Monday, December 18, 2006

Human Secure Mumbai vs. The Sustainable Workshop

Around “Poverty and Human Insecurity in Munbai: Social and Environmental Issues” paper by professor D. Parthasarathy for the International Workshop on Environmental and Health Risk for Sustainability in Developing Countries. November 27, Tohoku University.

Naked trees in a well-covered Engineering Faculty
by panÓptiko

Last November the above mentioned workshop was held in Tohoku University, giving a stimulating opportunity to have a look on the understanding of sustainability that the Center for Advanced Inter-Departmental Studies in Science and Technology (CAST) and the Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science (IR3S) embrace.

Talk about sustainability implies to go a step beyond traditional academic model of the reality and adventure in the realms of complexity, where the concepts from different disciplines mutate and interlink to create nets to catch and support a collapsing world – that world depicted in the sustainability discourse.

Human Security (HS) was not in the agenda but you could feel it in the air – well, when you get tightly involved with something you usually feel that presence everywhere – and just in the final lecture it was summoned to complete the discussion. I will take advantage of this opportunity to analyze the connections between the two concepts out of the presentation of professor Parthasarathy, relations between the presented papers and further implications.

Light over Poverty and Environment links

In his paper, professor Parthasarathy begins sketching the particularities of the city of Mumbai, where the case study was located. The city is the largest of India in terms of population, characterized for having strong commercial, financial and business capital activity. According to the web page of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai 1, the population is around the 13 million, from which around 60% lives in slums. Given the economic power of the city, migration is also important part of this percentage.

On the other hand, in the last years Mumbai has been affected by rains heavier from the expected during the monsoon season, leading to flooding, water logging and landslides that affect more dramatically the slums’ population, because of its location near dangerous river basins and vulnerability. So, by now, we have an environmental event and the slums as a social offspring of a given way of life, or economic model.

Introducing the other actors of the social system, the government of the city is called “nativist / chauvinist”, what comes to explain how a 60% of a population is not respected by its government; most of NGO vocals are regarded as representatives of the rich and corporation’s interests, while just a minority of those NGO and sectors of the media offer some resistance. Thus, the picture is one of 60% of inhabitants of Mumbai denied from the development framework.

Besides, the author adds, the city is not technically prepared to manage the amount of water from these strong storms, even the system is branded as “outdated”. Also, the river presents a lack of flow due to high pressure pollution from industries of the city, collapsing into the tragic loss of lives and property, among effects to the whole city system. The door is open to propose a technocratic solution, which in fact is taking place, but placing as priority zones with presence of industries and multinationals.

Once depicted the reality, the final linkage to human insecurity is set in terms of discrimination – slum-dwellers are marginalized - , lack of power – slum-dwellers have no voice in planning solutions to their problems - and vulnerability derived from poverty – no means to afford a sound life. The message is to include a socio-economical component when addressing environmental risks.

The total image is an interesting approach to broad the understanding of the difficult situation the slum-dwellers have to live with. Slum dwellers seem to stand alone and defenseless in the middle of the daily life struggle in the big metropolis. Nevertheless, the build framework is not unique to the Mumbai case, but common for slum dwellers all over the world 2. The presented economic, political and social conditions of deprivation are shared characteristics of this societal group, and their final spatial location inside the cities always present a high grade of vulnerability, in terms of either physical, chemical or biological risk – social risk, appropriately presented by the author in terms of mafias (internal) and political populism (external) are degenerated out of the initial conditions. Hence, the article is an excellent starting point to materialize a puzzling problem sometimes too generally treated in the bibliography, but there is a whole path open into the insights of its particularities to enable proper action.

Human Security concept is people centered, and as top-down as bottom-up oriented. In order to achieve this two, it aims protection and empowerment 3. This empowerment that is aimed asking to “perceive and treat slum dwellers as dynamic economic agents” in professor Parthasarathy paper could derive to a failure if, for every case, the actual meaning of “slum dwellers” is not thoroughly understood. As an example, the article shortly mentions migration influence, but the real impact is never showed; and, what from an ignorant about Indian society would be more interesting, the grassroots implications of the castes systems and different religious backgrounds when treating slum dwellers as a whole should be openly considered and reflected in the final recommendations for the ongoing plan.

The author clarifies that the research is going on, being of huge interest to follow its conclusions and consequences, as an outstanding effort to give appropriateness to real life problems solutions from the HS paradigm.

The Technocratic Stance

Through the base paper the HS concept utility could be seen as a way to kill two birds with a stone: an environmental emergency makes a social problem unavoidable, and HS helps the decision-makers add socio economical programs along to laws, taxes or civil works, so they assure sustainability in the long term. This presuppose that the latter do not include the necessities of those endangered, leaving in the air a sense of badness in the word technocracy. However, most of the presentations of that morning in the seminar could be catalogued as “technocratic” and no body said a thing. Diplomacy or indifference? I do not pretend to solve this question but to look from this point of view to briefly analyze the other papers and the coherence of the conference.

I will start with professor Jofre work around economic indicators to viral contamination in water systems. It was an illustrative journey around the biological pollution issues of water treatment and how simple methods – bacteriophages in this case – could be useful to estimate a remaining viral activity in treated water, in order to adjust the procedure to guarantee safety, or at least raise awareness. The limiting factor, as promptly pointed by a professor in the conference, was that the lack of proposals to correct the evidenced problem, then increasing the level of information – or stress – in an instable and lacking of resources system. Underlying, there is also the conception that “for developing countries” mean that you should work with the most cheap option, but once I heard a Japanese expression that says something like “I am not enough rich to buy cheap things”. This deserves more discussions but deviates from the theme, so I would leave it just as an aside reflection.

