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Sustainable development and the Millenium Development Goals:
The environment-poverty nexus in the Southern African context

Selim Jahan1

Posted with permission of the UNDP regional office, Pretoria
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In 2002, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), one of the critical issues at the centre of intense discussions was the linkage between sustainable development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with one crucial element in that linkage being the well-recognized environment-poverty nexus. The present paper starts by indicating the possible conceptual relationships between the two with implications for the achievement of the MDGs, but then carries it forward in the context of Southern African countries. In that contextualization, the paper highlights the structural and policy constraints in Southern Africa to sustainable development and the realization of MDGs and comes up with concrete policy options for simultaneously tackling the issue of human poverty and environmental degradation. It also revisits the implications of WSSD and the Water and sanitation, Energy, Health, Agriculture, and Biodiversity and ecosystem management (WEHAB) framework on the issue of sustainable development and the MDGs in the Southern African context.

It presents five specific conclusions. First, sustainable development reflects a broad-based concept, but MDGs, as time-bound quantitative goals, help concretising the notion in terms of operational clarity. Second, Southern African countries, with all their diversities, face some general structural and policy constraints towards the achievement of sustainable development and the MDGs. Third, policy options are available to reach a win-win situation where simultaneous achievements of environmental sustainability and human poverty reduction are possible. Fourth, MDGs and WEHAB, even though they have differences in terms of contexts and focus, can be mutually reinforcing with WEHAB providing a practical operational path towards realization of MDG aspirations. Fifth, the WSSD, with its plan for action and implementation plan, have significant implications for sustainable development and achievement of the MDGs in the Southern Africa sub-region.

  1. Senior Adviser, Employment for Poverty Reduction, Socio-economic Development Group (SDG), Bureau for Development Policy (BDP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), New York. The present paper has been prepared for a MDG Forum : Sustainable Development in Southern Africa: Mobilizing Partnerships and Capacity for Achieving MDGs to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, 2-4 July 2003. Parts of the current paper have drawn on a previous joint article done by Alvaro Umana and the present author, for which the latter is thankful to former. However, the usual personal responsibility and organizational disclaimer apply.

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