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The conditions of resource management in the region

From colonial times and through the early years of independence, the development strategies of all but the city-states rested ultimately on resource-based production for export, and for the provision of homeproduced foodstuffs and raw materials. Under the colonial administrations of the Netherlands, Britain, France, Portugal. Australia and Japan, and not much less so that of the United States, these countries-and Thailand as well-were classic economies of exploitation. As Furnivall (1939: 452) wrote, translating a 1935 paper by Boeke with biting emphasis:

[T]here is materialism. rationalism, individualism, a concentration on economic ends far more complete and absolute than in homogenous Western lands; a total absorption in the Exchange and Market; a capitalist structure, with the business concern as subject, far more typical of Capitalism than one can imagine in the so-called capitalist' countries.

This he applied not only to European society in the region but also to that of the immigrant Chinese; as far as possible, the 'native' economy was not only permitted but actively forced, through systems of indirect rule, to remain on one side. As Emerson (1937: 467) noted for British Malaya, colonial reporting was based on 'a tacit assumption that growing revenues and exports are certain indices of the well-being of colonial society and of the well-doing of colonial government, complacently ignoring such matters as standards of living and the crushing out of the right of men to rise to place and power in their own society'.

Yet these colonial economies and societies were supplied with a substantial, if biased, infrastructure, and the successor states that emerged after the wars and rebellions of 1941-54 all quickly experienced balance of payments problems that were aggravated by their strong new policies of social development. Given concentration of financial power in the hands of mainly foreign-owned companies, it was necessary for the new states to intervene actively in economic activities in order to secure an independent economic base. This was achieved differently in different countries, but within each state the main direction of economic policy had-of necessity at least in the short term-to build on the colonial legacy. Notwithstanding economic diversification and the growth of industrial sectors not dependent on local raw materials, these states have been and, even in the 1990s, still are heavily dependent on world market prices for their economic growth and social well-being.

The essentially short-temm use of mineral and, especially, forest resources at unsustainable rates is a dimension or intensification of this dependence on world prices, not an escape from it. In the mid- 1980s, most of these countries were thrown into recession by simultaneous collapse of world prices of most of their export products. Major changes in policy resulted, reducing direct government intervention and relaxing the conditions of foreign investment. At the beginning of the 1990s, the South-East Asian economies, along with those of East Asia, have remained extremely buoyant in the face of a deepening recession in Europe, North America and some other regions. If the world economic downturn persists, however, this buoyancy will be eroded by diminished demand for the new manufactured exports, as well as the traditional raw-material exports, on which the region depends. Industrialization is insufficiently deep, and too vulnerable to protectionism from developed countries to offer a secure escape from rawmaterial dependency, some euphoria generated by the resumption of high rates of economic growth at the end of the 1980s notwithstanding.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, there were many ambitious public projects designed to reduce import dependence and create a substantial industrial sector that enjoyed generous state support, both direct and indirect. This state support, however, depended heavily on revenues derived from the expansion of primary production, and it has been sharply reduced since the recession of the mid-1980s. There was certainly substantial growth of indigenous capitalism but, except in the services sector, it lacked its own dynamism; whether or not one agrees with Yoshihara's (1988) severe characterization of South-East Asia's industrial progress as 'ersatz' capitalism, it retained heavy dependence either on the primary base or on foreign capital and technology or both. Since the mid-1980s, the primary base has continued to experience difficulties due to weak demand and persistent oversupply, as technology in the consuming countries has changed (Kamal Salih, 1989). One entire national industry-Malaysian tin-has almost collapsed. New efforts have been made to attract both direct and jointventure foreign investment, to encourage indigenous entrepreneurship and to reduce dependence of industry on the state, all with varying degrees of success. Some of the successes, for example in Malaysian electronics and Indonesian plywood, have been spectacular in terms of employment creation, though the first generates only a limited range of linkages, and the second depends on a diminishing resource. Much new investment has been made in services, and a number of the industries captured by South-East Asian countries are seen as 'sunset industries' in developed countries, their comparative advantage in this region depending on low wages. Hopes of substantial transfer of modem high technology continue to be disappointed.

Social progress has been great and, if uneven, remarkably widespread in the countries of most rapid growth. Large parts of the South-East Asian region are now far removed from the condition of either most of Africa or South Asia. However, so long as raw-material exports remain of central importance, the true economic peers of most of South-East Asia are still in Australasia, Latin America, southern Africa and just perhaps in the former Soviet Union, not in the giant power-house economies of North America, Western Europe and North-East Asia. This is not to underrate the major economic changes that have been or are now being achieved, or to say that the drive for further development is likely to fail.

