Thursday, May 08, 2014

Capacity focus, 84: Natural resources and hazards management as a key plank of sustainable development in the Caribbean

Here in Montserrat (next door to Antigua), much of the history of the past quarter century has been shaped by two disasters, hurricane Hugo in September 1989, and the volcano eruption from July 1995 to the present. 

Between these two events -- especially the eruption that has rendered 2/3 of the island effectively uninhabitable -- we lost a generation of development. 

Development that turned out to be unsustainable, in part because our exposure to natural hazards was not adequately managed in light of seeking and heeding prudent, sober, well-informed  assessment of the implied risks, dangers and uncertainties thence credible alternatives.

At the same time, hopes for recovery and onward development pivot on Montserrat's situation as a well-watered tropical island and on the now demonstrated existence of Geo-thermal energy resources.

Similarly -- and shifting to a more broadly regional focus -- our region's tourism industry pivots on the transformation from disease ridden tropical  death-traps, to tropical island paradises because of careful public health management that has curbed the exposure to ever so many notorious tropical diseases, such as Malaria, Dengue and the like.

All of this tells us just how tightly integrated our bio-physical environment, our societies and our economies are, and so also why natural resources and hazards management are so closely coupled.

Indeed, a natural hazard can be seen as a negative natural resource.

(Or,at least, one outside of its "Goldilocks" -- just right -- zone.)

That is, instead of being an object or phenomenon in or based in our bio-physical environment that enables better meeting our needs, it is a potential danger to us and/or our thriving. For instance, we need and want wind, sun and rain, but those are also the ingredients of a hurricane. Where again, hurricanes and their precursors, tropical waves, bring us a fair proportion of our annual rain. 

That is why we can compare a natural resource identification, development and use cycle:

(Credit: Tellus Consultants)

. . . with a similar cycle for natural hazards/disasters risk reduction and management:

Indeed, if we bring the two together, we can see that these both pivot on the intersection and interaction of the environment domains -- bio-physical, socio-cultural and economic -- and are closely linked to the challenge of sustainable development. 

For the first, to enhance meeting our needs we must first responsibly access resources, and for the second, we must try to mitigate  our exposure to vulnerabilities -- or at least adapt our development planning and path to vulnerabilities that cannot be averted or significantly mitigated.. 

Failing on either front, development will be unsustainable or even absent.

So, we need to balance a focus on our major natural resources:
  • Sun, sea, land, fresh water,
  •  tropical island coastal, watershed and upland ecosystems
  • marine ecosystems and species
  • minerals such as bauxite, titanium, rare earth metals, oil, natural gas, gypsum, and even gold
  • world class beaches, leading up to even more breathtakingly beautiful landscapes with lush tropical vegetation, mountains and abundant biodiversity
  • high endemism in our biodiversity "from ridge to reef"
  • location near the North American and European markets
  • sitting astride or close to key global trade choke-points including the Panama Canal, the Straights of Florida, the straights between Cuba and the Yucatan, etc
  • Major natural harbours (Especially in Jamaica and Trinidad)
  • the two to three pounds of grey matter between our ears
  • the five-pronged appendages at the ends of our arms
. . . with a due recognition of our main natural vulnerabilities such as:
  • Hurricanes
  • droughts and floods (with linked deforestation and siltation)
  • climate/weather patterns, trends and linked extreme events
  • landslide and erosion hazards
  • tropical disease sources, environmental reservoirs and vectors
  • earthquakes
  • volcanoes (especially, explosive island arc volcanoes)
  • tsunamis ("tidal waves") -- connected to volcanoes and earthquakes as well as undersea land-slides
. . . if our development planning is to be truly sustainable.

This moves the sustainability principle to the focus of our development challenge:
SD: Better and more fairly meeting our needs today, while so husbanding resources and managing hazards that our children (and grandchildren) can adequately meet their needs tomorrow.
From this, in light of the way that our bio-physical, socio-cutural and economic-policy environment domains are inextricably entangled and interacting, we can highlight a cluster of key sectors to focus on . . . with natural resources and natural hazards management being at one of the threeinerfaces between domains:

Consequently, integrated development planning needs to address this matrix of thirty or so focal sectors, including natural resources and hazards as one of the three major interface nodes.  The culture of Governance node implies as well that planning needs to ever more become accountable, transparent and participative, with technical capacity being built up and a well-informed and motivated public.

As a test, let us ask ourselves why we have recently seen this happen to Montserrat's last remaining -- now GONE -- mangrove wetland, when there were reasonable alternatives in developing the new town centre:


And, how many times have stanzas of this same  sad song been sung all over our region?

Likewise, let us ask ourselves, all across this region, how well we meet the test in this panorama of what is required to effectively manage the natural hazards, disasters and emergency cycle:

So, first, in the end, for everything, we use to meet our needs, we require something we grow or mine or hunt, as a natural resource base. And, if we live in an environment we will have hazards, that we need to develop capacity to manage soundly. 

And so, again, if not now, when; if not here, where; if not us, who? END