The Poor Need the Environment the Most

The Poor Need the Environment the Most


The Daily Monitor (Addis Ababa)


June 12, 2002

Posted to the web June 12, 2002


By Berhe W. Aregay

Addis Ababa


So, say UN officials and it was reported in an article by Fred Pearce in the latest issue of the scientific magazine, The New scientist: "A quarter of all preventable illness are down to dirty water, and air, says the report.


In India alone, urban air pollution costs a billion dollars a year in disease and lost crops. Water pollution costs another $ 6 billion and soil erosion deprives the country of $ 2 billion in lost productivity. The poor, says the report, need the environment the most, not the least".


So if there is any lingering notion, (to give a very local example) that the people in some parts of Merkato that live in stifling congestion, cacophony and dirt; and the people in and around the landfill hellhole in Addis can't have as much motivation to strive for healthier surroundings, for the reason of theirs being relatively poor, it ought to be laid to rest.


Actually Mr. Fred Pearce's article entitled, They Paved paradise, discusses issues of greater environmental gravity than mere garbage and bad odour:


Issues such as the danger of giving primacy to market forces, (with alleged history of bulldozing nature), over environmentally based routes to economic development.


It discusses the prediction made recently by the UN and I quote, "Within just 30 years three-quarters of the planet's natural land surface will be carved up by human activity. Roads, mines, cities and farms will have obliterated and fragmented the rain forests of the Amazon and central Africa, filled Asian air with smog, and stifled coastal waters poisoned by toxic red tides."


Roads, mines, and farms! But are not those some of the very things that we yearn most in Africa, Ethiopia included? You might ask.


Most certainly, but what the UN report has an objection to is the kind of development efforts that don't go hand in hand with sustainability.


Its basic message: Do not kill the goose that gives you the golden egg.


Do not just leave wastelands in your trail.


Take the issue of roads in Ethiopia. There have always been strong complaints, but mere complaints to be sure, by soil conservationists, that roads in the country, new and old, have been instrumental in accelerated soil erosion in farmlands.


Water concentrated by culverts is simply but irresponsibly let loose on farmlands with destructive results. With little extra expenditure and little foresight, culverts could be designed to let floods flow harmlessly.


This thing about India, that it is losing $2 billion annually in lost productivity due to erosion sounds too familiar to us, doesn't it?


Only that Ethiopia loses not 2 billion dollars but 2 billion or thereabouts tons of soil every year.


How we continue to have soils left is a mystery, if you ask me.


If so much erosion does not hurt the farmers here, what does? Deforestation and the resulting shortage of wood, be it for construction or for burning purposes constrains poorer households in both rural and urban communities.


Polluted rivers, deteriorating, in fact, vanishing pasturelands, leave poor farmers vulnerable to illnesses and even more poverty.


That is why perhaps, the statement in the article that the poor need the environment the most is to the point.


The article also quotes Klaus Topfer, executive director of the UN Environmental Program as having said that the world has now hundreds of declarations and treaties designed to address environmental problems and that the world still lacks the political courage and the innovating financing to execute them. How true that is, too.


There is no worse way to fool oneself than establishing white elephant institutions and have them engage in mere platitudes.


Only innovative institutions with enough courage are able to deliver.



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