|South-East Asia's Environmental Future: The Search for Sustainability (UNU, 1993, 422 pages)|
|Part IV - Selected issues: places and people|
|Threatened places: A regional view|
Hazards and response
Traditional resource management
THE two papers by Morgan and Fox deal with important issues in Asia and, in particular, South-East Asia. Many places in the latter region are threatened- threats which have significant consequences for the sustainability of the future environment in the region. The comments here are intended to add more information on the situation.
Meteorological and Geophysical Hazards
Morgan's paper has primarily discussed the natural hazards. However, he limits himself to the meteorological and geophysical hazards of typhoons, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis. Landslides, which occur quite frequently in this region, have been omitted. In the 1950s, a huge landslide buried villages in the Dieng region in Central Java, and in late 1989, another large one occurred in West Sumatra. Many people were affected in this landslide. The landslides often disrupted road transportation as well. In unstable areas, human activities, such as road construction and rice fields, can intensify the risk. Many of the landslide-prone areas have been mapped.
Morgan has also ignored biological hazards, which are important in this region. Mosquitoes transmit many diseases, such as malaria, filariasis and dengue haemorrhagic fever; and schistosomes carry with them the debilitating bilharziasis disease. About 80 per cent of Indonesians harbour parasitic worms. Some diseases (malaria and dengue haemorrhagic fever) are widespread; others (bilharziasis) are localized. In Indonesia, only Java can be considered free of malaria, except for small pockets in coastal areas and some places in the mountains. Bilharziasis is found in an isolated area around Lake Lindu in Central Sulawesi, and in other places in Asia as well.
Some biological hazards (malaria and bilharziasis) are natural, although the spread and intensity of outbreaks are often influenced by human activities. The development of irrigation in Central Sulawesi, for example, has aroused concern among parasitologists that it may facilitate the spread of bilharziasis. Other biological hazards (cholera and hepatitis) are primarily the results of human activities, which are brought about by increasing population densities and unsatisfactory control of sanitary conditions. The diseases have caused misery and deaths, and the chronic nature of some have undoubtedly also reduced the productivity of many millions of people.
Human response to biological hazards has been researched in order to gain more understanding of the biology of the pathogens, their vectors and the physiological response of the human body to disease. The knowledge gained has been successfully used to control many diseases by vaccination, medication, eradication of the vectors by biocides and environmental engineering, and better health services.
Man-made hazards are not discussed by Morgan, except those in the marine environment, although they are becoming ever more important in the region. Transportation and industries are important sources of pollution, and their rates of growth are high. Pollution can also occur as a result of accidents; some could be very serious: witness the Bhopal and Chemobyl disasters in India and the Ukraine respectively. The risk of tanker accidents is also not negligible in the regional seas.
Another man-made hazard is land subsidence which has been reported in Bangkok and Jakarta. These areas have become more prone to floods and, hence, will suffer from inundation by future sea-level rise.
Generally, pollution control is still weak in the region, and perhaps all metropolitan and industrial areas, with the exception of Singapore, are badly polluted. The extraction of underground water is also weakly controlled.
Potential Future Hazards
Potential future hazards are discussed by Morgan, and the sea-level rise has been singled out. However, he has discussed only inundation. But sea-level rise, if it indeed occurs, will also give rise to and/or intensify problems of seawater intrusion into rivers and underground aquifers, and of coastal erosion. The transmigration villages in the tidal areas in southem Kalimantan and eastern Sumatra (in which thousands of families from Java, Madura and Bali have been resettled) and the fish ponds along the long coasts of SouthEast Asia could suffer from both inundation and higher salinities. Salt-water intrusion could plague, for example, Pontianak in Kalimantan, which has periodically suffered from such a problem, and it could render the underground water of Jakarta useless; its quality is already sub-optimal because of salinity problems, presumably due to excessive extraction of underground water. Salt-water intrusion can also endanger the foundations of buildings. While the areas can be relatively easily protected from inundation-a very expensive undertaking-it will be much more difficult to cope with saltwater intrusion.