Later, Professor Wagner talked about advances on flooding forecasting systems. It was fascinating to foresee the possibility to avoid catastrophes like, fortunate coincidence, those occurred in Mumbai. In this moment, the model is still being refined to accomplish its aim but, from the talk, it seemed promising. The research is being held in the United States, so when the discussion turned to developing countries it was addressed a lack of information to make the model work in different basins. The asserted causes of this absence were no money or interest to maintain the operation centers that collect this data in those countries, so the project went to the sky: some attempts of using satellites information were commented with no clear prospects of success. Anyway, this valuable option unveils some grade of disconnection between academic and practical solutions, or, at least, not real link – or interest to have it- to work with those countries which also need of these technologies. Someone from the public asked why not to use the knowledge from the affected people to model and set strategies to overcome flooding emergencies but, in my opinion, although it has sense, this is not the specialty of the team, which is making a wonderful work, so are not the ones to blame.

Finalizing this conceptual line, professor Tadukar presented advances on Down-flow Hanging Sponge reactor, to complement UASB units, under the title “Sustainable Wastewater Treatment System for Developing Countries”. Positive proofs were presented about the benefits of this technology in terms of quality and price, pinpointing the excellent features the developed material presents. Nevertheless, from the root, the concept of developing countries – field results were get in India, lucky coincidence – seem a little constricted: countries were there is a UASB system that does not work well. So the doubt if the intention is to develop an integrated and better treatment system or to correct some mistakes from the past persists.

A Sustainable Conference

Sustainability science, in words of professor Kensuke – IR3S host of the conference - , “… is a new, transdisciplinary field that seeks to address the urgent problems we face in this century by developing visions and strategies to create a sustainable global society.” Given this, the conference was very successful, because all the talks offer a vision and suggestions for a better world – with his positive and negative aspects. However, there seemed to be a missing link that miraculously appeared from the coincidence of the presentations above commented to talk about India 4.

Human Security is not better or worst, superior or inferior, to the Sustainability concept. Maybe tightly related, but it is - and should never be, I believe - the point. What professor Parthasarathy paper remind us is to close the linkages between the disciplines – what is different to gather them together -, tie them to the territory – although somehow directly related to India, it was never felt they were talking about the same country - and, more punctually, to the people.

Professor Kensuke, talk also from three systems: global, social and human, and interaction between them as object for sustainability science to work on. Maybe Human Security can help as glue, coherently joining the branches of the system, and even taking out from the definition the defined concept, fact that sometimes make us feel in an unfortunate loop without exit.

1 See:
2 Complete information could be found in the UN Habitat webpage,, specially “The Slum Challenge” Report.
3 All of these, basic concepts detailed in the final report of the Human Security Commission.
4 I should apologize to the other magnificent speakers from Uzbekistan, Thai and India, for not talking about them here because of restrictions in space and the nature of my argument.

Oscar Andres Gomez Salgado
First Year Master Student
Human Security and Environment Program
Professor Kimura Laboratory
Tohoku University

Labels: , , , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Panoptiko
I realy appreciate what you wrote about that workshop's peresentations in details ,as I can say, you could be in role of a good "commentator", which was acctually absence in that workshop .
I think, you carefully set the scene, by which you analyzed the situation from different point of view; in which you introduced your core Idea:
"sustainability implies to go a step beyond traditional academic model of the reality and adventure in the realms of complexity, where the concepts from different disciplines mutate and interlink to create nets to catch and support a collapsing world – that world depicted in the sustainability discourse."
So, according to your core idea(connection between different disciplines as sustainability science),you exposed two strong support reasons in body of your talking: Light over Poverty and Environment links; and The Technocratic Stance; in which you discussed both weakpoint and good point.
However, in on hand,I think, when reader read your talk, came to realyze a logical paradox in that: For instance, you say in your core idea,we sould consider and attend connection between different disciplins as "sustainability Science", and you bring the reasons from two different disciplines articles, which in fortunate coincidence, you showed a possible link between them in somehow. But,in the other hand, you criticizes,why persons are not supposed to ask the question beyond the only technocrati or social scineces, it seems like that Prof. Parthasarathy, should say to you, I am not environmental or tecnocratic expert, and my scope is about human security or insecurity.Especificly,regarding to prof. Wagner peresentation, I think, he should pay attention to that ,why? because in the end of lecture he showed some pictures of people who suffered by floods in Bangladesh,and it expose streamly an ignoring cultural contexts in introdusing high technology to those people situatuion, and even if, what about Katrina in USA, are those system exactly works for people? or in the other example, warning system of Tsunami in Indonasia,unfortunately evidencs prove in contrast to only expert technocratic solution without cultural and local considerations. In general, I think, human security is not inevitable occurance.Of course, natural catastrophies such as floods...undermine human security,but even within a single locality they do not undermine everyone's security equally. Rather, human security results directly from existing power structures that determine who enjoyes the entitlement to security and who does not.such structures can be identified at several levels, ranging from the global,through the regional, the state and finally the local level.

Something I need to note here about that workshop: first of all, the abjective of that workshop was to assess how can make connection between tecnocratic and human scinces such as you mentioned.
second, but the peresentations were so far from this aim, every single peresentations had to important weakpoint:1. without considering this whole title of workshop in their articles and 2. the peresentators didn't attention to that who are their target audiences? are they just engeenyers or just human science, and how could attracted them.
So, , I agree with you, in any way the lnkage wasn't successful.
Take care

6:24 PM  
Blogger tpraja said...

Have you seen the new India search engine they added all the cool features of popular products like MySpace, YouTube, Ebay, Craigslist, etc. all for free to use and specifically for India. Anyone else try this yet? First to Blend Search, Social Network, Video Sharing and Auctions Into One Seamless Product for Indian Internet Users.

5:30 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home