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Sub-regional scenarios for Africa's future: Western Indian Ocean islands

Author: United Nations Environment Programme
Organisation: United Nations Environment Programme
Publish Date: 08/05/2007
Country: Global
Sector: Development
Method: Scenarios
Theme: Water
Type: Article
Language: English
Tags: Sustainable Development, Environmental & Resource Management, Water, Fisheries

The management of coastal areas in the WIO presents special challenges, as these are a vital resource underlying the development of all countries, and opportunities for improving human well-being.

The scenarios in AEO-1 made the following projections for the WIO islands:

Market Forces scenario: coastal waters become increasingly polluted and overfished, and deep-sea fishing is industrialized and internationalized with the region failing to take advantage of its legitimate rights in extended territorial waters;
Policy Reform scenario: the loss of coastal land due to coastal erosion, as a consequence of natural processes, is reduced but expanded coastal development continues to exert pressure on resources. Deep-sea activities prove satisfactory but the sub-region is slow to respond to opportunities;
Fortress World scenario: coastal and marine areas are seriously affected by overfishing. The negative effects on marine resources as a result of overexploitation by foreign vessels are compounded further by major tanker spills;
The Great Transitions scenario: a regional integration movement is revived to save the marine and coastal livelihood of onshore fishers and interest in deep-sea fishing is reawakened with new technologies to detect fish shoals and ensure the sustainable exploitation of living and non-living resources.

Since AEO-I, various policies have been implemented and legislation promulgated to reverse the trend in coastal degradation. These include:

In Mauritius, legislation in force as from October 2001 banning sand extraction in the lagoon has started to bear fruits. A survey in 2004 shows that ex-sand sites are slowly recovering and new coral and sea-grass colonies have reappeared. As at June 2003, about 3,300 households have been connected to the Baie du Tombeau wastewater treatment plant in the northwestern part of the island to reduce the discharge of untreated effluents in the lagoon. Further expansion in this connection is ongoing in other regions.
The Seychelles has established 11 sites for water quality and coastal erosion monitoring to obtain vital data to address beach erosion and coastal degradation issues;
Comoros has established a Marine National Park at Moheli and plans are underway to establish another one at Coelacanthé;
In Madagascar, ecotourism to relieve the pressure on coastal resources is being promoted. Public awareness on the vulnerability of coastal resources is being enhanced and public participation in coastal zone management encouraged with the establishment of appropriate structures to facilitate the integration process.

However, in spite of the above measures, coastal and marine degradation continues. The rate of investment in coastal development to cater for the growing tourism industry has accelerated with limited consideration for the environment. Urbanization of the coastal region is increasing. In Seychelles for instance, coastal population density on the east coast of Mahé is expected to grow from 161 to 203 persons per km2 by 2015. The following narratives consider the implications of policy choices for the future condition and health of coastal and marine resources and the consequences of this for development.

Market Forces scenario

As the world becomes increasingly integrated, economically and culturally, the globalization of products and labour markets catalysed by free trade agreements prompts the WIO islands to export more goods, especially to countries in the developed world. The manufacturing industry is the main benefactor, as countries in the sub-region take advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) opening new markets for textiles in the USA. Cheap labour, particularly in Madagascar and Comoros, encourages an increase in foreign direct investment (FDI), and this results in building more factories to cope with the flourishing market. Labour is exchanged freely between the countries, but at the same time, skilled labour from countries in Asia, including China and India, makes up for the increased demand in workforce. Many textile dye industries are established. These developments, however, give rise to increasing discharge of effluents, which pollute the lagoon environment.

The fishing sector is another industry which is intensively solicited for development. Massive investment from foreign companies, particularly from China and Japan, to establish tuna factories and gear development make the region a seafood hub. Development of offshore fishing is intensified but without much consideration to its sustainability for future generations. Some countries sell the fishing rights to their exclusive economic zones (EEZs), complicating regional cooperation. Governments in the sub-region invest increasingly in education and health care to provide the necessary skilled and healthy labour to support the developing economic sectors. Regional groupings emerge to establish centres of excellence for regional training, with external assistance, in areas such as offshore fishing, canning industries and shipping crew.

Employment is created; the standard of living of all the islands is increased and there is a substantial decrease in poverty. However, with the increase in cash flow, consumerism and materialism prevail. Imports of foreign goods increase, and there is increasing adoption of western lifestyles with gradual erosion of traditional cultures and their environmental values. Uncontrolled deep-sea fishing depletes fish stocks. Oil slicks from increased shipping activities further degrade the marine environment. These give rise to a decrease in fish catch resulting in substantial fall in FDI.

