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F&D 12/96 2-18 12/13/96 5:55 PM Page 3

Sustainable Development:
From Theory to Practice
I S M A I L S E R AG E L D I N

E VERYWHERE we look, achieving


sustainable development is moving
beyond rhetoric to action. Whether
it is removing subsidies that dam-
age the environment and cost the treasury
scarce funds or defining new indicators of
ro o t i n a growing number of countries
around the world. While many of these
principles—set priorities carefully, incorpo-
rate environmental concerns from the start,
concentrate on cost effectiveness, and take
advantage of “win-win” opportunities—
inequities in public spending on health and
education services.
Patricia Annez and Alfred Friendly
report o n t h e World Bank’s agenda for
action following the Habitat II conference.
By the start of the next century, eight of the
the direction and pace of environmental may now seem intuitive and straightfor- earth’s ten megacities will be in developing
change, opportunities are being seized in all ward, they stand in sharp contrast to the countries. Priority actions to address the
sectors to marry the forces of economic practice of environmental policymaking in problems of urban growth include reducing
growth with those that support the founda- industrial countries over the past three emissions of lead and particulates; provid-
tions of sustainable development—wise decades. While the new environmentalism ing basic services, including clean water
resource management, equitable distribu- gives strong emphasis to the careful analy- and sanitation, to slums; enabling private
tion of benefits, and reduction of negative sis of costs and benefits, it also recognizes sector participation in the provision of
effects on people and the environment from the vital importance of the political econ- these services; and making the finances of
the process of economic growth. omy of achieving sustainability. Smart gov- cities sustainable. Reform of urban govern-
T h e Worl d B a n k h a s b e e n a c t ively ernments seeking to make real progress on ment, including decentralized decision
exploring the link betw een what were once the environment will build constituencies making, is key to taking these steps toward
thought of as mutually exclusive goals: for chang e, involve local people, and invest sustainability, as is the enhancement of
rapid economic growth and an improved in partnerships. The World Bank is now opportunities for employment.
quality of the environment. We now have supporting environmental policy reform Finally, John Dixon and Kirk Hamilton
marshaled compelling evidence that a com- in almost seventy countries and has an suggest new answers to the question,
bination of sound policies, advance plan- active portfolio of environmental loans “Where is the wealth of nations?” Building
ning, and judicious investments can help us o f m ore than $11 billion.Underpinning on pioneering efforts, the results of which
meet both goals. In fact, the experience of this support are the principles of the new were published by the World Bank in 1995,
the past decade has clearly shown the posi- environmentalism. they estimate total wealth for over 100
tive synergies between growth and envi- Wendy Ayres and Alex McCalla present countries as the sum of human resources
ronmental improvement. some of the major themes from the Bank’s (including social capital), produced assets,
These themes are explored in the four Fourth Annual Environmentally Sus- and natural resources. The new estimates
papers that follow this introduction. tainable Development (ESD) Conference, differ to some extent from those published
Although the challenges are still daunt- “Rural Well-Being: From Vision to Action.” earlier, but the authors’ analysis still sug-
ing—over 800 million people worldwide are Globally, more than two billion people are gests that returns to human resources are
hungry because they cannot afford to buy at risk from nutrient deficiencies, and the dominant form o f wealth worldwide,
the food that they need, and inadequate another billion are actually harmed by cog- while natural resources are more than 10
water supply and sanitation services create nitive disabilities, blindness, or hunger. pe r c e n t o f wea l t h i n m o s t d eveloping
health problems for millions in the world’s Reducing poverty and hunger requires fos- regions. Particularly imp ortant is the find-
rapidly growing megacities—we are identi- tering rural development in general and ing that agricultural land constitutes more
fying cost-effective solutions to many of smallholder agriculture in particular. The than 80 percent of natural resou rce wealth
these problems and are beginning to policy program to achieve this includes in low-income countries. These results,
address the fundamental problems associ- adopting sound macroeconomic policies, while preliminary, suggest that renewing
ated with empowering the poorest (who are liberalizing external trade, investing in new emphasis on the sound management of
often located in rural areas) to lift them- technologies, increasing the efficiency of agricultural land and building human capi -
selves out of poverty. irrigation, improving the management of tal should be policy priorities for develop-
Andrew Steer identifies the principles of t h e rural resourc e b a s e , p roviding in- ing countries. F&D
the “new environmentalism” that is taking frastructure, and—above all—removing

Ismail Serageldin,
a national of Egypt, is the World Bank’s Vice President, Environmentally Sustainable Development.

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