The significance of sustainability in development

When we say sustainable development projects in India— or anywhere else in the world — it carries a deeper meaning than just projects which can facilitate its beneficiaries for a longer term. World leaders have been involved in intense deliberations over the real significance of sustainability for years.

Consider, for instance, environment sustainability. It is inversely proportional to the poverty of any nation. In a developing country such as India, people’s livelihoods depend mainly on their natural resource, which makes natural resource management key to eliminating poverty.

The already degraded environment degrades further in the poor’s attempt for survival. Protecting environment is, therefore, basic in the efforts to getting rid of poverty. Similarly, India needs a stronger public distribution system that can give the poor equal access to food and nutrition.

Going by its definition, sustainable development involves two main necessities.

- Taking care of the essential needs of the world’s poor as the fruits of development are obviously out of their reach.

- Taking resource depletion seriously and deal with it extremely cautiously, as negative results can severely affect the future generations’ needs.

The entire world, in the 1992 Rio declaration, agreed on the urgent need for both poverty eradication and protection of the earth’s ecosystems. Ever since, the world has improved on both fronts — reducing absolute poverty and environment problems.

However, the risk of a shortage of food and biodiversity, energy and climate, and land still looms large over the planet. Similarly, greenhouse gas emissions and the consequent pollution levels continue to grow. All this will go on unless there is a major policy shift. Part of the entire effort was quite a few sustainable development projects in India too.

How do governments go about this?

The global agricultural and energy production must grow in proportion to the high rate at which the population is growing. To meet the required sustainability targets, clean fuel subsidy schemes for the poor will be required, which in turn will ask for extra investments. These can be drawn from public and private sources.

Governments need to focus on a long-term vision, and to achieve that, encourage learning and innovation. This will ensure that the society’s vast capacity to learn and innovate is channelized towards sustainable development projects.

The current state of international negotiations can hardly make any progress in this direction. There is an urgent need to look for alternative policies that could strengthen the course of sustainability. There will be serious consequences of ignoring this anymore, and the most vulnerable section of the society, world over, will have to bear the brunt.

Sustainable Development Projects in India

Besides education and literacy, integrating agriculture with land and water management is a vital measure that India needs for a sustainable future.

Globalization is taking a toll on the nation’s economic balance by increasing the rift between the rich and the poor here. It is tilted towards just commercial interests against social needs. Unlike global business, which grows on homogeneous consumer preferences, the local development largely depends on understanding the significance of cultural diversity.

A 2009 report by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), ‘Sustainability of Rural Development Projects’ which makes an India Case Study, talks about the “best practices and lessons learnt by IFAD in Asia”. In its executive summary, it says:

“The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has funded and supported the North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project for Upland Areas (NERCORMP) since 1999. This project has sought to improve the livelihood of vulnerable groups in a sustainable manner through improved management of their natural resource base that would restore and protect the environment. To achieve this goal, IFAD, and its government, NGO, and community partners have created community-based organizations and engaged them in income generating activities, supported the development of transportation, market, and health/sanitation infrastructure, and promoted environmental protection. Originally scheduled to end in 2006, the project received a two-year extension through September 2008, in part to help assure sustainability.”

The sustainable development projects in India, or any nation, cannot stand unless there is global cooperation. The prime areas of concern are the environmental impact, bioresources management and, most of all, sharing of technology and experiences. A mechanism to monitor countries’ compliance with their obligations will help sustain the initiatives.