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Executive summary

Owing to the limited physical availability of resources in coastal areas (namely land, fresh water and coastal waters), and the increasing competition for them, there is a greater risk of conflict between competing users of coastal area resources than there is in other areas.

Disputes can erupt between government departments, private individuals, companies or any combination of these. In coastal areas, they can involve neighbouring states. The relative power of the disputants (e.g. large timber company versus impoverished smallholder whose remaining land is at risk) may influence the outcome. Conflict will often arise between different sectors (agricultural polluters and shrimp farmers, hotel owners and inshore fishers). It can also involve residents (or potential residents) of the area and non-residents (for example, ecologists who are aiming to protect a threatened breeding ground).

Disputes can be resolved through the courts, with the existing law being applied on the strength of the case presented by the litigants. But this will usually leave one party unsatisfied and will not relieve the tensions. Increasingly, moves are being made towards establishing other forms of dispute settlement, known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques.

ADR consists of direct negotiations between the parties, with or without some form of intermediary (conciliator, mediator or arbitrator), each having defined roles to play. When large disputes over public policy are concerned, negotiated rule-making is often introduced, whereby all the parties seek to agree on the objective and the means of attaining it.

The choice of such alternative techniques will depend on local circumstances and, while no guarantee of a satisfactory conclusion can be given beforehand, experience shows that, with goodwill and flexibility on all sides, it is often possible to reach solutions to disputes that are acceptable to all parties concerned. An essential element is that all concerned parties are involved on an equal footing. Special efforts will usually have to be deployed to bring in the weakest parties and provide them with all the instruments needed (e.g. information on the suit, the consequences of various solutions, alternative solutions) to argue their respective cases.

The conditions necessary for a successful outcome include voluntariness, opportunities for mutual gain, participation, clear identification of interests, development of options and the capability of the parties to enter into agreements and ensure that they are carried out.

Alternative dispute resolution techniques are especially appropriate in coastal areas where issues are complex, all concerns often legitimate and the scope for compromise fairly broad.

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