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Environment for the people

Ashok Khosla
Few would now question the urgent need to introduce environmental considerations more systematically into the policy-
making process. The urgency follows from the self-evident fact that our planet with its rapidly growing population placing
ever increasing demands on its resources cannot continue to do so without grave peril to its future.

The erosion and depletion of many of our planet’s precious natural resources is ominous. This is especially true for the
poorer nations. For example, in any typical developing country, the available land per capita has decreased by one half
since 1950. During the same thirty year period, the cost of producing a kilogram of food grain has more than doubled.

Development that does not conserve over a sufficiently long period into the future the resource base on which it stands,
cannot be sustained - and herein must lie the central thrust of future policy-making and planning. While addressing the
issues of productivity, self-reliance, equity and other fundamental indices of development, development planning must
now incorporate, integrally, also the need for conserving resources.

But it is also becoming clear that further progress will require even broader commitment, not only at the policy and
programmatic level, but also at the operational level of the field worker, and perhaps most important, the individual
citizen. It can only be achieved if environmental concerns permeate the thinking of all those involved in promoting or
implementing the development process, from the national policy-maker to the peasant farmer.

And the solutions to one set of problems often create whole new sets of problems with their own costs and remedies.
Recent studies show that the disastrous resurgence of malaria over the past few years can be directly attributed to ever
increasing use of pesticides needed to maintaining the gains in agricultural productivity.

Much of the environmental degradation faced by Third World countries is caused by over-utilization of resources, but not
so much by wasteful practices as by the conduct of day-to-day activities necessary for survival and subsistence. There
exists common agreement that the solution to these environmental problems lies largely in rapid social and economic
development - as long as it is equitable and broad based development.

Government and international organizations have a role to play in designing and realizing such a development.
Governments must lay the legal and institutional foundations and provide the seed capital to enable development to take
place in an environmentally sound manner. International organizations can help sensitize governments to the actions
needed and to the approaches possible and techniques available. However, the magnitude and urgency of the task are
far beyond the capacity of any government or international body to deal with it, directly or fully. Responsibility and action
for improving their lives must ultimately rest with the people themselves.

Moreover, it is unlikely that without quite deep changes in the structure of society, environmentally sound (i.e. sustainable)
development can even take place. The exploitation of nature by man is simply the logical extension of the exploitation of
man (and woman) by man. Environmentally sound development requires, then, several preconditions: infrastructure,
capital, knowledge, systemic change - and its achievement necessarily becomes, as suggested above the responsibility of
those who need it the most: the people.

One of the preconditions, necessary although by no means by itself sufficient, is access by the people to the methods,
tools and products of modern science and technology. In spite of their successes in other spheres, however, the fruits of
science have yet to fulfil their two most tantalizing promises: of meeting the basic needs of the Third World poor and of
achieving a more rational and environmentally sound utilisation of natural resources.

New products and technologies, many with significant, positive social and environmental spin-offs, are now possible for
mass distribution as a result of the application of sophisticated scientific and technological knowledge, e.g. biogas,
windmills, solar devices, water pumps, bicycles carts, mudblock making machines, multifuel, multipurpose engines,
integrated village energy systems, food storage brins.