In the papers in the United States there has been little to read about the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Baseball, perhaps, has more to do with life than the earth. So don't ask me why the US won't sign the Kyoto convention or why so many other commitments are not met. President Bush preferred to take a vacation and sent Secretary of State Colin Powell. The most interesting thing the Beed read about that development was a small protest item in an East Coast newspaper. A number of Nepalis, however, did hobnob with the earthy glitterati, and we can only hope that they did an adequate job, filling in for those who should have been invited but weren't, and for those who were asked, but found other, more interesting places to go to.
That said, for Nepal, Johannesburg doesn't really mean much. Its predecessor did little for us than spur the proliferation of the NGO industry. Funds for the environment began to flow indiscriminately, and sustainable development became Nepal's mantra for economic nirvana. Ten years later, the buzzword has changed. As far as the Beed can tell, Rio + 10 is something like Beijing + 5-another junket for people to network and a chance for individual countries to muscle in on the meet's purported agenda.
The political, social and economic climate today is also vastly different from that a decade ago. In 1992, the political situation in most countries seemed to be stabilising. The break-up of the Soviet Union had created many more nations and in countries like Nepal, democracy was enjoying a resurgence. Economic reforms, mostly focusing on opening up economies and boosting the private sector, rode on the wave of political stability. There was great optimism on most fronts at this point, and the agenda of the Earth Summit was seen as something that could be accomplished, rather than as a hindrance. But the fall of the markets, the setting in of a kind of political rot, and the insidious spread of terrorism easily relegated environmental and sustainable development issues to the backburner.
Don't get the Beed wrong. There's no denying that Rio was good for Nepal in many ways, and having a plethora of environmental organisations means that green issues will remain in the spotlight. The flow of funds for community forest development and management made Nepali forest preservation efforts among the most successful in the past decade. The strengthening of local bodies in many villages rode on the success of the forest management committees. Perhaps if this success could have been expanded to other areas-such as real, honest-to-god decentralisation-then we could be unequivocally positive about the Earth Summit.
The challenge now is to redefine what sustainable development means and what its goals are in light of how the market economy has become a stronger force all over the world. How do we sustain markets in a way that their beneficial effects make a difference in the lives if the majority of people. The South-east Asian economic crisis raises a number of questions on using trade and investment for economic development. At the same time, the recovery of the Korean economy after the debacle points out many more underlying issues.
The way in which Nepal itself has come to this level of political instability and seen the erosion of governance forces us to examine the very fundamentals of sustainable development, as we have been talking about it so far. What are the priorities of a country like Nepal when it faces continuous crises and realises that sustainable development has become for it only a slogan. We are overwhelmed by any number of development concepts that make their way here from around the world. How do we sift through them, alter and synthesise them to find real solutions. What is the value of something like Jo'burg for us?
All that said, the core issue has not changed much from a decade ago: planning, talking, strategy meetings are all very fine. Now it's time to take action.