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


In June 1996, the 14th meeting on salt-water intrusion into coastal aquifers (SWIM: Salt Water Intrusion Meeting), held in Malmö, Sweden, gave UNESCO an opportunity to invite hydrologists, urban sociologists, socio-economists, geographers, architects and urban planners to conceive a strategy for preventing or stopping the degradation of cities of socio-cultural interest whose centres are by the sea, while preserving, by a more rational management, the water resources necessary for their existence.

The poor management of water resources has certain impacts on the socio-economic development of coastal towns and reduces their chances of conserving their cultural identity and historic urban heritage. For a long time now, water-management specialists have attempted, with very little success, to pass a message to urban planners, architects and mayors of coastal towns.

Today, experts in social science and land-use and coastal-zone management still do not have available to them specific methods for the management of coastal-zone development in terms of water resources. A town is a complex natural and social ecosystem and should be managed as such. It is no longer possible to isolate the coastal towns from their hinterlands, as has been commonly done hitherto. The environmental conditions often have an influence on the strategies and politics of development. They are undissociable from economic development and are, in fact, the foundation thereof. The local communities have much to gain from environmental improvement; the policies aimed at creating a stable environment favour an improvement in the standard of living, attract people and businesses and generate employment.

The protection of a historic urban landscape of international value is, however, an undertaking the seriousness of which largely exceeds the vagaries of local politics. Any discussion of the protection of this sea-front heritage should take into account life in the hinterland, at least on a regional scale.

How can small and medium coastal towns play a leading role in the orientation of our societies towards a more ecologically sustainable future and towards local policies that are more respectful of the environment? To develop an adequate policy, it is important first to analyse their characteristics and the range of advantages that underlie their competitiveness.

In the follow-up to the recommendations of the Malmö meeting, a new project "Urban Development and Freshwater Resources: Small Coastal Cities" was incorporated into the UNESCO intersectorial activity "Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and in Small Islands" (CSI).

Two intergovernmental programmes of the Social and Human Sciences Sector and of the Science Sector of UNESCO — "Management of Social Transformations" (MOST) and the International Hydrological Programme (IHP), respectively — provide support to this new interdisciplinary project which benefits moreover from the experience of the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO in the field of protection of the natural cultural heritage, and the logistical support of the UNESCO Regional Operations Offices.

This project will contribute to the implementation of the recommendations of the UN Conferences on the Environment and Development (Rio, 1992), on Population (Cairo, 1994), on Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995), and on the Human Habitat (Istanbul, 1996).

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