therefore important to evaluate and make development decisions that structurally lead to a more sustainable society. Technologies exist through which substantial reduction in consumption of resources is possible. Efforts to identify, evaluate, introduce and use these technologies must be made. Scientists have a responsibility of communicating the risks and rewards of a new technology to society at large. Several advancements in environment-friendly and cleaner technologies will help in achieving sustainable development. Globalization as it is taking place today is increasing the divide between the rich and the poor. It has to be steered so that it serves not only commercial interests but also the social needs of development.

Global business thrives on, and therefore encourages and imposes, high levels of homogeneity in consumer preferences. On the other hand, for development to be locally appropriate and sustainable, it must be guided by local considerations, which lie in cultural diversity and traditions. Therefore recognition at the policy level, of the significance of diversity, and the need to preserve it, is an important precondition for sustainable development. In an increasingly globalize economy, developing countries, for want of the appropriate skills, are often at a disadvantage in negotiating and operating multilateral trade agreements. Regional cooperation for capacity building is therefore necessary to ensure their effective participation in all stages of multilateral trade. Mechanisms to safeguard trade and livelihoods, especially in developing countries, must be evolved and negotiated to make globalization an effective vehicle of sustainable development. War and armed conflict are a major threat to sustainable development. It is imperative to evolve effective mechanisms for mediation in such situations and to resolve contentious issues without compromising the larger developmental goals of the conflicting parties. The role of public health services must give preventive health care equal emphasis as curative health care. People should be empowered through education and awareness to participate in managing preventive health care related to environmental sanitation and hygiene. Most developing countries are repositories of a rich tradition of natural resource-based health care. This is under threat, on the one hand from modern mainstream medicine, and on the other from the degradation of the natural resource base. Traditional medicine in combination with modern medicine must be promoted while ensuring conservation of the resource base.

Developing and developed countries should also strive together to strengthen the capacity of their health care systems to deliver basic health services and to reduce environment-related health risks by sharing of health awareness and medical expertise globally. More and more people at community level are thinking about what is happening to their environment and their living levels. There is need for greater public participation. The local institutions must be involved in developing, promoting, and implementing policies at all levels. It is good governance that will serve as a driving force for sustainable development. Sustained development is about the future, and we can only think of the future when our present is not in crisis.

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