Singapore is, as in so many other ways, an exception. The city-state already enjoys Western standards of services and consumption, and it alone in the region has been able to afford the cost of substantial environmental improvement since the mid-1970s. Around it has emerged a growth area extending into southern Malaysia and the Riau islands of Indonesia: a smaller version of the extension of Hong Kong's growth into the Shenzen-Guandong industrial complex in southern China. Malaysia's new long-term plan is to achieve developed-country standards by 2020 (Government of Malaysia, 1991b)-a goal termed 'Vision 2020'. There is no want of confidence and, in this respect, South-East Asia shares with the whole West Pacific Rim an ethos of growth and progress that contrasts sharply with the creeping doubts that have infected many Western lands.

In retrospect, the boom period of the 1970s and early 1980s failed to lead to the rapid industrial transformation to economic independence that was then anticipated and, while the mistakes of that period are now being avoided, it is not yet certain that the resumed boom can persist at its 1990 I speed. New, harsher external conditions present serious problems for the 1990s. Notwithstanding enormous progress and continued rapid economic growth, the full transformation of South-East Asia's ax-colonial economies into modem, post-industrial societies is not yet assured. Given the hopes and expectations of a decade ago and their disappointment in the 1980s, and the many uncertainties created by new political developments in Europe, the former

Soviet Union and East Asia, it would be folly to try to predict the economic conditions of the first decade of the next millennium. Moreover, it would be optimistic to expect a prolonged return to the highly favourable terms of the 1970s, and it would also be optimistic to believe that the continued high rates of population growth will fail to have a depressing effect on social development.

Though the shares of agriculture and mining in GDP continue to decline, rapid growth in the share of manufacturing is not sufficient to banish the spectres of unemployment. and of urban as well as rural poverty. There remain some horrible examples of poverty in the region. A large measure of dependence on unstable or weakly priced resource exports, and on resourcebased manufactures, is likely to continue. Singapore only excepted, industrialization and urbanization, with a growing emphasis on services, seem unlikely to quickly create a set of high-technology societies; moreover, even Singapore has become primarily a service economy.

There are some serious environmental Implications in these trends. Some rural exports and many of the new industries are heavily waste productive. Each set-back in commodity prices and each new industrial development depending on low production costs for success reduce both the means and the will to manage the environment more effectively. The boom has created a great and growing number of wasteful and environmentally damaging activities, and it does not seem likely that this situation will soon improve. One can hope, and does, that South-East Asia will rapidly be transformed into a wealthy region able and willing to support greatly improved environmental management for its own sake, but perhaps the more realistic hope of improved management lies in the need to economize on the use of increasingly scarce resources. This need, at least, is now increasingly perceived in the 1990s in decision-making circles in the region.

The main environmental issues

It may be appropriate to paraphrase George Orwell and remark that while in an ideal world all environmental questions should be equal, some are in fact more equal than others. Moreover, it is only fair to note that the issues are very unequal in the perception of a global environmentalist movement that is taking an increasing and uncomfortable interest in the South-East Asian region. It may be unreasonable to expect environmental fundamentalists who are now so vocal about trees in this region to pay close attention to real social and economic problems; some among them. and some sections of the Western media, seemed in early 1991 to be more concerned over sea birds in the Persian Gulf than with the cruel fate of unfortunate people, on nearby dry land, who were blasted by all the weaponry that modern skills had devised. While this 'unequal concern' is far from true of all environmentalists, there is an expressed need among many to find issues that will claim the attention of their middle-class backers in Western countries; trees are now high on this list.

This criticism is not to deny that trees, and what is happening to them, are in truth the single most pressing environmental issue in this region, but to point out that several other issues come very close in importance. Moreover. the fate of trees is but one subset of a larger group of issues, the core of which is the growth of population and its demands, and the style of development. While it is impossible to create without physical change, creation that is to be sustainable through a foreseeable future must improve materially on what it destroys. This has been argued elsewhere in a more general context (Brookfield, 1991). This approach is precisely not the modern pattern of development in South-East Asia, though it has been done in the past over large areas in this region in which productive, materially more secure and aesthetically more pleasing-because they are more varied- landscapes have been created by human artifice. The conference on which this book is based took place in the midst of one such panorama, that is around Yogyakarta.

