UNDERSTANDING THE LINK BETWEEN POVERTY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
We all need a healthy planet. Sustainable ecosystems give us clean air to breathe, the water we need and the food we depend on. Caring for our environmental systems needs to be addressed as a poverty and justice issue, as many of these naturally available building blocks for human life and well-being are being denied to those with small political voice and little economic power.
Sustainability is about generational justice - both between generations and within our present generation. It is about finding ways to live now that do not compromise the ability of future generations to live well. It is about fair distribution of resources, so that the present needs of many are not denied in order to meet the temporary ‘wants’ of a few. Development - in both rich and poor nations - must be environmentally sustainable or it will harm the most vulnerable.
Reducing poverty now and in future generations is dependent on how we manage natural resources globally. Overconsumption within wealthy countries such as Australia is the leading cause of global environmental destruction. Pollution, energy consumption, overuse and waste of natural resource is extensive in wealthy nations, yet the impact of this overconsumption is not limited or contained to the countries in which it takes place - in fact it is more severely felt in other countries.
This misuse of our natural resources risks and restricts access to the very basics of human survival, and the first to feel the impacts - such as food insecurity, depleted water stocks and changing climate conditions - are the world’s poorest. Exploitation of forests, land, water and fisheries (typically by the wealthy and powerful), harms vulnerable communities. These populations are often highly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, and they are also those who have contributed least to global environmental problems such as climate change. It is presently an unbalanced, unfair relationship between cause and consequence.
Furthermore, changing climate patterns are leading to an increase of natural disasters. Again, this has a disproportionate affect on developing countries, who are least able to prepare and recover from these events, and who are typically located in disaster-prone regions. Altered weather patterns, environmental damage and depleted resources are also major contributors to global conflict. The past conflict in Sudan and present crisis in Syria are both examples of major humanitarian crises that have environmental causes at their root; of desertification, loss of agricultural land and extremely limited water supplies. These environmental and consequently social breakdowns are extremely difficult to recover from.
Moving forward, environmental factors threaten to undo the development gains of the last century. In recognition of the relationship between poverty and the environment, the global framework set by the UN following the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be sustainable development goals. These are expected to tackle many issues, including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests (1).
The countries in which many of our ACCI partners and fieldworkers are based are already experiencing the effects of climate change and environmental degradation largely caused by wealthy countries. While some nations have the liberty of debating exactly what is causing these changes to weather patterns and natural environments, those suffering the impacts are rapidly trying to adjust to depleted water sources, loss of agricultural land, and significant food insecurity.
As part of our mandate to address poverty and injustice issues, ACCIR supports a program approach of resilience building in communities who are experiencing adverse environmental damage. This approach aims to build greater ability to adapt to and cope with further changes to natural environments in the future.