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The Future Lies Within Sustainable Development (part 1)

I recently completed a three month course called ‘The Age of Sustainable Development’ on Coursera with Jeffrey D. Sachs, a world-renowned economics professor, leader in sustainable development, senior UN advisor and bestselling author. During the course several topics that concern sustainable development were discussed. This article will focus on the four big topics within sustainable development: good governance, poverty, health and education which are.

Good Governance:

According to the United Nations, good governance has eight characteristics, it should be: participatory; equitable and inclusive; based on consensus; effective and efficient; accountable; transparent; responsive; and follow the rule of law. Governments in general should adhere to the principle of good governance, that is to say they should be more transparent, accountable and follow the rule of law.

But good governance also plays an important role for achieving sustainable development. It increases the level of trust and faith that people have in their government making them more likely to actively participate in the decision making process.


It is amazing to think that we live in a world of plenty where we have the capacity to produce enough food for everyone. But despite this, close to one billion people – that is one in seven – still suffer from hunger and extreme poverty. These people struggle daily for survival, and most of those that live in extreme poverty are in rural areas where they are unable to access basic needs such as, sanitation, health and education. Kostas Stamoulis, director of agricultural development economics for the UN, asserts that:

“Some 75 per cent of those going hungry are rural people who derive most of their living from agriculture. We have neglected agriculture for too long. For years, people felt the way out of economic difficulties was to industrialise, but that meant agriculture was neglected in terms of research and in terms of rural infrastructure … If we don’t do something now we’re going to face even more of these food security crises in the future. If you add in climate change and the fact that natural resources to produce food are declining, we’ll be in pretty bad shape.”

Geography of Poverty:

An interesting point in regards to the issue of poverty made by Sachs was that geography has a crucial role in shaping wealth and poverty. This is mainly because countries located near the coast have better access to the sea for trade purposes which landlocked countries don’t have. Having access to the sea, rivers and ports is vital for economic development, since the cost of trade done by sea is cheaper than trade done by land. It is also easier since countries don’t need to cross political borders. It may come as no surprise to know that Africa is the continent with the most landlocked countries.

Besides wealth, geography also affects the prevalence of disease. People that live in tropical and subtropical zones are those who are affected the most by infectious diseases. Poverty also contributes to the disease burden therefore creating a vicious cycle. Disease affects income, health, the ability to work and sets back children from schools. Investors are also less likely to invest in areas affected by disease. This stresses the importance of having a primary healthcare system in place to try and break this vicious cycle.

Agricultural productivity is also affected by geography as many crops depend on certain weather conditions. For example: “wheat, maize, and rice—wheat grows mainly in temperate climates, and maize and rice crops are generally more productive in temperate and subtropical climates than in tropical zones.”

Huge investments are needed to increase agricultural production and reduce the disease burden in poor countries.

Education and Health:

Economic growth depends on investments in infrastructure, machinery and people. Investing in early childhood development and primary education is crucial to give a person the best chances possible as it increases their human capital. Education increases a person’s social mobility as it helps develop their capability, potential and skills. Through education a person can have a productive life as a member of society.

The second Millennium Development goal ‘Achieve Universal Primary Education’ is close to achieving 100%. In 1990 the number of enrolments in primary education in developing countries had already reached 90%. A higher level of education is of crucial importance for economic development, solving problems within society, increasing human capital, and investment in technology and know-how.

In addition to education, having access to health is a basic need and right since 1978. It can also be classified as being a merit good as it should be universally accessible.

Millennium Development goals (MDG’s)  four, five and six stress the importance of health. Goal four involved reducing child mortality; goal five is focused on improving maternal health and goal six is dedicated to combatting aids, malaria and other diseases.

Everyone should have access to healthcare facilities, in many parts of the world we are still lacking in infrastructure and labor force. More investment is needed, as well as qualified health workers. An interesting example of what has been happening in rural Africa to improve access to healthcare is the use of community health workers (CHWs). These workers usually have a backpack supplied with a mobile phone, medicines, tests and vaccinations. Through the mobile phone there is a  link to: “the entire health system, including an expert automated system that informs the CHWs about drug doses, test results, and dates for repeat antenatal visits and vaccinations.”


Within sustainable development there are many aspects to consider, it involves taking a look at the economic, social, political, environmental and cultural dimension.

Helen Clark, the Chair of the United Nations Development Group, describes sustainable development as giving developing countries an opportunity to grow and maintain that growth.

“Sustainable development must be about enabling countries to accelerate and sustain that progress. It must be about establishing a trajectory of human development which allows all people to exercise their choices and meet their aspirations, both in this generation and those to come. It must also be about enabling the benefits of development to spread to those left behind in the progress made to date.”

We need to understand, respect and improve our world, thereby challenging our generation to change their attitudes. The future lies within sustainable development and only through multi-layered cooperation (people, firms, organizations and governments) will we be able to achieve this.

Cover image ‘Eradicating polio one case at a time’ by the Gates Foundation


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