Saturday, 5 April 2014


The Social Dimension of Sustainable Development

There are many organizations involved in international community development.  When examining the organizations that have been successful at effecting positive change in developing countries, one theme has stood out - the relationship between sustainability and empowerment.  Issues in these countries are severe and multifaceted; however, most seem to stem from an imbalance of power causing a lack of basic human rights. Living in a safe and prosperous country like Canada, it can be difficult to understand the incredible lack of resources, justice, education and choice that many people face around the world.  Looking at human need on a global level can seem overwhelming and impossible to affect change. I always had a sense of uneasy guilt when thinking about the struggles that people are facing in many countries. Although the seriousness and vastness of this topic made me feel uncomfortable, I felt that it was my duty as a global citizen to become more aware of these issues and so I enrolled in an international community development course.  

When I finally began to explore this complex world I was surprised to discover that there are many ways to affect positive change and make a difference in the lives of those who are suffering. I realized that donating money to alleviate guilt around my comfortable existence only helps when all of the factors contributing to the issues are being addressed. I also learned that relief efforts to assist impoverished communities must be developed with local resident input to be sustainable. The knowledge that I have gained through my journey into international community development has changed the way that I view global issues and I know now that I can make a difference.  I have begun to implement small steps that will affect positive change, such as adjusting my consumer habits. I strongly encourage everyone to learn about how the struggles and successes in international development are affecting people around the world. A severe lack of human rights is happening whether we choose to hear about it or not, but even small steps taken by a few individuals can improve the lives of many.

Solving complex issues requires complex plans and there are organizations that are doing just that. International organizations that are successful at improving the basic human rights that many North American’s take for granted are implementing programs in underdeveloped areas that take social, economic and environmental factors into consideration. Sustainable practices include improving access to clean water, sanitation and education, developing agriculture and income generating practices and addressing structural inequalities.  The key to ensuring that these practices are sustainable is local resident input, as the ability to make decisions about the practices being implemented empowers residents to affect positive change for themselves, their family and their community.

This month’s edition of The Voice will take a look at some current areas of need and how the social aspect of sustainable development has been initiating real change, especially for the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalized populations around the world.

Canadian Foodgrains Bank

Even with a surplus of food in many countries, millions of people around the world, especially in developing countries, are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. The Voice believes that we must get the message out that if food was distributed evenly around the world there would be enough to feed everyone!

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) lists malnutrition as the world’s number one health risk (“hunger”, 2014).  There are 7.1 billion people in the world and one out of eight, almost 870 million people, were suffering from chronic malnutrition in 2012 (“hunger”, 2014). 852 million of those suffering live in developing countries, which highlights the tremedous amount of people that uneven food distribution is affecting (“hunger”, 2014). When people are malnourished their physical and mental capabilities are greatly diminished and they cannot sustain the effort needed to acquire food or concentrate to learn. In addition, they face huge increases in disease because of compromised immune systems due to prolonged periods without adequate nutrition (“hunger”, 2014). Mothers and children often fare the worst in hunger stricken areas as children do not grow cognitively or physically without adequate nutrition (“who are the hungry”, n.d.). Unhealthy mothers give birth to small, unhealthy children who have even less of chance for success in any area….and so the cycle continues.

The Canadian Foodgrains Bank is an organization of 32 different faith denominations that are working together to address this serious global issue (“recipe”, 2012). Canadian Foodgrains Bank provides communities with sustainable ways to end hunger by empowering local residents through assistance with immediate food needs and then improving food security in a way that allows the community to generate their own sustainable practices (“what we do”, 2014). "In 2012/13, Canadian Foodgrains Bank approved over $43 million in funding for 122 projects in 37 different countries. Over 40,000 tons of food and seed were provided and 2.1 million people benefited from these programs" (“international programs”, 2014). Canadian Foodgrains Bank demonstrates the benefit of faith communities looking beyond their differences and joining together to end world hunger

A Public Service Poster demonstrating this united approach to sustainable development is available through the title link. There is also a map from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank that provides a visual representation of their projects around the world available through the "different countries link". 

Canadian Foodgrains Bank. (2014). International Programs. Retrieved from

Canadian Foodgrains Bank. (2012). Recipe for Ending Global Hunger Campaign Launched. Retrieved from

Canadian Foodgrains Bank. (2014). What we do. Retrieved from

World Food Programme. (2014). Hunger. Retrieved from

World Food Programme. (n.d.). Who are the hungry?. Retrieved from

Feature Article

Fossil Fuel Futility

The goal of sustainable development is to meet current human needs while ensuring the sustainability of natural systems and the environment for future generations (Government of Canada, 2013). The creation of sustainable communities only happens when the economy, society and environment are considered collectively and recognized as being intricately intertwined (Sustainable Measures, 2010).

