2005 Visions on nature and poverty

Sharing visions on nature and poverty
Poverty Alleviation and Natural Livelihood Resources

Ladies and gentlemen,

The tragic event of the Tsunami that hit various countries in Asia on December 26th shows the fragile relationship between nature and humankind. While many emphasised that the sea quake was a major natural disaster which could have been prevented by sophisticated early warning technology, other comments rightly delved deeper in the complicated relationship between humankind and its environment. We have become as a species more vulnerable to changes in “the natural world”. These changes are not only caused by nature, but to a large extent human induced.

The recent Intergovernmental Climate Change Panel reports tell us that development which represents the dominant western model is an illusion. There is no way that eight billion people can have the lifestyle that has come into being in few countries the past century or so. Climate change is with us. A decade ago, it was conjecture. Now the future is unfolding before our eyes. Canada’s Inuit see it in disappearing Arctic ice and permafrost. The shantytown dwellers of Latin America and Southern Asia see it in lethal storms and floods. Europeans see it in disappearing glaciers, forest fires and fatal heat waves. African pastoralists experience prolonged periods of droughts.

The Tsunami was by all means a natural disaster but often what we call a natural disaster is  in reality caused by what we, human beings, have done to breach the Earth’s carrying capacity. A journalist of one of the leading Dutch newspapers said it so poignantly when he described the Tsunami: “Mother Earth’s revenge on the wreckage we have caused”. The very sad thing is that it is the most vulnerable and poor which suffer most both from human-made and natural disasters. Even in the face of disaster the burden is unequally divided between people.

I realise that today’s seminar is very topical. The relationship between poverty alleviation and natural livelihood resources can be perceived from various angles. I will share with you Cordaid’s perspective on the topic.

This perspective is two-fold; as a civil society organisation working on development and as a donor of southern organisations that aim to reach people that are systematically excluded and marginalised in their communities and societies. It is a good opportunity to share viewpoints with you today. Cordaid strongly believes that developmental issues require an integrated approach. Sustainable development is built by many hands, hearts and minds – the challenge is to come to agree that both the environmental sector and the developmental sector should work together to enable a world that is more just and more sustainable. Each of us has its own strength and expertise. The issues at hand will not be resolved by venturing out into each other’s domains without seeking collaboration and synergy. They have a chance to become properly addressed if we start to really work together, by sharing resources, knowledge and contacts.

A few words on development. To us development is a process by which people themselves determine their life and future for their offspring based on what they value and perceive as important. We thereby strongly believe in the guiding principle that “your right is my duty and my right is your duty”. Coexistence is only possible when all of us respect the dignity of other human beings. Thus, respect, compassion and empathy are key values for us and for the partners we work with.

Our vision and mission on development is human-centred. We have I dare say solid viewpoints on the way various groups of people, grassroots organisations, civil society organisations, governments and the private sector need to interact and cooperate to create an enabling environment for development.  A human-centred perspective on development by definition views natural resources as the collection of goods and services that support human life. Development is itself a human-centred creation aimed at improving the welfare and wellbeing of poor people on a sustainable basis. Yet, our faith-based inspiration inspires us to also respect our environment. We are granted stewardship over the world’s natural resources. This suggests that we have to respect them, including all living species.

We therefore underscore a developmental view which recognises that management and conservation of natural resources is necessary, particularly there where depletion and degradation threaten the stock of natural capital for future human use and endanger (local and global) life support systems and ultimately the future of humankind.

Let me mention a few examples where we aim to work from such an integrated approach. In Africa we support the Indigenous Women’s Biodiversity Network. This Network supports initiatives of indigenous women and their communities in their management of natural resources, plant and animal species in particular. In addition these initiatives strongly focus on the strength of their cultural identity of these women and their communities in societies which openly discriminate this identity and the life style that goes with it.

In the urban setting in Latin America, Africa and South Asia, we have sought partnerships with Both Ends and Waste, organisations that are able to support our partners in their challenge to contribute to sustainable cities’ initiatives.

In our work on fair economics we support initiatives of small and middle income farmers in Vietnam, Guatemala and India on the production of ecological fruits and coffee.

In all these cases we strongly support a multi-stakeholder approach through which various actors are given space to get to know each other, determine common interests and work together on a shared agenda. In our humanitarian assistance programme our partners increasingly are working from a risk management approach. This approach aims to prepare local people on how to deal with recurrent crises, particularly those which are caused by nature. But it also stimulates people to analyse that their vulnerability may be caused by hazards other than natural ones, such as the global crisis in the price for coffee which led many coffee pickers in Central America to lose their jobs, or floods caused by the encroachment of forest areas by agriculturists and loggers.

We have learnt that the relationship between poverty and natural livelihood resources cannot in the end be resolved by local people alone, despite their perseverance and creativity in dealing with their local environment.

It is unfair to leave the burden of what in essence is a problem of unequal power relations, political will and economic developmental ideologies and models, solely in the hands of those that are most affected by them. Similarly we also have to observe the conflicting development goals when we address the issues we are debating today. Much of the increasingly unbalanced relationship between development and natural resources is also caused by demographic pressure on these resources. While our investments in the Millenium Development Goals lead to an increase in life expectancy and a decrease in mother and child mortality and morbidity, they will also lead to a population explosion that will put an increased pressure on existing resources. Particularly when politicians have particular population policies in mind that may be detrimental to safeguarding the environment’s carrying capacity, such as a ban on family planning as a developmental issue and methods to practice this.

However, equally destructive are world views that see economic growth such as we have become accustomed to in the West and a few pockets elsewhere in the world,  as exemplary for all societies and communities. It’s an ideology that is based on a limitless faith in the wonders of scientific knowledge and progress.

Cordaid genuinely feels this is a self defeating thought. If we do not act now, we foresee an intensification of the struggle for scarce natural resources. Such conflicts over water, natural gas and oil, would be damaging to humans as well as animals and plant species, but because of their disruptive effect on the global supply chain, their impact on humans could well be much more severe. It’s therefore high time we work together on alternatives for developmental models that preach the gospel of expansion. Sustainable development is only possible when we revisit together with organisations today present current developmental frameworks and start looking at development as downturn with security.

Key is to work with our partners on the ground on approaches that focus on a human security perspective whereby those most vulnerable to recurrent crises will have access to and control of resources and knowledge whereby they can better deal with such crises.