|Natural capital constitutes one quarter of total wealth in low-income countries. Seas and soils are major food factories, forests provide wood for constructing houses, ores and minerals, like gravel, are used for paving roads. These are just a few examples of the wealth of developing nations.
World poverty distribution
Three quarters of all poor people still live in rural areas. They are heavily reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods – soil, water, forests and fisheries underpin commercial and subsistence activities and often provide a safety net to the poor in times of crisis. These natural resources are abundant in many developing countries and represent an important asset and potential wealth for poor people and their communities. As many of these natural resources are renewable, if properly managed, this wealth can be long-term.
Improved natural resource management can support long-term economic growth, from which poor people, in rural areas and elsewhere, can benefit to achieve and sustain social progress and development.
Soils underpin the production of a wide range of agricultural and industrial goods and services. Soil productivity is essential to agricultural activities for food security, cash income and supporting the livelihoods of the poor.
Agriculture is the major engine of economic growth in a majority of developing countries, for instance low-income developing countries have a high share of agriculture in their GDP.
This map presents potential agricultural output from cereals, provided proper support in equipment, seeds, practices and irrigation.
The world’s most productive fishing grounds are confined to a number of hot spots, representing less than 10 per cent of the world’s oceans. These areas – shown in the map as areas of high productivity – are primarily concentrated along the upwelling zones of the coasts. Fisheries and other marine products represent an important resource for coastal and island developing countries, providing nutrients and economic development.
More than 95 per cent of the world’s 41 million fishers live in developing countries. Internationally traded values in fish products from developing countries are far above all other export commodities, and some countries generate up to 30 per cent of their fiscal revenues through fisheries. Once seen as an endless resource, fish stocks are today dwindling under the pressure from trawls and nets – coming not only from the near coast, but also from fishing boats from countries far away.
Forest cover distribution
Approximately 240 million of the world’s poor that live in the forested areas of developing countries depend on forests for their livelihoods. Forests and their products provide cash income, jobs, and consumption goods for poor families.
Forestry provides formal and informal employment for an estimated 40–60 million people. The sector contributes more than eight per cent to GDP in some developing countries. Timber may be the most important forest product, but forests are also harvested for fruits, herbs and honey, as well as for wild animals. Less visible, but no less important, are the ecosystems services that forests provide such as for the hydrological cycle.
Nevertheless, global forest cover has dropped by at least 20 per cent since pre-agricultural times. While forest areas have increased slightly in the past 30 years in industrial countries, they have declined by almost 10 per cent in developing countries during the same time period.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), deforestation causes 25 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing it is a high priority on the global agenda.
Freshwater – a natural resource which was adopted as a human right by the UN in 2002: “the human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient; affordable; physically accessible; safe and acceptable water for personal and domestic uses”. People depend on this resource for drinking and cooking, for irrigation of farms, for hygiene and sanitation and for power generation. The map focuses only on one aspect of the geography of freshwater – other aspects are groundwater (including fossil water) and the water stored in soils, ice sheets and glaciers.
For the 2.5 billion people living in low-income countries, agriculture is the most important sector by employment, and by far the largest user of water. Irrigated land currently produces 40 per cent of the world’s food on 17 per cent of the agricultural land. Hydro-electricity is the primary power source for 26 Sub-Saharan countries, and the second main power source for another 13 countries in this region.
Estimated mineral resources and deposits
In more than 100 countries around the world, miners dig minerals and metals out of the ground, satisfying a slow but continuously increasing demand from industrial production, agriculture, construction, high-tech sectors, and merchandise producers. In contrast to the other natural resources presented here, minerals are a finite resource, and so this resource and their profits needs to be managed carefully to ensure sustained livelihoods after exploration has ceased and mines have losed.
About 1.5 billion people living on less than USD 2 a day live in countries which have potential mineral wealth. Thus, one of the key questions for them is how they can turn this endowment into an economic asset that will help them find ways out of persistent poverty. The number of people relying on mining for a living is likely to be over 200 million worldwide – this includes both small-scale artisanal mining and employees under large multinational corporations.
Solar power potential
More than two billion people cannot access affordable energy services today. They depend on inefficient locally collected and often unprocessed biomass-based fuels, such as crop residues, wood, and animal dung. Because convenient affordable energy can contribute to a household’s productivity and income generating potential, its availability can help families and communities break out of the cycle of poverty. At the same time it also provides growing cities of the world with the life source that powers factories, schools, streetlights and Internet cafés.
Modern renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, micro-hydro and geothermal power remain largely untapped, despite the relative abundance of sunshine, wind, water and underground thermal heat.