Photo: Mahmud Hossain Opu/DT

The terrible fire in Old Dhaka is again a grim reminder to us about how sustainable we are as a city, as businesses, or as individuals living in a locality.
The term sustainability has been defined by various think-tanks in a variety of ways. I have seen the development practitioners working on sustainability issues for the last four decades in my country. I’ll not go into a textbook definition of sustainability, but will try to delineate my views as a commoner.
As a human being, I am destined to acquire diseases, to be worn out, and one day, to perish. However, during my lifetime, how careful have I been in keeping my body workable or keeping myself free of diseases?
Since my boyhood to my old age, how successful have I been in managing my body to have a smooth journey towards my death? How carefully was I using my body to stay away from major illnesses for which we may not have any cure?
For my body, my ability to nurture my body in such a way so that it can contribute in my life and in the life of the people around me is sustainability. However, how did I fare in terms of sustainability when it came to acquiring diseases?
How careful was I to prevent the diseases through my lifestyle rather than treating them with medicines when I acquired them?
Let me give you another example. The trend of using antibiotics day in and day out sends a wave of shudder down my spine. The trend suggests that the overuse of these kinds of pharmaceutical products is destroying my body’s natural ability to fight the diseases.
I’m heading towards a point of no return when no medicine will work on me when I am ill. In such cases, protection is more important than recovery. This is what I would like to call “sustainability.”
Similarly, when it comes to nature and its resources, sustainability works in the same fashion. If we continue to assault nature and utilize all the resources within a very short period of time, life on Earth is not going to be sustainable.
Before thinking of utilization, we must think of preserving the resources for future utilization too.
We’re not the last humans on Earth who will be using these gifts of nature. The majority of the nations and their populations aren’t putting enough importance on preservation.
Rather, we’re thinking of managing the damage that we have done to ourselves; we only pursue recovery and fail to think about what would happen to us when we over-utilize these resources.
I think there has to be a holistic relationship between humans and nature to a point where we understand each other better. And that is sustainability to me.
Sustainability in human relationships follows the same trends. Relationships have to be nurtured. When we are in a relationship, we must not think the relationship will continue as it began.
We have to nurture the relationship to a point where we care for each other; without any care, nothing grows. A one-sided relationship doesn’t look sustainable to me. A sustainable relationship relies on caring for each other.
Do businesses also need sustainability? Well, of course, they do. Without a sustainable model, a business would not be a business; it would become a charity.
A business needs to be carefully conscious about the investment, operating cost, distribution, image, profit, and what impact its products are having on society. A business becomes sustainable only when all these elements are properly practiced.
The businesses that were being run in the building that was on fire in Old Dhaka say many things about the unsustainable ways in which we do business and the unsustainable ways in which we live as human beings.
After the fire and after the loss of so many lives, we came to know that the building was a death trap. We all knew the potential consequences of living like that. There was a similar fire in Old Dhaka about a decade ago.
At the time, we spoke for a few days and then, nothing was changed. We continued living, unsustainably.
After a decade, we’re again talking about removing all chemical warehouses and shops from that area. If we really do some soul-searching, it would appear that we might be talking about sustainable ways of living, but we’re not taking any action to actually ensure that is the case.
Now, that’s not very sustainable, is it?

First published in Dhaka Tribune.

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