Speech by Dr. Henning Karcher UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative at the UNDP-SAPAP Workshop on Poverty-Environment Linkages Kathmandu

Dec 18, 2002

Speech by Dr. Henning Karcher UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative at the UNDP-SAPAP Workshop on Poverty-Environment Linkages Kathmandu, 18–20 December 2002

Distinguished Government representatives, colleagues, respected delegates, ladies and gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the regional workshop on linkages between poverty and environment in South Asia. Let me take this opportunity to say a few words at the opening session of this important workshop. All of you are aware that there are 1.2 billion people who live on less than $1 a day. To tackle this challenge, the United Nations Millennium Summit adopted the Millennium Development Goals, including the overarching goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015.

At the same time, our planet faces serious environmental challenges: agricultural lands are degrading, forests shrinking, water tables diminishing, fish stocks dwindling and biodiversity disappearing. Hardest hit by these developments are the poor.

Given pervasive poverty and widespread environmental degradation, should we resign and say, “Oh, this downward spiral is inevitable”? No. The poverty-environment nexus is not that simple but mediated by a variety of factors, institutions and actors. There are plenty of successful examples of “win-win scenarios”. The World Summit on Sustainable Development held in 2002 in Johannesburg provides ample inspiration for us to muster our strength to convert the vicious cycle into a virtuous one.

30 years earlier, the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 identified poverty as both a cause and a consequence of environmental degradation. Subsequent work by the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) put sustainable development on top of the global development agenda. The Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 moved this agenda forward, highlighting the linkages between poverty and the environment in Agenda 21.

We all recognise that environmental sustainability is critical for the poor. Their livelihoods often depend on the access and use of natural resources – be they land, water, or forests. Their health is linked to the safe water they drink, and the indoor pollution they suffer from. Their security is subject to the forces of nature, so prominent in the impacts of natural disasters. Therefore, all these issues must be at the core of national efforts to reduce poverty.

Understanding the linkages between poverty and the environment:
There is one school of thought, which blames population growth and poverty as contributing factors to environmental degradation. While there may be some element of truth in their analysis, that model cannot explain the complex web of causal linkages between poverty and environmental degradation.

In this context, let me share some of the lessons from our experience with SAPAP and other programs:
- The linkages between poverty and environment imply that we cannot divorce environmental management from development concerns. The philosophy of sustainable development means that we must take care of poverty and environmental management simultaneously.
- Poverty reduction and environment management can be achieved at the same time. Poverty reduction programmes need not be environmentally degrading and environmental management need not prolong deprivation and poverty.
- Poor people must be seen as part of the solution – rather than part of the problem. They must, therefore, be involved in planning, implementing and monitoring programmes that reduce poverty while improving natural resource management. There are a number of successful cases from Nepal (community forest management), India (joint forest management) and Bangladesh (avenue plantation) that became success stories through people’s participation.
With these challenges in mind, let me turn to our workshop:
This workshop comprises an interesting mix of policy-makers from the government, practitioners, researchers, civil society organisations, UNDP representatives and other development partners from the donor community. This will ensure that the country case studies and deliberations not only add to our increasing body of knowledge on the subject matter but that the findings will inform, develop and change policy options. In that sense, this workshop can become an advocacy forum for “win-win” policy options for poverty reduction and environmental management in the South Asian region. This, in turn, will contribute to the development and dissemination of good practices, and enhance practice areas in South Asia, as the workshop results will be shared through the UNDP knowledge networks.

Let me leave you with some questions that I believe are critical during your three-day
- What types of policy shifts are required for effective poverty reduction and better environmental management? In other words, how do we design pro-poor projects addressing poverty reduction and environmentally supportive ones?
- How do we facilitate, promote and build coalitions between the poor and nonpoor for conserving and regenerating natural resources?
- What are most appropriate packages of incentives (and disincentives) to encourage the poor and the non-poor to invest in sustainable development?
- What is the scope for promoting community-based initiatives in projects that tackle the negative effects of poverty and environmental degradation?
- How do we counter adverse impacts of market forces, consumerism, and technology that lead to poverty and degradation of the environment in the era of globalisation?

The list of challenges is long. But I am convinced that this workshop is the ideal forum for addressing many of them and for serving as a truly South Asian ‘advocacy forum’ for both effective poverty reduction and better environmental management. Further, I hope this will also be a rewarding and enjoyable event for all of you, which will be remembered as an important milestone in the efforts of the Governments of South Asian countries in their war against poverty.

I wish you success in your deliberations.

Thank you.
Henning Karcher.
18 December 2002