Some writers have lately remarked on the recency with which the relationship of environmental issues to development has come to the Sore in the international literature on the region (for example, Falkus. 1990; McDowell, 1989). A decade has elapsed since Aiken et al. (1982) sought to bring these issues together for Peninsular Malaysia, and the regional literature of significance goes back to the 1960s. Before deforestation became the major issue, land and water degradation and specifically soil erosion were already matters of serious concern, both in rural and urban areas. The work which led Douglas (1993) to write his seminal book on the global urban environment had its origins in Kuala Lumpur at the end of the 1960s, and the very high suspended sediment yield figures for the rivers of Java, often cited in the literature, were mostly obtained in the 1960s and 1970s (Donner. 1987: Douglas and Spencer, 1985). Already in the 1950s, most of the uplands of Central Java were mapped as 'severely eroded' (Dames, 1955), and these uplands and their management remain an area of considerable concern and some controversy (Nibbering, 1991 a; Palte, 1989).

Accelerated soil erosion is, in fact, a good issue on which to focus attention, for it predates the modern development drive, and its causes are multiple. Population growth and shortage of land in the lowlands had already led to expansion of cultivation on to steep and dry slopes centuries ago, and now occur over wider and wider areas. Commercial cultivation of pepper and tapioca led to severe erosion in the nineteenth century and before, and major extensions of erosion followed tobacco planting in Sumatra in the nineteenth century, and then rubber planting in Malaysia in the twentieth century. Accelerated soil erosion is the product both of poverty and of affluence, each leading to mismanagement of the land, as has been argued elsewhere (Blaikie and Brookfield, 1987). It results from mining, timber extraction, deforestation. Iand settlement, road building, urbanization, shifting cultivation and the expansion of both peasants and planters on to hills. It cannot be prevented, but it can be reduced and controlled at a cost whether in labour or in cash, and in both cases by inputs into management rather than just production.

Moreover, it is a main cause of siltation and water pollution in rivers and coastal areas, augmented by the wastes of people, production and industry, and by the chemicals that are today so freely supplied to the land.

Three remarks may be made about accelerated soil erosion that apply, mutatis mutandis, to almost all other forms of environmental interference. First, the removal of protective cover from sloping land for any purpose inevitably exposes the land to accelerated erosion. Secondly, technical means exist to bring erosion under a large measure of control, but only in the special case of sawah formation is the use of these means integral to the production system; in all other cases, management is an added cost and sometimes a large one. Thirdly, the adoption or non-adoption of control programmes is a social decision, in some measure the responsibility of the actual farmer, developer or resource manager, and in some measure the responsibility of the state and of society as a whole. This multi-level accountability arises from the domain of the physical and social consequences. The farmer may act to protect his own livelihood and that of his inheritors. Local society may require action to protect others from downstream damage. The state may intervene to protect what is perceived as a set of national resources and to enhance the welfare of its citizens. But where the farmer or society or the state is concerned only with current production, treating damage as an externality to be absorbed by the unfortunate-present or future-the costs of management are unlikely to be shouldered.

Bound up with these questions are the concepts of tenure of resources and of optimal rates of depletion. The individual farmer, entrepreneur or state agency that regards a resource as entirely his/theirs to exploit at will is unlikely to be responsive to problems created for others, though sustainability of production on site may be a consideration. To the temporary holder of a resource under, say, a 10- to 20-year logging or mineral concession, the only optimal rate of depletion is the maximum achievable with the available means, and the consequences for all others and for the future are inevitably of small account. This is more so in the case of unlicensed loggers or miners, of whom there are many, especially but by no means only in Indonesia and Thailand. On the other hand, there are forest farmers, such as some in West Kalimantan who have, over generations, selectively converted most of their forest to rubber and fruit-bearing trees. They expect to hold this improved environment in perpetuity, plant even slowgrowing ironwood for the use of future generations, terrace some of their pepper gardens, and take care that swiddening is both selective of the forest resource and of sufficiently small scale not to cause siltation damage in their sawah.

Similar problems concerning externalities-individual/corporate and social benefit can be identified in such areas as the pollution of Malaysian rivers with rubber and palm-oil wastes in quantities that equal the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) of the sewage from the whole national population (Sham, 1987: 51-2). The larger case of the immense damage done by tin dredging in the past and in the disposal of both industrial and domestic effluent into the canals of Bangkok that are also used as industrial and domestic water sources are two other situations where externalities are little considered. Problems, both of tenure and of optimal depletion rates, arise in the conflict of interest between modern commercial and traditional fisheries all around the coasts of South-East Asia, and now extend as far as the coast of northern Australia. All these and other problems stem in common from a major increase in scale of activity and a growing pressure on common resources. However, the place in which all issues come together is in the forests, where economic growth based on the exploitation of natural resources has created a 'frontier economy' quite unlike anything that the region has ever witnessed.

