The relationships between poverty and the environment are highly contested, debated and researched. The sustainable development agenda, advocated at the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development, brings these relationships to the fore. Environmental sustainability, alongside social and economic sustainability, is seen as an essential component in achieving the goal of sustainable development. The relationship between environmental sustainability and poverty is two-fold. From an environmental perspective poverty is often seen as a key driving force behind unsustainable environmental use. In relation to poverty reduction though, the environmental aspect of sustainability is often neglected. This is despite the fact that the poor are the most exposed to environmental changes and are the most reliant on access to natural resources for their livelihood and coping strategies. Environmental change then, can drive poverty. When looking at the chronically poor - those who remain poor for much or all of their lives, many of whom pass on poverty to their children - the transmission of assets which can buffer against environmental hazards and of entitlements to good-quality environmental resources are important.
This paper highlights some of the key thinking on poverty-environment relationships before introducing a framework focusing on the importance of environmental vulnerability in explaining poverty dynamics. The 'environment' is often equated with the natural environment; environmental vulnerability with earthquakes, volcanoes, floods and droughts. The environment, however, is much broader than this and can be seen in wider terms as the bio-physical setting within which people relate to each other and to their surroundings. A more holistic perspective on the environment helps to view it, not as a driver and maintainer of chronic poverty acting in isolation, but rather as a cause which interacts with the other social, political and economic factors identified by the Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC).
The work of the CPRC on the environment is synthesised and a review of the literature on poverty-environment connections points to three main themes that require further consideration when addressing chronic poverty:
- the environment and health;
- access to and use of natural resources; and
- climate change
It is recommended that in depth literature research be conducted on specific areas within these themes in order to investigate further how and why they are important for our understanding of chronic poverty; to identify any gaps in knowledge and to determine whether there is a role for the CPRC to carry out research to increase our understanding. Finally, it highlights the need for the CPRC to fully incorporate the environment across the main problem areas around which it does research.
Scott, L. (2006) Chronic Poverty and the Environment: a Vulnerability Perspective, CPRC Working Paper No. 62, IDPM/Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), Manchester, UK, ISBN 1-904049-61-3, 26 pp.