Current Changes in Approaches to Environmental Policy
Population and Poverty
The global concern for the issues addressed in the GEO
Report emerges from the recognition that the environment
affects all people and future generations. Many people are living
in absolute poverty without security of food, shelter, health
care, education, or other basic survival supplies. Unsustainable
consumption in the North and rampant poverty in the South are
great threats to the achievement of sustainable global development.
Poor people are very vulnerable and the primary victims of environmental
degradation and ecological disasters. Few issues have aroused
more controversy and political, social, and moral divisiveness
than that of population growth. The dual concerns of population
growth and the increasing number of poor people world-wide, despite
all development efforts, offer a great challenge to planners everywhere.
The growth rate in the world population as a whole passed its
peak in the mid-1960s, when it was more than 2 per cent a year.
The rate slowed to 1.54 per cent in the early 1990s. A
large absolute increase is however still to be expected in the
coming decades, due to the momentum of population growth. (See
also Chapter 4.)
The demand that this burgeoning population places on global resources
is a function of both the numbers and their per capita consumption.
Poor people often eke out a living based on natural resources
and they are often forced to live in areas that are environmentally
vulnerable or fragile and prone to risk. Policy responses vary
and depend on the region, culture, and economic status. It
is increasingly acknowledged that social investment such as female
education, better nutrition, and employment generation for women
will have direct impacts on the rate of population growth and
the degree of poverty. (See also the Health section of Chapter
Policy responses addressing the dual and complementary
targets of stabilizing population growth and reducing poverty,
in addition to the traditional approaches of employment generation
and macro-economic stabilization, include the following (Bangladesh
Centre for Advanced Studies, personal communication, 1996):
- Pro-poor planning: Central planning
has often worked against the interest of poor people and its
macro-economic thrust and control has seldom been pro-poor or
pro-environment. Pro-poor planning means "make benefiting
poor people the main objective of planning;" if not, poor
people will remain peripheral to the planning and development
- Social mobilization: This involves making
development itself more participatory and equitable, among other
things through education and empowerment, particularly of women.
An educated mother with some resources is the best insurance for
a sustainable future in any culture. Children are good agents
of change too: they raise awareness among their parents. Child
education can create awareness of environmental realities along
with economic opportunities.
- Using indigenous knowledge and local coping and risk
minimization strategies: Poor people have survived
in specific ecosystems for many centuries while developing their
own indigenous knowledge, technologies, institutions, and support
systems. The lessons to be learned here have true value in developing
new intervention strategies.
- Ensuring people's participation in decision making:
This entails involving all stakeholders in decision-making at
the local level, particularly in natural resources management.
Dialogue, the participation of local poor populations, and conflict
resolution among stakeholders strengthens the acceptablility and
adaptability of concepts, projects, and programmes and makes interventions
more cost-effective and culturally appropriate.
- Linking informal to formal economic systems:
Most of the large contribution that poor people make to a national
economy is informal and never enters national economic accounts
(such as domestic and agricultural work by women). Formal micro-credit
has proved to be one of the few tools to fight poverty and to
enter the formal economy. Adapted technology also offers opportunities
for poor people to enter the more formal, assured markets (such
as better preservation of local agricultural products, so that
goods can be sold when the market is favourable).
- Enhancing resource availability: Usually
landless poor people need access to common or state-owned property,
from which they extract resources for survival or economic development.
The resource base can be made more secure by planting trees for
construction material, firewood, and organic soil fertilization,
by increasing fish productivity, and by installing hand pumps
to ensure a nearby supply of clean drinking water.
- Involving poor people in eco-specific interventions:
This involves developing local-level participatory eco-specific
plans, managed and implemented by poor communities themselves,
thereby creating employment and supporting livelihood systems.
It can mean offering opportunities to regenerate areas and parts
of degraded ecosystems to improve environmental conditions and
- Information technology as an aid to awareness raising
and local issue debate: Though many poor people are
illiterate, this need not be a hindrance to the use of modern
technology. It can be effectively used for human resource development
and empowerment. For instance, computer technology with interactive
graphics is more and more used directly in the field to demonstrate
impacts of projects or programmes to the local poor involved.