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Fragile ecosystems and vulnerable groups

In the sense developed in the Appendix, the most important consideration in evaluating endangerment of the natural ecosystems of Borneo and the Peninsula lies in their resilience rather than in their sensitivity to interference. This is especially so in regard to the forests, which are all equally sensitive to the chain-saw, but differ greatly - and to a still largely unknown degree - in their natural ability to recover or in the ability of planted and regenerated forests, now beginning to be created, to flourish. Again, it is necessary to emphasize the considerable natural diversity of this region and also the differentiated impact of the driving forces discussed above. There is not one answer to the question of ecosystem fragility, but many. Parts of the region are damaged or made vulnerable to the point of criticality, but many others are in good condition. In the main, and by comparison with a semi-arid region or a region composed almost entirely of steeplands, this area is not fragile. The natural buffering capacity of most - not all - of its ecosystems can be overcome only by impacts of a very heavy order. A great part of the region has already endured a lot, and its natural buffering capacities are not destroyed.

In regard to people we can more readily recognize vulnerability. However, our order differs somewhat from that of most popular perception. A proportion of the indigenous tribal people has suffered greatly from development, and many more suffered both direct and indirect consequences of a severe order from their contact with outsiders in a pre-colonial and colonial past. In the main, however, the most striking conclusion to be drawn about these people, their culture, and their systems of resource use is the recognition of great adaptability. Most certainly they have not remained "unchanged," and will not so remain in the future. They will have to make do with less land and less usable natural biodiversity, and they must expect increased interference with their own decision-making. They cannot reasonably expect to retain control over the large areas required to support lowintensity economies in an increasingly crowded part of the world; moreover, most do not expect to do so. There remains a real danger that this interference will remain as insensitive to their needs, and their abilities, as it has been in the past, and if this happens their problems of adaptation will be a great deal harder than they need to be. But it would be a great error to suppose that they cannot adapt.

New classes of vulnerable people

Others are much more vulnerable. They include those Indonesian transmigrants who have been settled - and even continue to be settled - on worthless land; the only opportunity for these people lies in resettling themselves elsewhere or in seeking non-farming employment. However, the new vulnerable people also include the many migrants who now find employment in the timber and timber-working industries, which are based on wasting resources. We have seen that some have already been forced to move by the failure of small enterprises and by policy militating in favour of the larger businesses or centralization of industry. These people, and refugees from failed transmigrant schemes, may constitute the greatest threat to the natural ecosystem when they take up illegal logging and crude forms of shifting cultivation on land already exposed to weeds and erosion by logging. The real threat of a total collapse of parts of the timberworking industries is not so much to the well-diversified entrepreneurs as to their employees. The migrants among these often have little opportunity to return whence they came. Their vulnerability is that of becoming the poorest and most insecure of the region's people.

How far this category includes the large number of illegal migrants in the Malaysian parts of this region is less clear, and not only because there is an absence of data about these people. Those who work as agricultural labourers and sustain an industry that would collapse without them may be secure, at least at a low level of living. Some, especially in Sabah, have been able to secure rights to land themselves, and others may in time be able to blend into the national population, moving into town, as previous generations of agricultural labourers have, via the channel of the pert-urban shanty settlements. There are a very considerable number of such pert-urban people in both countries and around large towns in both the Peninsula and Borneo. Most of them can find some sort of economic support in low-paid employment or in the informal sector. Few, however, have adequate access to either clean water or sanitation, and most live and often work in environments hazardous to health. Some pert-urban environments, moreover, are even hazardous to physical life, being at high risk from flood or landslide.

The probability is that the number of people whose vulnerability is to poverty, insecurity, and hazardously substandard living and working environments will increase during the coming decade. Although the present rate of increase may be higher in Sabah than elsewhere, as the timber industry contracts it will probably increase faster in Kalimantan during the coming decade. Even a very rapid regional economic expansion is not likely to reduce the problem, for it will attract increasing numbers of migrants, both legal and illegal. Paradoxically, the major hope for a short-term reduction in this vulnerable population lies in economic success in the national heartlands in the western Peninsula and in crowded Java. In the long run, however, only a much more rapid rate of reduction in national population growth rates than now seems likely will lift the pressures that force people to the margin.

