Number 5: Sustainable Development Part 1
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: AN ANALYTICAL FRAMEWORK FOR AGENDA 21
The Concept of Sustainable Development
Since the Earth Summit in Rio, I have tried to investigate how lay people understand sustainable development, a concept which is complicated to define and even to translate into comprehensible words for lay people.
However, in a simple survey of a journalistic type, I asked several groups of people in both rural and urban areas of Sudan about their understanding of sustainable development.
From the perspective of Third World lay citizens, sustainable development may simply refer to progress, rather than deterioration, in life. A lay citizen may understand by comparing his life today with what it was in the 1960s, when food was more readily available, purchasing power was stronger, shelter, medicine and education were more accessible and the overall quality of life was better and easier.
Deterioration in all aspects of food security, health, education and transport services is currently predominant. Hence, it appears that development efforts, plans and projects to service the interests of the majority were either unsustainable or non-existent.
Lay citizens also acknowledge the simple truth that there used to be more forests, wild species upon which man depended, more rains and longer rainy seasons, longer cold months and cooler summers. The climate, in short, was better for them and met their various needs. The overall environment was richer and healthier and sustained them for a better quality of life.
The same citizens can identify the correlation between deforestation, desertification, climatic change and loss of biodiversity. They may also know how these have had an adverse impact on food security, but the more complex correlation of politics, international trade, macro-economics, the role of multinational corporations and the causes of international climate changes are beyond their level of knowledge and analytical capability.
Furthermore, simple information about the various environmental issues and their relationship to underdevelopment;the prevalence of poverty, food insecurity, strife and environmental degradation;may also be beyond the analytical capacity of policy makers, whose conceptualization of sustainable development may be bound to economic performance indicators only. Hence, sustainable development may not include, for them, environmental sustainability.
My understanding of sustainable development, as an African scholar, is that it is not a holistic, non-divisible concept. Rather, I can conceive of it as an amalgamation of several indicators that have been developed at various stages since the 1960s.
In this paper, I would like to arrange this amalgamation and see how sustainable development could be considered as an analytical framework by which we measure and analyze how far we have come in reaching the objectives of Agenda 21. This framework consists of seven basic indicators, each with a set of variables set along a continuum for nations, people and the international community vis-à-vis the realization of Agenda 21.
To elaborate, our indicators of sustainable development can be explained in terms of social development, economic development, environmental development, political development, intellectual development, women's development and international development. Within each of these fields, a continuum of variables could be set to analyze and measure our accomplishments.
The social development indicators, which include education, health, shelter, employment, transport, energy and water, could be arranged on a ladder scale starting with the elimination of illiteracy and the school enrolment of all children of school age, continuing up to quality of education in terms of the student-teacher ratio, availability of training in various skills, knowledge for all those soon to be on the labour market, and the opening up of various educational facilities to those outside the school and labour market population. Similarly, the measure of social development could be based on decreasing infant and maternal mortality continuing up to the availability of health services for all, increased life expectancy and combating killer diseases in adults.
The shelter continuum could start from availability of toilets, cooking places and water taps in the household to other needs such as the use of alternative energy for cooking and heating purposes, the number of family members per room, and so on. Hence, our social indicators of development (the above are only a sample of them) are our objectives for the economic development which would ensure the legitimacy of our ruling governors. If we ignore this relationship, we deny the purpose of economic development.
At the same time, political indicators of development could start with whether people have the right to life, movement, speech, to organize, publish, participate in decision making;by choosing those who rule, deciding the system of government, and the making of the constitution which regulates the political arena.
Intellectual criteria of development pertain to people's right to promote their capacities and style of life freely, without moulding them in one conceived 'appropriate way,' to opening up chances for them, providing information, and facilities for such promotion. These could apply both to the people of the North (by helping to shift them away from the materialistic, consumer model) and the South (by helping to stop following such models or being moulded into various fundamentalistic models advocated by certain dictators).
Intellectually developed people will demand the right of transparency of information and accountability of rulers and leaders in all spheres; they will choose to express conflicting views and differences through mechanisms of tolerance, excluding strife and war for such expression. Intellectually developed people assess their progress using objective indicators, not ignoring the ethics of justice for all, the feeling of love for humanity and fear and respect for the words of God and the protection of His earth. Less intellectually developed people can be easily mobilized through non-objective mechanisms and can be oppressed, deceived and brainwashed.
As far as economic indicators of sustainable development are concerned, they could start with food security and increases in GNP, and incorporate growth in per capita income, standards of living for all, and a decrease in the wealth differential between the rich and poor in favour of the poor. Measures to achieve this should include and not marginalize social development indicators, ethics of justice, and protection of political and intellectual rights. They should also encompass the environmental component for development and conservation.
As to environmental indicators of development, they could start with conserving the forests, water sources, biodiversity and promotion of community hygiene and go on to the use of recycling techniques, decreases in affluent consumption patterns and the production of carbon dioxide, use of renewable energy, and sensitivity and action towards a global responsibility to save the earth's resources and protect its capacities so that it can continue to sustain us.
