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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Cross sectoral approaches to integrated coastal management / Alang and Bhavnagar Bhal-India.

Posted By: R. Sudarshana
Date: Friday, 28 May 1999, at 11:36 a.m.

Key words: disaster perception, information transfer, satellite technology.

INTRODUCTION: By this contribution, I have certain remarks to make in general about the wise practices in the coastal zone. Although I do not believe in being constrained by the definitions, I would like to be generally guided by them. With this observation in view I would like to call the attention of EDG readers to the following points.

WISER PRACTICES: A BETTER TERMINOLOGY: My observation is that "wise practices" are being taken in an absolute sense and coastal management practices are being judged as to whether they are wise or unwise. As we all understand, a coastal zone management practice is that which results from a temporal interaction between scientists, policy makers, people, administrators and intellectuals. For example, if a beach erosion mitigation measure is to be taken up, all the above actors are involved and engaged in interaction over a period of time before a decision is finally implemented. Hence, any coastal zone management practice is a manifestation of collective wisdom under the given circumstances of space and time. Therefore it is extremely difficult to further make a judgement whether the practice is unwise. I am opining that any society takes up only wise practices that are wise under certain circumstances. Some projects are often stopped or delayed by the social movements but finally when the project is implemented, it will have taken into account the voice of dissent and the variation in wisdom. Although there could be opinions about a given coastal management practice, it will be unfair to call it 'unwise' since it is a product of collective wisdom.

Therefore words like 'wisdom,' 'wise' and 'unwise' are absolutes and unrealistic. What is realistic is the word 'wiser.' For me, 'wise' makes little sense but 'wiser' makes better sense. And 'unwise' is too much of a capital judgement which we must avoid making. When we look back at a coastal zone management practice or initiate a new one, we ought to see that it is wiser in relation to something else. Likewise, 'not so wise' is more moderate than 'unwise.'

INTERSECTORAL NATURE OF INTEGRATED COASTAL MANAGEMENT: In all my readings on CSI initiatives of wise practices and during some discussions it has predominantly come out that coastal zone management is to be considered as a sociological practice. I even read that one of the participants of the November Workshop at Paris wrote that coastal management is a social practice. This 'exclusive' opinion bothers me very much, especially when we are considering that all aspects of life are cross sectoral. I would be happy to see that we consider coastal zone management as an activity of scientific, social, cultural and economic importance in equal proportions and harmony. In my recent observations and findings in the coastal Gujarat, India, I see that there is a necessity to harmoniously put together all aspects while initiating a practice that is wiser. I have two examples to offer:

(a) RUMOURS AT THE ALANG SHIP BREAKING YARD: In the world's largest ship breaking yard situated at Alang in Gujarat in India, about 50,000 casual labourers are employed. Last month, a mischievous rumour that there would be a devastating cyclone on May 8th 1999 spread like wild fire at Alang and all the 50,000 workers fled the place weeks in advance. This brought the international scrap market in London crashing down and the cost of scrap iron fell by half internationally. Sociologists in India attributed this panic to psycho- social behaviour under work stress requiring logical counselling. This could be very right but is only a partial remedy. If we were to have enough scientific resources which could be harvested on a contingency basis, we would have liked to approach the problem differently by setting up street-side satellite data relay to show and prove that no cyclone is approaching Gujarat on May 8th. Probably we require both of these scientific and social approaches to wisely manage a coastal activity. The lesson is that coastal management is strictly cross sectoral and nothing less.

(b) UNAVAILABILITY OF DRINKING WATER IN COASTAL GUJARAT: As is widely known already, many parts of coastal Gujarat are under the severe grip of shortage/total unavailability of safe drinking water. This situation requires deep thinking. There are people who are suggesting relocation of inhabitants. There are people who are suggesting import of water from long distances. There are people who are suggesting new boreholes. There is already an economically rewarding water market in the region run by all kinds of unscrupulous elements and a fast buck is being made at the cost of people's safety. There are opinions about long term rain water storage. Historically, this has been found to be unrealistic, since the rain itself is an uncertainty. Amidst all this, a ray of hope has emerged in the form of a wise endeavour called "Reverse Osmosis". Reverse osmosis is a process of desalination of seawater yielding potable fresh water. This is widely practised in the Arabian Gulf and although it is expensive, it seems to be the only solution for the region. There have been experiments of developing the reverse osmosis semi-permeable membranes at a low cost in Indian scientific laboratories. In all we need to tackle the problem of people's suffering, migration and safety through the cross sectoral benefits of social and scientific aspects. Hence I appeal that we shall not dilute the cross sectoral nature of coastal management in our words, scripts, practices and programmes.

Finally, the coastal zone per se cannot be managed. What we wish to manage and what we ought to manage is only a long term human interest in the coastal zone. And our perspectives must always be socio-scientific. I hope to continue with some emerging scenarios in Gujarat in the coming week (The repercussions of salt extraction / Bhavnagar Bhal-India).

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