Societal response

Conclusions of a conference

In 1991 the United Nations University sponsored a conference in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, concerned with the environmental future of the region and the prospects for sustainability. All three of us were involved either in the conference itself, or in the book that has been produced from its deliberations (Brookfield and Byron, 1993). The conference concluded that not too much of what was being done in the region up to 1990 was truly sustainable, and several of its participants focused attention on the societal and governmental responses. In what follows we draw freely on these discussions, and especially on the contributions of Jefferson Fox, Francis Jana Lian, and Sham Sani, and the conclusion prepared by Brookfield. The discussion relates to the whole South-East Asian region, not only to Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia, and it refers to those last three countries as a whole. None the less, almost all that was said has direct application to this region.

The central problem is that, in their modern preoccupation with economic growth and gaining incomes, most of the region's people have treated the environment as a "common access," surrounding private property, into which wastes of any kind might be disposed, and into which downstream damages might be allowed to flow with impunity. Sets of traditional rules, common in the past and mainly governing access to property, had unintended conservationist consequences. In modern times these have increasingly been breached as the conditions surrounding property have changed through the acquisition of commercial value. Often, these breaches have been supported by the authorities because the consequence is seen to be an increase in production.

Modern institutions for environmental management have been created, but more through legislation than in practice. Departments responsible for the environment generally lack line responsibility; they can only advise, and their powers of enforcement are limited both by their small staffs and resources, and also because society and its legal system are unprepared to enforce penalties. Thus, for city factory owners for example, it may often be cheaper to pay the small fines that are rarely imposed than to take steps to reduce pollution from their activities. Throughout the systems, there are too many opportunities to divert outcomes in favour of individual or corporate, rather than social, interests.

Although this is changing, it is doing so very slowly. Awareness of environmental damage is not high among most of the region's people, except perhaps those who suffer most from its consequences but are without voice in society. The media do a good job, better than in some more developed countries, in exposing environmental issues, but the impact is mainly on a small, educated middle class, and not much on the wealthy and powerful or on the decision makers themselves. The larger issues, such as the waste of the forests, soil erosion, water and atmospheric pollution, and even the impoverishment and marginalization of those who fail to achieve benefits from economic growth, are not yet of wide concern. Foreign criticism, especially of forestry and minority issues, to which it is mainly directed, is more often resented than welcomed, and by ordinary people as well as by those whose interests are at stake. This foreign criticism, much of it only partly informed, does have some positive effect, but slowly, and in the meantime no small number of adverse consequences have been generated.

The political environment

Although both Malaysia and Indonesia - though not Brunei - have political systems based on regular elections, there is nothing resem bring the adversarial democracy of most Western countries. Crouch (1994) has traced the manner in which there has been a steady creep of authoritarianism within Malaysia's democracy, although without creating unresponsiveness to the wishes of groups who have a voice in the political system. Indonesia had a disastrous experience of coalition politics during the period of Sukarno's "guided democracy," with growing communist influence in national decision-making. After the 1965 coup there was at once a strong shift to directly authoritarian rule within Suharto's "New Order," and, though with some relaxation in recent years, this has persisted.

The effectiveness of strong control by national leaders depends on the quality of those leaders and, although there are many critics of both Malaysia's Mahathir and Indonesia's Suharto, there is general acceptance of the need for strong control in order to mobilize national resources, take major decisions, and avoid the divisiveness that can readily arise from schismatic politics in developing countries. On the other hand, political power readily becomes associated with economic power, and there is no question that corruption and cronyism are major forces in both countries; we saw this clearly in chapter 5. Moreover, resource exploitation is an area particularly prone to diversion of decision-making in favour of private interests, and no area is so liable to this as is the timber industry.

The combination of highly centralized political and economic power, the absence of effective political opposition, and a concentration of interest groups in the capital cities and other large urban regions of both countries means that environmental conservation and minority-group interests in the periphery rank low in terms of both awareness and priority. Pressure for change comes more from external critics, lobbying through powerful non-governmental organizations - especially those headquartered in Washington D.C. - to affect the policy of international financial institutions, than from internal critics. Its effectiveness therefore depends rather heavily on the degree of national dependence on the international financing institutions. Perhaps fortunately, this dependence is greatest in regard to big development plans in the periphery, which are too large and too remote from central national concerns to command priority finance from revenues.

Looking forward, much depends on the political changes that might accompany continued national economic growth or checks to that growth. Changes in national leadership are likely in both countries during the 1990s, but whether these will lead to real changes in the intertwined structure of politics with business cannot be foreseen. There are many who look for such change in both Indonesia and Malaysia, but at present they lack power. Perhaps the best hope is that the growing strength of the "state classes" that have grown up around government and its business allies will be mobilized to give voice to the openness of many of these secondlevel people to new ideas, and to their concern over the environmental as well as social future of their countries.

