Laos' forestsLaos’ forests may be the key to reducing poverty in the country. The World Bank and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry created a new program titled the Lao Landscapes and Livelihood Project. The project, running from 2021 until 2027, seeks to help reduce poverty and kickstart the economy in Laos. The project will cost roughly $57 million and aims to alleviate the economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic through the preservation of Laos’ forests.

History of Poverty in Laos

Over the past 30 years, poverty in Laos has decreased dramatically. Poverty went from 46% in 1993 to 18% in 2019, coinciding with rapid growth in GDP. Much of this is a result of farming reform as farmers “moved from subsistence rice cultivation toward the commercial production of cash crops,” increasing income for farmers. However, poverty reduction has recently been slowing down in Laos with a lack of new jobs to drive economic growth and rising inequality.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing even more employment uncertainty. There has also been a sharp decline in tourism due to COVID-19 restrictions and border closures. Workers have to deal with job informality and fluctuations in demand as well. However, remittances, an income source for about 15% of households between 2013 and 2019, contributes to poverty reduction in Laos.

The Role of Forests

There are several ways that the government can ignite poverty reduction, including improving infrastructure and investing in education. However, the Lao Landscapes and Livelihood Project looks toward one of the main sources of income: Laos’ forests.

Much of Laos’ poverty is present in the country’s rural areas, specifically in the central provinces, which are home to an abundance of forests. The main goal of the project is to utilize Laos’ forests to increase investment in sustainable forest management and preserve the country’s “natural capital” while creating employment opportunities that will help reduce poverty. About 70% of Laos is covered in forests and nearly 70% of the population lives in these forest-dense areas. This means that forests can play a key role in igniting economic growth in Laos.

Although the economy improved consistently in the past few decades, Laos’ natural resources have not. The deterioration of natural resources makes “vulnerable rural people more susceptible to floods and droughts while jeopardizing their access to food, fiber, fresh water and income.” This degradation prompts preservation efforts to protect the forests while improving the livelihoods of the people living around them.

Lao Landscapes and Livelihood Project Goals

The project focuses mainly on encouraging economic growth, which slowed during the pandemic. There are three main areas of focus for the project: conservation, tourism and production. Conservation and production relate to new jobs through investment in sustainable practices and facilities. As there is more societal pressure to obtain “good wood,” or environmentally friendly wood production, more companies are willing to invest in sustainable ways of producing wood. Consequently, this may result in nearly 300,000 new jobs in Laos.

Tourism also grows through the protection of the abundant biodiversity in Laos’ forests. Biodiversity is one of the most important, yet quickly disappearing parts of the environment. Therefore, biodiversity protection will not only help the environment but will also attract tourists who wish to see the various plant and animal species that are native to Laos, spurring economic growth.

Looking Forward

The Lao Landscapes and Livelihood Project is one part of the 2030 National Green Growth Strategy. The project intends to utilize the forests of Laos to promote economic growth while also reducing poverty by aiding the federal government in passing legislation and designing policies to align with these priorities. The project also prioritizes gender equality, with roughly 50% of the jobs allocated to women. Overall, the project will ultimately help put Laos back on the right track to continued economic growth and reduced poverty.

– Ritika Manathara
Photo: Flickr

Water Pollution in China is the Country's Largest Environmental Issue
Half of China’s population cannot access water that is safe for human consumption and two-thirds of China’s rural population relies on tainted water. Water pollution in China is such a problem that there could be “catastrophic consequences for future generations,” according to the World Bank.

China’s water supply has been contaminated by the dumping of toxic human and industrial waste. Pollution-induced algae blooms cause the surface of China’s lakes to turn a bright green, but greater problems may lurk beneath the surface; groundwater in 90 percent of China’s cities is contaminated.

China’s coastal manufacturing belt faces the most pollution. Despite the closure of thousands of pollutant sources, a third of the waterway remains well below the government’s modest standards for water quality. Most of China’s rural areas lack a system to treat wastewater.

Water pollution in China has doubled from what the government originally predicted because the impact of agricultural waste was ignored. Farm fertilizer has largely contributed to water contamination. China’s water sources contain toxic of levels of arsenic, fluorine and sulfates, and pollution has been linked to China’s high rates of liver, stomach and esophageal cancer.

Dabo Guan, a professor at the University of East Anglia in Britain, has been studying scarcity and water pollution in China for years. He believes water pollution to be the biggest environmental issue in China, but the public may be unaware of its impact. Air pollution creates pressure from the public on the government because it is visible every day, but underground water pollution is not visible in the cities, causing it to virtually be forgotten.

Water pollution in China stems from the demand for cheap goods; multinational companies ignore their suppliers’ environmental practices. Although China’s development has lifted many out of poverty, it has also sent many others into disease.

Factories are able to freely discharge their wastewater into lakes and rivers due to poor environmental regulations, weak enforcement and local corruption. Rural villages located near factory complexes rely on the contaminated water for drinking, washing and cooking. These villages have become known as “cancer villages” because of their high rates of cancer and death.

In 2011, Greenpeace launched the Detox campaign to publicize the relationship between multinational companies, their suppliers and water pollution in China. The Detox campaign challenges multinational companies to work with their suppliers to eliminate all instances of hazardous chemicals into water sources. Although combating water pollution in China will require much more work, continued efforts from organizations like the Detox campaign provide a beacon of hope for the future of China’s people and environment.