In one way or another, the question of forest exploitation arises in several of the following chapters. Here, it is used only to draw out some general principles. The issue of optimal depletion rates is beset not only by ignorance about real replacement rates, as has often been noted, but also by questions of long-term benefit. In specific analyses of Indonesia and Malaysia, and also more generally over the region's forests, Gillis (1988a, 1988b, 1988c) argues that except where forests have been converted into sustainable agricultural systems, very little net gain has been achieved through two decades of extensive exploitation in which only a small part of the economic rent has been captured from the haste to get rich. Repetto (1990) reinforces this view over tropical forest exploitation as a whole. An end to this type of economy, already in sight in the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia (except Sarawak), will inevitably come to the whole region by or before 2005, due to exhaustion of most economically available resources, leaving a massive legacy of social and environmental costs and, moreover, a network of roads along which cultivators can come to complete the devastation. Byron and Waugh (1988) are less pessimistic, seeing gains in the replacement of forest with agriculture, not sharing the alarm of Malaysian forest specialists over the rate at which this conversion took place, and seeing hope for improvement in forest-management practices as costs rise in the face of a Ricardian reduction rather than Malthusian exhaustion of supplies. Perhaps they have reckoned without the enormous capacity for self-delusion among exploiters, bureaucrats and politicians, who have continued to speak of an industry continuing into perpetuity even while production is already in decline and warnings of forthcoming crippling shortage become increasingly well-founded.

However, Byron and Waugh also draw attention to the resource-tenure problem which has wider significance. Forests that used to belong to the shifting cultivators are claimed as public land by the state and allocated to concessionaires; the ethnic majority rather than the ethnic minority claims the resource but then allocates rights to a new set of individuals on temporary title. The effect of dispute, uncertainty and non-enforcement of the rules and controls of tenure is that the resource takes on some of the attributes of common property, and in these circumstances also of its 'tragedy' in Hardin's (1968) sense; that is, it becomes akin to a common in the theoretical, open-access meaning of the term, not in the sense of a socially managed institution (McCay and Acheson, 1987: 8). Much the same can be said of the rivers, canals and coastal waters and even of the atmosphere.

The need for a new concept of common resources

There is therefore a link between the farmer who allows his soil to be washed downstream, spoiling someone else's crops, and the transmigrant who leaves his unprofitable plot to cut undersized timber illegally in a forest allocated by the state to a plywood-mill owner for timber extraction. It is the same as the link between pollution of Bangkok's waterways and of Kuala Lumpur's atmosphere. The link lies in the concept of the environment as a common resource-the most important of all social resources-but one which is too often treated as an externality to private property rather than as a common which is socially manageable for the good of all. The colonial period bequeathed to this region the institution of private property in its modern sense, with full rights of use and disposal, as well as a set of economies based on the exploitation of natural resources. Underlying all environmental issues are the ultimate contradictions between individual and social benefit, and between present and future benefit, the resolution of which is the basis of stable social organization. Development and stability are unfortunately incompatible, and no society in the modern changing world has yet resolved these contradictions in a dynamic context. Most certainty, they have not been resolved in South-East Asia where they have emerged in very sharp focus.

Yet the environment itself is not stable. Disaster does not arise under the mean conditions published in climatological tables or found in estimates of erosion rates over time. It arises when, for example, several hundred millimetres of rain fall in a week-as has happened at many times and places in the region during the past century, bringing down whole hillsides, flooding towns and washing crops out of the ground. It arises when drought strikes, permitting the spread of fires as in 1983, 1987 and 1991, and earlier but with far less damage in 1914, 1902 and 1877. These are the occasions when mismanagement of the environment is starkly exposed, giving rise to alarm.

However global climate develops in the future, such occasions will surely recur. Global climatic change will come to South-East Asia mainly from external sources. but not entirely: not only is the region now a significant producer of some greenhouse gases, but it already has problems of acid rain. Moreover. at least two countries are at particular hazard because much of their built-up environment is close to sea level, so low as to be vulnerable even to quite ordinary high-water events. Urban-generated heat is already a serious problem, accentuated by atmospheric pollution. without the additional threat from global warming.

