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Convention on coastal management issues held with participants from across South Asia
In a one of its kind convention, government representatives, researchers and NGOs from across South Asia- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka came together to discuss coastal management issues in their respective countries. The Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) jointly organized this convention with the Pondicherry based NGO Pondicherry Citizen’s Action Network (PondyCAN) to share experiences and approaches and to learn from each other.
The crisis of coastal management across South Asia is quite evident from the experiences shared by the participants. What is also quite clear is that the challenges will increase because of greater industrialisation, urbanisation and tourism pressures on the coasts. This will lead to more pressure on coastal habitats and the livelihoods of poor and vulnerable communities.

“But the question is while South Asia has common challenges and is enjoined in the crisis, there is an urgent need to come together to find solutions that can match the scale and pace of intervention”, said Sunita Narain, Director-General, CSE.  

The convention addressed the issues related to regulating and managing coastal development, protecting coastal habitats and climate change. Chandra Bhushan, deputy Director-General CSE explained the purpose of the convention saying, “This may be the first time we have come together as a region to look at the governance gaps and regulatory weakness in our individual countries but it will not be the last. The discussions show that different countries are finding solutions and we need to share these experiences so that we can move ahead.”

The participants of the convention discussed the regulatory systems in existence in different countries and found that every country has its own system for regulating coastal zones. But what came out is that the regulatory systems in each country need strengthening both in terms of decision-making and enforcement.

For example, while all countries have Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) based systems for granting permits for development projects, the quality of the EIA report, based on which decisions are made, is a problem across the region. Worse, systems for enforcement and monitoring post-clearance are weak. It was also recognised that an individual project EIA is an insufficient tool for decisions making and that countries will have to develop a robust methodology for cumulative assessment.

“What has definitely come out in this convention is the great need for improving governance and training people on governance and environment,” said Chris O’Brien, Regional Coordinator, Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) project.

There is a clear recognition in the region that soft solutions for coastal protection — planting mangroves to beach nourishment are economically efficient and long-term solutions compared to hard solutions like sea-walls and groynes, which only transfer problems from one place to the other. Countries have started implementing soft solutions for coastal protection.

South Asia is highly vulnerable to climate change. Sea level rise and extreme weather events are affecting the coastal areas of South Asia. While some countries are beginning to put in place systems to adapt to climate change — Bangladesh and Maldives — others such as India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan need to do more.  

For instance, Maldives has proposed to convert the country into a biosphere reserve so that it prioritises protection of corals and mangroves and build natural protection. Bangladesh has an adaptation plan. Clearly, countries like India will have to put into place systems to plan for coastal development taking into account this new vulnerability.

Ibrahim Naeem, Director of the SAARC Coastal Zone Management Centre and Director of the Environment Protection Authority in Maldives, stressed the need to make coastal plans keeping in mind the threats of climate change, “We need to make sure these plans incorporate climate change to make them more meaningful to countries like ours.”

The participants emphasised that regulation is just one tool to manage coastal areas. There are other tools such as putting information and maps in public domain, training and education, involvement of the local community in management etc that need to be used to develop a holistic governance systems for the coasts. Probir Banerjee, President PondyCan, stressed that the “worst affected are the people living at the margins and the objective has to be to enhance livelihoods and not compromise them.”

Lastly, the meeting recognised that coasts in each country are limited and face competing demands. Every thing from ports to power plants to cities to livelihoods of local communities have to be accommodated. In this context, Integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) has to be a practice and not a just buzzword. ICZM must be institutionalised so that the interests of all stakeholders including those advocating conservation and habitat protection are accommodated and managed.

The delegates at the convention collectively felt the need for experience sharing in the region. “It is important for different South Asian countries to arrange study tours in different countries to learn from each other’s successes and failures,” feels Anil Premaratne, Director-General (DG) of Sri Lanka’s Coast Conservation Department. Naseer Khan Kashani, DG Pakistan (Balochistan) also seconded this opinion, “Every country has a story to tell and it is important to learn from each other. We need better information exchange and information access among the South Asian countries.”

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