Rationalization of problems

In their summary of nine case-studies in the interim volume of this project, Kasperson, Kasperson, and Turner (1995) compare the rationalization of land degradation in East Africa with that of competing land uses in Borneo and the Peninsula, arguing that both are problem constructions that are related to broader state objectives. They are "part of the hazard construction and rationalization in which collective societal responses are lodged." Perhaps the real problem in the latter case, however, is the importance of resource exploitation in the national polity, and in the business interests of many who are close to the seats of power. If a "societal response" can be defined as one located firmly in the political system, then there is a societal response in Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia. However, only a small minority of the people of that region have a voice in the formulation of this response and, among those who have this voice, those from the region itself are in the minority. The only locus of truly independent decision-making is in Brunei, where wealth from oil and gas has made it easy to take conservationist decisions in regard to the small area of forest. In so far as there are centres of decision-making in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, independent of Kuala Lumpur, they have mostly operated against meaningful conservation, because of the tight links with business interests to whom conservation is a cost and an impediment to the search for wealth. Most of the many thousands dependent on resource-using industries would support them. In Kalimantan there is no independent locus of decision-making in the larger issues of resource use; decisions are taken in Jakarta, and this is also true of the eastern Peninsula in relation to Kuala Lumpur. The real problem is to locate means of infusing new ideas at the very top.

The participants at the Yogyakarta conference (Brookfield and Byron, 1993) did identify such a means. They saw it in the reality of growing resource scarcity that is coming now to be perceived in the formulation of national development strategies for Indonesia and Malaysia as wholes. These strategies are shifting toward greater intensification in the use of national resources, rather than their continued exploitation as though they were without limit. However, we also noted, as in chapter 5 above, that the psychological ability of decision makers to push the growing reality of resource scarcity to one side is remarkable. This is in large measure because selfdeception is itself in the short-term interests of many close to the centres of national and state or provincial authority. We therefore look more for sudden and enforced change than for progressive change in our following discussion of trajectories.

Trajectories and regional dynamics change

Problems of aggregation

Were Borneo (including Brunei) and the Peninsular a uniform region, aggregation might be easy. However, it is a region of great natural diversity that includes parts of two nations. Within each there are big contrasts between the physically separate parts. We have shown that most of the economic driving forces of change are external, even to the extent that they are localized within Indonesia and Malaysia. We have also shown that the impact of these driving forces, and their consequences, is differentiated between areas of contrasted natural endowment, relative location in relation to the national heartlands, varying population densities and levels of urbanization, dissimilar ethnic, religious, and social composition, and - although broadly similar - far from identical policies toward national minorities. This differentiation of impact has increased strongly through the time-span of the past 30 years. Whether it is proper to force aggregation on our interpretation of the whole is an open question.

Kasperson, Kasperson, and Turner (1995) take a more globally comparative view, using the data in our interim report (Potter, Brookfield, and Byron, in press). Heroically, they show for Borneo and the Peninsula a steeply rising, but stabilizing trajectory of environmental interference, a steeply declining, then stabilizing trajectory of sustainability of use, and a steady improvement in aggregate wellbeing per capita. They do this not only on the basis of our data and interpretation, but also through comparison with the data presented by other contributors about other parts of the world.

At the end of this more extended report, we find that we could cautiously agree with this interpretation for the eastern part of the

Peninsula and perhaps some of the western part of Borneo (though over a much longer time-scale), but not for northern and eastern Borneo, where interference is still rising, sustainability is not being approached, and there are such great contrasts in the trajectory of welfare that no single aggregated curve is warranted. This simple twofold division, moreover, is at once further broken into four by the international boundary (even disregarding Brunei), for per capita well-being has increased much more, and more rapidly, on the Malaysian than on the Indonesian side. Even within Malaysian Borneo and Brunei there are contrasts in all respects between the three political units and within them. On the Indonesian side, the rising importance of minerals in East Kalimantan, and the persistence of an ancient rural economy in South Kalimantan, contrast sharply with what has happened in Central and West Kalimantan. And, even within the eastern Peninsula, there are similar contrasts between the dominantly rice-and-rubber regions of northern Kelantan and smaller parts of the other states, and the inland and southern areas of new settlement. Moreover, this region is physically contiguous with the booming west coastal region of the Peninsula, so that important urbanizing and industrial development has intruded in late years eastward from Kuala Lumpur to the new oil-based economy of the central part of the east coast and the tourism of parts of the coasts north of this, and in the east of Johor.

