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BElWEEN A CORAL

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Middle States Geographer, 1995, 28:45-52 BElWEEN A CORAL REEF AND A HARD PLACE: THE POLITICS OF COASTAL MANAGEMENT IN SRI LANKA Karen Nichols Department of Geography Rutgers University New Brunswick, NJ 08903 ABSTRACT: This paper addresses political participation problems associated with environmental intervention in the Third World, and specifically explores policy discourse behind Sri Lanka's intemationally backed coastal management program. I examine the close relationship between environmental policy and national development strat~gies and argue that despite highly publicized participatory democracy discourse coastal management policy, pamcularly the recent "Special Area Management Planning" (SAMP) initiative, the policies favor enclosure of resources for ecotourism development and systematically disenfranchises competing resource interests. Community disillusionment with questionably democratic politics is fueling countennovements - signalling inherent weaknesses in SAMP as applied in Sri Lanka and environmental interventions throughout the Third World. INTRODUCTION observe that interventionists can create erroneous interpretations of degradation to serve their interests in sustaining demand for their services. This distortion of knowledge can have enduring The prevailing view of international negative effects if it diverts attention from the true environmental interventions depicts conservation origins and gravity of environmental and socio-and development agencies as global biodiversity political issues (Watts, 1989). footsoldiers providing necessary utilitarian The social, economic and ecologicalprotection services in inappropriately developed thus dilemmas faced by many small coastal communities precarious Third World ecozones (UNCED, 1993). in southwest Sri Lanka are largely the product ofWhile, indeed because environmental degradation is environmental degradation and environmentala serious issue that threatens the livelihoods and intervention processes as both originate from the survival of many communities and should not be same political-economic apparatus (Premaratne,trivialized, this prevailing depiction of the merits of 1991; Tampoe, 1988). Much degradation - coastal environmental interventions has been subject to erosion, pollution, and species loss - can bemany recent critical inspections. Some analyses of attributed to the national economic development intervention projects have suggested that they can strategies pursued since liberalization in 1978,serve as a cover for specific development interests particularly an emphasis on coastal industry and and because of their generally intense local focus tourism development (Tampoe, 1988). Rather thanhave unprecedented ability to manipulate socio-providing a forum for alternative visions of coastalpolitical and spatial relationships (Escobar, 1995; development or alternatives to development, the Ferguson, 1990; Neumann, 1995; Schroeder, 1995; environmental intervention structure implemented Wije, 1990). Ferguson's (1990) study of the to solve degradation problems is largely anexpansive development agency conglomerate in extension of central government economic agendas Lesotho, is mirrored in different contexts by Peluso (Wije, 1990). The coastal management policy(1993) and Rich (1994), who show how international framework born in the late 1980s and early 1990s funding agencies can project a-political discourses out of the joint US Agency for Internationalyet align with political actors who support Development (USAID)/Sri Lanka Coastecologically and socially oppressive development Conservation Department (CCD), Coastalideologies. Leach and Fairhead (1994) further 45The Politics of Coastal Management in Sri Lanko Resources Management Project (CRMP), engages a discourse of sustainable development, particularly sustainable eco-tourism development, that some critics suggest may be inherently unattainable (Miller and Auyong, 1991; Selin, 1994). This paper scrutinizes the implications of the new coastal zone policy tool known as "Special Area Management Planning" (SAMP) for the southwest coast resort town of Hikkaduwa. It focuses on the institutionalization of a discourse that has disenfranchised some groups and strongly dictated the town's spatial, environmental, and economic dynamics. HISTORY AND CONTEXT OF COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT Sri Lanka is an island nation that is heavily dependent on the health and availability of coastal resources. Most of the 18 million inhabitants and almost all of the major transportation and industrial infrastructure are concentrated along the coast of this former British colony. Sri Lanka also has a national economy with a growing dependence upon tourism as a means of relieving substantial international debt. In 1992 tourism accounted for 8% of the total foreign exchange earnings, third after industrial and "major" (agricultural) products (Tantrigama, 1994). Since independence in 1948, most tourism development has concentrated along the west and southwest coasts, and the capacity to house visitors has doubled since 1982 (CRMP, 1992). In light of the economic importance of coastal development such as tourism, industry and urban infrastructure, problems oferosion, ecosystem health and resource availability, have been subjects of concern since the 1970s. In the late 1970s this concern escalated into a call for a formal coastal resource management body and created a space for increased environmental intervention by foreign development agencies, most notably USAID. In conjunction with US and other Western agencies, initial efforts of the nascent Sri Lanka Coast Conservation Department (CCD) continued a previous strategy of technological mitigation of coastal erosion in defense of established shoreline structures. Investment embraced a network of groynes, seawalls, and breakwaters, creating a fmancial and geomorphological nightmare (Wije et al., 1993) In response, the 1980s witnessed what might be termed a paradigm shift as it became clear that shoreline fortification was short-term, cost prohibitive, and far from a utilitarian erosion solution or holistic management approach. The question


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