Unsustainable development can be hard to tell

A recent Fight Entropy post had me thinking – can you really tell unsustainable development when you see it? For that matter, can you even tell sustainable development when you see it? Questions that come to mind immediately – ‘where’ are you standing when you see it; ‘who’ are you, ‘what’ colour are your lenses and ‘when’ did you see it?

This is no excuse for unsustainable development – but a plea that knowing what it is can be pretty damn hard sometimes. Yes, one needs to spot early signs that things are not quite right – with our battery of M&E tools and evaluation techniques, we are probably in a better place than we ever were…

But it also comes down to this – at the micro-level, ‘development’ setting typically has ‘us’ – a bunch of (relatively) better-off folks – using aid and making value judgements for ‘them’, whose power to choose is limited. And labels such as sustainable or unsustainable are what we decide to attach on to each other’s projects and programmes (amongst ourselves) and sometimes on to ‘their’ traditional practices. We usually have a choice. Do they? 

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