The largest global non-sustainable practice in our word today is the production and use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels include coal, oil (gasoline and diesel), and natural gas and are used by industries, vehicles, heating and cooling systems, and electricity (British Columbia, n.d.). Continued fossil fuel use is an example of how social, economic and environmental factors contribute to unhealthy development practices, and steps to reduce consumption must be considered with all three of these factors in mind. The damaging results of fossil fuel production and use are well documented. According to the Ecology Global Network (2011), fossil fuel use is the number one contributor to global warming and air pollution (para. 9). As of 2011, 93% of the worlds energy needs were being met by fossil fuels (para, 5). In the United States 93% of the energy needed for electricity is obtained through burning coal, which results in “40% of pollution causing CO2 emissions to come from electricity production” (Planet Save, 2014, para. 2). The negative impacts of fossil fuel production and use are already extensive, ranging from destroyed ecosystems, melting ice fields and changes in sea level to decreased health for people and plants due to air pollution (Ecology Global Network, 2011).

So what is maintaining fossil fuel production and use? The people who are using fossil fuels. The continual global increase in population and material needs leads to an ever increasing demand for fossil fuels for transportation, manufacturing and amenities. Reducing current fossil fuel production and use is only going to happen if the consumers of this energy source change their consumption levels. As of today the conveniences offered by fossil fuels seems to outweigh the negative environmental impacts for many people. There are some activists and concerned groups forming organizations that attempt to deter multi- billion dollar fossil fuel producing companies such as Shell, BP, and Exxon from doing business. However, consumers are speaking louder than these organizations and the message is clear…keep producing. Activist groups may find that they achieve better results redirecting their resources towards making sustainable energy sources more feasible and/or educating the public about how important sustainable sources are, thereby empowering consumers to make individual decisions about energy use that can affect change on a global level. Educating community members on the importance of increasing alternate energy sources, and decreasing fossil fuel use such as the use of solar panels, buying locally from sustainably sourced materials and decreasing individual transit needs are all good examples of sustainable practices. For example, if I million Canadians worked from home for just one day every year we could eliminate about 250 million kilograms of emissions and 100 million litres of fuel (Parliament of Canada, 2010).

So what are the alternatives to fossil fuels and why don’t we use them? Although no energy source is without impact, some alternate options are sun, wind, water, bioenergy and nuclear power (Ecology Global Network, 2011, para. 17). Although the Ecology Global Network (2011) states that developing these options is a growing practice, the biggest reasons for alternate energy sources current small contribution towards global energy use is cost, demand and availability. Consumption of energy has continued to rise steadily since the Industrialization Era due to the convenience that it has provided society. The comfortable lifestyle offered to people through the use of fossil fuels as an energy source may account for the seeming lack of interest in developing alternate energy sources over the years. With the recent increases in technology, individuals are becoming more aware of the damaging environmental effects of fossil fuel production and use and are starting to look for more sustainable practices, albeit slowly.

For example, solar energy technology is ready for mainstream commercial and home use; however, the cost of solar energy is prohibitive for most community members (Ecology Global Network, 2011, para. 20). Although not without some environmental effects, wind and hydroelectric power are another sustainable energy option and can be used to produce much of a community’s electrical needs. (Energy Resource Center, 2011). Bioenergy is also a rising contender for a sustainable energy source. Bioenergy is derived from agriculture products and forestry or livestock waste and is now being used in small amounts for fuel (British Columbia, n.d.). Another powerful, sustainable and controversial energy source is nuclear power. Many countries, including Canada which currently sources 15% of its electricity from nuclear power, were planning to expand their nuclear capacity, but due to the volatility of this energy source, have put these plans on hold (World Nuclear Association, 2013).

Although no energy source is 100% renewable and non-polluting, increasing diversity in available energy sources would decrease the large negative impacts from the use of one primary source. With increased consumer interest and demand, alternate energy sources can contribute to sustainable development. Progress can be slow when structural changes are required; however, consumer decision making and community pressure on world leaders to develop policies requiring the use of sustainable energy sources may result in slowing fossil fuel production on a global level.