– Carolyn Gibson

Photo: Flickr

natural resource study
The southeast Asian islands of the Philippines are rich in natural resources, but are often underdeveloped due to a combination unequal access, waves of natural disaster, growing population and high food prices. To promote sustainable development and economical use of resources, the World Bank has approved a grant of $700,615 for a natural resource study of the Philippines.

The project, called Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystems (Phil-WAVES), aims to promote the integration of sustainable development policies into Philippine domestic programs. Phil-WAVES will employ the System of Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA), an internationally agreed upon set of standards for evaluating the environment and its relationship with the economy, to analyze mineral and mangrove resources.

The data will be analyzed by the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA) to develop macroeconomic indicators to assist in the valuation of important natural resources and the role they play in the country’s GDP.

The agriculture, forestry and fishery industries made up 11.2 percent of the Philippine’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, and employed almost a third of the country’s population. However, poverty rates in these sectors are high. According to data from the PSA, 36.7 percent were living in poverty in 2009.

“Having sufficient data on natural resources and analyzing this properly is crucial to making decisions that will help the country reach the twin objectives of ending extreme poverty and increasing shared prosperity,” said Mr. Motoo Konishi, the World Bank Philippines Country Director. “We are optimistic that Phil-WAVES will help us better appreciate the interactions between the economy and the environment.”

Phil-WAVES aims to function in an inclusive, pro-poor manner, addressing the important natural resources of minerals and mangroves in particular due to their key role in the environment and economy. This will be supported by a second grant of $800,000 also supported by the World Bank, which will focus on implementing the data analysis into policy and indicators from the information gathered about mangroves and mining.

Mangroves, or various types of trees and shrubs that grow in salty, coastal regions in the tropics, are among the world’s most severely threatened and undervalued ecosystems. The tropical forests are integral in providing environmental stabilization, essential proteins and an important income source. Mangroves are also important in protecting coastal regions from intense storms, an aspect that was highlighted following the strike of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2009. To restore and preserve mangrove habitats, a national account and indicators will be developed.

The Philippine mining sector is also seeking reforms and sustainable development. Executive Order 79, a policy seeking to improve environmental mining standards and revenue sharing policies, will use the WAVE study as a tool for examining cost-benefit factors and resource analysis.

Ultimately, the Phil-WAVES project aims to implement systems of natural capital accounting as part of the WAVES global partnership. Natural capital accounting (NCA) is looking at underlying wealth factors and taking those aspects of a country’s economy into long term growth and development policies. The Philippines is one of the primary countries involved in the WAVES global partnership, which promotes the integration of NCA over the course of five years.

The Phil-WAVES grant comes at an important time for the Philippines government as it seeks to grow and develop transparently and sustainably.

“The Philippines faces the pressures of a growing population, rapid urbanization and competing land uses — all of which contribute to the deterioration of natural resources,” said Stefanie Sieber, project task leader and World Bank Environmental Economist for East Asia and the Pacific. “Amidst these pressures, Phil-WAVES will guide the Philippines in arriving at policies that will promote the sustainable management of its natural resources.”

– Julia Thomas

Sources: UN Statistics Division, Waves Partnership, The World Bank, Zoological society of London
Photo: The Paolo Valencia

energy efficiency

In the largest election in history, India has voted into office a new leader: Narendra Modi. A popular spokesperson for reform, Modi hopes to bring solar power to every home by 2019. It is a massive undertaking, but even with the fifth largest coal reserves, India suffers from severe electricity shortages. Another factor to consider, alongside rolling blackouts, is the climbing rates of pollution that poses both an environmental risk and a severe health hazard. As the fourth largest energy consumer in the world, India has much to gain in promoting energy efficiency by limiting fossil fuel consumption while going green with energy efficient alternatives.

But it is not just India that should endeavor to invest more in energy efficiency. Preserving the environment and promoting green energy alternatives can only benefit the world. Renewable energy can have a massive impact on the welfare of the world in regard to both alleviating poverty and improving health. By ensuring a healthy environment, a healthy economy can be established.

In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that air pollution—resulting in lung disease and/or cancer—has killed approximately 7 million people globally. There are multiple instances in which fossil fuels and non-renewable energies have resulted in both environmental catastrophe and health hazards. Whether it’s the Exxon-Valdez spill, the BP oil spill or the coal chemical spill in West Virginia, the evidence has become indisputable that continued reliance on potentially lethal compounds is not a safe investment for the future. With the cost of health care continuing to rise, limiting the health hazard of fossil fuels can be greatly beneficial to the wallets of many around the world.

Economically, the world has much to gain from preserving the environment by both establishing renewable energy and promoting greater energy efficiency and conservation. One of the most alarming instances of environmental decline impacting the economy has been in worldwide fisheries. In Chile, commercial fisheries are in a state of severe decline as fisherman yields have decreased by millions of tons since the mid-90’s. In Canada, collapsing sardine fisheries have resulted in $32 million in losses. Millions of jobs around the world rely wholly on the safety and stability of the environment from which the world reaps so many rewards, and yet its continued existence hangs in the balance.

– Michael Giacoumopoulos

Sources: Canada, EIA, Pulitzer Center
Photo: Blogspot