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Thread: Population, environment and poverty: examples from developing countries

  1. #1
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    Population, environment and poverty: examples from developing countries

    In the same textbook for civic education, another topic I would like to write a paper on (to end up as a chapter) is: Population, Environment and Poverty: A Historical Analysis With Examples From Developing Countries.

    Here I hope to look at how population growth degrades the environment (cuases of the impact); how that degradation results in poverty; and how poverty leads to further environmental degradation - a vicious circle kind of relationship.

    Any thoughts or suggestions on how to approach this topic?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Global warming and poverty

    I'm not stalkin you, I swear - you just happen to bring up issues that I'm interested in.

    Something you might explore is the effect of global warming on global poverty. The extreme climate changes caused by global warming often keep certain populations in poverty, or they cause new groups of poverty.

    Consider Indonesia, New Orleans, the Caribbean and the Mexican Gulf coast. All of these areas have experienced extreme weather, arguably as a result of global warming. Although many of these areas were home to high-class resorts, they were also home to the low-income service workers who staff those resorts. These working-class individuals are now impoverished or near the poverty line as a result of losing their homes, jobs, cars, etc.

    Many environmentalists argue that, especially in the Carribbean, the damage caused by hurricanes is increasing not only due to global warming but also to the erosion of beaches and dunes caused by unsustainable building practices.

    Consider also the African continent. The Sahara desert is reported to be "growing". Areas that once bordered the desert are becoming a part of it due to years of drought. The rising temperatures and declining precipitation in the region make it nearly impossible for subsistance farmers to survive.

    Look at some of the world's super-cities - Mexico City, New Delhi, Beijing and the like. Rapid urbanization has resulted in slums that have little or no access to clean water and sewer facilities. Trash disposal is a serious issue. Carbon emmissions threaten the respiratory health of the citys' residents. The middle and upper classes often have the means to pay for clean water, sewer service, and trash disposal. The impoverished do not. The upper classes often export their waste to low-income areas of the city.

    Read up on Brazilian Flavellas and Central/South American Barrios (especially in Mexico City). These areas are generaly unplanned, underserved (or unserved) by the city, and many times the residents simply fend for themselves. I watched a documentary about Colombian Paramilitary controll of the barrios of Medillin a few months ago. It was scary - not just the druglords and the machine guns, but also the extreme poverty, the lack of local governmental control, and the lack of adequate...well...anything.

    Getting back on topic - the rich can always pay to escape their negative effects on the environment. Many times the world's poorest wind up paying for the global community's environmental degredation....although I don't know that poverty necessarily leads to more environmental degredation.

    The lower your income, the more likely you are to reduce (use of water and electricity) and reuse (clothing, furniture, and other merchandise). Think about it: the environmental impact of a subsitance farmer in Kenya is significantly less than that of a Japanese businessman. The businessman probably has a greater environmental impact during a 1-week trip to Korea than the farmer does over a 5 year period.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Not to lob a bomb into your chapter's premise, but personally I view the relations among Population, Environment and Poverty a little differently. Most of my observations are based on the African context,so take this with a grain of salt.

    I do not believe that population pressures are the main factor resulting in environmental degradation which then results in poverty for much of the developing world. I think one needs to look in more detail at the historical context of these poorer sectors of the world to understand why they are in the situation they find themselves in today (issues of colonialism anmd their role in the international economy, for example). To me, poverty (or put another way, a curtailed ability to marshal and build economic resources for the majority of the population) is the central factor in this relationship among economy, environment and population. In my opinion, an economy that raises the standard of living for a large sector of the population (overall growth that is clustered in the hands of few with a huge income gap does little to remedy the situation) and which also supports and fosters innovation and entrepreneurship within the marketplace will do more for the environmental health of a place than curtailing the birthrate.

