Poverty and Environment: An Essay on the Poverty-Environment Linkages
Josiah Mwangi Ateka
School of Economics , Kenyatta University
Poverty reduction and environmental conservation represent two of the main global challenges. The two targets constitute part of the eight Global Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Arising from the thinking that Environmental degradation and poverty reinforce each other since the poor are both agents and victims of environmental destruction; the poverty-environment hypothesis has become a major concern of international development agencies and policy makers. It is often argued that the poor are often the biggest victims of environmental destruction since they depend heavily on the resources provided by natural environment and therefore are less able to escape the effects of environmental damage. According to the UNDP report of 1998, environmental damage almost always hits those living in poverty the hardest. The implication is that there are indeed strong links between the environment and poverty. The important question however is not whether the two should be linked, but rather how to link them. Based on theoretical underpinnings and empirical evidence, this paper attempts to explore how poverty and environment are linked within the context of poor developing countries. The thinking is that the heavy reliance on the environment by the poor for their livelihoods creates complex, dynamic interactions and relationships between environmental conditions, people’s access to and control over environmental resources, and poverty. Understanding the nature of these relationships is a crucial for policy formulation and the practice and execution of poverty reduction and environmental management strategies (Kimalu, et. al. 2001). Within the Kenyan context, the government recognizes that “the full integration of environmental concerns in development planning at all levels of decision making remains a challenge to the country. 1.2 Definitions
Poverty is multidimensional and complex in nature and manifests itself in various forms making its definition difficult. Perceived differently by different people, some limit the term to mean a lack of material well-being and others arguing that lack of things like freedom, spiritual well-being, civil rights and nutrition must also contribute to the definition of poverty. Though often defined in absolute or relative terms for purposes of comparing groups, poor people also do have their own definitions that arise from their own perceptions. Absolute Poverty is defined in terms of the requirements considered adequate to satisfy minimum basic needs, and the absolute poor have no means to meet these needs. Relative poverty however is used to refer to a poverty line, which is Proportional to the mean or median income or expenditure, for instance the use of percentile cut-offs to define relative poverty line at, say, the bottom 20 percent of individuals in the distribution of income or expenditure (Mariara & Ndeng’e , 2004).
In Kenya, the definition of poverty is largely informed by the qualitative approach based on various Welfare Monitoring Surveys (WMS). WMS studies (1992, 1994, and 1997) were national surveys for measuring the living standards of the Kenyan people. The WMS adopted the material well-being perception of poverty in which the poor are defined as those members of society who are unable to afford minimum basic human needs, comprised of food and non-food items. The PRSP of 2002 adopted the quantitative measures of poverty based on the 1997welfare survey (WMS III) data. Using the 1997 WMS, the PRSP recognized that poverty is multi-dimensional and defined it to include inadequacy of income and deprivation of basic needs and rights, and lack of access to productive assets as well as to social infrastructure and markets. The WMS III estimated the absolute poverty line at Kshs 1,239 per person per month...
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