SD issues in developing countries, when to start?


The following point came up in some discussions this morning;

“Developing countries need to address multiple levels of basic human needs before they can really be able to get a good handle on the sustainable development aspect of things.”

The question here is how much they need to do before moving to SD efforts? And where do you draw the line before you start SD?

It is of concern that the external global pressures are forcing developing countries to deal with SD issues before even achieving the basic level of needs for their people! The underlying issue I believe is the support of unsatisfied people is not possible, and SD is really dependent on the contribution of all. For example, Part of the discussion this morning touched upon the Eco tourism ( Jordan example ) and the feeling was more that it is far from being started given the economical state and the “needs vs. means” of the population … this does not seem to be the case ! looks like the initiative is going on and the realization of the fragile resource is seen. This is a link to the Middle East Economic Engineering Forum( hosted a conference on Eco tourism. An interesting direction to SD efforts when the poverty and over-population of the country is very high! Any thoughts?


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Posted in ecological degradation, economic development
9 comments on “SD issues in developing countries, when to start?
  1. jsitu79 says:

    Perhaps SD should be viewed as a global responsibility and not country specific since the benefits are global. Such a view would imply that developped countries would subsidize developping countries to the extent that would make the sustainable and unsustainable options the same financially. It seems fair that developped countries, which got to where they are through highly polluting industrial revolutions, subsidize the sustainable development of other countries.

  2. giggey says:

    Saad, thanks for your post. I wanted to had some significance to your argument by providing some numbers on the size and growth of developing nations:

    – WTO says that 150 nations are considered developing (IMF say 152)
    – Some of these countries include powerhouses such as China, Brazil, Czech Rep., Argentina, Mexico, Russia, and Turkey
    – About 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, on less than a dollar a day. Another 2.7 billion struggle to survive on less than $2 a day.
    – 852 million people are chronically or acutely malnourished, some 300 million of them children.
    – the population of the 50 poorest countries will more than double by 2050. Almost all of the net increase in population is occurring in developing countries. (source – United Nations Population Fund

    It’s easy to see that most of the world lives far below the living standards available in countries such as Canada, France, Australia, and Singapore. And as you mentioned, the world cannot yet solve our equality issues, let alone effecting the design decisions or supporting sustainable development within these nations.

    Perhaps like where leisure time was required to allow for education levels to grow in societies, I would think that minimal levels of income are required before you have the luxury of considering sustainable development. And so many nations will be powerless when it comes to assisting in the drive towards sustainable development.

    However, the world is full of bright people and companies looking for new markets. Perhaps there’s some economic opportunities within these areas where companies could introduce low cost, and sustainable, options for housing, transportation, clothing, food, etc.

  3. saadabdalla says:

    This is actually an important point, and a touchy one as well. In searching this a little more I came across the following link from which highlighted a few issues with the proposed solution of foreign aid to help SD efforts in the developing countries.

    Some of the issues I saw are
    1-The so called developed countries failed to meet the promised level of aid to
    the developing countries. The site shows that: “Even though these targets and
    agendas have been set, year after year almost all rich nations have
    constantly failed to reach their agreed obligations of the 0.7% target.
    Instead of 0.7%, the amount of aid has been around 0.2 to 0.4%, some $100
    billion short.”

    ***It is important to see the link that aid is general to the development of the countries at the receiving side, but is a good indication of how much they will get to do SD efforts***

    2-Aid has been a foreign policy tool to aid the donor not the recipient. For
    •The US has directed aid to regions where it has concerns related to its
    national security
    •Sweden has targeted aid to “progressive societies”;
    •France has sought to promote maintenance or preserve and spread of French
    culture, language, and influence
    •Japan has also heavily skewed aid towards those in East Asia with
    extensive commercial ties

    This is really against the Eco-economics they are trying to establish ! The aid should be based on the goal of improving and helping the most needy!

    3-Aid Amounts Dwarfed by Effects of First World Subsidies, Third World Debt,
    Unequal Trade

    4-Aid Money Often Tied to Various Restrictive Conditions. “…aid tied with
    conditions cut the value of aid to recipient countries by some 25-40 percent,
    because it obliges them to purchase uncompetitively priced imports from the
    richer nations…”

    Now this is not to show aid is bad , its important and critically needed but we need to make sure it is not tied to the politics and the direction you want to steer the results to your side as some of the developed countries are doing.

  4. jeremy says:

    Saad – see what you can uncover on the Environmental Kuznets curve in this regard. I’d be interested to know if you concur with this hypothesis.