    The poverty experienced by many nations in Africa are a direct result of the colonial legacy that created national entities where there largely were none. The continued systematic manner by which these economies are prevented from becoming full and legitimate participants in global trade doesn't do much to help, either. In my mind, it is this type of lagging economic growth at the local level that moves people to take "short cuts" that result in things like deforestation (by large numbers of individuals raiding forests to make charcoal for spending money to meet basic needs, for example - see Madagascar as a prime example) and lax enforcement of environmental regulations. Bribery and graft are also factors, much of which arises from a culture of poverty and desperation.

    Africa could certainly manage its population density with appropriate resources and the suggestion some economists make that if population growth could be curtailed, economies would improve (as would quality of life) ignores many deliberate strategies used by nations, international corporations and entities like the WTO to maintain places like this as backwaters of cheap labor and desperate populations. The population density in Rwanda, one of the highest in the continent, is only 590 people/sq. mile, about half that of the state of New Jersey and only slightly more than Maryland, for example, but you could hardly compare these places in other respects. This density has not destroyed the Garden State and left it impoverished and barren. This may sound like some to be paranoid or a starkly leftist perspective, but there is a reason why the US engages in food dumping or sold DDT on the cheap to African nations (when it had been banned here) and why the WTO makes conditional loans they know nations can not pay back.

    Of course, where population densities are clustered has a lot to do with impacts on local environments and I would agree that massive movements of populations into urban centers in the developing world is a big issue that will require some herculean efforts to manage. But I would also agree with anf in observing that in many respects, the ability of people in developing nations to manage scarce resources in very efficient ways (at least at the household and perhaps village or town level) is tremendous. When I lived in Uganda, people were able to manage water very very efficiently, catching it, collecting it from wells and doling it out in portions only to match the minimum of what was required for things like cooking and washing clothes and bathing.

    Also, in many places in the developing world, conflict and displacement has a huge impact on economic activity. This applies as much to one's own country as to neighbors and key trade partners which can make an otherwise beneficial economic relationship go down the tubes. This is worth taking into consideration as it also can have a very negative impact on the environment.

    The world is a large and increasingly interconnected place and I would encourage you to look at reasons why degradation and environmental damage has occurred not just within nations but across national boundaries and think about how this all ties into the international economy. One reference might be an article about a year ago in the New Yorker about Lagos, Nigeria as an example of one of the world's emerging Mega-cities.

    Good luck with your research. This is a fascinating and complex topic to say the least...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    I do not believe that population pressures are the main factor resulting in environmental degradation which then results in poverty for much of the developing world.

    <SNIP>

    The poverty experienced by many nations in Africa are a direct result of the colonial legacy that created national entities where there largely were none.
    I haven't had a chance to really read this thread. I don't now if I will have the time to do a longer reply. In short, I would say that people who have money have power first and the money follows. In places lie Appalachia, the locals are dirt poor in spite of substantial natural resources that are making mining companies and others wealthy. But the locals are suffering the consequences of environmental degradation, serious health problems that go with it, and poverty -- and lack the power to effectively combat any of those things.

    At the risk of getting flamed, I believe the same thing about the status of women: it is the lack of power that causes women to have financial problems, not the lack of money which is disempowering.

    Anyway, gotta go.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    different vein

    This discussion is going in a much different direction than I originally saw it. The discussion has become focused on the power struggle between the economically/politically powerful and the working class.

    Agreed - poverty in many areas is driven by the historical gap between those who controll the resources (economic, political, and natural) and those who do not.
    However, it is safe to say that many of the most impoverished areas suffer the negative externalities of population growth from other, more prosperous areas. Air and water polution don't stay in one place - they move with the the wind, downriver, etc. A place can have a relatively low population density, but still suffer from the negative environmental effects caused by population growth somewhere else.

