Environmental Assessment and Poverty Alleviation

           Unlike the foggy relationship between preserving the
environment and promoting economic growth, there seems to be a clear link between poverty alleviation and environmental protection. More than three-quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas (United Nations Development Programme, 2005), where natural resources are precisely what the poor have available to them and need to use and manage well in order to  help lift themselves from poverty (United Nations Development Programme, 2005). It has been observed many times and  cited in various literature that this dependence of the poor on the natural resources creates a vicious circle where poverty fuels overexploitation and degradation of the environment, which in turn feeds poverty. In light of the evidence suggesting the importance of environmental protection in eradicating poverty, several countries, such as Ghana, have incorporated environmental assessment as a pivotal part of their poverty reduction strategy (NCEIA, n.d;  Bojo et.al. 2004 ). Although it is still early to evaluate the result of such strategies, it seems to me that not including environmental assessment in a country’s poverty reduction plan (especially in rural areas) would be simply illogical.

Source:JICA, Retrieved from: http://www.jica.go.jp/usa/english/office/others/ newsletter/img/nl_07_03.jpg

            However, an environmental assessment plan needs funding; and in poverty stricken areas
the necessary funding is usually scarce. Therefore, the efficiency of
environmental assessment becomes especially important. More precisely,
screening and scoping gain special importance, as little available funding must
be allocated in the most efficient manner. This is another issue on which some
debate exits among the planners and the environmentalists. It has been observed
that, generally,  environmental considerations in poverty stricken areas are mostly concerned with issues and resources such as land tenure and water supply, and  do
not pay enough attention to other environmental issues such as preserving biodiversity
or climate change (Bojo et.al. 2004) whose effects
are not readily felt. This fact bothers certain NGOs and many environmentalists,
and they argue that more information and funding must be given to the
communities and authorities in order to address these issues. There are no
arguments against the benefits of increased information and funding,
nevertheless, it may not be realistic to expect such additional investments to
become available in these areas. In my opinion, the biased of the locals to
participate and be concerned with certain environmental issues and not others
is not negative or destructive. Quite the contrary, this biased can be viewed
as a built-in scoping mechanism for environmental assessment. if the local poor
of a certain area is willing to engage in programs that enhances land tenure or
saves water supplies, but is not willing to help preserve an endangered species,
it is probably because issues of land and water are much more closely related
to his/ her survival and well being than biodiversity. After all, using the
local’s insights and preferences as a tool to select valuable ecological components
is suggested frequently in EIA guidelines. Of course, in time, if funding
available to alleviate poverty or preserve the environment increases, or if the
community recovers from poverty, more attention should be given to other environmental
issues. In the meantime, the tendency of the current EAs preformed in poverty
stricken areas to be biased toward certain resources should not be viewed as failure
indicator and discourage investment in EAs in these areas. In my opinion, it is
crucial for all developing countries to include some form of environmental
assessment in their poverty alleviating plans, while incorporating the local’s
inputs and preferences helps the EA process to be more efficient and relevant to the community’s needs.

Bojö, J., Green, K., Kishore, S., Pilapitiya, S., Reddy, R. C. (2004). Environment in Poverty
Reduction Strategies and Poverty Reduction Support Credits. The World Bank Environment Department

NCEIA (Netherlands Commission for Environmental Impact Assessment). (2005). Strategic
Environmental Assessment and Poverty Reduction Strategies. Views and Experiences (3). retrieved from: http://www.environment-integration.eu/download/05SEA/SEA&PovertyReductionStrategies.pdf

United Nations Development Programme. (n.d). Assessing Environment’s Contribution to Poverty Reduction, environment for the MDGs. retrieved from: http://www.unpei.org/PDF/AssessingEnvironmentsRoleinPovertyReduction.pdf

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