Pathways to Sustainable Development Amid

Pathways to Sustainable Development Amid

Publication details

  • Tuesday | 31 Mar, 2015
  • Books, Annual report
  • 34
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   For a copy of this book please contact:

   Mr. Ali Aamer Javed
   Library Associate
   Sustainable Development Policy Institute


   Over the last two decades, my association with development sector    has taught me a number of important lessons about sustainable development. Firstly, sustainable development is not a linear process. Interventions do not impact development in either positive or negative ways. The result of intervention A, for instance, is seldom an expected, or intended, B. In reality, A can lead to any outcome – C, D and so on. The reason is simple: The world is not a chemical laboratory where scientists do experiments in controlled environment; where chemicals are made to meet, act and react with each other under strictly regulated external factors like temperatures and air pressures etc.

In the real world, external factors sometimes assume greater salience than the internal dynamic of an intervention. These external factors define the political and economic context of development and must be understood properly in order to come up with meaningful interventions that yield effective results.

Secondly, sustainable development is a holistic process and cannot take place in silos. Three pillars of sustainable development – environment, people and economy – do not always move in the same direction. The trade-off between environmental protection and economic growth has been the subject of massive debates among the sustainable development community on one side and business, industry and the government on the other. Similarly, the negative impacts of human footprint on ecology are undeniable yet any sustainable development will be meaningless if it does not, or cannot, put people at the centre of it. The single-most important lesson that I have learnt is that these trade-offs need to be changed into synergies before they can lead the world onto the path of sustainable development.

The rationale for such a change is simple: Developing countries are failing to achieve their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) because either their economies are not doing well enough to afford investments required for achieving these goals. Most of these countries are also unable to come up with policies which help them simultaneously achieve MDGs with apparently contradictory objectives. For instance, interventions for MDG1 (reduction of poverty and hunger) require greater economic growth, bigger food production and increased employment opportunities. Under development patterns in vogue in the world, these objectives can be achieved only at further peril to environmental conservation which constitutes MDG 7.

The defunct New Murree Development Project1 in Pakistan, for instance, could have offered livelihood opportunities and, hence, might have contribute to economic growth which, in turn, might have led to poverty reduction. These achievements, however, would have come about only after 4000 acres of forests were cleared. If that had happened, damage on the environment would have been massive and permanent.

This project, and many others similar to it across the developing world, underscores the need for looking at sustainable development in totality and not through isolated lens 1 In 2003, the government proposed to build tourist resorts and a township, costing Rs 40 billion, on 4,000 acres of reserved forest land in Muree, 50 miles to the northeast of Islamabad. The Supreme Court of Pakistan later halted the project due to its possible social and environmental impacts. In 2009, it was formally scrapped.

Which focuses entire on a single sector. The third lesson that I have learnt is about the role of people facing a development challenge. Few decades ago, Bretton Woods Institutes came up with a theoretical and financial framework for development which required governments and development professionals to devise and implement the same policies and projects in different parts of the world. These policies and projects were seen as panaceas which could cure any ill but over the decades we have only seen this “one-size-fit-all” thinking fail almost everywhere.

The era of what is called “prescriptive development” in the academic circles that such messianic policies ushered in was followed by what is known as “participatory and consultative development”. While, in theory, this later framework offered better opportunities for tailoring policies and projects that kept geographical, social, cultural, political and environmental differences front and centre, in practice, participation and consultation degenerated into an internal monologue within the development sector practitioners. Instead of consulting communities and helping them participate in devising projects and policies for their development, development practitioners started consulting each other and only informing the communities what these practitioners thought was best for the people. This led to an obvious outcome: in the best of cases, policies could be implemented only partially and projects produced much less than expected results; in the worst of cases, policies simply failed and projects never actually took off.

This brings us to a new era in development: learning from people about the solutions of the problems they are facing, rather than just consult them about policies they don’t understand and make them participate in projects they don't own.

Fourthly, policies and projects that do not cater to individual (human) security and its possible consequences to sustainable development have little chance of success. All states do their best to achieve national, regional, and global security but more often than not they ignore individual security which, in fact, is a lynchpin for all other securities. The societies which try to secure themselves at the national, regional and global levels, but at the cost of individual security, can never be secure at all.

Lastly, insecurity (of any kind) breeds insecurity. Insecure, excluded and marginalized segments of society remain vulnerable to any external and/or internal shock. Their resistance gets eroded and they get trapped in a vicious cycle of insecurities. Over the last few years, these lessons have come to define the framework of my analysis. To me, many policies and practices that could have worked but did not because they failed to take into account the five factors mentioned above. Sometimes, they were unsuccessful because they were either linear or non-holistic; other times, they were driven by supply of ideas and money rather than requirements on the ground and did not take into account human security.

If we look at Pakistan, these conclusions become stark social, economic and political realties around us. The multiple challenges that the country faces have been aggravated by ineffective policies and failed development projects. A mere look at these challenges shows how daunting their scale is: fiscal imbalances and inadequacies, fuel shortages, food insecurity, failure of a functional democratic system to take root, frontiers where extremism and physical insecurities are running rampant, and the fragility of climate manifesting itself in frequent floods during monsoon and drought and famine in arid regions such as Tharparker during dry winters.

It can be argued that these challenges are mutually unrelated. For instance, how can fuel shortages be dependent on food security or fragility of the environment? The answer, perhaps, is simpler than it seems. Fuel shortages are a direct result of fiscal imbalances in the economy which, in turn, have a strong relationship with insecurity at our frontiers, poverty and hunger within the country’s border and vulnerability of the local economy to environmental shocks such as floods. Flip the argument around and you will see that fuel shortages are resulting in electricity load shedding which is hampering economic growth which leads to poverty and hunger which, then, put pressure on fast depleting environmental resources and provide a fertile ground for the promotion of extremism and terrorism.

Faced with such complex and inter-related challenges, is there any light at the end of the tunnel that Pakistan is finding itself in? Yes, there is and it resides in addressing individual, read human, insecurities. This answer may sound one-dimensional but it is not since it considers individual insecurity in all its manifestations – ranging from physical insecurity to security from floods and  famine and everything in between. Before going further into the validity of the answer just consider this: when insecure individuals get together, or are brought together, under the umbrella of a collective identity -- be it provincial, ethnic, rural-urban, sectarian and religious, the discourse suddenly shifts from insecure individuals to insecure groups and often leads to clashes among them as we witness in places such as Karachi on almost daily basis. These clashes then lead to social disruption and political instability which further weakens a democracy in the transition which also remains extremely vulnerable to internal and external security shocks. The road to societal peace and prosperity and environmental sustainability and national security may have to pass through a tricky terrain but it, certainly, starts with ensuring individual security.

I have been sharing my analysis of what I call “6F Crisis” not only through academic and research publications but also through mainstream print and electronic media. The compilation that follows contains articles, in chronological order, that I have published since 2005. These articles, individually and collectively, aim at helping the readers understand the interconnectedness of “6F Crisis” and realising the need for nonlinear, people-centred, holistic solutions to these crises. I also hope that this anthology will enable the readers to compare the policies and practices adopted by three different governments in Pakistan since mid-2000s as they tried to handle the systemic challenges facing Pakistan in their own different ways. In their humble way, these pieces are meant to put the development discourse on a track where it does not repeat the mistakes of the past. Albert Einstein once famously defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. “Pathways to sustainable development” advocates doing things differently to expect different results.

I look forward to your feedback and comments to improve my own learning and refine my analysis.

Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri