Monday, July 6, 2009

Promoting Sustainable Development

How should we Develop Human Resources and Institutions

Sustainable development is one of the existing mechanisms for channeling development assistance throughout the developing world. However, as a process, sustainable development can be applied to different socio-economic contexts, often as a tool to revitalize democratic governance and participation. In general, sustainable development can be defined as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Gro Harlem Brundtland (The Brundtland Report: Our Common Future, World Commission on Environment and Development)

Sustainable Development:
Generally sustainable development focuses on mainly the outcomes. This focus on Outcomes refers to focus on positive outcomes for communities relating to health, wellbeing, food security, education and skills, gender equality, empowerment, livelihoods and other aspects of the human life.
Sustainability - Support sustainable livelihoods and development within environmental limits, and without disadvantage to future generations or unacceptable degradation of a community’s supporting environment with the social justice which meet the needs of all, regardless of race, creed, nationality or gender.
The Nature and Process of Delivery of sustainability can be discussed as follows which are the mechanisms for human resource development and institutional capacity building thus contributing to wider picture of sustainable development.
Capability Building in People – It is not possible to achieve without engaging with and developing the skills, talents and knowledge of all sectors of society, including young people, women, end-users and providers.
Capability Building in Society - should support the development of local capability in governance, the skills base and in commerce.
Appropriate Standards and Resources – It should be designed, delivered and maintained using participatory approaches and appropriate standards. Where possible it should employ local labour, and make use of sustainable local resources.
Planning, Procurement and Delivery – This planning should be pro-active and support sustainable livelihoods and should be delivered using appropriate partnerships and appropriate contracts, with inbuilt pro-poor and social goals.

Over the last decade or so there has been increasing public, professional and political interest in international development and poverty reduction, fuelled by the Rio and Johannesburg Sustainable Development. The establishment of the Millennium Project, which set out the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as measures which progress in development could be made. Alongside the growth in public concern and interest, many actors had a wish to contribute something of value to the development process. It is not necessary to say that the nucleus of the sustainable development is people. Hence it becomes necessary for ever than before to focus not only on the development of human resources but on the institutions where there is reliable system in place for self sustained in the community it self.

For example: Any demand-driven/community-defined project that meets certain set of community needs some times refers to Micro-Projects. This expresses the demand of the majority of community members while ensuring representation of a cross-section of the population including all ages, social/economic status, and gender. The project must be considered as a priority by the community and must include a large number of beneficiaries/participants. Through full participation and priorities defined by the communities sustainability will be ensured. Hence, as a guide for successful projects, a good Micro-Project must: Have a Large Base of Beneficiaries; Be Participatory; Be Sustainable; Be Affordable and Realistic; Have a Maintenance Plan; Incorporate Accountability; and be Cost Effective.

These all issues address the need of the skilled and unskilled labour force development, transforming the full authority to the community ensuring that the initiatives of the communities are sustainable.

Civil society Participation

There is no doubt that civil society participatory approaches to sustainable development over the past years has effectively demonstrated the capacity of the community to participate actively in their own development initiatives in south asian countries particularly in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India where the traditional values are given priority as opposed to the western development concepts. As for example in Sri Lanka, this has already been applied in several community development works and even though it has some setbacks, the impact evaluations showed that it was almost positive due to the fact that human suffering owing to the conflict brought more stress on people which resulted in setbacks in the development. So drawing from these experiences, several possible alternative mechanisms can be suggested to work this out effectively in terms of human development.

It also has become important than ever that the local people should be empowered in order to manage and sustain their development activities. This outlines the need of using the participatory, enabling ways of working that strengthen people’s resilience, self-reliance and self-determination so that people should feel that the activities around them are part and parcel of their life. The initiatives have already been launched in Sri Lanka which challenged the development workers because of the lack of understanding about the strengths within the community. This demonstrated the need to mobilize and capacitate the community to sustain its future.

Considering Sri Lanka as a developing country in Asia and Pacific region, its rural communities make up 70 per cent of the country's population. Several organizations working to demonstrate sustainable micro level interventions in these rural communities. But in these work lot of challenges are being faced by the development agencies and worker as more focus is given in working in a relief oriented context. So there is a strong need has been realized over the past few years that working in partnership with the community based organizations concentrated on building the capacity of field level workers, training on and disseminating information based on our past experiences.

“Fostering sustainable development can be seen as a way of improving the social, economic and cultural well being of people living in our region”

Human resource development will establish a basis for designing new policies and starting new practices that will improve the efforts toward sustainable development. Twinning the scientific analysis with the local community knowledge will bring the fuller understanding of the system in which people live and work and this enhances the power of decision making. In this way the people feel the ownership and high value on their contribution to move the development activities sustainably.

Hence for example “Principles of Engineering for Development and Poverty Reduction“was launched in February 2005 by “Engineers without Frontiers” focussed on: Positive and sustainable outcomes, Nature and process of delivery, Funding, value and context. The following are established under the nature and process of delivery.

Develop the talents and knowledge of all – including young people, women, end-users and providers
Support development of local capacity in governance, skills, and local business
Employing where possible local labour, materials resources and methods
Should use appropriate partnerships and contracts and with in-built, social goals to alleviate poverty

Considering the above underlying principles, it is obvious that to achieve the positive and sustainable outcomes, the recognition of the capacity of the community including the youth, women and the human resource development aspects are top priorities on the list.
People with a job to do cannot do that job to satisfaction unless they have the right skills and tools. In today’s world of change – changes in the environment in which we live, changes in family life and community structure, changes in the economy and business world, changes in the government and policies – it is hard to keep up with the skills and tools needed to make a decent living and to live in harmony with our neighbours and our surroundings.

Hence one of the main thematic areas in promoting the sustainable development is to develop the human resources and institutions by means of helping governments and people in Asia and pacific gain the skills and tools they need to live and work sustainably in these region of the world. This involves many different things in the context of the Asian region. This equips national governments to govern with the interests of the people in mind, to share management with local communities, and to recognize the great variety of cultural traditions.

It informs the people about the social, political, cultural and economic events taking place around the world and shows how these events affect us and vice versa.

Developing human resources and institutions (Rather it can collectively be called as “capacity building”) places a high value on information which include gathering, interpreting and sharing it with the right users and finally turning it into action towards positive changes. Turning knowledge into action often requires new ways of thinking and doing things. The first step of any action towards a positive sustainable change is the need of reliable information. In order to make the reliable information available for further action, new skills are needed in several areas as described above such as collection, organization, and storage of information, analysis, assessment, research, and technology.

These areas can be further looked into the following three main thematic areas with regard to human resource and institutional development. They are;

New communication skills - getting information our in an understandable way.
New organizational, management and operational methods – To recognize and take full benefit of the community partnership as opposed to the top – down approach.
New methods of education and training – helping to bring up people and organizations to speed on the skills needed to operate sustainably.

In Asia- Pacific region the human resource and institutional development can be discussed in the following specific categories and some recommendation can be drawn.

1. Strengthening Primary and Secondary Education

With regard to primary and secondary education provide the basic skills of literacy, numeracy, communication and problem solving skills and develop the required attitudes which are necessary for the work. Strengthening primary and secondary education is a main challenge in human resource development in the developing countries of Asia and the Pacific.1Furthermore greater efforts should be made to improve the quality of relevance in secondary education. This already has been launched in Sri Lanka. However there is a need to improve the relationship between the academic and the real work as opposed to be too ideal which mainly focus on the hi technology. In fact, Technology has a role to play, but it needs to be used intelligently. New forms of water resource management technique and the land use planning for example need to be explained simply i.e. to be transformed which can be understood by the community itself. This gap is identified and addressed by the community development practitioners. Hence the efforts need to be taken sooner rather later and dialog should be stirred up between these two poles which possibly have a greater chance for better understanding to work together towards the unique goal in sustainable development.

The school curriculum should be revised to ensure that it not only caters for the academically less inclined but also prepares them for the world of work. It is absolutely pointless in addressing the issues which are not a need of the community and priorities identified (i.e. rather than an urgent need to be addressed, Here we try to define the priority as a solution to the root causes of the problems) within those needs.

2. Expanding and improving the existing work force in the country

Training in the development sector should be linked to its strategic plan and be based on a training needs analysis of that sector. Hence practitioners have good understanding about the changes in the environment, new policy developments and other creative initiatives result in improvement in their competencies. However the challenge particularly in Asian countries is to change in the attitudes of worker who may resist to change due to several reasons including the own policy, biasness in several issues in certain context (Conflict, Party politics).

So the programs are needed to be developed to build the confidence and to recognize the problems associated with them.

3. Research and Development

Decentralizing the research initiatives in different sectors and linking the gaps between research findings and real ground problems. This should be rectified by means of providing good guidance to the researchers in appropriate ways rather for the purpose of the self gain and performance with failing to address the real issues and solutions.

Therefore the need comes up with promoting the good practices and establishing strategies for proper monitoring and follow up actions to direct in a sustainable manner.

In brief, human resource and institutional development is to make sure that the individuals, communities, institutions, government and other stakeholders have the information, knowledge, skills and attitudes they needed to solve today’s problems, to build up on what they have further (By inquiring the strengths and appreciate to build on top of them) and to adapt to change in a way that leads to sustainable development results in healthy future generation.

Thus the human resources and institutional development contributes widely to sustainable development significantly rather directly. Hence focusing on the production capability has become more important than emphasizing on the ultimate production (In sustainable development terms production capability is more relevant which yields sustainable outcomes as opposed to ultimate products which may not be sustainable even though it is important in any action) which is the basic idea behind the sustainable development than ever before.

"When planning for one year, there's nothing better than planting grain, When planning for ten years, there's nothing better than planting trees, When planning for a lifetime, there's nothing better than planting men". The Chinese philosopher, Guanzi (551 - 479 BC)

1. Human Resource Development in Asia and The Pacific In the 21st Century - Issues and challenges for Employers and their organisations, 1996, Paper presented at the ILO Workshop on Employers' Organizations in Asia-Pacific in the Twenty-First Century Turin, Italy, 5-13 May 1997.
2. Capacity building overview of the arctic council, Arctic council Sustainable Development working group.
3. Principles of Engineering for Development and Poverty Reduction, Engineers without Frontiers, February 2005.
4. Millennium Development Goals, New York; United Nations, 2000.
5. Poverty Reduction Partnership Agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Asian Development Bank.
6. Community Participatory Approaches – Tools and Techniques, RedR Training materials, (unpublished), 2006.
7. Sustaining the future – Engineering civilization from the shadows, Professor Paul W Jowitt, Brunel lecturer, ICE, 2006.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Promoting good practices in disaster response – Rights based engineering

The sphere project
Humanitarian charter and minimum standards in disaster response

Eng Aslam Saja
(Published in ENSL, 2007)

We all might wonder what does “Sphere” mean? Is there anything in Sphere to do with engineering? It says “Humanitarian Charter”. So it might not be related to engineering at all. It must be referred by the people like Lawyers or other people who deal with legal issues. It talks about the rights of the people. So as engineers, who supposed to talk about technical standards, design and so on, how this engineering is linked with rights of the people or similar legal issues in disaster response? There may be several unanswered questions like this among the engineering community who are outside the humanitarian arena, sometimes within itself also.

Disasters are not mutually exclusive aspects to the engineering community. It does spread out in all sectors of engineering whether it to be civil, communication, chemical or electrical. This is because of the reason that the definition of the term “disaster management”. It is not also restricted to its so called different phases which are preparedness, mitigation or prevention and spin around in the post disaster phase starting from relief, rescue and immediate response to medium and long term interventions of rehabilitation, reconstruction and development. If we carefully notice the link between these phases of disasters and the whole life cycle of human being, there is hardly any void area in between. Similarly if engineering is seen in relation to the life cycle of human being or with the phases of disasters, anyone can simply recognise the fact that these all are simply strongly linked one or the other cannot be seen in isolation. Because of this, it is being attempted here to raise the awareness of engineers in the right based approach in whole development cycle particularly through this article in the disaster response sector.

Now we will look at the birth of “Sphere”? This is not a new term for most of us as we are curious in maths. But this is Sphere project. This is right based in legal terms. It advocates for the right to life with dignity of the disaster affected people whom with some of our engineering colleagues working with (Whoever works in the post disaster phase, but not limited to). However Sphere talks on immediate post phase of emergency though it can also easily linked with the preparedness phase of disaster. What does it contain?

The corner stone of this project is the humanitarian charter. This humanitarian charter is based on international legal laws such as International humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law. Three basic principles have derived from these three laws are “the right to life with dignity”, “distinction between combatants and non – combatants” and “non – forced return”.

These are more in legal term which we as engineers are not much familiar with. However it is important for all relief workers to understand this. We know our engineering colleagues are permanently or temporarily working in this sector. Whenever disaster hits in the island, we rush to the field as volunteers, well wishers and play different roles besides engineering. Hence knowing to work with disaster affected community doing no harm in our approach should be clearly internalised.

Roaming back to the sphere project, it has technical chapters which we as engineers deal with. Out of four technical chapters, two sectors on WAter, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and shelter and site planning are directly relevant to the engineering. However it also talks about the minimum standards common to all sectors in the first chapter. Engineers have a greater role to play in times of disasters as it spreads around different dimension of the human life. It does relate to daily routine of the community.

As we all agree without any disagreement that the engineering plays a major role in all most all the phases of disaster management from the emergency preparedness to post disaster community development. So what can be done to engineer the good practices in what we do as we are professional community of engineers? In the context of the conflict, humanity faces big crisis or great challenges in one hand, on climate change which can trigger out the natural disasters and poverty reduction on the other hand, to vision for the first target for the millennium development goal.

Water, sanitation, hygiene, shelter and settlement are of utmost important sectors to be prioritised in disaster preparedness and response. In this regard Sphere plays a major role in the above mentioned sectors where engineering is the key. As far as engineering is concerned, there is a need to focus on the good practices as it directly relate to the needs of the communities. Sphere talks about the right based approach where every emergency/relief worker should be able to relate their work with the rights of the every human being at risk or any one who is affected by any disaster or whom life is threatened.

Sphere is structured in such a way that every can easily ensure and related the rights of the community with the real need of the disaster affected community or the community which is threatened by any means. It has minimum standards which need to be met (It is applicable globally which is a basic human need in times of disaster to be met), key indicators which ensures that the corresponding minimum standards are met and guidance notes which will help to apply these standards in different contexts with flexibilities.

Let take an example from civil engineer. As a civil engineer who works in water and sanitation sector in disaster response with a disaster affected community should be able to understand basic requirements to be met for a better dignified life of the community. Some of us might have heard about public health engineering which most of the time handled by a civil engineer in this sector. So it is public health related which we may think a medical officer should need to deal with. But it is not so. It is a group of multi disciplinary team effort. So these all different sectors can not be seen in isolation in the community development perspective where all these impacts of the engineering fall in. But no can argue against this different division or sector based approach as it is simply because of the reason for understanding, easy management and for other acceptable reasons to overcome several difficulties in reality. Therefore, discussions should be triggered out to probe among the engineering community to promote the good practices in our working area as it is more than the positive attitude in the management terms that we usually expect from an engineer.

Those who are interested in sphere, can visit, and for further discussion points on this topic can be emailed to

Community Development and Engineering Interventions

Community Development and Engineering Interventions
Eng Aslam Saja
(Published in Engineering News Sri Lanka (ENSL), 2007)

This article starts with an attempt to search the answer for the more trivial question in mind which is posed among the community development practitioners. “Where the professional expertise is needed?”

In search of answering this question, it is necessary to think outside the box and to work with others, with other professionals and with skilled, non – professionals, to make effective use of their existing skills, knowledge and attitudes in the community development. In addition, new skills are needed to work with the very poor communities where the major attention is given in the development sector.

Hence it becomes an increased importance to identify the gaps and to develop an effective framework for bridging the gaps in order to devise the possible mechanisms to address the issues and thus working to achieve the common goal which ultimately benefits the community as whole.

So as we are a community of engineers who play a major role in the development sector need to recognise this fact and need to think about launching the new initiatives which will result in a better system than for ever in the development.

In fact, Technology has a role to play, but it needs to be used intelligently. New forms of water resource management technique and the land use planning for example need to be explained simply i.e. to be transformed which can be understood by the community itself.

It is absolutely pointless in addressing the issues which are not a need of the community and priorities identified (i.e. rather than a urgent need to be addressed, Here we try to define the priority as a solution to the root causes of the problems) within those needs.

For example, to analyse this issue cause – effect and means – ends diagrams can be used which is shown below.

Problem Tree Objective Tree

Effects -------------------- Ends

Problem Objective

Causes Means
Many people like politicians and other representatives of the community including the engineers, evaluate the success of the programmes by the physical construction. When they visit the community sites of a programme, they want to see the facilities and infrastructures. There is no doubt that we need all these, but we fail to understand that these are means of the community empowerment for the causes identified individually, but they are not ends unless this contribute to the whole system of the healthy community which may be directly alleviate the effects of the causes or indirectly contributing to solve the main problems in the community.

