The Environment and Development in Southeast Asia: Some Economic and Technological Dimensions

Article excerpt

Introduction

"Environmental control is a luxury we cannot afford" was a frequent refrain from the developing world in the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, yet emerging evidence of the impact of unfettered growth on human health and the ecosystem has provided convincing documentation of the fallacy of environmental indifference. This volume, representing the research efforts of 21 authors from seven countries both within and outside Southeast Asia, focusses on a broad range of environmental issues, including: the effects of resource extraction in the mineral, energy, forest and fisheries sectors; the role of the state and local governments in resource development; community resource management; the role of NGOs; issues of gender; ethnic/indigenous peoples; the urban environment; biodiversity; common property rights; and climate change. Several critical lessons emerge from this and other recent studies of the environment in Southeast Asia.

(1) With the possible exception of the city-state of Singapore, the rapidly developing nations of the region have not found an alternative, less environmentally destructive, path to economic development than that experienced historically by the developed world. These nations are plagued by a long list of environmental issues, including: "watershed erosion, upland degradation, deforestation, loss of biological diversity, soil and land management, air and water pollution, urban sanitation, waste disposal, environmental health, protection of cultural property, marine and coastal zone pollution and water resource management" (Seda, 1993, p. 22).

(2) In many cases, the implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation already enacted is hampered by "inadequate financial, technological and administrative resources, corrupt practices, the relative lack of public consciousness and leverage of environmental groups" (Seda, 1993, p. 21), piece-meal decision-making and the absence of a coherent plan for environmental amelioration, especially in the cities, an absence of vital baseline information on which to build environmental trend analysis and assessment, and inadequate technical knowledge and managerial capabilities, pricing, and subsidy policies.

(3) The effective control of environmental and other renewable resources ultimately transcends national boundaries, requiring regional and global cooperative institutions and initiatives.

(4) The forest resource base is in many respects the linchpin of local and regional ecosystems, as the process of deforestation has a cascading effect on other natural resources such as soils and agriculture, lakes and rivers, as well as harvesting activities in the agricultural and fisheries sectors. (See, for example, Nemetz, 1992 and Marchak, 1995).

(5) The interrelated issues of decision-making locus, community empowerment, and formal and informal structures of resource control and ownership are essential to effective resource stewardship.

(6) The rapidly increasing demand for energy, accompanying the process of industrialization, poses one of the most intractable environmental problems in the region.

In a sense, many of these lessons are neither new nor startling, as similar evidence has been emerging globally for some years. What is new, however, is the perspective in which these effects are viewed. A serious challenge has been provided to the traditional attitude that environmental degradation is a necessary and acceptable cost of economic development. It is in this respect that this volume is particularly persuasive as convincing documentation is provided of the extent to which environmental degradation is destroying the very resource base needed for continued economic development. For example, deforestation is eroding the agricultural land base, hampering fishing activity, threatening the continued production of traditional as well as commercial energy resources, polluting water, destroying the traditional livelihood of local communities, and providing only a transitory positive effect on export earnings at the expense of sustainable long-term revenue. …