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


The most recent United Nations Conferences – on Environment and Development (UNCED), Cairo 1994, Copenhagen 1995, and Istanbul 1996 (Habitat II: the Second UN Conference on the Human Habitat) – have exposed the fundamental problems concerning the major challenges of the 21st century: population growth and redistribution; the expansion of large cities, particularly coastal cities; the availability of fresh water (in quality and quantity) to meet the needs of the human population; management of social transformations and the fight against poverty.

Some indications were thus formulated with a view to attaining an equilibrium between the use of natural resources and socio-economic development in such a way that the consumption to meet present needs does not penalize future generations. The various indications arising from these international conferences have stressed the importance of an interdisciplinary approach integrating socio-economic and cultural components into land and natural resource management. These indications should be rapidly applied to resolve the problems of human development in the context of certain fragile environments. Among these fragile environments, coastal zones must be given especial attention. In these areas, the problems mentioned above are linked and additive. They are zones at risk which require special measures with respect to land use and natural resource exploitation, and in the management and development of urban areas.

An integrated approach to land management in the coastal zone should therefore take into account the recommendations of global conferences, bearing especially in mind forecasts of population growth and migration which estimate that, in 2025, 75% of the world population will live within 60 km of the sea. To achieve this, adequate strategies should be established to equilibrate and harmonize the development of human habitats in these zones so as to avoid overpopulation of the major coastal cities, pollution of the marine environment and water resources.

The socio-economic and cultural implications of water-resource management and protection of the natural environment will allow definition of the possibilities open to decision-makers to resolve problems related to the quantity and quality of water needed for human habitats in the coastal zone in the 21st century.

The problems are all the more complex when the urban area under consideration is a regional capital or a megalopolis. Many studies and special programmes exist already to evaluate the problems of large coastal cities and to propose guidelines on solving these problems to the municipal authorities concerned, especially in the Mediterranean through the European Union (EU) or the major inter-city organizations Fédération mondial des cités (FMCU), Organisation des villes du patrimoine mondial (OVPM) and Megalopolis.

In contrast, the town councils of small towns are very often ignored by the national and international bodies, although the recent world conferences mentioned earlier stress the importance of providing support for rural and lightly urbanized areas so as to avoid adding to the problems in the major cities.

Availability and
management of water resources
Demography and migration
Increasing urbanization in the coastal zone
How to ensure environmentally sustainable development of human habitats

In some regions, small coastal towns have succeeded in surmounting their problems in the integrated management of their urban development, whereas others experience the inexorable accumulation of these problems as their populations grow and rural immigrants overpopulate some run-down districts.


Degradation of the urban
and social structures in the coastal zone



Arrested socio-economic development   Rural exodus


Degradation of fragile
natural environments
  Over-population of cheap run-down districts

Salt- and fresh-water

Over-exploitation of water

In the framework of the UNESCO programme "Integrated Coastal-Zone Development", launched in 1996, the project "Urban Development and Freshwater Resources: Small Coastal Cities" was created in the light of the aforementioned context. The project has the following general objectives: the management of natural resources, the protection of the environment and support for the development of small coastal towns and cities. To achieve this, it aims to avoid: the over-population of major coastal cities; the pollution of water resources and of the marine environment; and the acceleration of rural migration to the major cities.

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