Linking environment with development
Bangladesh is going through a social and economic transformation. These rapid changes in the economic, social and political life have enormous impact on country's ecosystems and resources. Operationalising the concept of sustainable development requires integrating economic, social and environmental objectives and negotiating and managing trade offs. The future of sustainable development lies in the evolution of the character of governance -- the ensemble of social ethics, public policies and institutions which structure how government, people and the civil society interact with the environment. We are to find ways how to pursue active economic development without further degrading their environment and ecosystem resources. In the midst of widespread poverty and natural resources depletion in the country, the government strives to produce a proper mix of pro-environment and pro-development policies. We are also to give attention to other important strategic dimensions such as the integration of disaster risk reduction into sustainable development policies and plans.
Achieving sustainable development and addressing emerging needs and development challenges of Bangladesh require deep and sound structural changes for inclusive and pro-poor growth with equity and justice, solid democratic reforms, new ways of environmental governance in market-based economies, sustainable natural resource management and assertive measures towards ensuring consensus around a common goal. Integration of environmental priorities into national strategies and policy processes for poverty eradication and sustainable development through improved capacity of national/sectoral authorities is a missing part which needs special attention. We are to seek answer to the issue of removing barriers toward strengthening capacities at individual, institutional, systemic level to implement the national policies and programmes toward sustainable development.
It is also relevant to contextualise the significance of proper implementation of the National Capacity Development Action Plan for environmental governance, National Adaptation Programme of Action for Climate Change, National Biodiversity Strategy & Action Plan of the Ministry of Environment and Forest. Harmonisation and implementation of other sectoral plans and policies such as National Water Management Plan, Land Use Policy, Fisheries & Livestock and Agriculture Policy are equally important in achieving sustainable development in Bangladesh. The PRSP Phase II under formulation provides us an opportunity to integrate these policies with poverty-environment nexus prevailing in Bangladesh. Against this backdrop a key question to ask: how can we go for building partnerships and supporting learning and knowledge-sharing at local and national levels to ensure more effective ways to implement those policies and plans and integrate the social, economic and environmental priorities of the poor into national strategies and policy processes for poverty eradication?
Millennium Development Goals
Over the last 15 years Bangladesh has made impressive gains in key human development indicators. In the 2007 UNDP Human Development Report, Bangladesh ranked 138 among 177 countries with an HDI score of 0.509, which places it among countries considered to have achieved medium human development. This is the result of macroeconomic stability, slower population growth, a boost in women's empowerment, reduction in aid dependence, achieving food self sufficiency (exceptions during unusual disasters), better disaster management capacity, effective non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and a vibrant, pluralist, democratic civil society marked by cultural activism and developmental debates supported by an active, free press.
Despite impressive gains in key human development indicators, Bangladesh faces considerable challenges. Achieving the MDGs within the next decade will require Bangladesh to develop and implement more ambitious and effective strategies. Although it has spurred rapid economic growth and migration, urban poverty has risen accompanied by lack of decent work and adequate shelter. Much needs to be done to ensure the right to survival and to achieve the MDG target of halving the proportion of the poor, and the hungry and malnourished. It is important to repeat that the critical challenges of attaining environmental sustainability (MDG Goal 7) are still inadequately addressed. These challenges are multi-dimensional and visible in the forms of water and air pollution, land degradation, extreme degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, unsustainable agricultural practices and unplanned urban growth. This is further deteriorated by absence of land zoning and weak environmental governance in Bangladesh. Climate change has compounded problems of environmental degradation and has led to serious deterioration of ecosystems adding yet another dimension to the persistence of poverty.
There is a growing consent that democratic governance creates the conditions for sustainable development and poverty reduction. Local governments can play a major role by ensuring more effective local resource management including land, water and environmental resources and also infrastructure and service delivery for the poor. Improvement in the dialogue between the state, citizens and their communities, and the private sector is also a requisite.
Local and regional development strategy involves building partnerships with and between national and local authorities, community organisations, civil society, and the private sector. This strategy also involves promoting policy and institutional reforms to enable the transfer of powers and financial resources to more effective and accountable sub-national spheres of government. However, there is a need for technical advisory body for the services to be provided within the framework of the following policy objectives: (i) strengthening the capacities of local governments in mainstreaming the principle of sustainable development into policy as well as planning , budgeting and implementing projects and programmes; (ii) supporting central governments to formulate policies promoting administrative, political and fiscal decentralisation to foster enabling natural resource management, legal and administrative environments, and to strengthen local economic development; and (iii) empowering the organisations of local civil society particularly women's associations and users of natural resources.
In conclusion, sustainable development is vital in securing a win-win situation in both poverty alleviation and sustainable environmental management. In a country like Bangladesh where competition for resources is intense and the carrying capacity of the natural resource base is under severe strain, the concept of eco-system restoration and regeneration, particularly through participatory management of common pool resources, sustainable land and water management has immense potential to relieve social tension and improve public well being. Let us give concerted efforts to demonstrate the linkages of environment with poverty, economic growth, human health and governance for sustainable development.
Dr. M. Aminul Islam, Assistant Country Director (Environment & Sustainable Development), UNDP, Bangladesh. Views expressed are those of the author's.