    I doubt that diba would make the arguement that population growth is the sole cause of poverty. I think it is important for us as a society to realize that population growth and its negative effect on the environment can worsen poverty.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by anf View post
    This discussion is going in a much different direction than I originally saw it. The discussion has become focused on the power struggle between the economically/politically powerful and the working class.
    My remarks were a general observation and were not in any way intended to limit the discussion to "working class" versus more powerful sorts. I don't believe you can classify women as "working class" and men as something else. In the U.S., the vast majority of individuals who live below the poverty line are women and their children. Most of those women were solidly middle class until one of three things happened: 1) They became unexpectedly pregnant (usually out of wedlock but not always) 2) They ended up divorced or 3) Their husband died. I've read a great deal of stuff over the years about women's issues. The poverty of women in this country is rooted in their lack of rights. The fantasy that money would resolve that is one of the driving forces that has put a lot of mom's of small children into the work force, often whether or not they want to be there. But while something like 70&#37; of women with small kids now work (and many of them feel they are doing so at gun point), the amount of housework and childrearing duties the average man has picked up is about 10% more than men used to do. I saw one figure that this means men do (on average) about 10 minutes more per day than they used to. So getting jobs has not alleviated the expectation that women are primarily responsible for both childrearing and housework. It also has not alleviated other cultural expectations which contribute to keeping women trapped in a second-class citizen status.

    Additionally, I will note that when wealthier nations lend money to poor nations, they generally charge interest and are basically profiting from the suffering of the poor country while they paint themselves as the hero, saving that country. The result is then that the poor country will (for example) raise cattle to sell meat to rich nations in order to raise hard currency to pay its debts. When the book "Diet for a Small Planet" came out, the author indicated that there was no country on Earth which did not at that time have sufficient arable land to grow the local traditional (mostly vegetarian) diets to feed all of its citizens. Civil war, debt burdens driving the economy, and other political factors were at the root cause of hunger.

    As I indicated in my previous post, I had only skimmed the topic and didn't have a lot of time to reply. So I'm not in any way suggesting that environmental problems don't worsen poverty or vice versa. I have serious health problems and was unable to work a full time job for most of my life. I nearly died while living in a very toxic apartment which had serious problems. My doctors blamed "cystic fibrosis" and were comfortable condemning me to a slow wasting death with no plans to do anything to make me well. I was told bluntly "People like you don't get well." I blamed a great many things other than my genes, including the icky apartment, and then set about doing something about those other things. I have been getting well and I have worked a full time job for just over a year. So my own financial problems are partly rooted in "environmental" problems which made me too ill to function. I also have special needs kids and have spent a lot of time talking with other families where there are special needs kids and/or health problems in the family, etc. I did a class on homelessness a few years ago. The kind of difficult-to-resolve issues that my family has lived with are very often at the root of homelessness.

    There is certainly a strong pattern of placing NIMBY items in poor neighborhoods where the locals are powerless to fight it off. And poor neighborhoods in America suffer asthma and other health problems at higher rates because of the poor air quality that results from living near NIMBY projects. I know all that. But I don't believe that "money is power" to the same degree that most people seem to believe that. I believe "money comes from power". Just as financial problems are really just a symptom of deeper problems, financial wealth is also a symptom of deeper power and not the source of it.

    Peace.
    Last edited by Michele Zone; 03 Oct 2007 at 12:39 PM.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Diba, you sure pick complicated subjects to write books about. And there are dozens of books out there on this specific subject.

    First, what do you mean by poverty? Many people in the States are classified as poor on the US definition - but compared to many outside the states they are enormously rich! So you must also look at the context. Do you measure poverty in terms of "dollars of income per day"? and if so how do you calculate the dollar - exchange rates or purchase power parity? How do you calculate the value of income in kind (home grown food, and home made clothing, exchanged services)?

    Refering to Michele's comment on women - do men count as income the numerous services their wives/partners provide in the home - cleaning, cooking, baby sitting, or whatever? And of course, vice versa - women may be getting services from their male partners.

    The United Nations Millenium Declaration tries to include other aspects of poverty such as basic education, access to potable water, basic health (especially maternity health) and degree of self-determination.

    So measuring poverty is one angle.