The women's development indicator runs from being gender-sensitive to integrating the gender perspective into all our policies, programmes and projects;making them women-specific;to giving positive discrimination and realizing women's practical and strategic needs. The continuum, hence, runs from satisfying basic needs to increasing women's efficiency, and enabling them to attain equity, empowerment and autonomy.
The last dimension of the indicators of sustainable development would be international relations. Here, indicators could start with a country's level of respect of borders, of others' national sovereignty and abidance by international laws and treaties, running to justice in the distribution and use of resources and wealth between nations and human beings. A shared and common responsibility of all people globally would be the protection of citizens whose indicators of sustainable development are infringed upon through political domination, nationally and internationally.
In this respect, issues of a just international trade, protecting human rights, preserving people's lives and the international heritage, and protecting the sovereignty of nations and people would all be causes for international action.
The optimal goal may be freedom from boundaries and zones for people's movements, and equitable distribution of wealth. Countries infringing upon the basics of international relations covering sustainable development would be justly punished and those citizens suffering from such infringement would be justly protected.
Hence, the above framework could be used in the design of policies, plans and projects as well as for evaluating their impact. The integrated nature of the framework inevitably leads it to sustainability.
This analytical framework must be related to Agenda 21. For me, Agenda 21 contains a set of specific and general objectives that we agreed to attain.
The overall goal of Agenda 21 is to achieve equity and security for all human beings and sustainability for Mother Earth. To realize this goal, we agreed upon a number of principles, agreements and codes of ethics. These should also be conceived in an integrated way, and as being related to our main goals. If they are taken in isolation, the possibilities of disagreement over them would be inevitable. The only way is to relate them to a specific goal within the general goals. For instance, the issue of food security is a specific goal within the general goal of attaining security for people. The following analysis illustrates this point.
Definition of Food Security
A food system is a combination of agro-ecological and socio-economic processes which determine the production, marketing and consumption of food.
A country and people are food-secure when their food system operates efficiently, in such a way as to remove the fear that there will not be enough food to eat or seeds to plant or water for cultivation, or that people need to sell all their assets or degrade their survival strategies in order to secure their lives. Efficiency means that all stages in the food chain should reflect equitable advantages and benefits of production, distribution and consumption for all the people.
Food security means availability of food with the calories, proteins and minerals necessary to maintain health. It also means that, as well as availability of needed spices, herbs, natural vegetation and dried fruit used for medication, sources of energy to cook and preserve it are also available. Food security also refers to the availability of water for man, animals and production purposes.
The components of food security relate to food production, energy sources, water and purchasing power. The author thus links the issues of agricultural production, alternative energy production, poverty alleviation and environmental conservation into interrelated mechanisms that make up what we understand by food security.
Therefore, food security should be given a priority on our agenda. It would benefit all other issues on the agenda of poverty alleviation: forest protection, combatting desertification, economic growth, climate change, food processing and storage, biodiversity protection, renewable energy use, technology transfer, and so on.
There are many factors that influence food security, such as soil fertility loss, environmental degradation, land tenure systems, availability of agricultural inputs, use of technologies for vertical expansion of production, food storage systems, food processing, marketing, transport, distribution systems, laws and policies related to development, and production and ecological conservation. As well as war and strife, labour mobility (distribution and availability), overall economic performance, preservation and promotion of forests and its impact on climatic changes, fisheries resources and animal wealth are all factors related to food security.
Other factors that would also influence food security are international support for production and ecological conservation, foreign debt and hard currency balances, regional and international relations, and trade. Population size, distribution and growth rate, consumption patterns and beliefs associated with food intake are also factors that need to be taken into account.
The above list is not exhaustive; it shows, however, that the issue of food security is one that encompasses almost all other issues.
Food security is a basic human right, for it relates to man's basic survival. In many countries, where the majority of the population is threatened by food insecurity, it becomes the number one agenda item;and this should also be the case for the international community.
Food Security and UNCED
Principles and Conventions
When studying the principles set out in Agenda 21, the interrelationship between them;when they are discussed in relation to a theme such as food security;is evident.
From an African perspective, the forest principles should not be loaded with the concept of the forest's importance as a carbon sink for the gaseous emissions of the North. Rather, it is important for us to think of it as a factor for climatic balance and a protector from drought;which is often a direct cause of most food insecurity and poverty. It is a source of biodiversity upon which people depend for energy sources, dietary supplements and shelter needs. Hence, our efforts to protect the forests stem from its importance to us as people and governments of the Third World.
The international community should also help with forest protection and provide economic compensation for countries within the forest zones, particularly in the area of the equator, that conserve their forests. Cameroon forests that bring rain to Central Africa should be accorded equal importance with forests in Brazil that act as a sink for the USA's carbon dioxide emissions.
The Convention on Biodiversity is of direct relevance to the survival strategies of rural populations, which are being destroyed by commercial and industrial activities. Action should be based on the traditional wisdom vested in the rural people, both women and men, as well as on measures to protect biodiversity for their own sake rather than for the profits of the multinationals. When the objective is protection of biodiversity as a means to food security and poverty alleviation, there will be less controversy about it. However, turning biodiversity into an industrial or economic issue will lead back to the lack of consensus which was evident in Rio de Janeiro.
