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close this bookEcology in Development: A Rationale for Three-dimensional Policy (UNU, 1984, 59 pages)
close this folder3. Illustratory
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentDesertification and development in South-West Asia: A historical perspective
Open this folder and view contentsI. Irrigation in South-West Asia
Open this folder and view contentsII. Pastoralism on the iranian plateau

(introductory text...)

Desertification and development in South-West Asia: A historical perspective
I. Irrigation in South-West Asia
II. Pastoralism on the iranian plateau


The international development effort so far has been based on the injection of investment and the transfer of technology. The people affected, whether as target populations or by contingent processes, have (on the basis of the assumption that they conform with our ideals of rationality) been expected to adapt themselves both as individuals and as groups to the resulting new conditions, and to develop new ways of relating to each other- new structural forms that would facilitate the optimum operation of the new technology. Within this paradigm, few specific projects and fewer large situations can be claimed as unqualified successes. Local populations rarely respond as expected. A common reason has been that their motivation is embedded in an organizational or structural form that was an integral part of the traditional production system and is not adapted to or appropriate for the new technology. When they run into ecological problems as a result, they often suffer disapprobation as well as deprivation.

Analyses of ecological problems deriving from development projects have suggested that deterioration of the environment can have negative consequences for society and individuals alike; but although the economic costs of environmental problems can be estimated fairly reliably in terms of lost production, the social, cultural and psychological costs are difficult to quantify usefully. These non-economic costs generate rearrangements in the distribution of populations and in social groupings which affect future living standards and production levels in ways we cannot predict. The need to view the totality of behaviour, thought and ecology in a perspective geared to the priorities of ecological viability and public policy presents insurmountable problems.

The long-term relationship between trends in living standards and environmental perception, between perception and responsibility for resources, and between responsibility and ecological impact is difficult to demonstrate conclusively. In South-west Asia, however, the fact that the interrelation of ecological and social problems can be viewed in the perspective of ten or more millennia of human residence and food production makes such a study somewhat more promising than elsewhere. This chapter treats examples of two types of land use that have been historically important in Southwest Asia, with the limited aim of illustrating some of the points argued in chapter 2.