Table of Contents Next Page



Minimum Conflict: Guidelines for Planning the Use of American Humid Tropic Environments represents the Phase I report of the OAS/UNEP/Government of Peru sponsored project: "Case Study of Environmental Management: Integrated Development of An Area in the Humid Tropics - The Selva Central of Peru." To a large degree this effort is a follow-up of the OAS/UNEP/Government of Argentina study of the Upper Bermejo River Basin of Argentina in 1975-1977 which sought to develop a planning methodology for river basins in semiarid areas. The results of this early study were published in 1978 as a small book, Environmental Quality and River Basin Development: A Model for Integrated Analysis and Planning. Both of these studies have their basis in Resolution 61 of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment Action Plan, which requests that research be undertaken to design practical planning methodologies for distinct categories of development activity in specific individual biomes and which would include "concern for the environment" as an integral part of development planning.

This follow-up study began at a crucial moment in Latin American history. A number of other countries were considering major development of their own tropical areas. Mineral and petroleum exploration, combined with mounting economic and social pressures, were creating waves of spontaneous migration, while conservation groups worldwide were publicizing the plight of the tropics and their inhabitants. Premature descriptions of the tropics as uninhabited and "rich" were leading to uncontrolled migration to areas with a long history of failed and failing projects. Development planners were caught short, since the vast majority of planning experience had been in temperate and arid areas, while the environmentalists had barely begun to understand the astonishing diversity of the rainforest species. But what made 1980 a good time to undertake such a study, was that by now "environment" and "development" were no longer mutually exclusive terms.

For after nearly 15 years of conflict, environmentalists and the development community show signs of coming together. When the environmental movement began, it was somewhat fragmented into sectoral interests, prone to hasty analyses and confrontational pronouncements. But this movement has changed substantially. It is now more coherent in its goals and more understanding of the pressures on the Third World.

At the same time, the international development community made efforts to improve its "environmental" behavior, and a number of its members signed in 1980 the "Declaration of Environmental Principles and Procedures Relating to Economic Development." The development community had finally learned that no matter where a project was to be undertaken, other plans and projects already existed, other interests were involved, and all of these needed to be considered.

More and more, both groups realized that neither the technology of development nor the technology of environmental concern were easy to transfer from the developed temperate areas to the "underdeveloped" tropics.

Environmental impact assessments were expensive, and relevant information was too often unavailable. The mechanisms of governance in tropical areas proved difficult to adapt to a system of decision making that includes public participation and open competition between interest groups, and even when specific problems were fully and fairly stated, they were easy neither to understand nor to solve. Realizing their mutual dilemma, developers and environmentalists began to study concepts such as "basic human needs," "appropriate technology," and "appropriate styles of development," which have helped them to work together. Rarely now does one hear of the need to conserve, or of the need to develop, without hearing that specific conservation efforts are necessary for long-term equitable development.

Despite the changes on both sides, however, some human beings still suffer the degradation of their environments because other human environments have been improved; the commons are still not managed to provide for the common good, and the number of the disenchanted and the disenfranchised continues to grow. In this light, the development work of the Government of Peru in the Central Selva in the last few years has been refreshingly successful in bringing new solutions to old problems. Thus, this study will draw on Peru's experiences to formulate guidelines for development planning in the humid tropics, and will try to do it in a ground-breaking way: for example, we discuss the concepts and methods of environmental management, but the words "environment" and "environmental" are seldom used; and horror stories are conspicuously absent. Rather, we acknowledge that attempts to develop the humid tropics will be made and concentrate on the proper use of their ecosystems instead of belaboring their abuse. We acknowledge the existence of "sectors" and "sectoral interests" and, because of this, we treat the quality of specific, identifiable human environments as opposed to the quality of "the environment." Instead of "environmental impact," the report speaks of the identification and resolution of conflict between those many activities which make up the development process, and makes no ethical judgement as to which of those activities might be correct. And, though the title talks of "minimum conflict," the study recognizes that some conflict is healthy: it seeks only to reduce the number of unnecessary conflicts that planning so often inadvertently creates. The result is a set of guidelines to set the stage for a level of environmental management that could lead to full, long lasting and equitably distributed use of the nearly infinite resources of the American humid tropics.

Kirk P. Rodgers
Department of Regional Development
Organization of American States

Top of Page Next Page