|South-East Asia's Environmental Future: The Search for Sustainability (UNU, 1993, 422 pages)|
|Part I - The driving forces of change|
|1. The dimensions of environmental change and management in the south-east Asian region|
There is therefore a link between the farmer who allows his soil to be washed downstream, spoiling someone else's crops, and the transmigrant who leaves his unprofitable plot to cut undersized timber illegally in a forest allocated by the state to a plywood-mill owner for timber extraction. It is the same as the link between pollution of Bangkok's waterways and of Kuala Lumpur's atmosphere. The link lies in the concept of the environment as a common resource-the most important of all social resources-but one which is too often treated as an externality to private property rather than as a common which is socially manageable for the good of all. The colonial period bequeathed to this region the institution of private property in its modern sense, with full rights of use and disposal, as well as a set of economies based on the exploitation of natural resources. Underlying all environmental issues are the ultimate contradictions between individual and social benefit, and between present and future benefit, the resolution of which is the basis of stable social organization. Development and stability are unfortunately incompatible, and no society in the modern changing world has yet resolved these contradictions in a dynamic context. Most certainty, they have not been resolved in South-East Asia where they have emerged in very sharp focus.
Yet the environment itself is not stable. Disaster does not arise under the mean conditions published in climatological tables or found in estimates of erosion rates over time. It arises when, for example, several hundred millimetres of rain fall in a week-as has happened at many times and places in the region during the past century, bringing down whole hillsides, flooding towns and washing crops out of the ground. It arises when drought strikes, permitting the spread of fires as in 1983, 1987 and 1991, and earlier but with far less damage in 1914, 1902 and 1877. These are the occasions when mismanagement of the environment is starkly exposed, giving rise to alarm.
However global climate develops in the future, such occasions will surely recur. Global climatic change will come to South-East Asia mainly from external sources. but not entirely: not only is the region now a significant producer of some greenhouse gases, but it already has problems of acid rain. Moreover. at least two countries are at particular hazard because much of their built-up environment is close to sea level, so low as to be vulnerable even to quite ordinary high-water events. Urban-generated heat is already a serious problem, accentuated by atmospheric pollution. without the additional threat from global warming.
All these issues are raised again and again in the chapters that follow. Yet all are interconnected. They either arise from, or are made worse by, the growing pressures on regional resources from population and development, the continued use of air and water as a sink for wastes, the persistence of hard-core poverty in a region of comparative affluence, and the continuing dependence on the exploitation of natural resources to nourish this affluence. The environment is a common social good, yet the institutions created to manage it exist more on paper than in reality. Barber ( 1989a) remarks that its institutional frameworks for environmental and resource management are a patchwork rather than a system. They include the traditional practices and institutions of the society which still operate at a local level, colonial legislation. Iand allocation and reservation, modern sectoral legislation and post-Stockholm environmental laws accompanied, or followed, by the creation of new bureaucracies. Especially in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, and perhaps with most effect in Singapore, there are strong nongovernmental organizations, well-supported among the middle classes, which are vocal on environmental issues. Moreover, these issues often get excellent coverage in the media, better than in many other lands. However, several of the environmental ministries and agencies created in the 1970s are without line responsibility, and almost all have very limited professional staff; for example, the Department of Environment in Malaysia had, in the mid-1980s, only 55 professionals charged with a wide range of duties over the whole country, but lacking both equipment and funds (Sham, 1987: 64-5). In Indonesia, Hardjono (1991: 13) notes:
The State Minister of Population and the Environment, who does not head a department. lacks the competence to make, let alone enforce, ultimate judgements on land-use and development proposals. Government Regulation No. 29 of 1986 concerning Environmental Impact Analysis' with its forty clauses that include reference to various interdepartmental commissions at different levels. has not helped to simplify a complex problem. especially since it makes no mention of legal consequences for those who ignore its stipulations.
She goes on to cite a number of examples in which intended environmental management decisions have been successfully subverted.
Several governments, including those of Indonesia and Malaysia, have made firm statements of intent to strengthen environmental management in their development plans for the first half of the 1990s, but there is still a great deal to be done before such statements are translated into reality. Actual responsibility for environmental management is often widely dispersed among ministries and agencies, whose primary goals are not centrally concerned with the environment, and which are not legally or administratively obliged to accept direction from the environmental ministries. Cooperation is difficult to achieve, and the situation in practice is not SO unlike that described by Ziegler ( 1987) for the former Soviet Union, where fragmentation and lack of co-ordination meant little attention was paid to secondary questions such as environmental management, or a sophisticated balance of diverse social and economic goals. Writing before Chernobyl, or the revelation of many other environmental disasters, Ziegler had called attention to an aspect which is also potentially important in SouthEast Asia, which is the link between environmental protection and foreign policy. Adherence to international standards, co-operation in environmental matters, and changes in management in sympathy with trends in international opinion are not central to but are nevertheless elements in the foreign policy of any country. Similarly, national environmental pressure groups, both within and outside government, gain useful support by seeking foreign expert participation in the analysis of their problems. This has been true in Eastern Europe: it is also true of South-East Asia, where the Yogyakarta conference was one part of such a process.
However, it needs to be stressed that the situation in South-East Asia is that of a political economy dominated by pride in the achievements of development and an impatience to see it advance further. Large state sectors still claim sovereign control over resources and their bureaucracies are subject to manipulation by socio-economic elites who have considerable power to distort outcomes in their favour (Barber, 1989a). The deliberations which led to this book will make no impact unless the region comes to grips with the need not only for stronger and more effective institutions of environmental management but also for a polity which places far higher emphasis than hitherto on the long-term common good.