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global action > newsfile > helping the poor to build 'green' wealth and security

Helping the poor to build 'green' wealth and security

Posted: 24 Nov 2008

by Don Hinrichsen

Nearly three quarters of the 2.6 billion people subsisting on $2 a day or less are heavily dependent on the environment for a significant part of their daily livelihoods, says the newly released World Resources Report 2008.

Herder family in Mongolia harvesting trees for fuelwood
Herder family in Mongolia harvesting trees for fuelwood. Because they move several times a year, they do not over-exploit their environment. Photo � Don Hinrichsen

The report argues that �properly designed enterprises can create economic, social and environmental resilience that cushion the impacts of climate change and help provide needed social stability� to address the roots of poverty.

The picture that emerges from the report is one of increasingly complex challenges. And the development community has a spotty record at best in addressing those challenges. According to the Report:

  • The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment carried out in 2005 found that 15 of the 24 major ecosystem services it assessed are being degraded or otherwise used at unsustainable rates.
  • The world is already experiencing the initial consequences of climate change; worse, the changes are happening at an accelerated rate defying previous predictions.
  • Though the world has made progress in reducing poverty over the past three decades, this achievement is limited to China, India and a handful of Southeast Asian countries.
  • Though the world is wealthier, it tends to be concentrated in a small percentage of the global population.
  • Despite the fact that as of 2008 the world is now predominately urban, three quarters of the poorest people live in rural areas, largely bypassed by development.

Green livelihoods

The 2008 report examines in detail the linkages between poverty, the environment and local and national systems of governance. It documents through a number of illuminating case studies how genuine community-based resource management has safeguarded the environment while providing income and services to local populations.

Nepalese woman cooks with biogas
Nepalese woman cooks with biogas she generates from farm animal manure. Photo � Don Hinrichsen

The lessons learned from the wealth of experiences documented emphasise the need to pay attention to three factors: community control or ownership of key resources; the catalytic role of intermediate community-based organisations or NGOs in providing skills and capacity; and the importance of forging networks, both formal and informal, as structures for support and continued learning.

The report argues that when the poor are able to scale up ecosystem-based enterprises, their resilience increases dramatically in three dimensions: �They become more economically resilient, better able to face economic risks; they can become more socially resilient, better able to work together for the production of common wealth; and the ecosystems they live in can become more biologically resilient, more productive and stable.�

In short, the report advocates an emphasis on �green livelihoods� across the board. Though this is certainly not new, the strength of the analysis and the examples provided show how natural resources can be managed sustainably by poor communities if they are given some control over how resources are managed or exploited, the means of improving their management capacities and the networking and access to credit and markets needed to sustain their operations.

The report concludes: �There are no guarantees, but experience shows that the poor, rural communities that have nurtured robust nature-based enterprises have, in the process, become more resilient to challenge and more capable of dealing successfully withy change in the future.�

Don Hinrichen is a Contributing Editor to this website

A detailed Guide to the World Resources Report 2008, entitled �Roots of Resilience � Growing the Wealth of the Poor,� is available here

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