Environment and Poverty Interconnectedness

There is a general belief that poverty is only associated with financial lack to afford a decent living. This write up will unpack how the environment also can be a measure of poverty through assessing how the ecosystem can sustain the population or how environment degradation such as pollution and erosion, and climatic change can be indicators of how people living in a certain environment are susceptible to poverty.

Environmental and poverty issues normally have not been interesting stories to many people, but with the climatic change we are currently experiencing and natural disasters mainly in cyclones which result in several lives being lost, this is the right time that mankind should develop an interest and be involved in changing this planet for a better world. Take a sit and enjoy the reading!

Historically, the measurement of poverty had been a primarily monetary focus. It has been calculated using the average income required per inhabitant to cover basic needs. 

It is very important to recognise that poverty and environmental issues are interrelated. Poverty among people puts stress on the environment whereas environmental problems cause severe suffering to the poor.

Environmental poverty can be defined as a degraded environment unfit for human survival. Environmental poverty is also the lack of the healthy environment needed for society’s survival and development as a direct result of environmental degradation caused by human activities.

Poor people depend on the environment for their livelihoods and well-being. Improved management of the environment and natural resources contributes directly to poverty reduction, more sustainable livelihoods and pro-poor growth.

In most poverty measurements, the environmental impact was missing. Poverty is not explained simply by the responsibility of the individual, but by the context that surrounds that person. 

Several studies show that global warming has increased economic inequality. It has favored colder countries like Norway and Sweden and dragged down economic growth in hot countries like India, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

New methodologies such as the HDI adjusted for planetary pressures (IDHP) have been developed for the Human Development Index. This takes into account the pressure that each country exerts on the planet in two areas; carbon dioxide emissions and the material footprint, understood as the extraction of natural resources to satisfy the domestic demand for products and services of a country.

People, whether they be rich or poor, consume water, food, and natural resources in order to remain alive. All economic activities are directly, indirectly or remotely based on natural resources and any pressure on natural resources can cause environmental stress.

Environmental damage can prevent people, especially the poor, from having good and hygienic living standards. As poor people rely more directly on the environment than the rich for their survival, they are mostly on the receiving end of environmental problems.

To fight poverty, promote security and preserve the ecosystems that poor people rely on for their livelihoods, priority must be placed on pro-poor economic growth and environmental sustainability at the heart of economic policies, planning systems and institutions.

Poverty often causes people to put relatively more pressure on the environment which results in improper human waste disposal leading to unhealthy living conditions, more pressure on fragile land to meet needs, overexploitation of natural resources and more deforestation.

Insufficient knowledge about environmental friendly agricultural practices can also lead to a decline in crop yield and productivity. Environmental problems also add more to the miseries of poor people.

Environmental problems cause more suffering among them as environmental damage increases the impact of floods and other environmental catastrophes.

Soil erosion, land degradation and deforestation lead to a decline in food production along with a shortage of wood for fuel contribute to inflation. The worst consequences of environmental deterioration, whether they be economical, social, or related to mental or physical wellbeing, are mostly experienced by poor people.

More rigorous efforts should be undertaken by the governments of all countries to eradicate poverty and in turn, to save deprived people from the dreadful implications of environmental damage. There should be more collaborative partnerships among all sections of the society so that even the people living in poverty are linked to the world through their participation in social, political, and economical spheres along with their active participation in environmental regeneration.

The general belief is that there cannot be any environmental solution without alleviating poverty from the world.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) joined hands and launched the Poverty-Environment Initiative. The Poverty-Environment Initiative is a global UN programme that helps countries to integrate poverty-environment linkages into national and sub-national development planning, from policymaking to budgeting, implementation and monitoring.

With both financial and technical support, UNDP and UN Environment assist government decision-makers and a wide range of other stakeholders to manage the environment in a way that improves livelihoods and leads to sustainable growth.

The Initiative works with key government partners to raise awareness, influence policy making and strengthen the mainstreaming of poverty-environment into budget processes, sector programmes and sub-national planning.

The overall aim is to bring about lasting institutional change and to catalyse key actors to increase investment in pro-poor environmental and natural resource management.

Economic growth is often regarded as the key to fighting poverty especially in Africa, while China’s success in poverty alleviation has been well recognised as a result of economic growth.

Economic growth alone is often insufficient, especially if the growth is achieved at the expense of environmental quality, income equality, and social justice, which are other components of sustainability.

Environmental degradation is “slow violence” that particularly affects the poor and occurs gradually and out of sight with delayed destruction dispersed across time and space, Nixon once made the remarks.

Geographical displacement of sources and sinks, traditional ecological knowledge, and environmental justice are central to “the environmentalism of the poor”.

To achieve sustainable poverty alleviation, many researchers assert that economic growth can lead to both economic and environmental goals while environmental protection may impede economic growth.

Suggestions are that the best and probably only way to attain a decent environment in most countries is to become rich in alignment with the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC), which suggests that environmental quality first decreases and then improves along with economic growth.

