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
- 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.
Chronic Poverty and the Environment: a Vulnerability Perspective, CPRC Working Paper No. 62