Another serious problem related to sea-level rise is coastal erosion. According to the Bruun rule, for each centrimetre in sea-level rise, the coastal line will retreat an average of 1 metre. Thus, with a 20-centimetre sea-level rise, which is considered plausible in the first half of the twenty-first century, the coastline will retreat by 20 metres. Therefore, coastal fish ponds, settlements, industries and hotels, among other activities and structures, which are located within 20 metres from the present coastline would be threatened, even though they would not be inundated.
It has also been predicted that climatic change resulting from global warming could increase the frequency and intensity of storms. However, the degree of uncertainly is still high. Intensive international negotiations, which formed parts of the preparations for the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Brazil in June 1992, are now under way to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, but there are still many difficulties before agreement can be reached. Some developing countries feel that they are being unfairly treated, and there are many uncertainties involved.
Still another potential future hazard, one which would affect the region and its people, is the so-called ozone hole which would expose the people to more Ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation. Although dark-coloured people are believed to be less sensitive than lightskinned people to the threat of skin cancer caused by UV-B radiation, the effect on cataract formation is known to be undiscriminating. The disease can be corrected by a simple operation, but many people in this region cannot afford such an operation and, hence, an increase in the number of blind people could occur as a consequence of the ozone hole. There are also indications that more UV-B radiation could reduce the yield of crops and fisheries.
There is general agreement that the cause of the ozone hole is the emission of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The Montreal protocol is intended to reduce CFC emissions but, because of their long life, the ozone hole may well last far into the twenty-first century and beyond, even under the best circumstances.
Risk Perception and Assessment
Morgan has discussed at length the theoretical background of natural hazards and human responses. He correctly stated that there is still incomplete knowledge in the way people perceive and assess risks. Although many risks can be evaluated scientifically and objectively, subjective judgement still prevails and may often dominate. Traditional people, who constitute the majority of the inhabitants in this region, are willing to accept certain risks from natural hazards, partly because when a hazard strikes they consider it an act of God, and partly because resettlement somewhere else, if such is possible, brings new uncertainties which are considered more hazardous than the current risk they are facing. The resettlement by transmigration of the people on the slope of Mount Merapi and in Dieng, both in Central Java, for example, has met with considerable resistance. Many people who did transmigrate returned to their original habitation; the soils in the resettlement areas were less fertile than in their home villages.
Subjective assessment is also very common with educated people. For instance, accidents are far more likely to take place on roads than in nuclear plants, yet many people refuse to accept the risk of radioactive exposure resulting from relatively rare nuclear accidents, but they are willing to accept the far higher risk of death in road accidents.
Many studies have been carried out on risk perception, assessment and management. Since they are strongly influenced by culture and education, it would be useful for such studies to be introduced and/or strengthened in South-East Asian universities and research institutes, in order that policies for dealing with risk management can be based on more reliable scientific bases.
Fox's paper has considered traditional versus government management of common properties. It is hypothesized that local traditional management is superior to a centralized government management. Although this is true in many instances, Fox warns society 'not to romanticize the role of community control or indigenous management systems'. In addition to the fact that not all indigenous systems are benign to the environment. he correctly asserts that the social and economic changes which are occurring in this region are also affecting many communities. Studies in East Kalimantan have shown that, even in remote areas, communities have been influenced by the market economy. As a result, they grow food and other commodities not only for their subsistence but also to sell them in the market. This requires a surplus, such as rice, which in turn makes it necessary to clear more forest for shifting cultivation. It also shortens the slash-and-burn cycle which makes it more difficult for the forest to regenerate.
It has also been suggested that to make the harvest of forests sustainable, non-wood products (for example, rattan) and different kinds of latex, fruits and bamboo should be substituted for wood. This will only be successful if the harvest of these non-wood products remains at a low and subsistence level, as mentioned by Fox in the case of a village which refrained from exploiting rattan for commercial purposes. If the alternative product satisfies the demands of national and international markets. traders will lure local people to supply them with the desired quantity of the commodities and over-exploitation would soon occur, with disastrous effects on the environment. This excessive harvest would not be sustainable. Few local people, including their leaders, would be able to resist the temptation to enjoy such amenities as radios. tape recorders, televisions, cameras and other modern gadgets.
