Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 2


Hispaniola: a joint heritage


Priorities in bi-national cooperation for the conservation, integrated management and sustainable development of the coastal regions of Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Hispaniola is the only Caribbean island shared by two different independent states (the Dominican Republic and Haiti). It supports the largest human population (15 million) of any single West Indian island. Even as a single island, Hispaniola alone genuinely reflects the Caribbean microcosms of cultural, social, political, economic and language dissimilarities that characterize the region’s history, with resulting fragmentation of their societies. However, both countries share the same biodiversity, the same ecological nature, the same island ecosystem. They also share the adverse effects of natural disasters that occur not uncommonly in the region (e.g. hurricanes, earthquakes, floods), causing considerable economic losses and human mortality in both countries. The vulnerability of local economies and populations to the effects of tropical storms (which have increased in frequency and intensity during the last decades) is often aggravated by the reduced security of natural buffers due to mismanagement of coastal areas and watersheds.

Although larger in surface area than the average neighbouring islands, Hispaniola is, on the other hand, not exempt from the economic predicaments and development challenges currently facing small islands in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Both countries are in urgent need of long-term development programmes addressing the multiple-root problems and pressures affecting terrestrial and marine environments. Development and implementation of island-wide land use planning and management strategies for marine and coastal areas are urgently needed. For the achievement of these goals, approaches must not be restricted to the land-water interface, but should include all land-based sources of disturbances generated by human activities inland (e.g. deforestation, watershed erosion, sedimentation) that are modifying natural conditions, creating degradation and reducing the productivity of coastal ecosystems. Furthermore, the adoption of ecological boundaries as a planning tool for biodiversity conservation and development planning should not be over-looked.

Coastal resources are an important part of the economic patrimonies of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and, in general, all the islands in the region. Two of the most significant income-generating industries, tourism and fisheries, depend on them directly. Their wise management, therefore, is essential if the Dominican Republic and Haiti are to meet both economic and ecological goals. Despite the fact that the two countries have co-existed relatively well on Hispaniola, and will continue to do so in the future, little collaboration for environmental management has been attempted and achieved up to now. Again, the environmental issue is a converging point. However, environmental considerations have not been traditionally recognized as a perceptible element in the priority programmes of the two countries. It is obvious that formalization of bilateral trade and commercial exchange agreements are also likely to happen, considering current trends of globalization and the formation of regional and hemispheric markets. It should be difficult to ignore the many valid justifications to incorporate environmental considerations and issues as part of trade and other potential agreements.

Deforested and drying watershed on the south coast,
between Côte de Fer and Grosse Caye

Photo J. Ottenwalder

Many development projects and programmes are currently being planned or implemented in both countries in response to increasingly demanding socio-economic pressures by urban and rural populations. National environmental strategies providing a policy-institutional framework for biodiversity resource conservation and sustainable development are still lacking. Available information is inadequate and often outdated for the development of sound conservation and sustainable development action. Reliable ecological assessments are an important component of ecosystem management implementation strategies. Local resources and capacities are, however, limited. Comprehensive, area-specific marine management and planning are essential for maintaining the long-term ecological integrity as well as productivity and economic benefit of coastal regions. The effectiveness of management actions to protect coastal and marine environments cannot be assessed without scientific analysis and knowledge. Accordingly, comprehensive protection strategies should incorporate scientific principles. Close interaction among scientists and decision-makers is vital ( GESAMP: Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (sponsored by IMO, FAO, UNESCO, IOC, WMO, WHO, IAEA, UN, and UNEP); (i) 1990. Report of the Twentieth Session, Geneva, 7-11 May 1990. GESAMP Reports and Studies, (41), 32pp. (ii) 1996. The Contributions of Science to Coastal Zone Management. GESAMP Reports and Studies, (61), 66 pp.). Serious consideration of environmental concerns and issues has been neglected often in the past as a result of failures to recognize these principles, and in the absence of suitable environmental policies and knowledge. Timely access to, as well as widespread availability and use of, scientific data would be of significant importance to both countries for conservation of the natural resource base, sustainable economic growth and continuing social stability. Effective negotiation and collaboration between the two countries is hampered by the lack of a common island-wide agenda and strategy approach identifying mutual environmental concerns and benefits.

Opportunities for immediate collaboration and exchange are at hand. Although incipient, some experiences in coastal management are available in the Dominican Republic. A draft territorial organization of the Dominican coastline has been produced by the Government’s National Planning Office (ONA-PLAN). A Coastal-marine Administrative Council was created by decree for environmental regulation in coastal areas. A master plan and strategy for tourist development areas has also been drafted. A number of marine protected areas are already established. An integrated coastal management (ICM) plan for Juan Dolio-Guayacanes, a tourist sector along the south-central coast, east of Santo Domingo, was developed, and funding has been allocated from the Carribean Environment Programme (United Nations Environment Programme) to extend it. Several ICM plans, involving the most significant coastal regions of the country (Samaná Bay and Peninsula, a proposed bio-sphere reserve, and the national parks Montecristi, Los Haitises and Jaragua) are currently being completed under the Dominican Republic UNDP-GEF Coastal Biodiversity Conservation and Management Project, executed by the Technical Secretariat of the Presidency’s National Planning Office, through the local UNDP mission. Government agencies of the natural resources subsector, provincial and municipal authorities, national and regional non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, local communities, grass roots organizations and users are participating in the preparation of these proposed regional coastal management plans.

The following should be considered as priority needs and actions: development of national sustainable development strategies and policies addressing the existence of binational considerations; strengthening of environmental legislation and policies; establishment of legal advisory and enforcement capacity on environment; building the capacities of institutions and professionals; promotion of broad participation, constituency building, and education on conservation and resource management; preparation of territorial management plans; realization of coastal-marine environment baseline studies; preparation and/or strengthening of ICM plans; adoption and application of ecosystem principles to management and policy; implementation of environmental impact assessment procedures; development and implementation of water resources assessments, watershed protection, water management plans; improvement of sewerage and water treatment technology and regulations; development and implementation of effective pollution control and monitoring; control of beach erosion; reduction of sand use in construction; improvement of fishery and other marine resource surveys, assessments and management plans, including those concerning endange red species.

Dr. Ottenwalder is National Coordinator of the Dominican Republic’s Coastal-Marine Biodiversity Project, sponsored by UNDP-GEF.

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