In policy making and practice, the “grow (pollute) first, clean up later” approach continues to dominate the minds of leaders in developing countries such as China.

Chinese scholars and officials tend to misinterpret the EKC as a law and misuse it to support the “grow (pollute) first, clean up later” path.

They also tend to apply the EKC to the place’s overall pollution levels or even the whole environment, though such claims have never been proven.

Since the 1980s, the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, and Chinese government directives have repeatedly warned that China should stop following the “grow first, clean up later” path taken by more developed countries, which led to an acceleration of environmental pollution and serious health problems.

Qu Geping, the well-known Chinese environmental protection minister (1987–1993), frequently called for Chinese officials at all levels to stop following the EKC and the “grow (pollute) first, clean up later” path.

The repeated warnings have been necessary because local officials tend to believe that rapid economic growth must be achieved at any costs, even if the cost of future cleanup is higher than current economic gains, because impoverished areas have no other path to economic wealth.

This script attempts to contribute to knowledge on how to achieve sustainable poverty alleviation and development.

China’s economic achievement has been an inspiration to many around the world and leaders from developing countries are turning to China in search of solutions to their own developmental quagmires.

According to the United Nations 1995, sustainable development involves the maintenance of wealth, where the required measure of wealth includes not only manufactured and human capital but also natural capital.

The purpose of estimating environmental accounting prices is to evaluate the benefits and costs associated with changes made to the environment due to human activities.

Recent studies have attempted to apply environmental and ecological valuations to recognising ecosystems as conventional wisdom tends to believe that the “grow first, clean up later” path is an economic law that must be followed by all countries, even if it has been proven that the cost of cleanup is higher than the economic gains during growth, because only polluting industries are available to societies at early stages of development.  

Developing countries should avoid using unsustainable approaches to poverty alleviation and realise that alternative sustainable approaches are available.

Environmental problems in the modern world reflect a combination of ignorance and institutional failure. Global environmental problems often affect the resource base of the world’s poorest people most severely.

During COP26, it is sought that the leaders of each country make the necessary commitments to reduce emissions, mobilise funds and promote adaptation and resilience, especially to protect the environment and human populations.

The World Bank at the global level and each country at national level define poverty in different terms. Economic growth has proven to be one of the main ways to define and reduce poverty.

It is observed that countries with the greatest human development are also the countries with the greatest material footprint per capita and, therefore, the greatest environmental impact.

Poverty and climate change have a two-way relationship which are the factors that aggravate environmental poverty can be divided mainly into two categories: the increasingly recurring disasters produced by climate variability and the pollution and depletion of natural resources.

In 2016, World Bank and Global Fund for Disaster Reduction and Recovery revealed that 26 million people are pushed directly into poverty each year due to disasters produced by climatic changes. 

The UN estimates direct economic losses from disasters from 1998 to 2017 at nearly $3 trillion, with climate-related disasters accounting for 77% of the total.

People living in poverty are more vulnerable and more exposed to climatic disasters. This is partly due to the fact that they have a lower capacity to choose where to locate their home and this is usually of lower quality and less resistant.

Additionally, the increase in food prices as a consequence of climate variability disproportionately affects populations with few resources.

Forced migration is another of the main climatic factors that push people into poverty. According to one of the IPCC reports, approximately 10% of the world’s population lives in low-lying coastal areas (just 10 meters above sea level) whose habitability is in constant threat due to rising sea levels. 

A study estimated that more than 1 million people living in three mega deltas; the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta in Bangladesh, the Mekong delta in Vietnam and the Nile delta in Egypt will be directly affected by coastal erosion and loss of land by 2050.

On the other hand, the decline and depletion of natural resources due to deforestation, soil erosion, overfishing or air pollution reduce the resources essential for human life, especially affecting the most vulnerable people.

Pollution is the cause of frequent illnesses and, in some cases, can lead to disability and inability to work. A 2017 global report published by The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health estimated that pollution was the cause of 9 million (16%) of premature deaths in 2015, fifteen times more than deaths caused by conflict and three times more than malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis combined.

According to another Berkeley Earth study, air pollution in China is responsible for 1.6 million deaths a year, about 17% of all deaths in the country.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNNESCAP) warns that the depletion and scarcity of natural resources in agricultural societies and in coastal areas dependent on marine resources further hinders access to these resources for people who they cannot diversify their economy. In Cambodia, overfishing has depleted the fish stocks in Lake Tonlé Sap on which millions of people depend.

Policies developed to address environmental poverty should not only reduce the negative impact of our consumption (especially the richest 10% of the planet) but also find ways to increase sustainable economic opportunities for those living in poverty and address a just transition that protects communities affected by ecological transformation.

 “The worst thing about poverty is its silence”, Borja Monrea. Millions of people are already experiencing environmental poverty and understand that its origins and consequences are everyone’s responsibility.

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