A common misconception is that protecting the environment exacerbates poverty in poor nations because it prevents agricultural development and the ability to harvest natural resources. This is far from the truth. In fact, environmental protection initiatives actually help alleviate poverty.
A study done in Costa Rica reveals that ecotourism efforts contribute to decreased poverty levels in regions situated near protected parks and natural areas. Thanks to the economic opportunities provided by the ecotourism sector, these regions have seen nearly 66% reduction in poverty. Paul Ferraro, professor of economics and environmental policy at Georgia State University, finds three triggering factors that show a direct correlation between poverty reduction and environmental conservation.
Triggers of Poverty Reduction Linked to Environmental Protection
- Changes in tourism and recreational activities
- Infrastructural changes (e.g. roads, health clinics and schools)
- Changes in ecosystem services (e.g. crop pollination and nutrient cycles)
A similar study was done by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on protected areas of Thailand and Costa Rica established 15 years ago. The study concluded, “the net impact of ecosystem protection was to alleviate poverty.” Communities around protected areas in Costa Rica experienced a 10% decrease in poverty, while the communities in Thailand saw almost a 30% reduction. As in the previous study, PNAS finds that tourism revenue and job opportunities directly contributed to reduced levels in poverty.
Protecting biodiversity is critical for 75% of the world’s poor who live in rural areas and depend on sustenance farming and fishing for survival. Disappearing or declining species in an ecosystem directly impacts people’s ability to provide food for their families. Local villagers in the Sierra Leone region of West Africa, for example, experienced direct effects of biodiversity loss as a result of overfishing and pollution. As fishing makes up their main source of food, the coastal community struggled to sustain their protein-rich diet with the loss of diversity in fish stocks. The World Bank helped restore the marine ecosystem by improving fishing regulations and introducing sustainable fishing techniques in the area.
The World Bank invests over $1 billion in nature and wildlife protection, and an additional $300 million in environmental and natural resource law enforcement. Moreover, investments in biodiversity help create jobs and raise incomes around the world. The Bank has already helped boost income levels in communities within rural regions of South Africa, Kenya and Honduras. The long-term impacts of these investments contribute simultaneously to two of the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals:
Eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Develop a global partnership for development
The protection of natural ecosystems from environmental degradation, such as pollution, deforestation and biodiversity loss, ensures the safety and stability of local impoverished communities that rely on those precious natural resources for survival. Environmental protection has proven to be a key factor in poverty reduction around the world, and it is critical that international organizations, like the World Bank, continue to support global initiatives in hopes of making the UN Millennium Development Goals a reality.
– Gloria Kostadinova