Coastal Protection and Tourism in India

An Emerging Arena for Funding and Business

With climate change and increasing natural disasters, coastal protection has become a burning subject. Large amounts of funds have been allocated for coastal protection, which leads to corruption and the setting of wrong priorities. Coastal conservation has become a money-making business for various interest groups.

Industry is given priority in the name of conservation, even though it is obviously quite paradoxical to “protect” unsustainable tourism development which itself causes or aggravates sea erosion by destroying natural barriers like sand dunes and mangroves.

India has a coastline of 7,525 km, almost all of which are to some extent affected by coastal erosion. About 1,500 km (26 percent) of the mainland coastline in India face serious erosion problems. Infrastructure projects such as jetties, ports, big road projects, dredged navigational channels, and the destruction of vegetation on the shoreline have all played a role in making the population living the coastal areas and depending on coastal resources highly vulnerable.

The impacts of climate change and sea level rise pose serious threats to coastal regions. The sea level along the Indian coast has been rising at the rate of 1.3mm/year. The 2004 tsunami and severe cyclones created a sudden awareness about coastal protection among policy makers. The government is allocating, and sometimes borrowing, huge funds and technologies to prevent coastal erosion. Construction companies and consultants are taking advantage of this situation. Many of the suggested technologies and measures are merely experiments and have not been proven successful.

There are already many coastal protection projects all across India such as WB-assisted $90-million loan project, Coastal Zone Integrated Management, which is covering the Indian states of Gujarat, West Bengal and Orissa. An ADB-funded Urban Sector Investment Project which covers North Karnataka amounts to US$ 270 million. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Department for International Development (DFID) of United Kingdom are also supporting coastal protection and management initiatives in India. These projects are promoting a controlled disruption of natural processes by using investment intensive man-made structures such as sea walls for waves to bounce off or groynes (rigid hydraulic structures that interrupt water flow and limits the movement of sediment). Such constructions can cause unintended environmental consequences, such as new erosion and altered sedimentation-sand deposition patterns that are detrimental to the immediate human and natural environment or along down-coast locations and habitats.

Coastal tourism and conservation – new buddies

Tourist destinations are enjoying top priority in coastal protection because coastal and beach tourism is an important segment in the global tourism scenario. Coastal recreation activities, which have been increasing during the last decade, occupy a unique place in coastal tourism. A new alliance between tourism and coastal conservation has become a trend especially against the backdrop of climate change. Coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to altered climate conditions. They are especially sensitive to sea level rise, storm frequency and intensity. All these changes can largely affect tourists’ decisions on destination selection, and eventually tourist flow in general. “Unlike natural disasters or terrorist attacks, there is not just a short-term effect that could then be quickly forgotten. Rather, climate change will permanently alter the attraction of some holiday regions and force them to take steps to adapt in the next decades,” says a research paper published by Deutsche Bank in 2008, which looks at the winners and losers in the changing global tourism scenario.

Tourism and coastal erosion Tourism is also causing the destruction of natural protection in the coastal areas. A study on the Indian state of Goa shows that none of the coastal areas possess the rich sand dune flora characteristic of an undisturbed beach. The status of dune vegetation in tourism villages has been deteriorating as compared to those in the developing or non-tourist villages. Tourism-related development is taking a heavy toll of the natural beach ecosystems by destroying sandy spaces, diminishing dune vegetation, and land reclamation. Government is not regulating (and is sometimes even supporting) this kind of destructive activities. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) aided coastal protection project “Sustainable Coastal Protection and Management Investment Program” which is implemented in Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka is such a project that raises serious concerns. The project claims that the introduction of new technologies for coastal protection will not only protect the coastline from erosion but enhance income generation opportunities for communities living near the affected areas. Previous experiences, however, show otherwise.

The technology suggested by this project to protect the coast is geo textile artificial reefs. These are not proven to be an effective technology. In many places, for example on the Dorset Coast, UK, and in Kovalam, Kerala, South India, it failed and did not generate the expected results. Recent photographs from Kovalam show that the beach erosion in this area was as usual during monsoon and it had damaged the pathway constructed in the beach. The multipurpose reef implemented under the mask of promoting fisheries, coastal protection, tranquillity for fishery activity and tourism potential has proved to be an irony. The fishermen expressed their concern that shore seine fishing nets were yielding damaged portions of the artificial reef rather than the increased fish resources promised to them.

According to the performance targets formulated for the project in Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, the project should increase the number of businesses on the intervention beaches by 15 percent within five years after completion and reduce poverty incidence in coastal communities by ten percent by 2018 at intervention districts. However, experience has shown that local communities, especially the poor and marginalized, usually only receive a drop from the wealth created by tourism. At the same time, they are the ones paying a high price due to tourism’s social and environmental impacts such as displacement, loss of traditional jobs, and denial of access to beach and sea, etc. The project also talks about a new shoreline management organisation with the participation of business to control access to the beach and the sea. This will lead to violations of community rights over their resources and facilitate the privatization of public resources.

The role of International Financial Institutions

International Financial Institutions like the World Bank and ADB have been instrumental in providing loans for the infrastructure for unsustainable tourism in the developing world. These projects require huge amounts of tax payers’ money and benefit very few. Projects are supported in the name of adaptation to climate change, but at the same time, they promote activities which increase carbon emissions and further sea erosion. The rapid urbanization and infrastructure development along the coast is one of the main reasons for coastal erosion. Measures to curb disasters must begin by restricting these indiscriminate developments along the coast.

Sumesh Mangalassery is director of Kabani – the other direction, an initiative from Kerala (India) working on tourism and sustainable development. This article is an extract from the research paper “India: Borrowing False solutions – A Critique of Asian Development Bank’s Sustainable Coastal Protection and Management Investment Program”, published by Kabani – the other direction and the NGO Forum on ADB, Manila.

Source: Tourism Watch.