Concept of Complexity Assists in Evaluating Issues for Sustainability



Complexity as defined by Edmond (O’Sullivan, 1999), says the asset of language expression which turns it tougher to put together its behaviour in totality, even if the whole information about its atomic components and the inter-relationship has been given is called complexity. Edmond applied the concept of complexity to the concept of evolution and tried to analyse it as ‘paradigm’, means complexity is just a kind of label which has been put on the difficult systems which are tough to handle using Newtonian or reductionist analysis techniques.

That is why there are several potential concepts related to complexity, like based on size or count, complexity is display or guide which indicates the parameters of general difficulty levels existing while dealing with the system and it represents the potentials which exist in the complex systems (Histon, 2002). The concept of Complexity also relates to ‘ignorance’ or total lack of knowledge or Complexity can also be referred to as a midpoint between order and disorder.

Problem solving in the complex and dynamic environments requires two kinds of Models: Model of task Demand where the task environment compels the operator and the second is the Model of performance where operator acts in response to the demands and is related to the cognitive model of human beings. Thus it is very true that Complexity arises or is an outcome of cognitive demands of each process involved in the system (Histon, 2002).

Human civilization continuously keeps on facing environmental as well as internal challenges and in reference to these challenges it is important to understand and be acquainted with the complexity of the behaviour depicted by the system (Bar-Yam, 1997). The reason being the complexity of system’s behaviour is directly interconnected or related to the complexity of challenges, which can be effectively overcome.

Related to this aspect in this essay the concept of complexity in the coastal mega-cities in Asia has been analysed and  how the issues have been evaluated transformed and effective sustainability management measures can be taken is analysed too. The human society has always found coastal areas as important interface where both terrestrial and the sea-based activities take place. That is why huge population globally gets accumulated by these interfaces. It has been found that around 55% of global population is concentrated around the the coastal areas. High level of dependency which the society has on the coastal resources leads to fierce competition for these resources for various activities like transportation, waste disposal, food production, urban development etc. As a result of varied human activities half of the world’s coastal ecosystem is facing a threat of existence. The coastal ecosystems of Asia-Pacific regions are the pones which are under the highest level of threat (Adeel and King, 2002).

Amongst the 16 largest cities located in Asia, 12 are locates in the coastal areas (World Urbanization Prospects1999, 1991). In Southeast Asia almost 75% of the population resides along the coast or at a very short distance from the coast and the largest concentration of the coastal cities is found in Japan, China and Korean Peninsula (Hinrichsen, 1990). These huge low-lying coastal areas are always prone to the hazards of inundations and floods which might come due to overflowing of the rivers. Another critical hazard which these areas might expose to be accelerated sea-level rises (ASLR). There are three reasons which have been analysed for the rapid economic changes as well as the demographic expansion in the coastal cities and the first reason is the uneven regional development. Thus In-migration is the main cause which results in proliferating coastal populations. It has been found that the temporary population in the coastal cities of China is 70-80 million and there is enormous pressure to provide basic resources and services, on the government.

The ever growing population in coastal areas has lead to second concern that is how to deal with and administer these large coastal cities which are full of large population and have insufficient fiscal resources with which they can provide just the bare minimal urban services. This is more common problem in the South Asia where urban poverty is very high and here the urban poor has managed and learned to cope themselves with appropriate self help measures as they are the worst suffers due to bad urban management (Yeung, 2001). Reclamation has also been a vital issue in major cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo, while Hong Kong was criticised due to visible shrinking of the famous and beautiful Victoria Harbour.

There are several environmental risks also which are being faced by coastal cities as the coastal pollution is widespread in these regions. Problems like sewage treatment are quite common which lead to high bacteria counts and seafood unfit for human consumption around these South Asian coasts. In china also the domestic as well as industrial effluents from these coastal cities offshore oil wells pollute the coasts and this has resulted in frequent ‘Red Tides’ due to contamination form they chemical fertilizers which are used by farmers in the upper rich soil of river basin. Excessive taking of groundwater from the aquifers which exist below the cities is the main reason which causes saline intrusion and subsidence (Rakodi and Treloar, 1997).

