Sustainable development has been receiving a lot of attention in the media lately due to its increasing importance and relevance, and the recent transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Currently, we are seeing the engagement and commitment of nations and major actors all over the world to a future more aligned with sustainable development practices, as knowledge of the devastating effects of climate change and unequal patterns of growth have become unavoidably obvious. This movement has been headed and firmly backed by the United Nations.
But what is sustainable development and how can we work towards a sustainable future?
Sustainable development has been defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development’s report ‘Our Common Future’ (www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf) as:
“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
It has also been described as having three pillars: social, economic and environmental. Essentially, sustainable development is a way of development that allows growth through avenues that not only are beneficial economically, but also give back socially and environmentally.
In practice, sustainable development efforts have been working to universally provide essential human rights such as basic health services, increased food availability, clean drinking water and sanitation, but also seek to address the underlying systems underpinning the barriers to sustainable development. These include enhancing industrial and agricultural productivity, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the protection of natural resources, prevention of pollution and health hazards, and greater energy conservation and efficiency though cleaner channels.
As we’ve touched on in previous blogs, the integral aspect that must be considered when measuring the effectiveness of these sustainable development programs is ensuring that success is achieved through the pursuit of the empowerment and independence of local communities to ensure that effects are felt in the long-term and can be readily self-sustained.
Our Charity Partners are doing just that, simultaneously working with local communities to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development that leads to transformational change, bringing about real improvements in people’s lives. It’s important however to recognise that issues of sustainable development vary widely from country to country and are greatly multifaceted and deep-rooted, with each nation carrying their own unique challenges and strengths.
Caritas Australia has been doing work in various countries in Africa to address issues within the region and empower its citizens including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country that has endured the deadliest conflicts since the Second World War and continues to suffer rampant exploitation and domestic turmoil. As the DRC is a country that has widely used sexual violence as a weapon of war, with the Eastern provinces in 2011 found to carry the highest prevalence of rape in the world, Caritas has focused on protection and advocacy, with support programs seeking to address issues such as AIDS, HIV, psychosocial support, healthcare, microfinance and agriculture. These efforts also come in the forms of ‘listening houses’, which seek to help women and girls receive support and medical and counselling training so that they may start their own businesses, send their children to school and break the cycle of violence against women.
How issues are approached is also really important in ensuring that the results are sustainable. For example, rehabilitating a dam and irrigation system is one thing, but making it sustainable is the real challenge. Oxfam Australia integrates other strategies such as setting up water user groups as part of their water programs to ensure that if there are any problems all people benefiting from the irrigation system are consulted and involved in finding solutions. These projects are successful because everyone shares responsibility and contributes time and resources (ie crops that can be sold) to maintain the system. The skills and knowledge gained from Oxfam are shared with the rest of the village so there is strong community spirit and everyone works together. With increased access to, and control of their own water resources, communities are able to produce more crops which reduces food shortages and generates income to improve people’s livelihoods in other areas, like education. The sustainability of these projects and the ever-growing community spirit are inspiring. With a bit of initial support, communities can continue to develop their villages and have high hopes for the future.
For us as Australians, although we may be physically separated from a large number of these ongoing efforts in countries oceans away, it’s imperative that we keep in mind the role that we can play in the pursuit for a more sustainable future for all.
Just in the last generation alone, Campaign for Australia Aid reports that global poverty has been reduced by 50% in the last ten years whilst the number of people who have access to clean water has doubled and the number of women dying during childbirth has halved. Indicators like these show that we have made tremendous progress but there is still a long way to go. Regrettably in terms of national efforts, Australian commitment has wavered and the overseas aid budget continues to dwindle as it has lost the bi-partisan support it used to hold. However, as individuals, there are still a wide range of things that we can do. Whether on a small or large scale, we can start by doing our part by buying and investing in projects, services and goods that support sustainable development efforts. Additionally, by keeping ourselves informed of the impact we have on the environment and engaged in sustainable development movements on local and international levels, we can all work together to create a better future for all.