British Columbia. (n.d.) Fossil Fuels and Energy Use. Retrieved from

Ecology Global Network. (2011). Fossil Fuels vs. Renewable Energy Resources. Retrieved from

Energy Resource Center. (2010). Hydroelectricity. Retrieved from

Government of Canada. (2013). Environment Canada. Retrieved from

Parliament of Canada. (2010). House of Commons Debates Number 103: Work from Home Day. Retrieved from

Planet Save. (2014). Global Warming Effects and Causes: A Top 10 List. Retrieved from

Sustainable Measures. (2010). Introduction to Sustainable Development. Retrieved from

World Nuclear Association. (2013). Nuclear Power in Canada. Retrieved from

Out-of-School Children

61 million primary age children and 121 million all aged children throughout the world were out-of-school as of 2010 (UNESCO, 2012; Shah, 2013). This is a large global problem as these millions of children end up on the outskirts of society, with few skills and options available to them. Without an education, children are unable to participate fully and meaningfully in the development of their communities, thereby decreasing their chance of a successful future. In addition to the high numbers of out-of-school children, another concern is that some children emerging from school programs are still without basic literacy (UNICEF, 2013). Access to quality education needs to be a top priority in international development planning in order to empower children to affect positive change in their communities and ultimately their countries and our global future.

One of the millennium goals set in 2000 by the United Nations is universal primary education by 2015. There have been great gains made in this area, with enrollment of primary aged children up 8% since 1999 (United Nations, 2013).  However, these gains are slowing and the latest evidence shows that the numbers out-of-school children have remained virtually the same between 2008 and 2010 (UNESCO, 2012).

Education is one of the fundamental factors in the relationship between sustainability and empowerment. No country can achieve sustainable development without investment into the education of their children and continued attention in this area is essential to the future success of our world.

The interactive world map available through the top link provides statistics and shows the connection between geographical location and out-of school children for various world regions. Providing pictures of children who live in those locations will hopefully highlight that behind each one of these statistics is a real child.

Shah, A. (2013). Global Issues: Poverty Facts and Stats. Retrieved April 3, 2014, from

The World Bank. (n.d.) Data. Retrieved from

UNESCO. (2012). Reaching out-of-school children is crucial for development: UIS fact sheet. Retrieved from

UNICEF. (2013). A regional analysis of the situation of out of school children in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.  Retrieved from

United Nations. (2013). Millennium goals 2013 fact sheet. Retrieved from

Hear Africa

Gillian Marshall was born and raised in Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe. Her family was part of the European elite that colonized Rhodesia after the second World War. Colonizers brought with them high-level occupations, technology and trades and many took over land and agricultural practices from the aboriginals. Shortly after, Rhodesia became a profitable, self-sufficient country under the governance of Ian Smith. Some aboriginals remained within their own groups, but many ended up providing services to white people. Even though there was little choice given to the aboriginal community about these changes, Ms. Marshall’s memory of this time was a land of plenty where aboriginals and newcomers were amicable. Apparently some aboriginal groups did not share Ms. Marshall’s views and amicability vanished shortly after Robert Mugabe came into power in 1980, changed Rhodesia to Zimbabwe and encouraged black aboriginals to reclaim the land that had been taken over by white farmers. By 1989, the violence had escalated to the point that Ms. Marshall was forced to leave her house, land and belongings behind and flee to Canada with her husband and children. Zimbabwe had become short on food, gas and supplies, a dangerous place for white people and not much better for many of the aboriginal population (personal communication, March 28, 2014).

Almost 25 years later, Zimbabwe is still struggling under the dictatorship of Mugabe. Poverty, lack of education and unsafe conditions are a way of life for most Zimbabweans. In nearly every human development category Zimbabwe is ranked last by the United Nations (Hear Africa, 2012). Ms. Marshall still feels a strong tie to her birth country and supports the Hear Africa Foundation in an effort to improve conditions for those still living there. Hear Africa is a non-profit organization founded by Dr. Vivier, a native Zimbabwean, family physician in British Columbia and acquaintance of Ms. Marshalls.  The foundation began with Dr. Vivier sending clothes to Zimbabwe in 2007 and has rapidly expanded to support Zimbabwean women through “sustainable solutions to poverty, social support, heath care, education & infrastructure development” (“home page”, 2014). Hear Africa works to empower women by providing sustainable economic opportunities through vocational training, farming techniques, micro loans, and development of marketable skills (“foundation overview”, 2012). Hear Africa also considers education to be an essential focus and, in addition to working with several schools providing classroom supplies and training for teachers, connects Zimbabwe elementary students with Canadian elementary students. This has resulted in a school in Langley, B.C. raising enough funds to build a school and a library in Zimbabwe (“foundation overview”, 2012). Hear Africa is based on empowerment, and aptly named in order to highlight how its members will not tell Zimbabweans how to improve their lives, but will listen first and then respond to the challenges in a collaborative and sustainable way. Hear Africa is paying attention to the social aspect of sustainable development by striving to build the country that Zimbabweans want, without a Canadian agenda.

This video and article gives Voice readers a real-life example of someone who is participating in an organization that began with one concerned individual and is now affecting vast positive changes in the lives of many.

Hear Africa. (2012). Foundation Overview. Retrieved April 2, 2014, from
Hear Africa. (2014). Home Page. Retrieved April 2, 2014, from