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The future

The future of the marine environment of the region looks like a mosaic, with some clear (clean?) areas and some shaded (contaminated?) areas. Whether the mosaic will be a beautiful or unattractive one will depend on many factors.

The population issue comes to mind first. Concepcion (Chapter 2) has given a prognosis of what to expect in the region, based on different assumptions. A burgeoning population will necessarily have an adverse impact on the coastal zone and the marine areas beyond; hence, strong measures to combat marine pollution must be taken by those countries that have population problems. Moreover, unless the principle of 'polluter pays' is taken to heart, increases in marine pollution in the region will continue. While this policy is already in place in one or two countries, the same cannot be said for the rest.

Underpinning the fate of the coastal zone is the status of management. The new vogue in the region is coastal zone management, in part catalysed by the ASEAN/US Coastal Resources Management Project, but there have been national and bilateral initiatives in this area. Unless plans are put in place and implemented vigorously, the destruction of critical marine habitats, the incidences of pollution-induced health problems, and the further decline of fisheries may continue, not to mention the loss of amenity for recreation and tourism. It should be noted that tourism is a major incomegenerating activity of the region.

But what does it take to control marine pollution? Basically two things: political will and substantial resources. These two factors go hand in hand and one cannot work without the other. Political will can only be provided by the people of the region. As for resources, some are available within the region itself, particularly in the more affluent countries like Brunei and Singapore and, to a more limited extent, in some of the other countries. Presently, the region is also fortunate in that there is some extra-regional funding that may be tapped, since most of the countries are considered developing countries and therefore eligible for both multilateral and bilateral aid. As an example, the 'Green Fund' (properly called the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a World Bank/ UNDP/UNEP programme) may be tapped in the short term. Should this fund be successful during its first 3-year experimental phase, it is hoped that it will be enlarged and extended. However, the relevant Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, the principal document arising from the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UN, 1992) places most of the burden for action on the coastal states themselves, and on their co-operation. The largest part of the international financial contribution envisaged is related to 'addressing critical uncertainties for the management of the marine environment and climate change'(paras. 17.97-17.115).

That it is possible to clean up the environment is shown in the case of Singapore (Kuan, 1988). In the mid-1960s, the environment of Singapore was no better than that of its neighbours, with polluted rivers and a poor solid-waste disposal system. Industrialization in the early years after independence contributed to air pollution. But the government soon realized the need to clean up the atmosphere, so emissions from factories were regulated and air contaminants from vehicles reduced.

In this discussion, the topic of interest is the sewerage programme and solid-waste disposal. As late as the early 1970s, less than 50 per cent of Singapore's population was served by sewers, but as of five years ago, 95 per cent of the population was served by modern sanitation facilities. It is reported that the figure is now virtually 100 per cent. This effort, and the refuse-collection system executed by both the government and private waste-collection companies, has made possible the clean-up of Singapore's waterways.

The government's efforts at environmental enhancement can be best exemplified by the clean-up of the Singapore River in the heart of the city. In 1977, it was decided to revive this river from a dead, smelly waterway to a river with aquatic life. The former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, gave the challenge to the Ministry of Environment. The task involved relocation of people, activities and buildings. After 10 years, Singapore could be proud of its river again, as virtually all the pollution sources had been curbed or removed, and fish were again swimming in its waters.

While it is true that Singapore is atypical of the countries in South-East Asia by virtue of its small size and wealth, it could in some ways serve as a model for emulation. If the neighbouring countries decide for themselves to begin to clean up some of their polluted cities, it can be done step by step, although over a longer time frame. Perhaps a start can be made not with the primate cities, but the secondary metropolitan centres. The experiences gained can later be applied to the capitals. However, a start should be made somewhere if the trend towards environmental degradation is to be reversed. Otherwise, all the political declarations about environmental protection and enhancement will be nothing but empty platitudes.

The south-east Asian response

Aspects of the physical setting
National and international responses
Editorial comment


E. D. GOMEZ has given an excellent review of the state of coastal, inshore and marine environmental problems in South-East Asia. Additional perspectives in reviewing the problems in the region are offered here. The first of these concerns the physical setting of the region.

Aspects of the physical setting

The waters and islands between Asia and Australia, and between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, form one geographic unit. The region consists of highly fragmented land, interspersed among wide stretches of sea, and has an extremely long coastline. Physically, the region is divided into the continental part of mainland Asia, which consists of Myanmar, Thailand and the Indo-Chinese states of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam; and the rest of the region, regarded as the archipelago of South-East Asia, includes Peninsular Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines (Chia and MacAndrews, 1 979).

In oceanographic terms, the waters are part of the Pacific Ocean, and are separated from the Indian Ocean by the islands of Sumatra, Java and the Lesser Sunda (Nusa Tenggara). Including the Andaman Sea, Malacca Strait and Singapore Strait, South China Sea, Gulf of Thailand, Java Sea, Flores Sea, Banda Sea, Arafura Sea, Timor Sea, Celebes Sea, Sulu Sea and the Philippine Sea, the whole body of water covers 8.94 million square kilometres, representing about 2.5 per cent of the world's ocean surface (Soegiarto, 1978, 1985).

