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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Questioning the nature of a 'wise practice'

Posted By: R. Sudarshana
Date: Friday, 4 February 2000, at 12:38 p.m.

In Response To: Transferring a coastal erosion problem: is this a wise practice? / Lagos-Nigeria. (Regina Folorunsho)

My answer to the title of your contribution ‘ Transferring a coastal erosion problem: is this a wise practice? / Lagos-Nigeria’ is NOT REALLY.

The thing I liked most in your article is your questioning the nature of the practice. I believe that logical reasoning and/or scientific inquiry begins with critical soul searching. When a message on the EWP forum repeatedly says 'this wise practice is ….' and refers to the activity as an already accepted wise practice, there is a kind of self righteousness about the case being presented. This is not fully convincing since the definition, scope, structure and consensus on the term 'wise practice' is only emerging and nobody is in any hurry to foreclose the options of civilisation by accepting anything without subjecting it to the test of criticism. Hence, 'is this a wise practice?' is a good approach. I am also happy because now the criticism is called for and authorised.

Firstly, meddling too much with the lagoonal environment itself is very unwise. Venice is undoubtedly beautiful and romantic and was a wise thing to build a few centuries ago, when mankind still toyed with the concept of whether the earth was round. Today's wisdom, sharpened by the concept of coastal regulatory zones, Ramsar Convention, recognition of the ephemeral nature of lagoons, disaster preparedness, numerical models of coastal flow regime (SWAN, Delft 3D, etc.) and environmental audit wouldn't have allowed Venice to be what it is if we were to begin again. We know now that the lagoonal environments are not just local wealth, but are of immense value for global environmental sustainability. We know now that the barrier spit of a lagoon is under constant reconfiguration and local solutions could only be patchworks of repair unless supported by synoptic studies. We know now, especially after a super cyclone hit a lagoonal environment in India very recently, that decisions taken to suit our individual life spans without a full understanding of the global scales of environment could lead to huge losses of property. Hence in general terms and on a long term perspective, lagoons could do well without much meddling, if societies could afford to do so.

Secondly, there has to be a reduction of urbanisation with reference to a 'drawback' level. Many cities are doing this on the coast now, especially with the help of satellite data derived from the archives. There is no logic in fighting severe coastal erosion on the one hand and permitting increased urbanisation on the other. Many countries have adapted the concept of coastal regulatory zones and there are instances of making way for natural forces by scaling down human settlement. Simultaneously, the reference basal shoreline could be drawn and beach nourishment below the water line undertaken (as in Ameland in the Netherlands) for an effective sustenance of the beach. Of course the sand mining has to go.

Thirdly, could you tell us what is happening to the lagoonal waters in this complex situation of urbanisation, configuration adjustments of barrier spit, changing flow regime, trapping of organic debris, sedimentation and possibly eutrophication in parts! Wise practise is not unisectoral in approach and coastal management is not just worrying about the changing shoreline. The concept of wise practise is linked to cross sectoral philosophy, sustainability, synopticity and holistic environmental foresight.

Therefore, it would be appreciated if you would care to comment on other management aspects of the problem e.g. urban sprawl, lagoonal water quality, so as to better understand the complexities of integrated management in this area.

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