The environment is a secondary concern behind people’s livelihoods and rights.

By Rhogan

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.

Furthermore,

…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

 Seven priorities:

Gaining public acceptance

Comprehensive options assessment

Addressing existing dams

Recognising entitlements and sharing benefits

Ensuring compliance and sharing rivers for peace

Development

Security

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.

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Is global inequality inevitable?

by Ben

Ghanaian Cedis GHSOxfam recently claimed that the top 100 richest people in the world earned enough last year to end extreme poverty four times over – but is that really the case?

Philanthropy is on the rise, that’s for sure. In recent years a number of high profile US billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg, George Lucas and Michael Bloomberg have publicly pledged to give away at least 50% of their wealth. Some individuals have gone even further: Warren Buffet has famously pledged to give away 99% of his wealth (est. $52 billion), mostly through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. The Gates name is synonymous with wealth but it is now the leading name in philanthropy. Their foundation has an endowment of $31 billion, of which an estimated $25 billion has come from Bill and Melinda Gates’ own personal fortune. That’s more than double the size of the United Kingdom’s foreign aid budget which sits at a respectable £6 billion.

Speaking of foreign aid budgets, the United States gives away a whopping $52 billion per year to poorer countries. China alone has invested $6 billion in African infrastructure as it looks to develop access to the continent’s mineral reserves, which it hopes will power its own continued economic growth. There is also a huge volume of money spent on institutions such as United Nations, World Food Program and World Bank, as well as countless charities and NGOs around the world working to improve people’s quality of life.

So with all this money flowing around, why aren’t things getting better? The $52 billion foreign aid from the United States is more than the GDP of 173 countries – surely poverty, famine and drought should be a thing of the past? Surely this money should be able to help alleviate people’s misery and fund accountable governments who have the best interest of their people at heart?

Well, lets look at a recent example. Over the last 10 years the largest example of an ongoing reconstruction project has been that of Afghanistan. The United States has spent $100 billion on aid and reconstruction projects alone as part of the effort to stabilise the country. $100 billion on a country with a GDP of $18 billion. Now of course there are some unique problems in Afghanistan such as the ongoing Taliban insurgency – but the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction stated that 85% of the aid budget had been wasted on overheads, corruption or simply poorly managed.

The same situation can be found in Iraq which was described as ‘the wild west,’ with funds being kept as freshly printed $100 bills. During the CPA‘s control of Iraq it was estimated that $8.8 billion was lost due to the lack of oversight. One story tells of an American soldier being asked to help the Iraqi boxing team get itself back on its feet but he gambled the money away. No one knew how many thousands he’d lost because there was no record of what he’d received.

Now I suppose it’s easy enough to discount aspects of those two examples to the unpopular administration in the United States however in both situations even with the countries holding their own free (well…) elections the problems continued. People were quick to their new positions of power and to hand out favours to tribe or family members. Jobs were handed out on a basis of patronage and not qualifications. Entire sects within the population such as the Sunni’s in Iraq or non-pashtuns in Afghanistan were sidelined by more populous and thus more powerful in electoral terms. The Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai’s, brother who continues to hold a position of power despite being consistently linked with the heroin trade.

You see, the one thing that can be only be guaranteed from access to the vast wealth of the world’s top 100 earners is that corruption would prevent the bulk of it reaching those who need it the most. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try; as I pointed out at the start of this article, a lot is being done but the answer is not to simply flood poor regions with money without first developing their own internal structures. Without a strong and independent judiciary capable of taking action against corrupt individuals and a legitimate government in the eyes of the people, we will see no improvement in the situation in the poorer parts of the world; this isn’t something that money can necessarily buy. Circumstances dictate that. The Arab spring is the perfect example of changing circumstances forcing a region’s governments to adapt to the needs of the people.

The other thing we must remember is that humans are by our very nature devious creatures. Even if you could theoretically level the playing field there will always be those willing to work harder than others, those who are smarter, faster, stronger and there are those who are willing to cheat, steal or even kill to advance their own agenda. There are those of us who are apathetic to money and those of us who think that we should never have to work a day in our life and we should be given everything. Inequality is inevitable. The question we have to ask is: at what level are we prepared for it to start? And we need to acknowledge that money is not the only solution.