Policy Reform scenario

Confronted with increasing coastal and marine degradation and loss of marine biodiversity, the WIO islands take drastic measures to address the issues. Wastewater management is given urgent attention. The sewage treatment system is expanded over all the islands, and all coastal hotels and private bungalows are connected to the public sewage systems. Strict regulation for hotels and bungalows to thoroughly treat wastewater so that it can be re-used for irrigation purposes is enforced to limit coastal pollution. These measures improve the water quality of the lagoons and there are positive impacts on marine life.

On all the islands, Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) is promoted. Native coastal plant species are reintroduced along the beach. Pathways are created to avoid walking on coastal vegetation and the use of beach areas by vehicles is banned. Increased active stakeholder participation in the management and utilization of coastal and marine resources is encouraged through meetings and committees with the public sector as facilitator. All coastal development projects are discussed with all the actors and civil society before implementation, and this increases support for these activities. The fishing communities, among the poorest communities, benefit considerably from these measures.

Soft engineering solutions such as beach nourishment and forestation to address coastal erosion are resorted to. The use of hard engineering structures – seawalls, groynes, revetments and breakwaters – is generally discouraged. Their use is only allowed where it is absolutely necessary. New building regulations are developed including the obligation to set buildings back at least 40 m from the high-water mark. This is rigorously enforced in erosion-prone beach sites. These measures reduce coastal erosion and overall levels of loss of coastline. The number of marine parks and marine protected areas is increased. New beach-clearing schemes are established and additional licences for pleasure boats are granted. These measures encourage the creation of jobs, including some for sand extractors who have lost their jobs as a consequence of new regulation on sand mining.

However, the arrival of more tourists, in line with government policies to increase revenue in this sector, without adequate consideration of the islands’ carrying capacity exerts more pressure on coastal resources. In spite of political will to avoid further degradation of the coastal zone, with the promulgation of new laws and legislation, ill-planned littoral development and ever-expanding tourism increasingly affect coastal ecosystems and boost coastal pollution. These effects undercut local livelihoods, especially those of the fishing community.

Fortress World scenario

With the increase influx of tourists, due to this becoming a preferred tourism destination as a result of the higher vulnerability of southeastern Asian islands to tsunamis, the elite and multinationals seize the opportunity to invest massively in hotel construction. Aggressive marketing at global scale is done through multinational companies. The price of coastal land goes up significantly, making it affordable only to the rich. Poor people in these coastal areas are displaced, effectively forced inland and onto marginal lands to make room for coastal development to accommodate a flourishing tourist industry.

The rich, having financial resources and political influence, bribe public officials and bypass restrictions imposed in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for coastal construction. Coastal vegetation is removed, buildings are constructed near the shoreline to satisfy tourist aspirations to be on the seafront, and a series of breakwaters are placed to protect the coast from erosion. Such measures give rise to conflict between the elites and fishers, who increasingly find obstacles in reaching their fishing grounds, and the public who are deprived of free access to the beach. The best sandy beaches are appropriated by the elite, in connivance with officials with high political influence, to construct luxurious villas and bungalows for sale to overseas millionaires and retired people with very high income. Several enclaves are thus created. In the face of growing social breakdown, violence and crime increase. Much pressure is exerted on the police force to protect a disproportionately few people, on account of their influence, to the detriment of law and order at national level.

The construction of hotels and private bungalows on the beachfront, which had provided unobstructed views of the lagoon, gives rise to increasing erosion. Hard engineering measures are taken to protect the eroded beaches with seawalls and groynes. Climate change and sea-level rise exacerbate the erosion problem. The protection measures adopted are of short duration and further erosion takes place, necessitating further protection. Eventually, a long wall costing millions of dollars is built, depriving the public and fishers of free access to the beach. In the worst scenario, the bungalows and hotels are abandoned, leaving the beach, deprived of its sand and vegetation, rocky and barren.

Mass mortality of fish occurs in the lagoons as a consequence of pollution from effluents discharged from the hotels and bungalows. Coral reefs are massively bleached and mangrove forests are threatened. The fishing community are deprived of their livelihoods, thus exacerbating further social decay and resulting in unrest. The offshore fishing industry is controlled by multinationals. Local fishing companies are unable to compete with the foreign investors who employ most of the professional fishers, offering them better pay packages. The local fishing companies become bankrupt and are forced to abandon fishing. The EEZs of the islands are exploited to the maximum without any regard to the renewal of fish stock.

Great Transitions scenario

The sub-region is fully conscious of the coastal degradation problems and decides to give them full attention and consideration, and a holistic approach replaces the hitherto piecemeal solutions. National and sub-regional surveys are conducted to collect data and information in order to identify the root causes of the problems rather than just giving consideration to the symptoms. Discussion is held with all stakeholders – public, private, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society and experts – at national and sub-regional level todecide on the most appropriate global solutions.

