Friday, May 09, 2014

Capacity focus, 85: Addressing the triple-challenge of soundness in Natural Resources/ Hazards Management -- (1) grounding for claims, (2) ethics in decision and action, (3) long-term strategic thinking . . .

The triple challenge of soundness is a major concern as we seek to better, more sustainably manage natural resources and hazards in the Caribbean:
I: SOLID FACTUAL GROUNDING -- claims that constitute the "['scientific'] facts," "principles," "axioms" and premises on which we think, reason, conclude and act must be well established;

II: RIGHTLY GUIDED ETHICS -- the values and norms that guide our prioritising, conflict resolution, decisions and actions must be credible and coherent in light of the sustainability challenge . . .
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;
III: STRATEGIC TIMELINESS -- in order to act effectively in good time, we must accurately understand our times, signs/trends, risks, uncertainties, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats well ahead of the point where -- for want of being "three moves ahead . . ." of the situation on the ground -- we are forced to react urgently in an ill-informed rush or even a panic, in the face of a disastrous crisis.
Plainly, a tall order.

One, that obviously brims over with capacity issues and surfaces many underlying rifts between factions, classes and interests.

But, one that needs urgent attention all across our region.

For example, let us follow up on the Piper's Pond Montserrat situation -- the last remaining  mangrove wetland on that island, that went under the bulldozer recently:

That was maybe a week ago. 

This morning, after a half-night of rain, we see a different picture, from the seaward end this time (as that is where the earth moving machines are now trying to dig a ditch to drain it):

Clearly, a warning on what is possible with such a dumped up "reclaimed" mangrove wetland in case of a heavy rainfall or a storm surge from a hurricane, and a wake-up call to think again.

How, then, do we best respond?

First, as a region we have to make . . . and keep . . . a heartfelt commitment to be strategically sound, prudent, rightly guided and timely.

Often, that is itself quite hard, in the face of competing interests and the balance of power in a community or institution that tends to enforce "business as usual," but it is a necessary first step to a more sustainable alternative path:


Closely linked, there is a need to rebalance the access to credible information and to power distribution across stakeholder groups. Indeed, the concept of more fairly meeting needs today implies that the marginalised need to be brought to the table and empowered, and that -- once significant sustainability concerns arise -- there needs to be enhanced transparency and accountability over decisions and actions by the powerful inside and outside of government. That already brings out a close linkage between seeking the truth and seeking to be in the right.

Tellus -- a noted environmental consultancy group, speaking of the Pacific region, have some significant observations that ring all too true in the Caribbean also:
Environmental and economic policy decisions [are] made on nine levels;
  • Global
  • Regional
  • National
  • Sectoral
  • Local Government (Provincial or District)
  • Community (Village or Sectoral community such as fishers or farmers).
  • Corporate
  • Family
  • Personal
People who make policy decisions at each level have differences in viewpoint, needs, and information availability. The links between these policy decision factions depend on:
  • Overriding political and moral policies
  • Information flow between the levels
  • Current environmental conditions (there can be considerable differences in how people behave during disasters or acute resource shortages).
Conflicts arise between and within each level. The worse the flow of information between the levels, the greater the conflicts and their attendant costs. Each of these levels had its own agenda and special interests. In the Pacific islands information is poorly shared between the various levels creating conflicts, distrust and clouded decisions.
The policy decision making process is driven from its ends; by the survival needs of individuals in the community and the career needs of professionals in the international aid community acting on a global commitment to foster sustainable development, alleviate poverty, and protect the environment. National governments, and their sectoral and provincial components, oscillate between these two poles, normally facing the flow of money while hoping their constituents and resources would at least look after themselves . . . 
Mining, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, and tourism often have conflicting strategies. The efforts to create economic growth, alleviate poverty or improve the environment in one sector may defeat the strategies to achieve the same thing in one of the other sectors. Some examples are:
  • Agriculture promotes growing crops (often of low value) for export. Their plans include large scale farming with clearing of the land and copious use of fertilizers and pesticides. This results in pollution of rivers with silt, nutrients and poisons that cause long-term damage to coral reef habitats and a subsequent loss of fish catch.Forestry promotes large scale logging operations resulting in sedimentation of rivers, habitat destruction, coastal erosion, coral reef death, and permanent loss of agricultural areas through soil depravation, loss of the water-recycling function of the trees, and decreased protection from storms.
  • On coastal areas, multiple demands on resources can lead to open conflict. Fishers, who depend on the coastal area for survival, have a low status and cannot influence coastal zone planning processes aimed at high profile sectors like tourism, housing, and road construction.
  • Development activities from any one sector compete with development activities from all the other sectors. Individual people in a community often engage in farming, fishing, transportation, small scale forestry and tourism activities. Not to mention Church and social obligations. In the Pacific Islands, there are so many development schemes in progress that nobody has time to do any of them effectively. Workshops and conferences can be so numerous, employees in the understaffed government offices find it difficult to get day to day work done.
 In short, we are looking at painfully negotiated compromises, which will too often reflect more of power interests and agendas, than of soundness. And, to hit on a compromise where so many conflicts and interests are at stake, will often take a long time. Which may adversely affect timeliness.

So, we are right back at the force of the need for commitment to act in light of what is sound and manifestly right, in good time.

That then poses capacity-development challenges.

The challenge of natural hazard management allows us to focus this aspect (and a similar framework can be built up for natural resource management):

 We must be able to soundly analyse the hazard in terms of the bio-physical, socio-cultural and economic environmental domains and associated risks, vulnerabilities, range of possible impacts, and coping mechanisms, in order to make soundly informed decisions.  Absent such, we will be running potentially dangerous and reckless hazards. 

Then, we must be willing and able to repeatedly address the risk management cycle across time, indeed, to manage it in light of a portfolio of assessed hazards:

Immediately, it is obvious that as a region, we face major gaps and vulnerabilities.

Given the consequences, we therefore must make a second major commitment, to build up our capacity and a critical mass of consensus in the community to address our natural resources and hazards adequately. Understanding along the way, that we are limited and will make errors, so we need to err on the side of prudence.

With the tyrannies of the distractive urgent circumstances of the day as a further factor to be borne in mind.

So, we are back to the usual question: if not now, then when? If not here then where? If not us, then who? END