Environmental News Archive

An almost weekly update of environmental news, particularly marine updates, with occasional splatters of transportation, indigenous, ideas of sustainability and sustainable development from around the world.


Poor Communities Entrusted With Natural Resources Flourish

WASHINGTON, DC, August 31, 2005 (ENS) - Local stewardship of natural resources can be a powerful means of fighting poverty, the World Resources Institute maintains in a new report issued today.

The report, "World Resources 2005: The Wealth of the Poor: Managing Ecosystems to Fight Poverty," stresses the need to look beyond aid projects, debt relief and trade reform and focus on local natural resources to address the crisis of poverty in all parts of the globe.

"Traditional assumptions about addressing poverty treat the environment almost as an afterthought," said Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute (WRI).

"This report addresses the stark reality of the poor," Lash said. "Three-fourths of them live in rural areas; their environment is all they can depend on. Environmental resources are absolutely essential, rather than incidental, if we are to have any hope of meeting our goals of poverty reduction."

The report finds that environmental organizations have not addressed poverty and development groups have not considered the environment enough in the past.

The report details how natural resources - soils, forests, water, fisheries - managed at the local level are often the most effective means for the world's rural poor people to create wealth for themselves.

Control over restoring 700,000 local acres of denuded forests and grazing lands was given by the Tanzanian government to the Sukuma people, for example, and they now have higher household incomes, better diets, as well as increased populations of tree, bird and mammal species, WRI shows in the report.

Ucunivanua villagers in Fiji were given control by the government of clam beds and coastal waters, and because of local restrictions placed on fishing, mangrove lobster and harvestable clam populations have increased.

In India, community control over the watershed has led to a nearly six-fold increase in the cash value of crops grown in Darewadi Village.

"There are encouraging examples of ecosystems being managed for the long-term to create wealth for poor communities, but there is still a huge job to do," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

"Natural resources can be properly used to greatly reduce poverty," Toepfer said. "The time has come to reverse the course of worsening diseases, depleted natural resources, political instability, inequality, and the social corrosion of angry generations that have no means to rise out of poverty."

"We need to stop thinking of the environment as a passive element," said Warren Evans, director of environment with the World Bank. "It is a fundamental part of community-based decision making."

"Unfortunately," said Evans, "the poor often lack legal rights to ecosystems and are excluded from decisions about ecosystem management. Without addressing these failures through changes in governance, there is little chance of using the economic potential of ecosystems to reduce rural poverty."

The moment is critical in the battle against poverty because of converging current events, WRI says.

At the G-8 Summit in July, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other world leaders focused on the problems of global poverty.

Prior to the G-8, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment - a report by an international panel of 1,300 scientists - found how humans have modified and degraded the world's ecosystems in the past 50 years.

In mid-September, heads of state at the United Nations Summit are expected to review progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, one of which is to lift as many people as possible out of extreme poverty..

"Community stewardship of local resources should be a critical element of any poverty-reduction model," said Olav Kjorven, director, Energy and Environment Group, Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme. "With greater income from the environment - call it environmental income - poor families experience better nutrition and health, and begin to accumulate wealth. In other words, they begin the journey out of poverty."