No matter whether we have a good sophisticated physical system, but we need to make sure that the community will ultimately benefits from that. In order to achieve this it is also necessary to focus on empowering the people not just only developing the hardware. This is where the sustainable development is being spoken by the community development practitioners. But as most of the engineers are involved in the development sector in our nation and being the nation as a developing country, we should be ready to learn and promote good practices not only in physical development but in the whole community development. (i.e. Not only focusing hardware development but integrating it with the main focus on the self reliance and sustainable community development). We also need to note that the term community development should not be seen as social, economical and political empowerment. But it includes technology, shared values, beliefs and ideas.

One of the slogans as it is being used in management training is, “If you do not know where you are going, then any road will do” (Training handout “Knowing your goals” – Dr. Phil Bartle). This can be applied here as well. It is easy to run around, looking busy, arranging meetings, getting buildings and latrines constructed, talking to community leaders (Even in most of the development projects, this is rare), moving advocacy groups, without moving forward in accomplishing genuine community targets and strengthening it on its own foundation.

So again with the focus on engineers in development projects, we need to expand our horizons and ready to listen and learn from the community and be able to transform our technical, analytical and managerial expertise in solving the real community problems. There is need of paradigm shift in relation to development which linked with the engineering also in our nation. As we have creative and innovative young generation of engineers within our nation, it can be anticipated that these will be addressed and appropriate mechanisms and techniques will be explored.

Finally, it is also expected that these series of articles will help at least to initiate the dialog among us and stir up the ideas among the engineers not only in the development sector, but in all other sectors.


Eng. Aslam Saja (Published in Engineering News Sri Lanka (ENSL), 2006)

Engineering has a vital role in addressing the challenges arising time to time all over the world. It intersects almost every aspect of the lives of people in every nook and corner of the world.

As far as engineers and professionals (other professionals within the engineering sectors) working in the humanitarian sector are concerned, despite the fact that they require a global perspective in their work it is also necessary to give emphasize in the local context. This is becoming an increased importance in this country especially for engineers working with international and national humanitarian organizations and development agencies.

So this article attempts to address some of the good practices that we as a community of engineers of this nation should practice in development activities in Sri Lanka. Some of the keys to ensure better social, ethical and environmental performance within the humanitarian sector as engineers can be put in the following points.

Encouraging open discussions and analysis of development activities and the role technology and engineering play in it.
Building transparency and accountability mechanisms into planning.
Building local capacity and focus on requirements during design and planning which will lead to sustainability of works.
Placing engineering within local context and knowledge to ensure appropriate and sustainable design.
Promoting empowerment and participation in decision making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation processes especially of the vulnerable and end user in the communities.
Building cross sector relationships and dialogue to exchange ideas in order to work effectively.
Seeking alignment between the development partners and wider development programs with a focus on sustainable livelihoods and access to essential services.

Hence in order to face the overall challenges linked up with engineering it has been realized that the development of the required skills, knowledge and attitudes amongst engineering professionals in order to address them are of utmost important.

Solving the problems primarily linked up with the society requires engineers to work in partnership with other interconnected disciplines to ensure that key decision makers take a view of sustainability issues and enable sustainable solutions.

It is important to consider what all these challenges mean for those engaged in developing the skills and competencies of engineers.

There is above all a need to make connections to people’s everyday lives, to demonstrate that learning and understanding about the societies and the challenging issues of our time are essential components of learning for life in this part of the world.
The goals are benchmarks for progress towards a vision of development, peace and human rights, guided by the values of freedom, equity, justice, tolerance, respect for nature and solidarity. These can also be achieved through promoting a culture of learning and understanding the context clearly where they are applied. This could be the correct time to address these issues, since lots of development initiatives are being launched by several organizations in all parts of the island after the 26th December tsunami.

All in all the essential skills for all (emphasizing here for engineers) in this new era are much open to flexibility, ability to learn, transfer learning into new contexts and practicing and reinforcing them in community development.

Apart from these intercultural understanding , ability to understand others, respecting others views and engage with the every changing economic and social challenges in this country are of more concerns to young generation of engineers.

1. Development Education Journal, October 2005.
2. Skills and Learning for a Global Society – the challenges for the Engineer, Douglas Bourn, May 2005.