  5. blainewalsh says:

    When I read this post and the comments that followed, I immediately started to think about SD at home, in Canada. Does the line of thinking with respect to developing countries apply, at least on some scale, to different areas of Canada, and how does it affect the proliferation of SD in those areas. The fact is that Canada as a country has an SD policy, but what about economically challenged areas of the country where unemployment is more than double the national average? Is it practical to look at this level to see if there are initiatives for SD or do we think that these areas are more interested in just attracting jobs to their areas, regardless of the potential offenses to SD?
    A case in point is Newfoundland and Labrador. Having grown up in Newfoundland, I’m all too familiar with the business climate and the level of unemployment. I can honestly say that when looking for the ever elusive job, I’m not sure most people are concerned with SD, at least on a personal level. An interesting twist to this is that Newfoundland now has one of the fastest growing economies in the country, all due to the oil industry and the price of oil on the market. In doing some research, the province does indeed have a Sustainable Development Act that is focussed on the provinces natural resources, most importantly oil. However, I wonder if they are planning for future generations based on the gains from the price of oil today? They are most certainly using the price of oil and the proceeds from it to pay down the provincial debt (historically the highest in the country), but I’m not sure I see any planning for future generations beyond the oil industry.
    So the province has an SD plan, at least in principle, but I expect that the typical Newfoundland citizen would be focused more providing for their families than ensuring they are contributing to the SD plan of the government.

  6. RGiggey says:

    After speaking with a Sustainable Development professor in Honduras, one of the poorest nations in Latin America ($1,600 per capita income), I learnt of the following Sustainable Development project (her email):

    “I think a good example is coffee plantation. Every body wants to get the green seal now to be able to sell their products to Europe and North America. As you may know the best coffee is the one grown at high elevations, the problem with that is it is necessary to take steps of soil conservation to avoid its degradation and besides that they have to preserve the biodiversity and most of our mountains are natural reserves and sources of water for the populations down [the mountains]. So they are not using pesticides, or synthetic fertilizers, they also avoid to pollute the rivers when they take off the peel [of the coffee bean] and they even leave some parts of the land for the wild life. This not a big business, most of the coffee farmers have small pieces of land, so they are getting together in cooperatives.”

    “It is still controversial whether or not we should use our lands to plant a “dessert” (meaning bananas and coffee as opposed to beans and corn which people can actually live on. They call it the economy of the dessert, in which the demand can fall unexpectedly.”

    This highlights an important point when looking at sustainable development in developing nations, in that they have the knowledge within the country to run these types of programs, but lack in some case the funding to run them. This example certainly points to the competitive advantage aspect, as a main driver is to obtain the “green seal”.

    Further below is some information on a larger sustainable development project in Honduras. Their stated objective is to:

    “To protect the watershed of the cloud forest in PANACAM through sustainable activities that lead to viable development in the communities surrounding the park, and to instill within the people the desire, ability and knowledge to improve their living conditions without further damage to the environment.”

    This is an example of a project funded by developed countries, e.g. Canada, UN Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, as well as the Honduran government itself. Honduras, for those that are not familiar with it, still has the largest rain forest in Central America (La Mosquitia), and is largely inhabited by indigenous people. The forests have suffered, like much of the other rain forests, from slash and burn agriculture of encroaching farmers. It’s estimated that they’ve lost 40% of their forests since 1950.

    Further posts will follow regarding a foundations (Fundacion Ingwanka Raya) efforts to introduce sustainable development principles within La Mosquita, including eco-tourism.

  7. fsingcaster says:


    Good luck with your task! But jokes aside, I would like to raise the point that while your position is quite appreciated, it may not necessarily be bad to have secondary goals to aid too. Admitedly, not all such goals would necessarily be of relevant value, but all things equal, I think it would be difficult to fault the US for linking national security and aid goals together (on the other hand, the “progressive” concept may be harder to support, though without the details, I would only be speculating). Further, one problem with unfocused aid is that it becomes dispersed and loses value (witness Canada’s decision in the last year or two to allocated aid to a reduced number of countries but look for tangible results). From that perspective, donor countries need some mechanism to decide which countries remain on the list and which don’t – Foreign policy and politics can’t but be large parts of such decision processes (that’s just the way it is). Now, it may be that aid levels are too low indeed though rich countries have spent at least a trillion dollards (probably more) on aid since the 1960’s without much result; so, I’m not exactly surprised that they are not in any hurray to increase aid levels, even under the unbrella of SD. Also, as you said, least developed and developing countries have other concerns than SD right now, so aid money specifically allocated to SD may not work out well with the proposed recipients in any case, so this specific matter may be a non-issue. In the end, I think Robert hit the nail on the head with his reference to bright people – This is not an easy issue and likewise there are no easy solutions.

  8. jt00041 says:

    It is a fair statement to make that third world or developing countries are not in the position to embark on sustainable development programmes as the bread and butter will take priority in the minds of the people.

    However, I have read and noticed that NGOs and International Organisations are putting presure on MNCs operating in these developing countries to carry out their business in a socially and ethically responsible manner which will be a good starting point to create the public awareness of SD.

  9. saadabdalla says:


    i agree with your point about the pressure being applied on the MNCs to act in a proper SD manner. My beef with that is that the developing countries are not pressured them selves to act upon this! For example if the NGO tries to force a foreign company to be SD aware , but the developing country does not care ( they just want to get more business and money) the company will manage to slip through the cracks and there is no recourse to such actions.

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