All these issues are raised again and again in the chapters that follow. Yet all are interconnected. They either arise from, or are made worse by, the growing pressures on regional resources from population and development, the continued use of air and water as a sink for wastes, the persistence of hard-core poverty in a region of comparative affluence, and the continuing dependence on the exploitation of natural resources to nourish this affluence. The environment is a common social good, yet the institutions created to manage it exist more on paper than in reality. Barber ( 1989a) remarks that its institutional frameworks for environmental and resource management are a patchwork rather than a system. They include the traditional practices and institutions of the society which still operate at a local level, colonial legislation. Iand allocation and reservation, modern sectoral legislation and post-Stockholm environmental laws accompanied, or followed, by the creation of new bureaucracies. Especially in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, and perhaps with most effect in Singapore, there are strong nongovernmental organizations, well-supported among the middle classes, which are vocal on environmental issues. Moreover, these issues often get excellent coverage in the media, better than in many other lands. However, several of the environmental ministries and agencies created in the 1970s are without line responsibility, and almost all have very limited professional staff; for example, the Department of Environment in Malaysia had, in the mid-1980s, only 55 professionals charged with a wide range of duties over the whole country, but lacking both equipment and funds (Sham, 1987: 64-5). In Indonesia, Hardjono (1991: 13) notes:

The State Minister of Population and the Environment, who does not head a department. lacks the competence to make, let alone enforce, ultimate judgements on land-use and development proposals. Government Regulation No. 29 of 1986 concerning Environmental Impact Analysis' with its forty clauses that include reference to various interdepartmental commissions at different levels. has not helped to simplify a complex problem. especially since it makes no mention of legal consequences for those who ignore its stipulations.

She goes on to cite a number of examples in which intended environmental management decisions have been successfully subverted.

Several governments, including those of Indonesia and Malaysia, have made firm statements of intent to strengthen environmental management in their development plans for the first half of the 1990s, but there is still a great deal to be done before such statements are translated into reality. Actual responsibility for environmental management is often widely dispersed among ministries and agencies, whose primary goals are not centrally concerned with the environment, and which are not legally or administratively obliged to accept direction from the environmental ministries. Cooperation is difficult to achieve, and the situation in practice is not SO unlike that described by Ziegler ( 1987) for the former Soviet Union, where fragmentation and lack of co-ordination meant little attention was paid to secondary questions such as environmental management, or a sophisticated balance of diverse social and economic goals. Writing before Chernobyl, or the revelation of many other environmental disasters, Ziegler had called attention to an aspect which is also potentially important in SouthEast Asia, which is the link between environmental protection and foreign policy. Adherence to international standards, co-operation in environmental matters, and changes in management in sympathy with trends in international opinion are not central to but are nevertheless elements in the foreign policy of any country. Similarly, national environmental pressure groups, both within and outside government, gain useful support by seeking foreign expert participation in the analysis of their problems. This has been true in Eastern Europe: it is also true of South-East Asia, where the Yogyakarta conference was one part of such a process.

However, it needs to be stressed that the situation in South-East Asia is that of a political economy dominated by pride in the achievements of development and an impatience to see it advance further. Large state sectors still claim sovereign control over resources and their bureaucracies are subject to manipulation by socio-economic elites who have considerable power to distort outcomes in their favour (Barber, 1989a). The deliberations which led to this book will make no impact unless the region comes to grips with the need not only for stronger and more effective institutions of environmental management but also for a polity which places far higher emphasis than hitherto on the long-term common good.


2. Population growth in south-east Asia: Pushing the limits

The population situation
Population growth and the environment
The future



DURING the 1990-2010 period, South-East Asia is likely to grow by some 170 million people, implying an increase of 38 per cent from 1990 estimates. The country expected to lead this growth is Laos with a 65 per cent increase over the period, followed by Papua New Guinea (51 per cent), the Philippines (48 per cent), Vietnam (46 per cent) and Myanmar (45 per cent). Singapore's population expansion is anticipated to be the slowest at a rate of 16 per cent. Reductions in birth-rates over the past 20 years have been less than expected; hence, the fastest-growing countries are also the ones where birth-rates hover around 30-40 births per thousand. By 2010, it is expected that the rates, for the most part, will still range between 20 and 25 births per thousand.

This chapter details the South-East Asian population situation and presents corresponding data for the other regions covered by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The pressure exerted by population growth on the environment is briefly addressed, and the consequences for the environment of a faster decline in fertility is demonstrated.

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