Discussion at the national, sub-regional and regional level is facilitated though a network established within the UNEP Africa Environmental Information Network (AEIN) programme, which all the countries are implementing fully. Data collection and analysis are now harmonized at the sub-regional level with the use of the UNEP Africa Environment Outlook – Environmental Information System (AEO-EIS) toolkit. The ICZM programme is further developed and strengthened in each country of the subregion. A sub-regional approach is adopted. It is implemented within the necessary legislative and institutional framework. A sub-regional steering committee with high officials involved in decision making is established with regular annual meetings to discuss activities of mutual interest, exchange views and experience on ICZM and review progress.

National plans are prepared for the two most promising economic sectors, namely tourism and fishing, clearly articulating strategies with sound policies to keep them sustainable, taking into account the health of the environment. For coastal hotels and other development infrastructure, setback distance based on reliable data and extensive fieldwork is enforced. The height of buildings is limited to two storeys. The Creole architecture most suited to local conditions is adopted, minimalist architectural patterns are recommended and developers follow this guidance. There is a general recognition of the importance of coastal vegetation in controlling beach erosion and its upkeep and replantation is promoted. Publicity for the tourism industry is shifted from the traditional sea-sun-sand focus to the promotion of cultural dimensions. Tourism activities are oriented more towards the discovery of local cultural diversity. Small musical groups formed to give shows in hotels and public places proliferate and the number of “table d’hôte” (modestly-priced local cuisine) restaurants increases. More people become conscious of the traditional cultural richness of the sub-region, leading to a decrease in influence of western lifestyle and a preservation of traditional environmental management rules and values.

The fishing industry is revitalized. Incentives such as loans with low interest to procure vessels and fishing equipment are provided by governments to encourage offshore fishing. Training is provided through government-initiated projects to artisanal fishers to entice them to indulge more in open-sea fishing. These steps relieve the overfished lagoon from fishing pressure and polluting activities. Consequently, coral reefs and sea-grasses start to thrive. The diversity of fish species increases and the lagoons become repopulated. More people are employed in the fishing industry. Access to income and other material resources is secured and this has implications for the overall improvement in the quality of life in fishing communities, including in health and education. Energy sources from the sea are exploited. New technical breakthroughs in the conversion of wave energy to electricity enable the subregion to take advantage of this new source of energy. This makes the sub-region less dependent on fossil fuels, and foreign currency savings are directed towards other development programmes.

The management framework adopted integrates technical, economic, environmental and social aspects. It is discussed with all stakeholders – public, private, NGOs and civil society – and implemented under an appropriate institutional framework only after a consensus has been reached. Conflict of interest between and within communities is as far as possible avoided. In response to sound policies implemented, and effective measures taken, the economies of all the countries flourishes. A mechanism for free exchange of trade and labour is put into place.

Policy lessons from the scenarios

The management of coastal and marine resources presents special challenges related to the high vulnerability of these resources and people living along the coast. The interface between the human and environmental systems is very sensitive to changes in either. The scenarios, in examining this complex interaction, point to the importance of ICZM, and the need for inter-state collaboration in managing marine resources and developing early warning systems. The Market Forces and Fortress World scenarios indicate minimal opportunities for meeting these challenges.

The Policy Reform and Great Transitions scenarios both demonstrate the positive effects of wise policy interventions. A key policy lesson is the need for
management and planning systems which recognize all three sustainable development pillars and the importance of good governance practices to ensure this. Policy opportunities from the scenarios include more accountable and transparent decision making and increasing public participation.

The importance of R & D as well as investment in human capacity to complement and support management is also evident.

Further reading

Ahamada, S., Bijoux, J., Bigot, L., Cauvin, B., Kooonjul, M., Maharavo, J., Meunier, S., Moine-Picard, M., Quod, J., and Pierre-Louis, R., 2004. Status of the coral reefs of the South West Indian Ocean Island States. In Status of Coral Reefs of the World: 2004 (ed.Wilkinson, C.),Vol. 1.
Government of Mauritius, 2005. Mauritius – Staking out the Future. Ministry of Environment and National Development Unit, Port Louis.

IOC, 2004. AIMS Synthesis Report, progress on the Barbados Programme of Action. Indian Ocean Commission for the AIMS Group, Port Louis.
Mohamed-Katerere, J. and van der Zaag, P., 2003. Untying the “Knot of Silence” – Making Water Policy and Law Responsive to Local Normative Systems. In History and Future of Shared Water Resources (Hassan, F.A., Reuss, M.,Trottier, J., Bernhardt, C.,Wolf,A.,Mohamed-Katerere, J. and van der Zaag,P.). IHP Technical Documents PCCP Series No.6. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-International Hydrological Programme, Paris.

UNEP, 2002a. Africa Environment Outlook: Past, Present and Future Perspectives. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi.

UNEP, 2006. Environment Outlook 2.


United Nations Environment Programme (Lead Author);Marty Matlock (Topic Editor) "Sub-regional scenarios for Africa's future: Western Indian Ocean islands". In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth May 8, 2007; Last revised Date May 8, 2007; Retrieved February 24, 2011
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