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Chapter Three: Policy Responses - Global and regional synthesis

Social policies

Improving health, education and living conditions remains the top policy imperative for many countries. Such improvement is vital for ensuring the political stability and social sustainability needed to move toward greater economic and environmental sustainability.

Nevertheless, social policies have had an unequivocal impact on the environment in many countries. Programmes devised to fight poverty and especially extreme poverty have often ignored environmental policies. Many projects that damage the environment have been considered valuable because of the employment they generate. Some housing programmes have fuelled urban growth and discouraged better use of existing urban areas. The regulatory approach characteristic of environmental management in most countries is dissociated from social policies, which have often clashed with environmental management. Practices and regulatory measures that benefit the industrial sector have often ignored environmental deterioration and its impacts on the quality of life.

Population growth in many countries continues to exceed the growth of agricultural production and the resulting food deficit is aggravated by the scarcity of land and water resources. A lack of education is often associated with a lack of environmental awareness.

New policies and strategies for environmental and natural resources management for sustainable development are beginning to emerge, in line with the innovative approach of Agenda 21. Many countries have adopted policies to stabilize or moderate population growth rates. Greater equity, however, is needed in the distribution of the opportunities and benefits of national economic development and international aid programmes. At present, too few national or international aid programmes reach or benefit the poor majority.

The success of efforts directly targeted at poverty alleviation has varied. For example, direct support programmes to provide subsidized food have sometimes resulted in food deliveries going largely to the better-off in urban areas, and subsidized credit programmes have resulted in loans failing to reach the poor, being used for consumption, and often not being repaid.

Some governments have developed social policies that have emphasized the promotion of sustainable human settlements. The priority targets have been the basic needs of the rural population, especially shelter and safe drinking water, and human resource development, for example education and training.

Some of the key policy concerns and main objectives for a new agenda and strategy on equity-led growth for sustainable development are set out in the table. The matrix links the critical basic needs (water, food health, shelter and services, energy, education and income) with the overall and interrelated goals of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Developed in the context of Southern Africa, the matrix applies equally to much of the developing world. The social sustainability and equity issues are the new and crucial link between economic and environmental sustainability issues and objectives.

 Policy goals for achieving sustainable development
  economic sustainability social sustainability environmental sustainability
Water Ensure the adequate supply and efficient use of water for agricultural, industrial, urban and rural development Ensure adequate access of the poor majority to clean water for domestic use and small scale agriculture Ensure adequate protection of watersheds, aquifers and freshwater ecosystems and resources
Food Increase agricultural productivity and production for regional food security and export Improve productivity and profitability of small scale agriculture and ensure household food security Ensure sustainable use and conservation of land, forest, wildlife, fisheries and water resources
Health Increase productivity through preventative health care and improved health and safety at the work place Enforce air, water and noise standards for protecting human health and ensure basic health care for the poor majority Ensure adequate protection of biological resources, ecosystems and life support systems
Shelter and services Ensure the adequate supply and efficient use of resources for buildings and transportation systems Ensure adequate access to affordable housing, sanitation and transportation by the poor majority Ensure sustainable or optimum use of land, forest, energy and mineral resources
Energy Ensure the adequate supply and efficient use of energy for industrial development, transportation and household use Ensure adequate access to affordable energy by the poor majority, especially alternatives for fuelwood Reduce local, regional and global environment impacts of fossil fuels and expand the development and use of forest and other renewable alternatives
Education Ensure the availability of trained people for all key economic sectors Ensure adequate access for all to education for a healthy and productive life Integrate environment in public information and education programmes
Income Increase economic efficiency, growth and employment opportunities in the formal sector Support small scale enterprises and job creation for the poor majority in the informal sector Ensure sustainable use of natural resources needed for economic growth in the formal and informal sectors

Source: SADC 1996


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