Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Coastal regions on line

Extract from UNESCO Sources (131) published February, 2001, page 11 

How to manage conflicts over re-sources and values in the world’s increasingly fragile coastal areas? This is the task that partners in UNESCO’s Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and Small Islands (CSI) platform have set themselves.

The strategy has three main strands. First, some 23 field projects involving around 50 countries are looking at sustainable, grassroots solutions to coastal problems. Then, at local and regional levels, UNESCO Chairs (university professorships) provide scientific support to these field projects, as well as using the results for innovative training and research. And, since May 1999, a third strand – a web-based discussion forum on Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development (username: csi; password: wise) - has joined the CSI toolkit. Whereas “best practices” attempt to describe what should be done, “wise practices” accept that, in the real world, there is always going to be some compromise.

In its early stages, the Forum organisers in Paris asked leaders of UNESCO sponsored field projects to send in examples of wise practices and to analyse them using a check-list of criteria. These were then posted on the Web to trigger discussion. “It took six weeks before anyone responded”, says Dirk Troost, who heads the CSI initiative. Gradually the organisers extended the Forum to wise practices from other initiatives, besides UNESCO’s. “We ended up with 52 examples”, says Troost. “By early 2001, the Forum had published some 128 further items. And now over 4000 people are connected”.

Behind the scenes, a team of four “moderators” maintains the site. Gillian Cambers, in Puerto Rico, edits the contributions before they are posted on the Forum site, while Khalissa Ikhlef in Paris prepares them for the server and looks after day to day Forum tasks. Malcolm Dobson in Dundee, Scotland is responsible for software programming, while Troost acts as “managing moderator”. The moderators have to decide what to publish and keep it to a reasonable length. “It’s a lot of work”, says Cambers, “sometimes a contribution can be one line, sometimes it’s 40 pages”. They currently restrict new postings to one every ten days and automatically send them as email to all 4000 participants. In some parts of the world with poor internet con-nection, large files and attachments overload the local server, or cost too much to download at slow speeds and inflated telephone charges, so email is the only option.

To stimulate dialogue through the Forum, rather than person to person, the moderators decided not to include contributors’ email addresses. The downside of this, of course, is that the Forum does not fully function as a network, as people do not contact one another directly. But there has been other, unexpected spin-off. The contributions are turning out to be valuable case studies for undergraduate teaching in universities from Rhode Island to the Philippines.

Peter Coles

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