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Poverty Times #1

“Water is life and we have none”

The degradation of water, soil, air and other natural resources affects poor people in particular.
By Ma. Sn.

Natural resources are crucial to the rural poor for food, income and employment: farmers depend on fertile soil and water, fishermen rely on healthy water ecosystems. Large-scale commercial enterprises are often responsible for the unsustainable use of natural resources. As a result fishermen sometimes have to give up their livelihoods because of commercial over-

Poor women rely on natural resources to gather food, grow crops and collect wood for fuel to support their families

fishing and indigenous communities may be forced to abandon hunting and gathering on common land due to unsustainable use of forests by concessions.

All this often results in a downward spiral of poverty: food insecurity and joblessness may cause malnutrition, diseaseor push dependents into dangerous or illegal activities. Poor women are especially affected by degradation of natural resources since they heavily rely on these to gather food, grow crops and collect wood for fuel to support their families.

The poor are particularly dependent on natural resources, yet they generally live in the most marginal areas. Private and state firms have forced many of them off better land, which is often used to cater to the demands of people with middle- and upper-incomes (who use 84 percent of the world’s paper and consume 45 percent of its meat) (1).

Resource mismanagement (for instance, by logging concessions or mining corporations) or competition for natural resources (such as gold, coffee or gemstones, where rebel groups often vie with the state) further threaten poor communities who have few assets to help them if conflict or even war breaks out.

Improved environmental conditions would reduce the plight of the poor. Local employment could be generated by developing organic agriculture (mixed cropping, terracing), sustainable forestry, renewable energy, pharmaceutical prospecting and carbon trading initiatives. This could be coupled with the restructuring of policies - such as tighter controls on subsidies - to help promote a more equitable distribution of benefits to local communities.

Ma. Sn.

1. The Jo’burg-Memo: Fairness in A Fragile World, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Berlin, 2002.