To draw back from this diversity we have also to draw back in time, to a region that was, as a whole, a very similar mix of valley and coastal rural settlement and forested inland less than a century ago, in the Peninsula and Borneo alike. As first one piece, then another, has been chopped out of this generalizable region and made into something different, we find ourselves drawn to a different conclusion about trajectories. We posit that the strongest effect of the driving forces has been to create diverse regional and local responses. To go on from this, we can turn only to the areas that retain most of the old mix, in limited parts of Borneo. In these we find trajectories of change that are still not approaching any stabilization. When they do, as they will, we expect to find that differentiation has further diversified and has given further defiance to aggregation.

Trajectories, reversals, or cusps?

Our second problem in discussing trajectories is temporal rather than spatial. First is the major divide of the troubled period between 1941 and the late 1960s, before and after which driving forces, their strength, and the pace of change were of a radically different order. Uniform regional trajectories cannot be drawn across this period, even though the same global driving forces persisted. Second is the relatively minor problem of historical reversals, mainly an object lesson in attempting to project from present trends. Third, then, is the major problem. Given the analysis above, how are we to project from recent and current trends into even the short-term future?

The political analysis in the preceding section suggests a gloomy prognosis for the environment, yet we also noted considerable change due to a growing perception of scarcity. This has gone further, by far, in the Peninsula, where strong pressure for improved resource management has developed in recent years, with real effect. Elsewhere in the region, wherever logging and other forms of resource use remain the major force, talk of better management remains principally just that; enforcement is lacking. However, we can note that real scarcity hits quite suddenly, and that when it does it produces something more like a cusp in attitudes and behaviour than a smooth trajectory.

There are some important models of change in behaviour in SouthEast Asia, though not specific to this region. The decision to clean up the Singapore environment was taken quite suddenly, and implemented over not much more than a decade. The 1986 decision swiftly to phase out pesticides and introduce integrated pest management in the wet-rice regions of Java was taken in much less time, in a single season, and it was fully implemented in only two. The trigger was a crisis in pest infestation and the realization that the policies of two decades had to be reversed (Fox, 1993). In Malaysia, the decision to abandon the policy of state-managed land development was taken over a period of only some four or five years after 1985; it was implemented, abruptly, in 1991.

We discussed the role of signals above. Not all the examples required clear environmental signals, though economic signals were an important factor in the last-named case. Realization of a problem can also build, and quite swiftly, to the point of making a decision to change. In these centralized political systems, without need to convince oppositions, such decisions can be taken fast. Both Malaysia and Indonesia have taken several such decisions in the course of their industrialization programmes, when particular strategies were found to be proving ineffective. The possibility of such cusp-like reversals is a part of the decision-making environment in this region. However, they are extremely hard to predict. Although we would expect sharp policy reversals, even in the area of resource exploitation in the region, to take place during the coming decade, this is an area in which resistance from business and its political allies is particularly strong.

Conclusion: What of the future?

For three decades, Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia have been "resource frontiers" to the two nations, and it has suited local as well as central interests to hold regional development on this path. Their rising importance as a source of energy is likely to encourage persistence of this pattern, though with reduced dependence on timber and land for settlement, and greater emphasis on high-technology extraction and downstream treatment of energy and minerals, and perhaps also hydroelectricity. This transformation will generate less, but much higher-paid, employment, and is likely to create a fourfold division of society and economy into a booming energy and mineral sector and its servants, a contracting timber sector, a large and mainly poor rural population, and the embattled, but adaptive, minority people of the interior. Such a pattern is likely also to be accompanied by increasing urbanization, especially in Borneo; urban development in the Peninsula is likely to remain concentrated in the west.

If, however, aggregate welfare is dominated by the welfare of the rural and pert-urban majority, it is unlikely to grow rapidly, and might decline. This decline would indirectly be due to the unsustainable rate of timber exploitation and to the agricultural occupation of lands of mediocre-to-low quality by farmers who cannot readily adapt to these conditions. The trajectory of environmental change, in consequence of declining welfare as well as the cause of it, may therefore continue to rise, and that of sustainability to decline. In at least parts of the region, impoverishment and endangerment may degenerate toward criticality. Environmental change in this region is embedded in resource management that is exploitative and unsustainable. Unless this changes, degradation of resources and declining welfare for the majority are likely to go hand in hand. If it is to change, it should do so soon.

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