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Concept of Sustainble Development sample essay

The tradition concept of development has for a considerable period of time been driven by economic considerations. Exploitation of natural resources which leads to environmental degradation motivated by targets of maximum profits has been the norm and little regard has been granted to the side effects of development initiatives. Gradual escalation of awareness and realisation of the range as well as the magnitude of environmental effects of development initiatives led to worldwide discussions on the way forward. Consequently, the concept sustainable development was conceived. However, this concept is perceived to be oxymoron by environmentalists, in other terms it is viewed as a combination of two contradicting terminologies. In view of the above, this essay endeavours to explain with relevant specific examples the reason why environmentalists consider the concept sustainable development as an oxymoron.

In order to establish a good argument, two literature definitions of sustainable development shall be given. This will be followed by an explanation why sustainable development is considered to be oxymoron and this shall be supported by examples. And only after then shall a conclusion be stressed. According to the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources (2007: V) sustainable development is defined as, “development that meets the needs and aspirations of the present generation without causing deterioration and without compromising the ability to meet the needs of future generations”. On the other hand Todaro and Smith (2003) asserted that sustainable development entails both intra-generational and inter-generational equity. These concepts project a requirement of the present generation to meet their needs and aspirations without destroying the ability of the future generations to come and meet their needs and aspirations. As earlier alluded to, the concept sustainable development is a mixture of two words with distinct opposing interpretations.

According to Arend and Eureta (2002) sustainability entails the maintenance of the extraordinary diversity of plants, animals and insects that exist on earth. The other term development is known as a multidimensional phenomenon which has several aspects namely; economic, social, political, cultural and environmental. It is imperative to acknowledge the fact that true development involves a record of progress in all the dimensions of the development process. Furthermore, it is also necessary to be cognisant of the point that the environment and global systems which includes development are a series of dynamic and interconnected processes changing and interacting overtime, (Todaro and smith, 2003). From the definitions provided above, it is apparent that the two expressions sustainability and development contradict each other. This is due to the point that sustainability emphasizes on maintaining diversity and productivity of natural resources overtime.

On the contrary, natural resources fuel the process of development; therefore, development cannot be a reality without consuming natural resources. The global community is hungry for development as a result people are constantly improving their livelihoods and welfare so as to attain higher standards of living through many innovations such as technology which in turn negatively impact on the environment. The question which maybe asked here is “what forms the basis of livelihoods?” (ECZ, 2008). According to ECZ (2000), the environment is the cornerstone of our livelihoods because biological resources are the primary sources of economic development thus development is all about consuming natural resources. Besides development, population dynamics also exert pressure on natural resources. With a clear reflection that development is all about the utilisation of natural resources, how then can sustainability be transformed into actuality?

This is the question asked by many environmental practioners. It is evident through many global development initiatives how planetary natural resources are being utilized in order to achieve desired development targets. The two terminologies sustainability and development can be compared to a saying that says “two cobras cannot stay in the same mountain one has to die or eventually leave the mountain”. Therefore, sustainability and development are two cobras staying in the same mountain. The implication according to environmentalists is that, if we are to achieve ultimate sustainability then development should be out of the picture, (Energy Regulation Board, 2007). In Zambia, development programmes are using environmental resources at an increasing rate. With a fast growing population, the drive to meet goals set out in national development strategies and in international conventions, most recently defined in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), has likewise accelerated. As an example to illustrate the contradiction between sustainability and development, urbanisation in Chipata district can be utilized.

As by definition, urbanisation may also mean development of land into residential, commercial and industrial properties. Urbanisation in Chipata has resulted in a number of negative environmental impacts which have adversely affected the diversity of biological resources. Consequential environmental effects include deforestation which has provoked excessive vegetative removal of tree cover along streams and on hills around Chipata town. Furthermore, land degradation due to urbanization is also prevalent in Chipata and this has led to soil erosion, sand and earth mining and degradation of catchment areas of Lunkhwakwa and Lutembwe rivers, (ECZ, 2008). Chipata district has over 56,000 hectors of land under protection and most areas are threatened by encroachment and deforestation due to urbanisation. Urbanisation in Chipata can be considered as progress from a developmental perspective because more houses, shops and industries have been erected and this has advanced people’s livelihoods in terms of increased housing facilities and employment opportunities.

