New book explores relationship between poverty, health and environment
|The majority of Asia's poor live in rural areas where ecosystems they depend on - water bodies, grasslands, soils and forests - are facing strains from unsustainable exploitation or conversion to other uses, according to a new publication launched today by ADB and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). |
Some 620 million Asians are still living in severe poverty, which even projecting the most optimistic growth rates, will decline only to 150 million to 300 million living on US$1 a day by 2015. However, as the book points out, a staggering 1.2 billion to 1.5 billion people will still be getting by on only US$2 a day.
For many of the millions of rural Asians who still live in poverty, ecosystems and the natural resources associated with them are essential to daily health and well-being. It is also the poor – especially women and children – who have the most at stake when ecosystems degrade, as they suffer disproportionately from the health risks caused by inadequate or dirty water and polluted air, and bear the burden of collecting the resources for their daily use, such as water and fuelwood.
The new book, "Poverty, Health, and Ecosystems: Experience from Asia," in 16 case studies, highlights the challenges faced by these poor and often resource dependent households across Asia.
"ADB and IUCN are pleased to have commissioned these case studies in an effort to promote debate about and greater understanding of Asian resource management system and why they matter for poverty reduction," say Nessim J. Ahmad, an ADB Director, and Aban Kabraji, Asia Regional Director at IUCN, in the book's Preface.
"We trust that the documentation and analysis of this Asian experience will lead to improvements in both poverty alleviation efforts and ecosystem conservation."
The case studies include analyses of pressures facing agricultural systems in People's Republic of China (PRC), India, and Pakistan. They also cover examples of links between households or communities and freshwater or marine aquatic ecosystems in Bangladesh, PRC, India, Lao People's Democratic Republic, and Sri Lanka.
A case from Mongolia examines the relationships between grassland ecosystems as a source of pastures for livestock, while cases from Nepal and the PRC document how the poor rely on forests for fodder, medicines, fuel wood, and other products. One study looks regionally at the complex linkages between gender, poverty, and environment, while other cases from the highlands of Viet Nam, tribal groups in Orissa, India, and in Yunnan Province of the PRC illustrate how ethnic minorities are not only among the most poor and marginalized but also among the most natural resource dependent.
The book also offers new insights into the relationships between healthy ecosystems and healthy people. A case study on mining in Mongolia shows how indiscriminant exploitation of resources has damaged health of the poor by polluting water and destroying traditional pastures. Another regional case examines how contacts between humans and animals can further the spread of diseases such as SARS and avian flu. A Malaysian case documents how an outbreak of Nipah virus that caused a national epidemic resulting in several hundred deaths as well as destruction of the nation's pig stocks was traced to ecosystem changes.
The cases also delve into the social processes that underpin poverty and often perpetuate the unsustainable management of natural systems – by both the poor and non-poor, and by local and external groups.
"These issues are part of broader governance challenges that are pervasive across rural Asia, tied especially to the inequitable distribution of resource rights and management regimes that often favor vested interests at the expense of the poor," the book says.
The case studies present a range of efforts to overcome such problems, often relying on alliances between civil society and development agencies and resource-based nongovernment organizations that can help facilitate wider legal redress.
Some of the cases also point to the positive results that can be achieved when a more complex, multifaceted and politically nuanced approach is adopted, in contrast with a focus on awareness raising, capacity building, or technology improvement.
The book was prepared as part of ADB's Poverty and Environment Program, which is financed by ADB, Sweden and Norway. This Program is pilot testing and disseminating innovative approaches to reduce poverty through investments in environmental quality and natural resource management.
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