Each day, 27-year-old Fawzia Ali wields her axe with calloused hands, chopping branches off trees as quickly as she can. Here in Kalma, Sudan, she must sell bundles of firewood to feed her husband and three children. But deforestation has made her job even harder. She now has to walk eight kilometres a day, because the forest is receding as hundreds like her raid it for their livelihood.


All people living on this common earth suffer the costs of environmental degradation to some degree, but the poor suffer most. They are especially vulnerable to natural disasters, disease, pollution and resource depletion. Their welfare depends intimately on the local environment.

Natural resources are often the only ones the poor have. Mountains, fields and forests provide food, medicine, shelter and firewood, while lakes, rivers and oceans supply fish and water. If they are damaged or destroyed, the poor have nowhere else to turn - unlike the rich, who can buy what they need or even move away.

Consider Songkhla Lake, Thailand's largest inland water body, which provides income for the 1.6 million people around its shores. Nearby factories, urban communities and prawn farms discharge wastewater into the lake, killing fish and other life. So fishermen must redouble their efforts to catch survivors (often without allowing them time to breed), fuelling a vicious cycle of declining fish populations and increasing poverty. For the first time in his life, 77-year-old Yeed Surakhamheang is struggling to earn a living from the lake. 'We used to catch a whole boatload,' he remembers. 'Now we can hardly catch a kilo. I pity the younger generation.'


As resources dwindle, it becomes increasingly difficult for the world's poorest people to support themselves and their families. Immediate needs restrict their options, forcing them to make choices that, if given the chance, they would otherwise avoid. Often they must grab short-term gains at future cost, even though they know the lasting consequences. In 1990, a Honduran farmer told a visiting American anthropologist, 'I can only expect destruction for my family because I am provoking it with my own hands.'

Forests once covered the island of Haiti. Today, more than 90 per cent of the trees have disappeared, felled at a rate of 30 million per year to produce charcoal, furniture and firewood. Josue Termidor, a coffin maker in the capital Port-au-Prince, acknowledges, 'Without trees we're all going to end up dead.'

  << Back: Youth and the MDGs  
Next: Poor conditions, poor lives >>
      photo: J. Rocha/UNEP/Topham  
  Related Links:
Millennium Development Goals PDF Version

  An agenda for
our generation
Development Goals
We need you Youth and the MDGs Lives of limited choices Poor conditions,
poor lives
  Cleaning up poverty Sunnier prospects Rewarding study The Road to Bangalore Focus on solutions New leaf
  Goal 7 Tomorrow's future What we are doing Water, water everywhere... Taking action Pumped up
Tunza answers
your questions
Use a club Milk and honey Fighting disease Making it work Out of the back seat
  7 wonders   About Tunza Contents Edition française Versión española