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Major Report Stresses Natural Resources as Path Out of Poverty


Embargoed until 7 a.m. EST, Wednesday, August 31, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 31, 2005 – A report that challenges conventional approaches is released today at a critical moment in the battle against poverty. The report, World Resources 2005: The Wealth of the Poor: Managing Ecosystems to Fight Poverty, stresses the urgent need to look beyond aid projects, debt relief and trade reform and focus on local natural resources to address the crisis of poverty in all parts of the globe.

“Traditional assumptions about addressing poverty treat the environment almost as an afterthought,” said Jonathan Lash, president, World Resources Institute (WRI). “This report addresses the stark reality of the poor: three-fourths of them live in rural areas; their environment is all they can depend on. Environmental resources are absolutely essential, rather than incidental, if we are to have any hope of meeting our goals of poverty reduction.”

The report finds that environmental organizations have not addressed poverty and development groups have not considered the environment enough in the past. The model presented in the report details how natural resources – soils, forests, water, fisheries – managed at the local level are frequently the most effective means for the world’s rural poor people to create wealth for themselves.

Dozens of case studies detailed within World Resources 2005 demonstrate how local stewardship of nature can be a powerful means of fighting poverty. Control over restoring 700,000 local acres of denuded forests and grazing lands was given by the Tanzanian government to the Sukuma people and they now have higher household incomes, better diets, as well as increased populations of tree, bird and mammal species. Ucunivanua villagers in Fiji were given control by the government of clam beds and coastal waters, and because of local restrictions placed on fishing, mangrove lobster and harvestable clam populations have increased dramatically. In India, community control over the watershed has led to a nearly six-fold increase in the cash value of crops grown in Darewadi Village.

“There are encouraging examples of ecosystems being managed for the long-term to create wealth for poor communities, but there is still a huge job to do,” said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Natural resources can be properly used to greatly reduce poverty. The time has come to reverse the course of worsening diseases, depleted natural resources, political instability, inequality, and the social corrosion of angry generations that have no means to rise out of poverty.”

While globalization has resulted in greater wealth for many people in urban areas throughout the developing world – such as parts of China and India – these gains have often bypassed rural areas, except in the rare exceptions detailed in the report. Nearly half of the world’s six-billion people live on less than $2 per day. Three-quarters of those poor people live in rural areas. These rural households depend overwhelmingly on natural resources for their income. If these ecosystems become degraded, as many have over the past 50 years, they will never provide the fuel for economic development that will boost the rural poor beyond subsistence and into the mainstream of national economies.

“We need to stop thinking of the environment as a passive element. It is a fundamental part of community-based decision making,” said Ian Johnson, vice president of sustainable development, The World Bank. “Unfortunately, the poor often lack legal rights to ecosystems and are excluded from decisions about ecosystem management. Without addressing these failures through changes in governance, there is little chance of using the economic potential of ecosystems to reduce rural poverty.”

The moment is critical in the battle against poverty because of converging current events. At the G-8 Summit in July, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other world leaders focused almost exclusively on the problems of global poverty. Prior to the G-8, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment – a report by an international panel of 1,300 scientists – found how humans have modified and degraded the world’s ecosystems in the past 50 years. In mid-September, heads of state at the UN Summit are expected to further review progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

“Community stewardship of local resources should be a critical element of any poverty-reduction model,” said Olav Kjørven, director, Energy and Environment Group, Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “With greater income from the environment – call it ‘environmental income’ – poor families experience better nutrition and health, and begin to accumulate wealth. In other words, they begin the journey out of poverty.”

World Resources 2005: The Wealth of the Poor: Managing Ecosystems to Fight Poverty is the 11th in a series of biennial reports on global environment and governance issues published since 1984. This particular report’s focus on poverty issues follows upon conclusions from the previous two reports – the first was about ecosystems and the second was about governance. Since 1996, the series has been published jointly by The World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Resources Institute.

Copies of the report, a 28-page Journalist Guide, graphics and other materials can be downloaded from the Media Previews section ( of the WRI Newsroom ( Translations are also available online in Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, French, Dutch and Norwegian.


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