Monitoring Assessment and Reporting 

Environmental monitoring by government agencies and institutions in many countries has focused on certain environmental concerns, such as the quality of air, water and other natural resources. Monitored data are transformed into information that show environmental trends and effectiveness of past mitigation measure which are vital for environmental management. This information is also utilized in the state of environment reports; for example, of Australia; New Zealand; Malaysia; India; Fiji; Japan; Hong Kong, China; Turkmenistan; Azerbaijan; Uzbekistan; and Palau. NGOs and community-based organizations also play a significant role in collecting and disseminating information to the community and to all spheres of government.

National level

Air pollution is a concern for which extensive monitoring systems have been put in place in many countries of the region. In the Republic of Korea, for example an automatic air pollution monitoring network measures seven atmospheric pollutants which includes TSP, SO2, NO2, CO, O3, etc. Other countries in the region may not have such a sophisticated system but nonetheless have established monitoring systems to cover sites across the country. Indonesia now has 31 air quality monitoring stations nationwide to help check increasing air pollution arising from motor vehicles in large cities. People’s Republic of China illustrates a wide array of monitoring stations and also implements a quantitative examination system for urban environmental control. The central and provincial governments have already performed quantitative checks in over 37 major cities and 330 smaller cities.

Environmental quality monitoring has also been focused on natural resources, such as coastal and marine resources. In Thailand, the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture monitors coastal zones and estuaries for toxic chemicals, heavy metals and oil pollution. India has a programme on Coastal Ocean Monitoring and Prediction System that is engaged in a systematic monitoring of marine pollution in the country and conducts studies relating to waste assimilation capacity of coastal waters. The Russian Federation monitors and evaluates the environmental impact of activities affecting coastal and marine regions such as in the Caspian Sea where a system is being developed to forecast its fluctuating level over various time spans to predict possible future changes.

Regional and Global Monitoring

Environmental quality monitoring goes beyond country activities and programmes when environmental concerns take on transboundary characteristics. An example is the Mekong GIS project (of the Interim Committee for Coordination of Investigations of the Lower Mekong Basin), which was initiated to evolve a network of data centres in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand and Viet Nam. Regional cooperation in Central Asia has also been initiated on questions relating to radiation safety.
Remote Sensing and GIS are also being applied as a tool for monitoring at regional level. The value of remote sensing in monitoring transboundary pollution was demonstrated recently when ASOEN (ASEAN Officials for the Environment) used the data developed from these for planning inter-country cooperation regarding haze caused by forest fires in Indonesia.

Issues and Problems in Monitoring and Assessment

The most often cited constraints in relation to environmental quality monitoring in developing countries relate to inadequacy of funds and the lack of manpower and/or training, which leads to low coverage and low frequency of monitoring, particularly in the rural areas. This is especially so when the monitoring cover a wide area, for example, in Mongolia there is a need to monitor about 20 000 bored wells and a similar number of dug wells as it is believed that 70-80 per cent of these are contaminated. However, present capacity only allows chemical analyses for 14 per cent of the bored wells and none of the dug wells. Lack of training and technical capacity has also reduced the capacity of developing countries to actively participate in global monitoring efforts.

Environmental monitoring and assessment in the developing countries of the region still requires strengthening in terms of standardization of, monitoring network system design; sampling and analytical methodologies; quality control in data collection and laboratory analysis; national procedures for harmonizing data collection; and improving the access to data of researchers and interested citizens. There is also a need to establish systems for collecting new benchmark data to assess the sustainability of resources, as well to environment with health, population, and economics.

Information Dissemination

Dissemination of environmental information is extremely important in integrated environmental management, since it plays a vital role in sensitising individuals to environmental issues. In the past, dissemination has been done through campaigning using mass media and scientific publications, however, advanced technology, especially the electric media, is now playing an increasing role.

National Level

In some countries, there is no legal policy to disseminate environmental information to the public or private sector. Lack of effective coordination makes information exchange more difficult. For example, in the Russian Federation, though environmental information distribution policy does exist by law, there is no legal administrative mechanism available to put it into practice. As a result, the information cannot be obtained easily, even among coordinating agencies.

The Government of India and the State Governments, through several of their organizations have taken various steps to develop information network capabilities of both the public and private sectors. The Environment Information System (ENVIS) has the joint objectives of building a repository and dissemination centre for environmental science and engineering, and providing national environmental information services to originators, processors, and disseminators of environmental information.

International Level

Internationally, INFOTERRA of UNEP is an important source of information. Additionally, United Nations system-wide Earthwatch programme initiated in 1994 by UNEP has emphasized environmental education. It aims at coordinating, harmonising and integrating observation, assessment and reporting activities across the United Nations system in order to provide environmental and socio-economic information to interested parties. Some countries also promote dissemination of environmental information for users around the world. The National Resource Information Centre (NRIC) of Australia develops advanced computing systems designed to service policy and community needs for information, for example, on sustainable development. Its information resources consist of more than 50 national and 100 regional spatially maintained datasets, and FINDAR, a software package for interrogating metadata on more than 6 500 databases that it maintains as a directory linked to all other major international directories.

Issues and Constraints in Information Dissemination

Effective communication plays an important bridging role between information and target groups. The first stage of communication, however, which is listening to what people know, think, believe and do, has often been weak. In the formal education sector, timely access to credible information is one of the major constraints for environmental education in the region. Furthermore, in some countries, although data and information are often collected by different agencies, a lack of effective coordination and communication among related agencies make information sharing ineffective. NGOs have been effectively involved in dissemination of environmental information to promote environmental awareness, although there is still a need for improved promotion at the regional level.

SOURCE: RECSAM Regional Workshop on Environmental Education

The author of this article is Asst. Professor, Pioneer Institute of Professional Studies, Indore

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