Looking through
new lenses

Abdoulaye Wade
calls for a more systematic linkage of poverty reduction and environmental management to bring development and ecological security

There is an embedded tradition in economics of analysing poverty and inequality issues from the standpoint of lack of income and its distribution. This approach has its analytical validity. However, it is essential to recognize that – when we deal with the questions of poverty, the environment and sustainable development – other important elements should be incorporated in the analysis and not be treated as marginal. Issues related to freedoms – such as access, or the lack of it, to resources and basic services and amenities such as health and education – and to social opportunities, should be as central as income to the analysis on poverty reduction and development. This multi-layered approach is essential if we are to deal constructively and efficiently with the thorny and difficult questions regarding poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Powerful idea
The 1972 Stockholm United Nations Conference on the Human Environment first put forward the problem of environmental deterioration. The 1987 Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, brought the idea of sustainable development to the fore. This concept has since gained significant momentum and popularity and has been through at least two major summits, in Rio in 1992 and in Johannesburg last year.

Poverty eradication and the concept of sustainable development both present great challenges – one in achieving coveted and needed relief for all the 1.4 billion poor on Earth, and the other in putting into practice the powerful general idea behind it. I would like to touch upon the problems facing less developed countries (LDCs), particularly African ones. The latest United Nations LDC report has suggested their problems go above and beyond the traditional – or should I say classical – low-level equilibrium trap models. The simple fact is that a large number of LDCs not only have to cope with economic stagnation but face an outright long-term downward spiral. If we accept this as true, as I do, it is necessary to go beyond the traditional low-level equilibrium trap analyses and adopt the multi-layered approach suggested above.

Agents of change
Money metric analysis of poverty and the classical approach to development and growth – emphasizing the need for macro-economic stability accompanied by specific remedies – have shown their limitations in the past. (The principle, ideas and goals are not erroneous, but the remedies behind them are questionable.) Sustainable development and poverty reduction have humans and human well-being at the centre of their approach. People should be seen as agents of change and should therefore be given the capabilities to create, and benefit from, opportunities for themselves. This approach, put forward by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, fits particularly well with the multi-dimensional approach to poverty and sustainable development suggested earlier, and gives us new opportunities and options to explore ways and means to move the development agenda forward.

According to UNEP’s report, Global Environment Outlook, published in 2002, 62 per cent of Africa’s population lives in rural areas and depends heavily and directly on natural ecosystems for its livelihood: about 56 per cent of Africans (some 431 million people) depend on agriculture and therefore on the vagaries of climate. Recent figures on genuine savings – an indicator that takes into account depreciation of natural capital stock – have displayed a downward trend for the LDCs in the 1990s, indicating that countries have depleted their national wealth, and that their stocks of assets are diminishing.
People should have ecological security, as well as adequate safety nets
Other trends – such as declining health, rising illiteracy and endemic problems such as conflicts and lack of good governance – add to the need to move the analysis beyond just trying to ‘fix the market’. We must look at appropriate ways of coping with the crisis, and design strategies that will enable us to manage physical assets and enhance human capital and skills – through capacity-building, employment opportunities and access to basic human freedoms such as water, health care and energy – and help the poor ‘achieve a standard of living at least as good as our own and for us all to look after (our) next generation similarly’, as Professor Sen so elegantly put it in his paper on Sustainable Development and Sustainable Freedom.

The powerful idea behind the notion of sustainable development poses a true challenge to countries both at the conceptual and implementation levels.

New partnership
When the idea of a New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) was conceived, it was designed with the goal of giving Africans a real chance to succeed by being true agents of positive change rather than mere recipients of aid, as has been the case for decades. Involving all layers of society – together with changes in the current institutions and systems – is fundamental to the success of such an endeavour. It is inconceivable nowadays, for example, to pretend to have a vibrant and productive society without having in place civil rights, the right to choose who should govern and the right to dissent – in other words, democracy in a broadest sense.

Another important element is the transparency of institutions – whether public or private – in disclosing information to all. The asymmetry of information, described by Professor Joseph Stiglitz, has been shown to be detrimental to both internal and external investors, making it difficult for a country to accumulate domestic and foreign savings as people lose confidence. Corruption, which is directly related to transparency, has plagued African countries for a long time. The cronyism and clientelism experienced by many African countries has, for example, made it virtually impossible for the poor majority to have access to finance and credit schemes reserved for small privileged groups.

Ecological security
Finally, people should have ecological security, as well as adequate social safety nets. Empirical evidence has shown that it is the poor who live in the most vulnerable areas and are mostly the victims of natural catastrophes. Ecological security will then entail schemes and incentives that will empower local populations (e.g. land rights, communal land management, and the participatory process). The strategies should involve close consultation between experts at the national level and people at the community and local levels, together with civil society.

The challenge for us all will be to truly apply what we all now know – to link poverty reduction and environmental management in a more systematic way. This will be achieved through reconsidering project designs, national development frameworks and national action plans through the new lenses of a multidimensional and participatory approach to development

Abdoulaye Wade is President of the Republic of Senegal.

PHOTOGRAPH: Cleophas Tumwineho/UNEP/Topham

For more information see UNEP’s African Environment Outlook

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Looking through new lenses | Development with a human face | Trade can transform | Achieving win–win–win | People | Promises to keep | As precious as gold | Expanding the circle | At a glance: Globalization, poverty, trade and the environment | Acting local | Cooperation is catching | Books & products | Getting through the bottleneck | Investing in the environment | Bishkek Mountain Platform | You can’t breathe money | We will succeed | Fair trade? Fair question


Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Poverty, Health and the Environment, 2001
Issue on Production and Consumption, 1996
At a glance: Africa Environment Outlook (Global Environment Facility) 2002
Partha Dasgupta: Taking the measure of unsustainability
(World Summit on Sustainable Development) 2002

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
About the AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment
Population and natural resources
Population and Biodiversity