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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Hints for new initiatives

Posted By: R. Sudarshana
Date: Monday, 20 December 1999, at 5:46 p.m.

In Response To: Planning for development / Maputaland-South Africa. (Yogani Govender, Mark Jury and Antonio Hoguane.)

After reading with interest your article on Maputaland, I first consulted the atlas and then looked for similarities in situation in Asia. Both were easy to go ahead with. If I were to ask the countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America to lift their hands for every similar situation as in Maputaland, I will only count the hands for the rest of life. Your message is profound and if we cannot evolve wise practices for situations like yours, we will be a myopic and unequal civilization.

Let me first recite the summary song of Maputaland coastal zone.

1. Local communities are poor, backward and educationally underprivileged.
2. Coastal resources are not developed; rather unidentified.
3. Environment does not attract investors, industry and entrepreneurs.
4. Information and scientific understanding are lacking.
5. Government is not very sympathetic.
6. There has been no attempt to comprehensively prioritize coastal development.
7. There are no immediate plans of integrated coastal zone management.
8. Despair and frustration haunts the youth looking for employment.
9. Besides these, communities are protective of their coast and may resist development.

The above situation ideally leads to several opportunities and each one could be conceived on the lines of the spirit of wise practices.

Firstly, there is an opportunity for investigation. Investigative process could begin with an attempt to synoptically understand the potentials of the environment. Modern tools like satellite remote sensing (by the way, South Africa is one of the leading countries in the world in remote sensing applications) could be used for a rapid reconnaissance survey of the environment and resources. Taking up backdated reference to suit with the satellite data archive, a national or regional project could be conceived and funds from GEF, IUCN, UNDP, UNESCO/CSI or even national sources could be sought. A collaborative attempt with conventional surveys with the help of research organizations, universities and NGOs could be developed and baseline data for the region may be established to answer in near future, the questions such as what is the environmental status, what is the carrying capacity, what are the exploitable resources, what is the sustainability of the resources, what are the long term implications of resource harvest, etc. In many countries in Asia including India, such attempts have been put into force in the last few years although a lot of information from the past is available. There is a national programme in India called as ‘Integrated Mission for Sustainable Development’ under whose umbrella, every region is slated to be reinvestigated in a ‘synoptic’ manner to understand the potential for development. Perhaps, a similar attempt could be the first wise practice for Maputaland.

Secondly, assuming that the Maputaland coast does not offer much in terms of exploitable resources, it could be a wise approach to see what kind of development could be thrusted upon the coast. I believe in the philosophy that every piece of land and water on this planet has some potential that could attract human interest. We have regions in India that were neglected for centuries due to the environmental hostility and resource poverty. But many of those regions have occupied the center stage of development in the recent past. One sure activity in wasted coastal regions (those that are environmentally not resourceful, aesthetically not appealing, not rich in biodiversity) is the development of industrial park and making up a suitable harbour facility. In India, harbours handling oil, chemicals and toxic or dangerous cargo have to face an extremely hostile and sometimes politically charged lobbies of puritans and hence coastal zones that are not in the center of attention of day to day activity are being developed for these activities. Of course, throwing in ropes of precaution to these projects is yet another wise practice.

Thirdly, we need to approach the human factor wisely. If the region is not developed well, there could be human migration away from the coast and this may eventually lead to loss of local knowledge, local culture and the ethnic richness. If the region is developed without a participatory approach, there could be social unrest. If the region is developed too fast, there could be greed and total environmental apathy. Changes on human front are always irreversible. Thus, there is an opportunity to evolve human development models for those ‘wise practice’ enthusiasts with social commitment. Before these, as one colleague from ACCE who sent in an article on the importance of communication has rightly pointed out, some acceptable level of awareness on science, environment, development and ‘cause & effect’ should be established in the local coastal communities.

I personally think, the wise practices forum and the aspirations of sustainable development of human resources/coastal environment of CSI are principally meant to alleviate the human suffering of the type you have exposed from Maputaland. Fine tuning of some existing way of life is only a ‘fringe wise practice’. It is also needed, no doubt. But most parts of the coastal regions of our vast countries need a largely coordinated wholesome plan to be called a wise practice. I believe the world has such an ability today.

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