However, this contradicts with sustainability because there has been excessive destruction of forests on the hills of Chipata which has resulted in extreme soil erosion down the slope, (ECZ, 2008). With reference to the economic dimension of the development process, the construction and expansion of mining as well as manufacturing industries can be perceived as progress. This is due to the fact that the existence of operational industries attracts various benefits to the local people. Firstly, job opportunities are created for the local and this helps them sustain their lives by acquiring wages at the end of each month. Salaries obtained by people from employment give them the ability to command their basic needs such as food, shelter and clothes, (MoFNP, 2006). The mining industry has played a pivotal role in the development of the country.

However, the availability of exposed, accessible and near surface mineral deposits are increasingly becoming scarce requiring more expensive equipment to locate deeper buried ore deposits. This has led to gigantic environmental degradation due to the use of heavy sophisticated earth moving machines. For instance, when Konkola copper Mines (KCM) took over from Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) on the copperbelt, Chingola and Chililabombwe in particular. After a while later, the production scale was upgraded and this created employment opportunities for over three thousand individuals who were unemployed, (MoFNP, 2006).

Other benefits included improved infrastructure such as roads and schools as well as better health services. According to economists and development planners this was considered as national development because the lives of people were improved. However, the view of economists and development planners contradict with that of environmentalists because an elevation in the production scale of any industry is problematic as far as environmental sustainability is concerned because of unsustainable production strategies that hamper a good quality of life, (ECZ, 2011).

According to ECZ (2008) mining activities especially large-scale open pit mining has negatively affected the environment resulting into environmental degradation. Among the prominent open pit mines are Nchanga, Kansanshi and Maamba collieries. Despite development enhanced by these mines, industrial operations of these sites have caused the contamination of terrestrial ecosystems mostly ascribed to dust fall-out and this has been a draw back as far as the maintenance of biological resources diversity and productivity are concerned. Kafue River on the copperbelt was polluted by Konkola copper Mines Plc due to toxic substances which were discharged into the water body. This occurrence negatively affected marine ecosystems which resulted in a depletion of certain species.

Water resources have been affected by climate change and other factors such as increase in population growth, industry and agriculture which are induced by development. Unfortunately, there has been no corresponding expansion of sewerage infrastructure and solid waste disposal facilities and most of them are in a poor state, despite the increasing rate of development and this actually curbs sustainability. However, it must be realized that only after the last tree has been cut, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught only then will it be discovered that money cannot be eaten, (ECZ, 2008). Human sustainability has also been affected due to the side effects of development which have made the environment unsafe to support a good quality of life.

The rate at which development is happening has put so much pressure on the environment and this has resulted into various environmental issues such as air pollution, water pollution, land pollution and ozone layer depletion among others. Environmentalists have identified that increasing industrial operations in Zambia have negatively influenced life expectancy and infant mortality rate. For example, adult survivorship levels have been declining in the last twenty years following rapid development trends. Life expectancy for females dropped from 46 years in 1980 to 44 years and 29 years in 2000. In the same category for males it was 44 years in 1980, 42 years in 1990 and 23 years in 2000. Diseases associated with environmental degradation include malaria, tuberculosis, asthma, bronchitis and dysentery among others and these so far have claimed quite a considerable number of lives, (MoFNP, 2006).

In conclusion, it can be said that development and sustainability are two ends of the same continuum. Whichever example of development one might think of such as industrialization and housing, they are unsustainable, unless that development is related to green technologies or meant to counter the adverse effectives of development. In the end, the solution is a compromise because people need sustainability but cannot progress without development, hence, sustainable development. We can have development as long as we put measures in place to minimise environment damage. These measures include environmental impact assessments, environmental audits and strategic environmental assessments among others, hereafter ensuring sustainability.


Arend. H and Eureta. J (2002). Environmental Encyclopaedia: South Africa: Eco-Logic Publication.

ECZ (2000). The State of the Environment in Zambia. Lusaka: Environmental Council of Zambia.

ECZ (2008). Zambia Environment Outlook Report 3. Lusaka: Environmental Council of Zambia.

ECZ (2011). The Enviroline; ECZ Magazine Issue No. 33, January-April 2011. Lusaka: Environmental Council of Zambia.
Energy Regulation Board, (2007). Energy Regulations Board: Energy Sector Report-2006. Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources (2007).
National Policy On The Environment. Lusaka: MTENR.

Ministry of Finance and National Planning (2006). Economic Report. Lusaka: Zambia.

Todaro M.P and Smith S.C (2003). Economic development.8th edition.New Delhi, Pearson Publication.

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