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Linking development and the environment

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It is a great pity when Ceri Dingle ofWORLDwrite, who is rightly passionate about achieving development, seeks to show that those promoting environmental sustainability are 'anti-development' in the article 'Summit for Nothing' (AJ 5.9.02).

She is right to criticise the lavish expenditure at the Johannesburg summit, but most of the development and environmental NGOs attending had little control over the cost of their accommodation. As for the outcome of the summit, which was a lot less than might have been hoped for, the failures were more due to obstruction by countries such as the US, which refused to back specific programmes - for example, on energy - rather than being caused by environmental organisations.

In many ways, development and looking after the environment are complementary - Ms Dingle emphasises the damage done in developing countries due to floods, but climate change is likely to make flooding (as well as droughts, deforestation and desertification) worse, particularly in developing countries. The suggestion that major river control projects and large dams is the answer contrasts with the view of the World Commission on Dams, whose report was promoted by Nelson Mandela, hardly an opponent of development.

Each project needs to be appraised on its merits, but there are many schemes which have failed to deliver the promised benefits - indeed in Europe and the US, many flood defence schemes are being dismantled because it is clear that total control of river systems is not possible. The largest protests against the Narmada River dams in India are not from whingeing Western environmentalists but from people in India.

Ceri Dingle's view seems to be that Western technology is the best for the developing world, and that promoting 'intermediate' technology is patronising. In fact, there are many technologies which contrast with the Western mode of development which are more appropriate for developing countries. In rural areas, the electrification which she calls for - and most people would support - decentralised generation, including from renewables, is likely to be the most suitable and economic solution. Unfortunately, a proposal at the summit for a firm target for the proportion of energy to come from renewables was stymied by the US government - no doubt influenced by the powerful oil lobby. Energy is a clear case where environmental issues and development overlap - people in poverty often over-exploit forests and wood sources for fuel, while sustainable development could provide energy which does not degrade the environment.

Regarding clean water, again, rightly another of Ms Dingle's concerns, the summit did agree an ambitious target for provision of this in developing countries. It is up to development and environmental lobbies to see that this commitment is fulfilled.

Architects, engineers and scientists should be in the forefront of promoting recognition that development and the environment are interlinked. Attempts to put them in opposition are counterproductive.

Martin Quick, via e-mail

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