Getting knowledge and taking action towards sustainability

LEAPs can help to empower communities and citizens

September 1, 2009 | By Emilija Spirovska

Every day we hear more and more about sustainable development. What does this really mean and how can we apply this concept in our everyday life and in our system of governance - both at national and local levels? Some answers to these key questions were provided at the REC-organised Course on Sustainable Development: Good Governance, which took place in May in Budva, Montenegro.

STANDING TALL: Solunska Glava (2,593 m) towers over Chashka, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's fourth largest municipality. Photo: Flickr

This course offered participants some fundamental directions towards achieving sustainable development. By learning that meeting people's needs is a key element of sustainability, and that good governance is the other key to the solution, we must focus on finding ways to put these principles into practice and to increase the awareness of the importance of sustainability.

One of the methods for achieving sustainability at the local level is through the development of a local environmental action plan, or LEAP. My professional experience has enabled me to applying newly acquired skills to this important field of action.

LEAPs involve a process of cooperative and transparent planning through the empowerment of citizens in local communities that leads to improved patterns of resource utilisation, better environmental management, and financing for local priority projects.

In practice, LEAPs consist of the following steps:

1: Bring information to the people. The community has to know what a LEAP is and why it is important to them. In our case, this was achieved by public meetings, media information, and the establishment of a local committee and working groups.

2: Collect information. To assess the situation, it is necessary to obtain all relevant data for each of the five subject areas (water, air, waste, soil and land use, and nature).

3: Get opinions. Ask people their opinions about the identified priority problems. In our community, we accomplished this via questionnaires and public debates.

4: Define the solution. After adopting a priority list, the local committee defined goals, measures, and actions necessary to solve each problem.

5: Institutionalise the LEAP. The document must then be adopted by the municipal council.

SETTING THE TABLE: Course participants plot ways forward to sustainable development. Photo: Legen Gejza

In addition to our basic infrastructure problems (poor sanitation, inadequate management of solid waste and substandard water supply), people stressed the importance of municipal focus on agricultural development and rural tourism. Each of these aspects will contribute to the preservation of nature, as well as to local economic development, which are very important for improving quality of life.

Improving quality of life plus sustainability equals sustainable society. That is our goal, and now we know how to get there!

Emilija Spirovska is an advisor-urban planning architect in Chashka Municipality.