Is the environment a secondary concern behind people’s livelihoods and rights? Should it be? In my opinion the environment should not be secondary. However, I also believe that people’s livelihoods and rights should not be secondary to the environment either. I consider the environment and the sustainability of it to be an integral part of people’s livelihoods and rights.
In many developing areas alterations in the environment, whether positive or negative, is often very recognisable and has various effects on people’s lives. It could be a natural change such as lack of rainfall leading to drought or it could be a change in a particular environment due to human influences.
An example of this could be damming a river. Controversy has surrounded the construction of dams over the past 50 years because of their potential social, economic, and environmental impact.
Certain impacts of a dam are sometimes positive. Dams can control flooding, improve irrigation, provide hydroelectric power or regulate water supply. When concerning people’s livelihoods and the environment then the above points are certainly positive.
However, dams can also present negative impacts as highlighted below:
The author of “Social Impacts of Brazil’s Turucui Dam”, which was published in the Environmental Management journal in 1999, described how the Turucui dam displaced large numbers of people without adequate compensation and reduced downstream fish catches so much that the fish-dependent economy of Cameta collapsed.
I imagine many people would agree this infringes on the rights of these people and more than likely damages their livelihoods as well.
Additionally, examples of possible negative environmental impacts of dams are also available:
A 1990 internal survey of World Bank hydroelectric dam projects showed that 58% were planned and built without any consideration of downstream impacts, even when these impacts could be predicted to cause massive coastal erosion, pollution and other problems.
…along the mouth of the Volta River in Ghana. Akosombo Dam has cut off the supply of sediment to the Volta Estuary, affecting also neighbouring Togo and Benin, whose coasts are now being eaten away at a rate of 10–15 meters per year. A project to strengthen the Togo coast has cost $3.5 million for each kilometre protected.
The Akosombo Hydroelectric Dam. Creates 1,020 MW of electricity but also displaced many people and had a significant impact on the environment.
Now the construction of dams is just one example of human intervention that can impact the environment. But I would consider that all human interventions on the environment would have a certain amount of impact, whether or not it is for better or worse. Yet I’d like to refer back to my initial statement. This was that, “I believe the environment and the sustainability of it is an integral part of people’s livelihoods and their rights”. I am of the opinion that human beings should harness whatever is possible from the environment to help aid our livelihoods. But in doing so also strive to improve our environment and most certainly not damage it, regardless of whether the damage caused is irreversible.
This is where I believe we have failed in the past. In some cases this could be put down to a lack of knowledge about the negative effects we are having. However, these days climate change is a topic many of us are aware of and for this reason I feel we have no excuse to be more sympathetic to our surrounding environment:
The World Commission on Dams (WCD), a multilateral commission wrote a seminal report in 2000 in response to a 1997 World Bank report on the highly controversial issues associated with large dams…
The report recommended that all dam projects should subscribe to:
Five core values:
Equity, sustainability, efficiency, participatory decision-making and accountability
Gaining public acceptance
Comprehensive options assessment
Addressing existing dams
Recognising entitlements and sharing benefits
Ensuring compliance and sharing rivers for peace
These recommendations were echoed in the report, “Sharing the benefits of large dams in West Africa”, published by International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in 2010. It highlights the areas of conflict that arose in the proposal and subsequent building stages of the Lesotho Highlands Water project. However, few of the financial institutions funding the building of dams, such as the World Bank, have adopted WCD’s recommendations.
I feel that institutions, such as the World Bank, have a major input on not only the environment but also people’s livelihoods and rights when they embark up on certain development projects. This being the case, I believe they hold a great responsibility for people and the environment. They should, therefore, always endeavour to preserve what is worthy and encourage the introduction of methods that help us to capitalise on our environment in a way that is sustainable and not detrimental to the environment or to human beings. If this is achieved, then the environment would not be a secondary concern to people’s livelihoods and rights. It would be a central concern that, when addressed, would contribute towards the improvement of people’s livelihoods and rights.