Population growth is another important factor which may threaten the sustainability of traditional management. It is widely known that in many places, it forces people to shorten the slash-and-burn cycle, to the extent that the forest is replaced by shrubs or even a/ang-ulang grass (Imperata cylindrica). Although the alang-alang is not always useless or noxious, it poses fire hazards, and in many places, it is not desired. Given time, communities could presumably adapt management methods to the changing situation. An example is the shifting cultivators in a/ang-alang regions in North Sumatra.
Another interesting example is the talun-kebun method in West Java. This is essentially shifting cultivation in a talun. which can be a monoculture of bamboo (talun bambu) or a mixed culture of perennials with some annuals. In the case of a talun bambu) a patch of about 1 000 square metres is cleared by harvesting the bamboo. In a mixed culture, trees to be harvested (for example, Albizzia falcataria are selectively cut and the branches of those left standing are pruned and used for firewood. Small twigs and leaves are sun dried and burned. Annuals, such as tobacco, onions, lablab beans (Dolichos lablab), and cassava are planted in the clearings created by treefelling. Fertilizers and compost from the village are applied. Bamboo, logs of the harvested trees and products from annual crops, are sold in local markets and nearby cities. After the harvest of annual crops, the bamboo and perennials have resprouted and regrown. Another patch is harvested and the process repeated. In the region studied, the slash-and-burn cycle was eight years. In this modified shifting-cultivation system. the natural forest has been replaced by the talun and the crops have been selected to suit the market economy. The system is capable of supporting higher population densities than can be sustained by a traditional shifting-cultivation method.
In West Java, fish ponds are traditionally used to recycle wastes, including human excrete, by building overhangs to serve as latrines. However, the people do not use the water from the polluted pond for their daily needs: instead, they pipe it from upstream sources by using bamboo. When population density was low, the interval between use and reuse, both in terms of space and time, was great. The water had sufficient time to undergo a natural repurification process and the system worked well. However, with the growth of population, the interval between use and reuse became smaller and smaller, until finally the water did not have sufficient time for repurification. Outbreaks of diarrhoea have now become common. These outbreaks have undoubtedly been factors in the high infant mortality rate in West Java.
The above examples show that, in some instances, the indigenous people do indeed have the wisdom to develop alternative methods which show every indication of being sustainable. In others. however, modifications to the traditional systems had proved unsustainable. There are also cases in which methods remain constant and, although basically they are ecologically sound, they are maladapted to the changing environment and may even become hazardous. Adaptation is possible if people perceive the changes, and these changes are slow and not too radical. Even when the changes are slow, but if they are not perceived by the people, then failure is the result. This is reflected in the fish ponds of West Java. Therefore, successful adaptation and adjustment may be the exception rather than the rule, particularly when environmental changes are rapid and occur on a large scale.
Consequently, the general assumption that traditional wisdom can deal with the problems if only the people are left alone cannot be made. In many cases, intervention will be needed, but it is not easy to devise a management system in a changing world. Another major challenge is how to do it wisely, that is, not to impose a top-down process but to co-operate with the people. To achieve this goal, government officials and scientists must recognize that villagers, even in remote areas, do have ecological knowledge and wisdom which can be tapped and productively used in the process of devising an adaptive management system.
The discussion focused on the institutional issues raised, in the contexts of hazard impact and changes in the conditions of exploitation. It was suggested that the question of disaster relief has become so politicized that politics, rather than the nature of the event, may really determine what does or does not happen. It was also asked if indigenous institutional arrangements really related to environmental resource management, or simply to property, and should be interpreted as an outcome or resolution of conflict over scarce resources (McCay and Acheson, 1987). In this case, it would not be surprising that when the conditions of conflict change, so do the arrangements. Conditions of access to property change, but do not collapse. In this view, environmental conservation and environmental degradation are unintended side-effects of the different conflict resolutions.
James Fox called attention to the shifting nature of biological hazards. Problems change, go away or resurge over time, presenting new environmental hazards and challenges. Twenty or more years ago, there was great confidence that malaria was on its way out as a major hazard in most parts of South-East Asia. Now, everywhere there is a resurgence. Mosquito species have changed habitats, and the parasite itself has changed. Worst of all, where formerly P. vivax ma/aria was the principal form in the region, now P. falciparum has increased to become dominant, with no really reliable prophylaxis. This serious development is symbolic of a good deal that has happened in the biological field in the last 20 years.