Environmental Degradation and Social Integration
UNRISD Briefing Paper No. 3 World Summit For Social Development November 1994
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This Briefing Paper was prepared by Jessica Vivian. Solon Barraclough, Krishna Ghimire and Peter Utting provided substantive comments on earlier versions. UNRISD work for the Social Summit is being carried out with the support and co-operation of the United Nations Development Programme.
Human societies everywhere are closely linked to their natural surroundings. This paper examines the interrelationships between social integration and the environment: the impact that different patterns of social relations have on the state of the environment, and the influence of the environment—and especially environmental degradation—on social structures and institutions. Based largely on recent UNRISD research, the paper focuses primarily on rural areas in developing countries. Patterns of social integration influence natural resource utilization, and thus affect the condition of the physical environment, in a number of ways. The dynamics involved range from micro-level phenomena that collectively have a large impact on environmental conditions, to changing national and international social and economic structures. Social changes affecting the performance of local level resource management systems include population growth, the spread of national and international markets, and changes in land tenure systems, particularly those that result in land concentration. These factors have undermined traditional mechanisms discouraging overexploitation of natural resources. In addition, inequitable social structures, including unequal control over resources on the basis of class or gender, have been implicated in environmental deterioration. Environmental decline also impacts upon social structures. Social groups are affected differently: some may benefit from...