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Poverty and the Environment: Dimensions ofSustainable Development PolicyKwaku Osei-HwedieAbstractThis paper discusses the interplay betewWen poverty and environmentaldegradation. The main questions addressed are: How should the environmentalaspects of poverty be addressed through policy measures? Should existingmeasures be modified or are wholly new approaches required?The paper takes the view that since people are instruments, beneficiaries as wellas victims of development, their active involvement in the process is the key toany sustainable efforts; and that without continuous improvement of the welfareof the people. environmental programmes will not succeed. This is because thepoor tend to be the hardest hit by environmental degradation. At the same time,they also cause much of the damage due to short-term requirements. lack ofresources and ignorance.Pula: Botswana Journal of African StudiesVol. 9 No.2, 19952IntroductionMaintaining a sustainable balance between the human requirements and uses ofnatural resources, and the regenerative capacities of a country is a majorproblem. The problem arises partly due to social and environmental exploitationof the powerless by the powerful, and partly to lack of empowerment of themasses through economic and political decentralization to regenerate localcommunities. These issues bring to the fore the need to address developmentaland environmental concerns simultaneously.The paper discusses the interplay of poverty and environmental degradation. Themain questions addressed are: What is the relationship between poverty andenvironmental degradation? How should the environmental aspects of povertybe addressed through policy measures?The paper takes the view that since people are instruments, beneficiaries as wellas victims of development, their active involvement in the process is the key toany sustainable effort; and that without continuous improvement of the welfareof the people, environmental programmes will not succeed. This is because thepoor tend to be the hardest hit by environmental degradation. At the same time,they also cause much of the damage due to short-term requirements, lack ofresources and ignorance (Serageldin, 1993; Mink, 1993).Analysis of environmental issues requires an understanding of the relationshipsand interactions between humans and their physical environment; and the socialand economic processes which give rise to particular environmental problem inview of the factthatpopulations create their own impact on the environment.Thus, environmental problems are caused by the interplay of social, economicand political factors as part of the human process of organizing production,consumption and social reproduction (Lowe and Bowlby, 1992).Pov~rty is at the core of many of the processes which produce detrimentalenvrronmental conditions such as desertification, soil erosion, and destruction ofPula: Botswana Journal of African StudiesVol. 9 No.2, 19953habitats. For many people, poverty means their survival depends on takingactions in the present which makes future survival more difficult.Inthis regard,many poor people are caught in situations which reduce the productive potentialof the very environment on which they depend for survival.Inshort, the poorlack the ability to act in a manner that would maintain or improve theenvironment because of the lack of time, equipment and money necessary forinvestment in efficient methods of production. In addition, they lack the politicalinfluence necessary to induce others to help them achieve the levels ofinvestment necessary (Bowlby and Mannion, 1992).Inview of the above, the poor are forced to trade off long-term sustainability forshort term survival. The resulting damage to the environment creates furtherpoverty and inability to improve and sustain the environment and hence a viciouscircle operates. In this sense, environmental damage is simultaneously a result,a symptom and a cause of underdevelopment (Bowlby and Mannion, 1992).General distribution of wealth and power also impact on environmental problems.Interms of wealth and power, issues or questions related to who decides wbatis an environmental problem, and how to balance competing interests in thepolicy arena to deal with environmental problems arise. Often, there isdisagreement as to whether something is an environmental problem and forwhom. It is important to note that the economic and political framework forproblem identification, is key to the understanding of why certain environmentalproblems are recognized and addressed. Different groups, affected by the sameenvironmental issue, will often argue for different policy measures.Historical, Definitional and Conceptual IssuesSoussan (1992) sees sustainable development in terms of the environmentalconsequences of resource exploitation and the relationship between theenvironment, poverty and socia-economic change; human needs and the capacityof the environment to cope with the consequence of meeting the needs; andPula: Botswana Journal of African StudiesVol. 9 No.2, 19954coping with the impact of economic growth on environmental processes. Theconceptemergedinthe 1980sasan approach connecting environments, economicdevelopment and the quality of life. Irrespective of how it is defined, itrecognisesthatresource exploitation is inevitable and desirable.The concept sustainable development was first used in the World ConservationStrategyand emphasized sustainability in ecological terms as opposed toeconomic development. The emphasis was on:a) the maintenance of ecological processes;b) the sustainable use of resources; andc) maintenance of genetic diversity (Soussan, 1992:24).The focus was on the physical environment. The shortcoming of thisformulation lies in the fact that it was anti-developmental, and saw economic-environmentrelationship only in terms of the human impact on the environment.It, therefore, tended to attack symptoms instead of causes of environmentaldegradation. Poverty and the activities of the poor were identified as one of themain causes of non-sustainable development. However, this view failed torecognise that poverty and environmental degradation are results ofdevelopmental processes and patterns (Soussan, 1992).A reformulation of the concept led to the creation of the World Commission onEnvironment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) in 1984 whichdefined sustainable development as:Developmentthatmeets the needs of the present withoutcompromising the


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