Sustainability in Regional Development  (key definitions & implications)

Sustainability in Regional Development (key definitions & implications)

The regional development approach came in the loop after past development policies failed to reduce regional disparities and were not able to help underdeveloped regions to catch up, despite the allocation of significant public funding. Regional development policy became increasingly important as governments of many countries have sought to address the persistent problems of underdeveloped areas by supporting regionally-based or locally-based bottom-up approaches. Nevertheless, regional development should not be seen as a range of different initiatives, or as a set of policies that seek to exploit endogenous resources. It also means of integrating different policies and programmes at a regional level, releasing synergies, improving co-ordination, and involving regional communities and networks in the formulation and delivery of policy.

By no surprise regional development challenges and methods are prone to ‘less developed regions’, where Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head is low, and reflects the poor performance of the region or territory in terms of maintaining and generating growth for regional economies. As a result key weaknesses may be identified such as

  • Poor infrastructure, including transport and telecommunications links, waste and water supply;
  • Weak human capital, characterised by low education and training levels;
  • Sectoral imbalance in terms of over-dependence on low value-added agriculture or in some cases a debilitated industrial sector;
  • Weak entrepreneurial culture, insufficient small and medium sized enterprises and poor capacity to innovate;
  • Peripherality to core markets and production;
  • Weak institutions and social capital in terms of a lack of networks of firms, organisations and individuals and poor public sector capacity to implement regional (or territorial) development solutions.

In addition to shared typical problems, each region owns a number of special features, which determine the precise nature of the policy response required. All of these problems are reversible, through measures and interventions such as infrastructure improvement, business development, improvement of accessibility to service and markets, consolidation of social cohesion, modernization of agriculture and stimulation of tourism etc.

In this context regional development is considered as a general effort to reduce regional disparities by supporting economic activities in regions through stimulating investments in the private and public sector, to reduce the socio-economic differences between various areas and to improve the standard of living. Additionally, regional development also aims at providing a clear framework for achieving significant and sustainable improvement for the communities by diversifying and boosting economic activity to promote an attractive local and regional economic environment.

‘Sustainability’ in the context of regional development, refers to the integration of sustainable development principles into regional development practices. This encompasses all instruments and potential interventions, that promote sustainable development within the regional economic initiatives. At present and in the future, sustainability is closely inter-related to the economic, social and environmental systems that are presented below.

The social dimension is one of the key values of sustainable regional development, with people and their quality of life being recognized as a central issue. Equity involves the degree of fairness and inclusiveness which resources are distributed, opportunities afforded, and decisions are made within a community and locality. The achievement of social equity in a specific community is reflected in the level of poverty; employment and income distribution; gender, ethnic and age inclusiveness; health, access to financial and natural resources etc.

The economic dimension, defines trade and investments as central factors in the sustainable regional development. Natural resource exploitation of the regions, and consumption and production are intimately connected to economic growth. Nevertheless, unsustainable patterns of consumption, are the major cause of the continued depletion of natural resources and deterioration of the regional, national or global environment.

The environmental dimension, represents a considerable challenge to ensure that economic growth leads to social equity and does not contribute to environmental degradation that may interfere the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In the environment dimension we imply  the atmosphere, land, oceans and seas, biodiversity and freshwater as the essential elements that guarantee the welfare of a community in a particular locality or region.

The understanding and managing of all these key components is central for developing sustainable regional interventions and policy. Such interventions should therefore point to areas where the linkages between the economy, the environment and society are weakest. By identifying and consulting these typical problems, each region may represent a number of special features and patterns that determine the precise nature of the required policy response.

Considering the current situation on regional development in Albania, disparities manifest themselves in various ways and magnitudes – be it on a social, economic, or environmental level.  Severe differences are noted in the level of socio-economic development between Tirana and the rest of territories (Qarks). Furthermore differences between urban and rural areas, are identified specifically in terms of local finances, environmental pollution and territorial barriers. The concentration of population, labor force, services and businesses in one area such as the capital, is negative for both Tirana and the rest of the country, as the capital continue to experience intense development, but at high social and environmental costs.

Regional Development Programme in Albania (RDPA), launched a year ago with the support of Swiss Cooperation Agency and Austrian Development Agency, in partnership with the Government of Albania, aims to provide a structured and systematic approach towards the sustainable regional development in our country, by generating targeted national and regional policies that tackle disparities among and within the recently established 4 regions. This is taking place, first by supporting the government of Albania to set up a policy framework on Regional Development and ensure proper coordination and implementation at national and regional level. Secondly, RDPA will support the consolidation of regional development institutions, which will lead the Regional Development policies in the future. Thirdly the Programme directly contributes to the improvement of socio-economic conditions of Albanian citizens in different regions, through the implementation of Regional Development projects, reflecting regional needs and priorities.

Understanding sustainable development linkages and achieving the needed balance across the environmental, economic and social spheres, requires a good understanding of the complex local/regional/national contexts, but also the inclusion of all the regional/local actors, which RDPA is applying during the implementation of the Programme through a partnership approach with related actors and stakeholders.