Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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CSI info 5


The UNESCO International Seminar on "Urban Development and Water Resources: Small Coastal Towns" took place in Essaouira (ancient Mogador), Morocco, from 24 to 26 November 1997, with three hundred participants from several European, North African and Middle Eastern countries.

This important meeting brought together specialists from several disciplines, technicians, managers and decision-makers to tackle jointly an issue which at the present time is a concern for officials of all coastal countries: integrated and sustainable development of coastal regions. During these three working days, emphasis was placed on defining new strategies for urban development in coastal zones, expressly aimed at supporting small and medium-sized towns and the preservation of their water resources.

The seminar provided an opportunity to identify fields of interest shared among these towns, and in particular among the municipalities and towns represented at Essaouira: Saint-Malo, Alghero, Sciacca and Licata, Alexandria, Sa´da, Tunis, Odense, Esbjerg, Omisalj, Kotor and Taglio di Po. Letters of intent for mutual co-operation were signed, both in favour of the town of Essaouira and between all the towns represented at the seminar.

In the framework of thematic workshops it was thus possible to draw up a certain number of recommendations and solutions to encourage the town of Essaouira to continue its development efforts. Actions already identified by local and national authorities were declared to be priorities for the development of the town. In particular the restoration of the ramparts was identified as the first and major action to be undertaken urgently.

Much attention was also paid to the national programme for the improvement of sanitation and drainage in certain parts of the medina: the renovation of the distribution network for drinking water and the evacuation and treatment of liquid waste were considered to be priority actions. The creation of a healthy environment for the inhabitants of the Medina is a fundamental requirement for the sustainable development of the town as a whole

The seminar suggested that programmes of public awareness and information should be developed. Indeed, the setting up of new and efficient equipment should be accompanied by programmes for awareness, education and transfer of know-how and knowledge.

General lines of orientation and recommendations emerged for ensuring the follow-up of the UNESCO project beyond the pilot case of Essaouira. UNESCO was encouraged to further its interdisciplinary approach and to develop more effectively the integration of socio-economic and natural scientific approaches.

It was recognized that the interdisciplinary approach developed by UNESCO in Essaouira, could be applied to other towns in the project. The interdisciplinary methodology based on reflection and knowledge crossing the boundaries of social and natural sciences, in particular water and ocean science, is a tool which allows a better understanding of the complex interactions which characterize the coastal environment. In this manner, strategies can be formulated which may be adapted from case by case.

The seminar also underlined the importance of policies aimed at the protection and development of coastal zones. These should be capable of fulfilling the role of a "mediator" between the needs of the urban, industrial and agricultural sectors and the limits of sustainable natural resource use: wise water management should be recognized as an important factor for social development. Indeed, poor management of available water resources may represent a serious obstacle to the sustainable development of any human settlement.

The seminar encouraged UNESCO to be particularly attentive to development strategies in coastal regions, to assist municipalities to manage better urban growth and to foresee the concentration of migrant populations in large towns.

Urban development strategies in coastal zones should take into account information available from existing studies on the hydrological system dynamics of water resources in order to avoid conflicts between users, resource degradation and depletion. UNESCO should also develop training and information tools on the impact of urban growth on the quantity and quality of water furnished to the inhabitants of coastal towns and on the negative impacts that the degradation of this resource may have on the urban environment.

At the present time, water management and availability are issues of essential importance to urban areas in the coastal region. It is therefore necessary that a wide variety of specialists (other than hydrologists and water science experts), as well as local populations, become increasingly knowledgeable about water resources and their management.

It was thus recognized that one of the ways to balance the demand for water while avoiding overburdening the capacity of the coastal environment, consists of launching actions aimed at the development of small and medium-sized towns. Such actions should integrate their cultural and historic heritage, as the latter represents a potential source for new economic development and a vital element for the preservation of the cultural identity of populations.

The renovation of these small coastal towns should stem the flow of resident populations towards large towns and, furthermore, absorb part of the rural migration, thus bringing a shift in urban development which would relieve the large urban centres in the coastal zones.

UNESCO was encouraged to pursue this global approach to development which was initiated with the pilot case of Essaouira.

The small and medium-sized towns, situated far from large urban centres are generally forgotten in national development policies. Given their particular situation – in some way a meeting point of urban and rural realities - these towns do not fall into any of the urban, regional or rural policy frameworks. Regional development policies are very often torn between agricultural policy and urban policy: the first supports rural activities while urbanisation neglects the small and medium-sized towns. This is explained in both cases by the fact that they are an intermediary phase prior to widespread urbanisation. Town policy in lightly urbananised regions should take into account different territorial characteristics such as the site, the size and the population density of the town and the variations of different migratory streams.

The territorial development of urban regions is today no longer considered by national governments as an exclusively domestic question. Several factors point to a centrifugal development of the small and medium-sized towns with regard to central government: the setting up of community, inter-regional and transnational town networks, the creation of a link with the international community, due to a stronger commercial situation, and an increased will to establish mechanisms for local development that favour endogenous development. Improved communication and access to information could reduce the disadvantages of isolation by compensating for the absence of direct contact by recourse to new communication technologies.

In the framework of the small and medium-sized towns, should be added the difficulties linked to the geographical context and its consequences.

The seminar, after evaluating the actions already underway and to be undertaken at Essaouria, recognized that the experience of certain towns gives grounds for hope for Essaouira. Proposals by international NGOs and bilateral co-operation agencies for technical assistance will also bring support in the framework of a plan of action for the safeguard and integrated development of the town.

Co-ordinated by UNESCO, letters of intent for co-operation, signed on 26 November 1997 by the partner towns, should lead to the implementation of technical aid for the town and allow funds to be mobilized for infrastructure and socio-economic renewal.

UNESCO, assisted by the international community and with the scientific support of the steering committee, will work alongside the town of Essaouira to set up a national co-ordination structure for activities relative to the transmission of basic values of the town to future generations.

Finally, the seminar participants made known their desire that errors from poor territorial development planning in certain coastal regions, might serve as an example of what not to do. In this way, small and medium-sized towns can follow a path to development, while at the same time conserving the traditional quality of their cultural and social life in a natural environment which is conserved and valued.

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