Environmental sustainability needs sound public policy [Archives:2004/767/Health]

August 26 2004

Ismail Al-Ghabiri
To maintain environmental sustainability – the seventh UN millennium goal – requires achieving development whilst sustaining the productive capacity of ecosystems for the sake of coming generations.
These two goals are, in turn, based on a pack of public policies which reflect the consequences of damage to the environment, and aim to improve the quality of ecosystem management.
There are two dimensions for the challenge. The first being to preserve the scarce natural resources harvested by the livelihoods of the poor. The second being to protect the environment from the damages caused by the extravagances of the rich.
Ensuring the sustainability of the environment and its resources, includes developing poor communities, and changing harmful production and consumption patterns. Energy plants, for example, should emit a lesser proportion of gases contributing to global warming, and fishing areas ought to be dealt with as possessing a limited resource and not to be unconditionally open.
In the meantime, there are environmental problems erupting due to poverty and demographic problems, which worsen the living standard of people especially in rural areas, putting pressure on them and the environment.
For instance, there is a correlation between the high child mortality and high fertility; between overpopulation and high childbirth rate.
Farmers add insult to injury by cutting woods for kindling and creating new arable lands.
The situation gets worse. Natural resources decrease and ecosystems deteriorate resulting in a stark impact on the poor.
Environment is sometimes corrupted by the poor, and this is because the rich elite deprive them of their rights to natural resources. They are driven usually onto undesirable land, more susceptible to degradation.
The poor are likely to be vulnerable to environmental stressors such as floods, long draught periods, and climatic changes. This is because they get posed between the hammer of poverty and the harshness of the environment.
They are generally deprived of rights and means to invest in sustainable environment resources by treating wastewater, for example. With these reasons are taken into account, policies can decrease demographic pressures on fragile ecosystems, because poverty alleviation has a pivotal role in environmental conservation.
Ignoring environmental sustainability may harm people and in the long run, demolish poverty alleviation efforts, even if it brings about economic returns in the short-term.
The inextricable relationship between poverty and a degraded environment prompts us to focus on the requirements of people who get their livelihoods from natural resources and environmental services.
In terms of public policies and actual procedures, prudence can create new job opportunities by supporting property and utility rights, as well as enforcing people's participation in decision-making.