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Contributed by Special Secretary Tourism Dr. Ravinder N. Batta, Government of Himachal Pradesh, India
The concept of eco-towns originated in Japan. Toward the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, problems of air and water pollution and solid waste management assumed serious dimensions in Japan. The only solution was achieving zero emissions by promoting local approaches for recycling and reducing waste. Aimed at zero emissions, the first eco-town program was started in 1997. Owing to its encouraging results, it now covers 28 towns in Japan.
To replicate this successful experiment in developing countries, the APO organized a workshop in Bandung, Indonesia, 23–27 October 2007. The workshop was designed to orient the participants on the concept, acquaint them with the potential benefits of the program, and develop strategies to introduce the concept in major towns in developing countries. With 22 participants from 13 member countries, it provided a platform for the exchange of experiences and a forum to discuss practical problems and determine solutions with the help of experts.
Most participants were already facing such problems and struggling to find appropriate systems to handle them. With the rising problems of pollution, solid waste management, and exploitation of natural resources, societies in the developing world are becoming conscious of environmental problems and keen to learn more about the best practices followed elsewhere. Pollution-related health problems and the consequent costs in terms of human lives lost are well documented in the context of developing countries. The World Bank has produced extensive literature on Disability-adjusted Life Years lost (DALY) and Quality-adjusted Life Years lost (QALY) in developing countries due to health problems caused by pollution, facilitating wide-ranging debate on the types of legal and institutional frameworks required to handle such issues.
The quest for sustainability, however, is complex in the context of the developing world. In the absence of adequate nonfarm avenues of employment, lack of efficient technology, and the constant struggle for survival, the problems of sustainability and global warming are often relegated to the background. There is, however, a silver lining: owing to their heavy dependence on natural resources for livelihood, people today realize that the problems of changes in weather conditions and depleting stock of natural resources are affecting their capacity to earn. Increased industrialization and changed consumption patterns are creating a new challenge in urban areas, making air and water pollution and solid waste management the real issues in the management of all urban settlements today. The workshop was therefore well timed and relevant to the participants.
This five-day workshop included three days of lecture sessions, a one-day field visit, and a one-day hands-on training session on criteria for the selection of towns and discussions on approaches to implement the concept in developing countries. On the second day of the workshop, participants presented country papers. After studying the concept, approaches, and strategies, they designed an eco-town development program for Bandung. It was therefore a blend of theory and practical know-how on the eco-town concept.
Prof. Tsuyoshi Fujita, a renowned expert from Japan, introduced the concept and highlighted the experiences of different towns in Japan. The present writer, another resource speaker, elaborated on the different components of the eco-town concept and discussed its relevance with reference to the problems faced in developing countries.I also advocated that along with the 3R approach (reduce, reuse, and recycle) and life cycle assessment) methodology, the concept of eco-efficiency should also form an integral part of eco-town programs for developing countries since their current level of technology is high natural resource/low value addition consuming high energy and natural resources and generating large amounts of waste. Ms Marlyana A. Marzukhi from Malaysia narrated the Penang experience of eco-town development in Malaysia.
Almost all the participants requested support from the APO to implement this concept in their towns. After elaborate discussions, Kandi in Sri Lanka, Suva in Fiji, Bandung in Indonesia, and Pattaya in Thailand were selected for further work on the baseline studies and development of approaches for starting eco-town programs. The resource persons extended their full support to the participants if they required help at home. Motivated by the support from the resource persons and a presentation by APO Program Officer K.D. Bhardwaj, the participants decided to create at least one eco-town in each participating country by 2010. If the idea is pursued, a workable model for developing countries could be created for replication with slight modifications.