Furthermore, the energy principle, the water resources management agreement and the desertification agreement are all related to issues of food security. It is only through combating desert encroachment and land degradation that we can guarantee the decrease of food insecurity. We can sustain the land for human use and decrease losses, both in terms of land as a resource for human habitat and of man himself through famine.
The combat against desertification is basically related to the human right to survive in all spheres and areas of the earth. It is not an issue of deserts, but of areas which will become deserts. It is an issue of the underutilization of available land and resources. How, then, can we afford to marginalize this problem simply because most of the deserts fall outside the countries of the North?
It is vital to resort to alternative energy uses and to improve technologies to make them as easily available to the poor as to the rich. This issue, too, relates to food security. The use of biogas, solar energy, wind and water energy can change the fate and quality of life of the rural people. This would be evidenced by increased production, storage facilities and food processing. At the same time, the introduction of electricity into rural areas would considerably raise the intellectual capacities of the rural population through information acquisition and communication, and would also benefit social development.
The use of alternative energy should not be conceived only as an environmental conservation issue but as one related to all other indicators of sustainable development. It is not something which benefits only the North or only the South, nor does it mean losses for oil producers; rather, it is an asset to oil conservation. Our aim should be to improve energy efficiency and conservation so that all will benefit and that, at the same time, food security and other sustainability indicators will also improve.
This issue of an alternative development model and alternative lifestyles in the North may seem distant from the issue of food security, but it is not. The leaders in the South, the elites and all those who have vested interests are adopting the current orthodox economic theories and northern lifestyles as their models for achievement. It is they who are the 'power elite' who make policies, plans, mould the people, and marginalize the poor.
Hence, positive change in the North will create a positive impact on the South. If international agencies like the World Bank, IMF, or UNDP changed their policies, theories and principles relating to the meaning of sustainable development and how it is reached, measured and evaluated, then a change in the policies of the countries of the South could easily be accomplished. How can such orthodox policies as the free market economy, liberalization and integration into the world market economy through free trade, non-protection and interference policies of government, lead to poverty alleviation and food security for the majority? How can economic growth based on this model have spillover effects for the majority?
The issue of alternative lifestyles in the South should concern how traditions can be sustained within a perspective of improving the quality of life, of reaching an integrated sustainable development, based on the above concept of indicators of sustainable development: a challenge of preserving the positive components of our traditions while promoting a quality of life that does not endanger the environment nor alienate the individual from his country, his family and from integration with the self.
The Nile basin countries could work out projects for a more efficient use of the Nile for hydropower and irrigation and to conserve the Nile waters. The countries of the Horn of Africa could make use of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for projects on forest protection and biodiversity conservation.
At the national level, the country could mobilize people for alternative energy based on wind, solar power and biogas. The afforestation movement should be accompanied by legalization related to ownership, land tenure and administrative measures for sustainability.
Traditional wisdom in women and the poor, in particular, is a treasure not to be ignored. We have to build on it in order to secure participation and integrate people into projects. Technology transfer related to crop production, protection, storage and processing is a vital sphere, where collaboration between United Nations agencies and individual countries could produce a sustainable development model of production focusing on food security for the majority.
The mobilization of the people and their integration into planning and implementation cannot be achieved if transparency of information and policy is lacking, if accountability of the leaders is non-existent and if grassroots organizations are weak and marginalized. The uneducated masses with a poor environmental and economic base need to be strengthened through various programmes that integrate functional literacy, food for work, information, training in income-generating skills, subsidized packages for production, waiving of regulations and legalizations that hamper production and protection of their production potential through marketing, storage and credit facilities. It is they who should be mobilized for small-scale village projects of which they will be the direct beneficiaries: rural energy use, biodiversity and forest conservation, water projects for human and animal use and irrigation.
Policies lacking an integrated vision of sustainable development for food security will, at best, only succeed in feeding the stomach; they will not bring other measures of development. People may be fed at the expense of sustainability. Hence, there is a vital need for an integrated policy of all the indicators of development sustainability, building on the Agenda 21 agreements and mobilization process.
In order for this analytical framework to be effective, there are some prerequisites: we need the institutional framework which will develop and adapt it for analysis. We need to empower the key institutions with sufficient resources to assist people, nations or regions to realize their objectives in line with the framework. Further, the institutions need power to sanction or penalize those who deviate or do not attain the major variables within the framework. The Commission on Sustainable Development needs not only an institutional framework to define its objectives, terms of reference, financial capacities and power, and its place within the United Nations hierarchy, it also needs to have an analytical framework acceptable to all, within which they can function and undertake their responsibilities.
Agenda 21 contains specific objectives that we want to attain. Those objectives are not in isolation but rather they are related to our analytical framework whereby, for instance, biodiversity, climate change, or technology transfer, should be viewed in relation to whether they contribute to social, political, intellectual, and international development, or whether they infringe upon one of those indicators in order to realize others. Hence, Agenda 21 is, in itself, only our tool to move towards sustainable development.
Sustainable development indicators are the overall frame of reference by which we must measure our efforts and guide our policies.