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Our National Essence for Sale – Part 1

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Fri Apr 26, 2013

by Louise Mitchell-Joseph and Vonnie Roudette

Is our national essence for sale? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” What should we have learnt from slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism? We should have learnt to guard our nation’s essence against greedy forces from within and from without. Yet today, evidence is clear that our country is being sold for two pieces of silver, from Buccama to Carenage, from Villa beach to Adams Bay. The question is “Where will these two pieces of silver take us?” When our great-grandchildren look back on the decisions we took (or failed to take) to protect our small nation, will they say the sacrifice of national essence was worth it? Will they even know what our essence is? “No!”,{{more}}

I say “No!”

This is a nation that is blessed with natural and human resources. The biodiversity of our beaches, rivers and mountains, and the fertility of our soil are our treasures. But they are being rapidly eroded because we as a nation are not protecting our national patrimony.

From the highest echelons of power to the minds of the primary school student, we lack an understanding of what constitutes “sustainable” development. Being critical of a certain type of development does not mean opposition to development as a whole. But in a small island nation state, where size and space are limited, and ecosystems are particularly fragile, the development that we engage in MUST be sustainable, so that future generations will not have to contend with escalating costs and depleted resources. Sustainable development means managing our environmental and cultural heritage in such a way that generations to come will have the environmental and human resources to meet their needs. Implicit in this is that our essential nature forms the foundation of meaningful development.

One aspect of sustainable development involves taking measures to mitigate against damages done to environmental, cultural and physical heritage through building construction activities. Not all damages can be mitigated, but nevertheless, there must be an assessment of what damages will be caused, through a thorough appraisal of pre-existing ecosystems and community cultural practices. Developers must also be willing to consult communities and local organisations with regard to the impact their activities will have on the intangible heritage of the people.

The Argyle international airport is an example of such an approach. The IADC, some five years ago, after having conducted a full social and environmental impact study, met with the National Trust to determine how some measure of the history of Argyle could be preserved. The IADC also financed a cultural heritage action plan of the National Trust. As such, whilst the geography of Argyle will be changed forever, at least through excellent archaeological work, we have gained greater knowledge of the history of Argyle and of St Vincent and the Grenadines as a whole. We have identified the location and make up of an entire Calinago village. There has been some benefit to the understanding and preservation of our national heritage.

But in other aspects, the construction industry on the mainland can hardly be said to be concerned with sustainability. Many development projects create high long-term energy costs and waste management problems, presenting socio/environmental disasters for our children to have to clear up. Design for sustainable development has yet to be embraced in this country.

Development that destroys a living culture is not sustainable development. There are numerous examples of erosion of our environmental and cultural treasures in SVG. For instance, the construction of a 100-yacht marina close to the Tobago Cays Marine Park without an environmental impact assessment being conducted beforehand. What kind of nation do we have where our Government has no AUTHORITY to demand that an environmental impact assessment be done, nor the political will to ask for it, using moral suasion? What are we afraid of? Fear of doing the right thing is ultimately counter-productive. If we could demonstrate a sound approach to conservation and environmental preservation, within the context of global thrust towards sustainable development that addresses social and environmental challenges, we would attract more quality investors.

Another question we must ask is “What kind of tourism do we want?” Do we want any investor who will pour tons of concrete onto our sacred soil? Do we want an investor who will not be responsible for leaving a high-rise monstrosity to rot in the face of the greatest petroglyph site in the country? Or do we want investors here for the long haul, who care about our centuries old eco/cultural legacy, and will treat our country with the respect she deserves?

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