Knowledge Networks Seek Out Sustainable Development
By Marcelo Jelen
Towns and cities in Latin America are building direct links with resource supplies. The result is the decentralization of international cooperation.
MONTEVIDEO, (Tierramérica).- As the 21st century gets underway, there seems to be widespread agreement that the world's wealthier countries must help the poorer countries to achieve higher levels of development without jeopardizing the environment. The big question is: How?.
The search for answers has led to proposals such as ''knowledge networks'' for sustainable development, a concept interpreted in Latin America as a mechanism for decentralizing international assistance.
The networks function by linking local governments with civil society, academic institutions, multilateral credit organizations and with donors from the industrialized world.
These networks help coordinate actions, especially efforts toward improving environmental management and protection, concluded a forum that evaluated sustainable urban development initiatives, held in the Uruguayan capital.
The theories that support the knowledge networks project have already been brought into practice. In El Salvador, for example, where towns are seeking alternatives for fund raising to help in rebuilding efforts following the devastating earthquakes in January and February of this year.
The mayor of Apastepeque, Miguel Angel Gómez, explained to Tierramérica that the centralized nature of international aid was complicating relief efforts. ''They sent fewer resources to the municipalities, like ours, that are held by the political opposition,'' he pointed out.
The local leaders in El Salvador reacted by creating a Municipal Solidarity Network, which bypassed the central government in its requests for international assistance.
''In seven days, the donations were handed over at the airport directly to the municipalities' representatives,'' Gómez said.
This was possible thanks to the close coordination between local governments, El Salvadoran non-governmental organizations, international groups and the press, he told Tierramérica.
Teresa Serra, a World Bank expert, stressed that harmonizing local policies with national and regional policies ''is extremely difficult,'' as is making ''national agendas compatible with those of international agencies''.
Participating in this form of ''decentralized cooperation'' are not only the municipalities, but also ''universities, non-governmental groups, associations and businesses,'' reported Isabelle Hentic, representative of the Canadian International Development Agency.
In these networks, the development of projects is just as important as disseminating the results afterwards, Hentic pointed out.
Gómez, Serra and Hentic took part in the International Forum on Managing Sustainable Urban Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Montevideo in February.
One of the objectives of the conference, organized by the Environmental Management Secretariat for Latin America and the Caribbean (EMS), was to draw up mechanisms to cover the demand for environmental and social policies created by the concentration of economic activities in the region's cities.
''Environmental management linked to the growing presence of informal and unregulated settlements around the cities is one of the central points of interest in the projection of a sustainable development model,'' states the text that served as the basis of discussion at the forum.
Environmental degradation in the cities forces local and regional governments to perform - with their limited budgets - functions that were previously covered by national governments.
This creates a challenge for towns and cities to form more direct relationships with donor nations and international aid institutions.
Some 380 million people live in Latin America's cities, half of whom live on less than two dollars a day, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, a United Nations regional agency.
''Environmental conditions continue to worsen despite the technological advances and warnings from scientists and international organizations. Sustainable development is still a distant aspiration,'' said Adolfo Pérez Piere, interim chief of Montevideo's local government, in his presentation befor
* Marcelo Jelen