Due to all these reasons sustainability management has to be implemented and as suggested by Timmerman and White the coastal cities consist of two simultaneously evolving ecosystems which are spate from each other (Timmerman and White, 1997). One ecosystem is artificial and is constructed around the people who live in it and the second ecosystem is the natural one which is full of resources and its varied elements. The coastal cities are the playground for both these ecosystems where both interact with each other. The real-time challenge for the coastal cities management is to sustain both while maintaining the integrity of both the ecosystems. The careful observation of the megahydropolis of Asian subcontinent suggest that it is very difficult to achieve the state of equilibrium between the two ecosystems as both of them are under continuous stress. Moreover the symbiotic relationship which can be developed between the urban ecosystem and the coastal ecosystem has been totally eroded because with the expansion of coastal cities all the early advantages of coastal ecosystems have been over utilised. Now the man-made ecosystem has taken precedence over the natural ecosystem, so we need to find that what is the limit where the natural ecosystem will allow the man-made ecosystem to invade (Timmerman and White, 1997).

Sustainable development along with  sustainability is what is required now where sustainable development means creating a balance where the  present  needs are being met without compromising  with the ability to meet the needs or requirements of the future generation (Bruntland, 1987). Sustainable coastal development means showing and applying some respect towards the ecological as well as environmental limits, by taking in to consideration the ecological interest and along with that protecting the principal ecological benefits too. This new orientation towards the  future can be done by adopting long term  management timeframes and  planning’s which will lead to  promotion of greater liveability, right distribution of resources, and  creating opportunities in the coastal zones (Beatley, Brwoer and Schwab, 1994).

Thus for sustainable  coastal development it is imperative that both community as well as the public should show their full participation and there are three factors which can be of help. Firstly the economic opportunities for the rural poor should be increased like the best example is the Kepulauan Seribu marine Park, Jakarta which is created for the protection of coral reefs and manages the conflicting issues in the coastal city of Jakarta. Secondly in order to maintain the sustainable development the living standards of the people in the local community of the coastal cities should be enhanced in the long-run. Thirdly the local communities should be given assurance over and above the natural resources which they have been using for earning their basic living. The best approach would be adoption of various protected areas for example in Indonesia there is Bunaken National Park which a participatory marine park management program.

The ultimate goal and objective of coastal management should be to promote economic development in the megacities on the coasts by properly balancing the conflicting needs simultaneously and not compromising with the natural resources which should be preserved for future usage. The need of the hour is to adopt a holistic approach by following integrated coastal planning and management (ICPM) which is also referred to as integrated coastal zone planning (ICZP). For example sphere have been many projects like Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA) which was developed for the policy makers and scientists to study the marine environments in detail and shift focus form national to regional perspective. Thus with the education of the public and creating awareness amongst them along with the policy makers regarding developmental and environmental problems the present situation of coastal mega cities can be improved.

The complex concept of coastal areas of South Asia has been understood in better manner with the help of sustainability management in this case.  Training courses in Mangrove Biodiversity or the contribution given by United Nations University in preserving and restoring the mangroves through awareness rising, training and research are the best examples which can be quoted as sustainability measures which will help the coastal cities to grow and flourish and help in creating the required equilibrium between the natural ecosystem and the man-made ecosystem (Adeel, n.d.). Thus the need of the hour is to promote sustainable habitat for the future by taking a pledge to protect it.




Adeel, Z. (n.d) ‘Training and Capacity Building for Managing Our Mangroves Resources – UNU’s Role to Meet Regional Challenges’, Environment & Sustainable Development Programme, United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan.

Adeel, Z. and King, C. (2002) Conserving our coastal environment – A summary of UNU’s research on sustainable management of the coastal hydrosphere in the Asia Pacific region, Tokyo, Japan: United Nations University.

Bar-Yam, Y. (1997) ‘Complexity Rising: From Human Beings to Human Civilization, a Complexity Profile’, Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, December.

Beatley, T., Brwoer, D.J. and Schwab, A.K. (1994) An introduction to coastal zone management, Washington DC: Island Press.

Bruntland (1987) ‘Our Common Future’, World Commission on Environment and Development, p. 2.

Hinrichsen, D. (1990) Our Common Seas: Coasts in Crisis, London: Earthscan Publications.

Histon, J. (2002) Complexity: From Concepts to Applications, 20 February, [Online], Available: [5 June 2012].

O’Sullivan, E. (1999) Transformative learning: Educational vision for the 21st century, New York: St.Martin’s Press.

Rakodi, C. and Treloar, D. (1997) ‘Urban Development and Coastal Zone Management: an international review’, Third Planning REview, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 401-24.

Timmerman, P. and White, R. (1997) ‘megahydropolis: coastal cities in the context of global environment change’, Global Environmental Change, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 205-34.

‘World Urbanization Prospects1999’, Department of International Economics and Social Affiars (1991), p. 25.

Yeung, Y.-M. (2001) ‘Coastal Megacities in Asia: transformation, sustainability and Management’, Ocean & Coastal Management, vol. 44, pp. 319-333.


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