    As to the causes - there are zillions of them. War and the remains of war is a huge one. Don't stop with a look at Iraq and the massive destruction of basic infrastructural and other resources that is turning huge segments of the population poor. Think of Angola or Mozambique and the millions of land mines still lying around meaning ordinary people cannot go back to their land to work it, for when they try, they blow off their legs and can't work it anyway. Egypt has vast uncleared mine fields from the WW II.

    Refugees from war move either to other parts of their own countries, or into neighboring ones, putting enormous pressure on local resources, especially wood (for heating and cooking). Deforestation occurs, to say nothing of conflicts with the local residents. Water sources become polluted because of inadequate sanitation, etc etc.

    And then you have the urban migration that others have mentioned. Of course people coming into towns faster than land parcels can be provided settle where they can - which is usually the land nobody with any choice (and certainly no decent planner ) wants to develop - swamps or flood prone areas, steep and or unstable slopes. And once again you have environmental degradation. It is not directly caused by poverty - it is caused by the inability (for whatever reason) of the authorities making provision for their people - either in the sending areas, or the receiving areas. I myself work in Egypt just now. Huge informal settlements growing up all over the place. The outside world calls them slums and thinks that poor people live there. Very inaccurate picture. The buildings are reinforced concrete skeletons with brick walls - exactly like the rest of the city. The point here is that it is so incredibly complicated to get land title and go through the innumerable bureaucratic bumf that it's easier to skip it and settle on state owned land. when there are enough people doing this, there's little fear of reprisals.

    Natural disasters are another cause of "mass" poverty. I lived in Botswana through the beginning and end of the '80s. Seven years of drought in a country dependent on rainfed cropping and extensive livestock husbandry. For many families, the household capital was wiped out. And for such people, the successive years of drought took them "over the edge" beyond their ability to climb out of the poverty hole. And this could not be blamed on the government. My own experience is that Government's claim was in fact correct - no citizen of Botswana died of hunger or thirst through all those drought years.

    Then economic systems - in particular the much vaunted capitalist one - keeps many people in poverty. American and Canadian subsidies to farmers in north America makes agricultural investment for the ordinary African a non-starter. Cacao growers in West Africa are forced to send unprocessedd cocoa to Europe, because if they want to make chocolate (or coffee powder for that matter) the import tariffs are higher than any value added they would otherwise gain. So we keep people in poverty.

    Yeah, and I've only just started.... you really picked a good one! Good luck, and I hope your research really opens your own eyes. Awareness is a powerful thing, if you let it get to you.

    If you want specific reference and further discussions, write to me directly - I have seen poverty in a lot of places and guises, worked with refugees, - and have written on the subject for an aid organisation. Sorry that this contribution got so long...I got carried away!

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Monamogolo View post
    First, what do you mean by poverty? Many people in the States are classified as poor on the US definition - but compared to many outside the states they are enormously rich!
    A study I saw some years ago indicated that while the U.S. routinely claims that 12% to 14% of its population live below the poverty line, if you measure poverty by the standards of India, less than one half of one percent of americans are "poor" by that standard. Additionally, only about 2% of the U.S. population are "chronically poor" if you use the definition "below the poverty level 8 out of 10 years". People who qualify as chronically poor in this country typically have intractable personal problems, such as a special-needs family member that they are primarily responsible for who cannot be left alone and is exceedingly difficult to place in a care situation. Often, this is a child but not always. This makes it extremely difficult for them to get a job at all and even more difficult to keep it. (OT/ an aside: Welfare reform programs really haven't offered viable solutions to this group of people and has basically just given time limits which simply cut them off when their intractable personal problems still aren't resolved after a certain period of time.)

    On the other hand, I read one book that basically argued that we should define "poverty" in this country such that it would include the bottom one third of the entire population. While that seems ludicrous in terms of absolute poverty, it is not so crazy in terms of relative poverty and also not so crazy when you consider that the U.S. has effectively made it extraordinarily hard to live simply. Most Americans would have a very tough time living without a car and cars today are outrageously expensive. And there are relatively few viable options in housing -- we have all but gotten rid of SRO's, boarding houses and so on.

    Anyway, yes, just defining "poverty" is complex.

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