Sustainable development and Bangladesh perspective

Mohammad Humayun Kabir, Mohammad Joynal Abedin Khan and Jafar Ahmed | Published: February 12, 2016 20:14:16 | Updated: October 17, 2017 14:12:59

According to The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development's Report in 1987, "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." It contains within it two key concepts: (1) The concept of 'need', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given, and (2) The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs. The first sentence of this definition giving the impression that sustainable development is about relationships between generations at different points in time. The rest of the definition addresses the needs of the current poor. Caring for the poor today is not necessarily consistent with caring about future generations. The WCED (World Commission on Environment and Development) chose 'needs' because of their concern that many take for granted - supplies of energy, clean water, clean air, political freedoms, protection from crime and war that are denied to many others.
For sustainable development we have to maintain our total wealth of this earth. Total wealth is defined as the sum of man-made capital (machinery, infrastructure and so on); human capital (the stock of knowledge and skills); environmental or natural capital (the stock of natural resources, environmental quality and environmental services); and social capital (the 'glue' that binds societies together). The largest strides have been made in addressing the first three capital stocks, but the ever-present nature of social discord and war is a reminder that social capital deserves a very high status in discussions about sustainability and development. Technological change raises capital productivity whereas population change is most likely to dissipate capital stocks, lowering the prospects for sustainability. The rate of technological change can yield higher and higher flows of services. Of course, some technological change is not wholly 'good'- Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFC which is a major technological advancement for the development of aerosols, solvents and cooling systems today is recognized as the major source of stratospheric ozone depletion and a risk to human and ecosystem health. As population expands, pressure is put on marginal productive land and forests are cut down or burned to make way for agriculture, urban expansion and roads. Whereas technological change is likely to make capital more efficient, population is likely to depress some capital stocks and make sustainable development less feasible.
The World Commission's definition of sustainable development made it clear that the emphasis on future generations concerned with the poor now is important, indeed the highest priority. The poor cannot improve their lot without access to productive capacity. If their well-being is to improve, then they must secure better education, better technology, more man-made capital, and more. Social capital will matter as well in the sense of the need for more participation in decisions that affect their lives and more consultation. Putnam (1993) speaks of social capital as comprising certain features of social organisation - norms of behaviour, networks of interactions between people and between institutions, and trust between people. Social capital therefore presents a new and challenging dimension of sustainable development.
There are two concepts, such as weak and strong sustainability that need to be understood. Weak sustainability has been defined using concepts like human capital and natural capital. Human capital incorporates resources and natural capital covers the stock of environmental assets relevant for ecosystem services. In very weak sustainability, the overall stock of man-made capital and natural capital remains constant over time. Unconditional substitution between the various kinds of capital is allowed within weak sustainability. An example of weak sustainability could be mining coal and using it for production of electricity. The natural resource, coal, is replaced by a manufactured good-electricity. This means that natural resources may decline (degradation of the ozone layer, tropical forests, coral reefs etc.) as long as human capital is increased. On the contrary, Strong Sustainability (SS) assumes that the economic and environmental capital is complimentary, but not interchangeable. For example, the environment performs certain functions that cannot be duplicated by humans or human-made capital. The ozone layer is crucial for human existence, forms part of natural capital, but is difficult for humans to duplicate.
The concept of 'genuine savings' is introduced to measure sustainable development based on a net savings criterion that provides an extended framework for a more consistent treatment of natural asset loss. In other words, genuine savings is simply gross savings and less depreciation on assets (here, man-made capital, natural resources and environmental assets). Genuine savings is denoted by Sg. If Sg < 0, there must be a presumption of non-sustainability. This indicator is able to capture a significant feature of pollution problems, namely transboundary pollution flows. The rationale for adjusting measures of national income, in the presence of transboundary effects, is an extension of the polluter pays principle to the domain of national accounting. This means that the estimates of the unit marginal social costs of pollution in a given country should include all costs, including those in other nations.
Now let discuss the scenarios of sustainable development of Bangladesh. Overuse and inappropriate use of agrochemicals have led to contamination of water, loss of genetic diversity, deterioration of soil quality. Overuse and imbalanced use of irrigation, inorganic fertilizers and pesticides cause vulnerability to sustainable development. Human health problems are increasing due to consumption of agro-chemicals including pesticides that entered into the food chain. Vulnerability of crops to insect and pest attacks, loss of fish and other aquatic resources, declining crop yields deteriorate animal and human health. Increasing food production by intensifying the use of land, inorganic fertilizers, pesticides and water increases vulnerability to sustainability. Monocropping along with imbalanced use of inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, and intensive use of land without organic fertilizers deteriorates soil quality and fertility. The increased use of inorganic fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides contaminates water bodies and the spread of diseases among aquatic life, livestock and people. Likewise, the excessive use of ground water is suspected to be the cause of the presence of high levels of arsenic in ground water. The excessive and imbalanced use of agro-chemicals has led to increased production costs and dependence on external inputs and energy, a decline in soil productivity, contamination of surface and ground water, and adverse effects on human and animal health. Indiscriminate use of pesticides and insecticides causes soil and water pollution, sickness among farmers. The high dependency on external inputs increases farmers' vulnerability to reduced profit, as they have no control over supply and price of inputs. Agricultural activities are frequently affected by natural calamities such as floods, cyclones, tornadoes, drought, and insects.
Now let's see our social capital. Bangladesh remained under authoritarian rule owing to colonialism and military dictatorship for a long time. During this time, concessions at the local level were often used to legitimize authoritarianism at the national level. Even when democracy was ushered in, problems remained the same due to patron-client relationship, gender discrimination and other drawbacks. Participation is primarily seen in terms of empowerment of the disadvantaged, since powerlessness is considered the main reasons for their exclusion from development benefits. In the context of Bangladesh, it would demand that the poor and the women, who constitute the majority have been generally left out of the decision-making and implementation process. Moreover, Bangladesh is still on the list of some aid-depended countries, where development related policy-making is considerably influenced by donor conditionality. And thus, good governance has been a buzzword in the donor-prescribed development initiatives. Freedom of expression is becoming limited and interrupted day by day. People cannot exercise their voting right independently and citizens of the country have lost their trust in almost all institutions of the country, such as election commission, courts, administration, law enforcing agencies etc.  
Normally, there is a higher chance of agricultural sustainability with increasing cropping diversification, mixed cropping and use of organic fertilizers whereas increased land-use intensity, use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides jeopardize sustainability. Ecological farming is more attractive for farmers as health-concerned urban consumers are willing to pay more for agro-chemical-free products. Thus ecological system turns out to be better as it utilizes more local resources that generate income and employment opportunities for local people. Good governance is a sine qua non for sustainable development and freedom of choice is key to good governance. If people's effective participation is established, it can help establish good governance characterized by efficiency, transparency and accountability. Policy and institutional frameworks needed for the people to make their choices count in governance and good governance is required for the rule of law to prevent crime and corruption and ensure distributive justice for progress towards sustainable development.
The integrative sustainability model has the economy completely located within society and society completely located within the environment. In other words, the economy is a subset of society and society is completely dependent upon the environment. This interdependence means that any sustainability-related issue must be considered holistically.

The writers are students in Master's of Develoment Studies at Dhaka University

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