Concerned civil society organizations dreamt of a New South Asia—free from want, fear, oppression, poverty, hunger, injustice, conflict and environmental disasters. This initiative called ‘Imagine a New South Asia’ aimed at carrying out well-informed and well-researched policy advocacy around four major challenges facing South Asia—peace and justice, governance and democracy, economic issues, and natural resource management. The idea was to put together a citizens’ perspective on these challenges so that governments and people in the region may be sensitized towards a combined struggle against common threats to people of South Asia.
It was in this context that we started to compile a consolidated write-up from citizen’s perspective on key issues of natural resource management in South Asia. Arun Shrivastava, CMC, was the lead author and he was supported by a group of co-authors from Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.
For over six decades, the people of this region have suffered at the hands of insensitive decision makers. In the name of economic development and poverty alleviation, billions are raised by way of taxes and external debt, yet issues of natural resource management remain unaddressed. As a result, resource-rich South Asia remains poor.
Policy planners have ignored that over a billion people depend upon land, biodiversity, ecosystems, biomass and water for energy and survival. They have evolved a sustainable method of managing these resources at the local level. However, a false dichotomy was created between macro-economic development and sustainable natural resources management and an attempt was made to achieve the former at the expense of the latter. The authors, without undermining the importance of the economic development process, have raised reasonable concerns and queried the manner in which developmental polices are implemented. The study at hand is based on three fundamental realities that are often over-looked in official planning.
First, it should be borne in mind that modern industries, agriculture and military capability depend on oil. The world is now consuming around 86 million barrels of oil per day. The conventional oil reserves have peaked and most oil fields are now in decline. Experts estimate that by the year 2030, the kind of industrial society the Western world has created would be forced to adjust to significantly lower levels of energy dependence, in spite of the disputes regarding theories of the origin of oil, gas and coal. This would restructure economic life and social structure, leading to greater dependence on natural resources for basic survival. Thus, while we need to prepare for a society less dependent on energy, these issues are not even discussed. Yet our governments have embarked on relentless exploitation of natural resources to catch up with the West.
Second, the traditional GDP-driven policies are leading to unbridled exploitation of land, forest, water and minerals. Environment protection laws and rules have been diluted, enforcement is weak and monitoring is mostly ineffective. This is causing degradation of land. Pollution of water is making life difficult for majority of poor people living in rural areas. Atmospheric pollution is making urban areas almost unlivable. All this is increasing the disease burden as well.
Third, the poor are being completely marginalized, while the states and corporations are taking control over natural resources without any concern for conservation. The poor are being denied access to resources that are crucial for their survival. Systems and international conventions on access and benefit sharing, as well as prior informed consent, have been virtually dismantled.
In order to stay focused on the objective, five main issues are dealt with in the book: energy, biodiversity, land, water and atmosphere. A separate chapter on Afghanistan was added because of the lack of credible statistics about the country and the serious situation prevailing there.
The authors have organized the data around the pressure–state–response (P-S-R) model. In each chapter, the political economy and geo-political imperatives have been briefly discussed. A list of missing data has been given in the chapter on recommendations.
This is a humble beginning that may have some loopholes. The authors, therefore, request feedback and guidance from all stakeholders in rectifying the mistakes that may have occurred due to paucity of time and resources. It is planned that this publication and its relevant databases would be updated on an annual basis and there is a hope to create a useful database for easy reference in the near future.
The Regional Task Force of Imagine New South Asia shall continue to meet to discuss, debate, update and disseminate the information among South Asian policy makers.
Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri
Sustainable Development Policy Institute