Located between the Asian and Australian continents, the South-East Asian region is strongly influenced by monsoons. The waters are thus ideal for studying the effects of the monsoon, which governs both water circulation and the seasonal distribution of its physical, chemical and biological properties. The north-west monsoon in South-East Asia lasts from December to March and the south-east, from July to September. The rest of the year represents the transition from north-west to south-east and vice versa. Variation in the atmospheric circulation strongly governs the corresponding water circulation. Because of the rather high constancy of the monsoons and the regularity of their timing, the ocean currents show similar characteristics from one year to the next. Just as the monsoons change direction twice a year and are reversed at the time of their strongest development, the oceanic circulation is also reversed over large areas.

This complete reversal is typical of the circulation in these waters (Soegiarto, 1978; Wyrtki, 1961).

Storms and typhoons are observed only over the northern parts of the South China Sea, the Philippines, the Andaman Sea and north of Australia. The presence of typhoons has a marked influence on the state of the seas, increasing the wave and swell conditions and changing their direction. Both the state of the sea, and the strength and general patterns of currents, will influence the potential for and the direction of pollution dispersal in the region.

The marine and coastal areas of the region are among the world's most productive. Their warm, humid tropical climate and high rainfall allow extensive coral reefs and dense mangrove ecosystems to flourish along the coastline. Because of economic benefits that can be derived from these rich and diverse ecosystems, the coastal zones of South-East Asia are densely populated. Over 7(1 per cent of the population of the region lives in the coastal areas, resulting in a rather high level of exploitation of natural resources and consequent degradation of the environment. Indeed, population pressure associated with high economic activity has caused large-scale destruction and serious degradation of the coastal and marine environment. Increasing pollution, both land- and marine-based, compounds the problems of the South-East Asian region.

National and international responses

The second perspective offered here is on how the countries of South-East Asia have responded to coastal, inshore and marine environmental problems. All countries in this region. in particular the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), have committed more and more of their resources to prevent and mitigate environmental degradation and coastal and marine pollution. The measures taken include pollution control, environmental-impact studies. national and regional legislation to prevent and respond to potential oil spills, and participation in various international conventions on the protection of coastal and marine environments.

The new UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) requires coastal states to protect and preserve their coastal and marine environments, and to co-operate directly or through international organizations. An Action Plan for the Conservation of Nature in the ASEAN region has recently been formulated by the International Union on Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The priorities set by this plan (Soegiarto, 1990) are (i) establishment of a network of natural reserves in the ASEAN region; (ii) enforcement of measures to protect endangered species; (iii) establishment of mechanisms for information exchange on research and management; and (iv) establishment of regional training programmes on conservation management.

The necessity of maintaining essential ecological processes and life-support systems to preserve genetic diversity, and also that of ensuring the sustainable utilization of species and ecosystems, has been emphasized. A network of nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries has been regarded as one of the most effective ways to conserve ecosystems and the genetic resources they contain.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has supported a number of actions related to coastal and marine environments in South-East Asia; for example, some activities under the Regional Programme on East Asian Seas are concentrated in the ASEAN region. The UNEP implementing counterparts in ASEAN are COBSEA (Coordinating Body of South East Asian Seas) and AEGE (ASEAN Expert Group on Environment), which has since been elevated to become ASOEN (ASEAN Senior Officials on Environment).

In 1988, in co-operation with COBSEA and AEGE, the UNEP formulated ASEP III (ASEAN Environment Programme III), a 5-year plan for 1988-92 and the continuation and extension of ASEP I (1978-82) and ASEP II (1983-7). It has been officially endorsed by the European Cooperation in Scientific and Technical Research (COST), the ASEAN Standing Committee (ASC) and the Third ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on the Environment.

Six areas have been given high priority in ASEP III. These are environmental management, nature conservation and terrestrial ecosystems, industry and environment, marine environment, urban environment, and environmental education, training and information. With the catalytic role of UNEP, ASEAN has adopted the Action Plan for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment and Coastal Areas.

Editorial comment

The problem of losses to the mangrove belt along regional coasts was a principal topic of discussion. 'Green belts' exist in some countries, with regulations going back to the 1970s, but they are hard to enforce when there are such profits to be made from aquaculture of prawns and other seafood, encouraging replacement of all but the outer fringe of the mangroves with fish ponds. It was, however, suggested that the management of sedimentation in shallow seas might be used to enlarge and extend the mangrove belt. With heavy inland erosion, there is a large sediment load brought down by the rivers, leading to rapid coastal outgrowth where the sea is shallow for some distance offshore. Research into the management of coastal sedimentation could be rewarding.

A note of warning was raised concerning the possible effects of global warming on the ocean currents. Although no modelling results yet exist, it is known that ocean currents might change direction and strength in only decades; this potential threat is, therefore, a more immediate hazard than the gradual rise of the sea level.

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