Opinion: Which way, St. Maarten?

POSTED: 08/22/13 12:37 PM

“Pressure for change and understanding is most effective when people have access to the facts and can arm themselves with the arguments, that the concept of providing people with a comprehensive right to know about sources of pollution, development plans in their neighborhood should not be politically contentious. But, people on  St. Maarten still seem to be unaware. Environmental information is either not available or it is in a form which make it virtually impossible for people to access or understand.”

Indeed, Mr Governor, if this new initiative of yours can persuade the political establishment to kick off a national dialogue on sustainability, it will mark another turning point in our history because only such a dialogue will provide the information and public understanding necessary to guide us on a path to sustainability.

We must command your effort of keeping environmental issues on the top of your governorship from the higher end. It shows that you care and we should all care too as well, but it is regrettable that the opportunity is not given to the people to get involved, that the symposium door should have been opened to all, for more interaction between the know-it-alls, the wannabes and those who don’t know, the citizens of this country because  telling people what is happening will lead to more accountable government, a healthier environment and a fairer society.
We must highlight the consequences and assess the long term damages caused by our indifference to nature. We welcome the symposium and applaud your effort.

This symposium should prompt not only those “know-it-alls” to engage with each other but also with the people of Back street in an honest evaluation of our present situation.

“Building a sustainable society is the critical challenge of this century. Everything depends on it. Each of us need to participate in this debate over how our nation best protect our ecological heritage, limit pollution, and plan for the future.  We cannot just talk about environmental issues without the sound management of the land”.

Without a broad and overall understanding of nature and environment among the general public, through education and information, all technical and legal measures to protect and preserve our environment are irrelevant… the cheapest way for the implementation of these measures, Mr Governor,  is to create greater environmental awareness.

The management of GEBE, St. Maarten Tourism Authority formerly known as Tourist Bureau, Prime Minster, Mr. Beaujon and Mr. Athie Martin all have been involved in the past in our series of Ecofest events under the same theme.
None of us should deny the need for high profile conversation, but it must be with the people, about the people and for the country, Mr. Governor, not with or among a selected few.

The World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) defines sustainable development as, “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.”

Countries desirous of achieving this objective set up institutions with clearly defined strategies for the purpose. For example, the then Netherlands Antilles, committed to the principle of sustainable tourism oriented development set out the strategy in 1994 to be implemented by the local planning authorities.

The strategy recognizes the important role of planning system in regulating the development and the use of land in the public interest.

Then the question should be:  what is the situation like on Sint Maarten, which has a format similar to other former Netherlands Antilles islands? Because unlike other Netherlands Antilles islands, Sint Maarten is not enforcing and controlling the operation of any planning system to achieve the objective of sustainable development, and for that Mr. Governor, you need the people to be part of the symposium.

And most importantly will some of the findings or reports of the symposium be submitted or proposed to policy makers for its implementation, if not all?

How can this crucial and most sensitive balance between development and conservation be sustained, how can the ‘carrying capacity’ of a natural environment be determined and the necessary restrictions be defended against economic interests?
Since tourism is a growth industry worldwide, these questions become ever more important.

This has been one of the curses of all the development problems on the island. Such as congestion and lack of access to many dwellings, poor service delivery, irregular pattern of buildings in many places, poor road network, and the development of slum conditions.
The lack of environmental impact evaluation is the other bane of all our development problems.
Sustainable development has been placed at the level of mere rhetoric on the entire island. A slogan much fancied by speechwriters, who have very little understanding of the processes involved, Mr. Governor.

The indiscipline and lawlessness in the development process could be brought to an end only when the right planning and building procedures have been re-established and both regulations have been controlled and enforced.

A truly ‘sustainable’ development for the tourism industry seems particularly difficult to achieve, in part because it is so difficult to, voluntarily, give up a part of the possible economic growth by restricting access.  But we need to put a price tag on the worth of sustainable development and the value of culture and family bonding.

Mr Governor,  no modern society is currently sustainable over the long-term because all are consuming capital, and counting it on the profit side of the ledger. Any business that spends its capital and counts it as profit is headed for bankruptcy.
A nation is no different. After all, a nation’s capital (its wealth, so to speak) is the air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and bio-diversity. Take this away and all that is left is a wasteland.

As we destroy, pollute, erode and degrade our resource base, we are spending capital; obviously, this is not a sustainable situation in the long term.

Mr Governor,  help the people to have full, accurate and up to date informations about the state of the environment…We do not need another missed opportunity.

Expanding the economy of St Maarten does not have to interfere with preserving the environment, as the old saying ‘prevention is worth a pound of cure’ is important here, so look backward before you move forward and go cautiously, testing the impact of the various changes. There has to be a balance between ecology and development.

Should I ask, Sustainable Development, Which way Sint Maarten, Mr. Governor?

Stephane de Dje-Robert,

Founder of the defunct Green Voice Foundation,

Host and producer of “Breakfast With de Robert”


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