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Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008

ASEAN JOURNALIST SYMPOSIUM

Japan's help sought to protect environment from development


Staff writer

Rapid growth and urbanization have caused serious environmental and energy problems in some Southeast Asian economies, and expectations are high for Japan to provide models and technologies to support sustainable development at affordable costs, the journalists told the Oct. 30 symposium.

News photo News photo
Trinh Thanh Thuy Evi Mariani

Evi Mariani, a reporter for The Jakarta Post, said megadevelopment projects in the Indonesian capital have often been carried out at the expense of the environment.

"Many Southeast Asian cities like Jakarta have been propelled into something like urban competition, with cities vying for regional shoppers, travelers and multinational firms seeking to locate their regional headquarters," Mariani said.

Environmental sustainability has been neglected as Jakarta proceeded with development projects like construction of business districts and cultural centers as well as land reclamation, she charged.

Urbanization has created problems ranging from housing shortages, traffic jams and frequent floods to air and groundwater pollution, Mariani told the audience. Shopping malls and office buildings meant more jobs and investments but also resulted in untreated wastewater going directly into the sea through rivers while exploitation of cheap groundwater by these facilities has led to land subsidence, she said.

About 1,500 new motorcycles and 500 cars are registered every day in Jakarta, causing heavy traffic congestion and air pollution, Mariani said. Public transportation is inconvenient for commuters because of poor management and the number of vehicles is expected to continue increasing for years, she added.

Mariani said Indonesia is entering an era "where we are energy thirsty and technology thirsty." The energy crisis is "a reality" in Indonesia, and since the country needs energy to grow, it needs technologies to achieve energy-efficient and environment-friendly growth, she said.

The environment has also become a serious issue in Vietnam amid fast growth and urbanization, said Trinh Thanh Thuy, deputy editor-in-chief of Viet Nam News.

Rapid economic growth of more than 7 percent annually over the past five years has led to pollution and put strains on the country's natural resources, Thuy said.

The agriculture sector contributes about 24 percent of Vietnam's GDP and accounts for roughly 60 percent of jobs but is also having a negative environmental impact due to uncontrolled use of fertilizers and pesticides, as well as lax management of untreated waste, she said.

Vietnam's infrastructure and technologies for environmental protection are poor and well below world standards, and some technologies in use date back to the 1960s, she said.

While the legal system for environmental protection has been improved in recent years, and the government has set up action plans and strategies, there are many shortcomings in the implementation due to poor planning and inadequate management capacity, Thuy said.

Thuy expressed hopes for greater cooperation between Japan and ASEAN countries like Vietnam for better environmental protection. Possible areas will include planning, training, technology transfer, and application of effective models in protecting and conserving the environment, she said.

But she also stressed that for developing countries, more emphasis should be placed on low-cost environmental technologies so that they can become more affordable and applicable.

Mariani of The Jakarta Post also emphasized that eco-friendly and energy-saving technologies such as solar power are still too expensive for many developing economies.

"We cannot afford solar panels, so in coming years we will need fossil fuels for energy," Mariani said, expressing hopes that technological advances by Japanese firms in renewable energy like solar and wind power would make them more affordable for Southeast Asian countries.

Yasuhiro Goto of the Nikkei business daily said he sees a role for Japan, if, with the U.S. and European economies mired in financial crisis, investments in environmental efforts and measures to deal with climate change are going to be the driving engine of the global economy.



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