Publications > Poverty Times #1 > Living on the edge

Poverty Times #1

Living on the edge

Many poor people live in marginal areas such as degraded coastal areas and fragmented forests.
By An. Ba.

The dependence of poor people on natural resources in marginal areas often leads to further poverty. In such fragile areas productivity is naturally low. But when poor people
rely on natural resources for subsistence, those resources are more readily degraded and become less productive; that in turn causes even more poverty.

Marginal drylands: Over a billion people live in areas prone to desertification, and half of these are in Africa. Often poor people have no choice but to cultivate or graze in these desert margins. Declining productivity and food insecurity in marginal dryland areas increase tensions and can even cause conflict (1).

Degraded coastal areas: Two-thirds of the world’s population live within 100km of the coast, populations that may depend on marine resources for subsistence. Commercial fishing activities have grown exponentially in the last half-century: nine out of the 17 major fish stocks are now exploited beyond their sustainable limits. Overfishing has a big impact on subsistence, especially of poor coastal communities – as the numbers of fish decline, so do the harvest levels and protein intake of those who depend on them (2, 3).

Fragmented forests: The variety of goods and services from forests (food, medicines, fibre, construction, crops, livestock) are important in sustaining community needs across seasons and in times of shortage. The pressures of commercial and subsistence activities on forests degrade them and further reduce their productivity. This in turn creates greater levels of poverty among rural communities and can create conflict with private forest enterprises and the state (4, 5).

Threatened mountain ecosystems: Mountain ecosystems are diverse and productive; they are home to a tenth of the world’s people. Freshwater collected in mountain forest catchments supplies over half the global population.Yet many mountain ecosystems are very fragile and even slight changes in wind, precipitation or temperature can affect their productivity. People who live in mountain areas do not usually have other sources of income and materials; they rely on local resources to meet their food and energy needs and suffer
greatly from disturbances to these ecosystems (6).

An. Ba.

1. Eswaran, H., Lal, R., & Reich, P.F., Land degradation: An Overview, in: Bridges, E.M., I.D. Hannam, L.R. Oldeman, F.W.T. Pening de Vries, S.J. Scherr, and S. Sompatpanit, Responses to Land Degradation, Proc. 2nd, International Conference on Land Degradation and Desertification, Khon Kaen, Thailand. Oxford Press, New Delhi, India, 2001.

2. Gomez, E., Fragile Coasts: Our Planet, in Oceans, UNEP, Nairobi, 1998.

3. Paul Harrison and Fred Pearce, AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment, Victoria Dompka Markham, editor, American Association for the Advancement of Science and the University of California Press, 2001.

4. Shepherd, G., Forests and Poverty: Can Poverty Reduction be Reconciled with Conservation?, talk given at ODI, London, 2 June 1999.

5. Arnold, J.E.M., & Bird, P., Forests And The Poverty- Environment Nexus, prepared for the UNDP/EC Expert Workshop on Poverty and the Environment, Brussels, Belgium, January 20-21 1999, Revised June 1999.

6. Mountain People, Forests, and Trees: Strategies for Balancing Local Management and Outside Interests, in Synthesis of an Electronic Conference of the Mountain Forum, April 12-May 14, 1999, The Mountain Forum Network, 1999.