BY PETER MAKWANYA
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have situated poverty and hunger at the heart of development. While the SDGs provide a clear focus to eradicate poverty in all its forms, the placement of the environment in the poverty eradication matrix remains rather obscured, distant and isolated.
Topical poverty-related issues like hunger, access to basic healthcare, safe drinking water, energy, poverty, provision of quality education for every child, gender equality and women empowerment, among others, should never be treated in isolation of environmental sustainability.
The efforts invested in SDGs and nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) somehow cloud the way the environment can be sufficiently fixed so that the poor cannot continue to invade the forests for forest resources and products.
To the poverty-stricken individuals, the forests are the only safe havens for sustainable livelihoods, leaving the environment clearly exposed and threatened.
It is significant in this regard, to orient communities on issues to do with environmental conservation and justice. This is critical in nurturing environmental watchdogs and stewards, who guard against forest invaders for quality products like timber, minerals, fruits, firewood, edible insects, animals, fish or sand, among others. If these are left untampered with then their sustainable management can go a long way in uplifting the living standards of poor communities.
Poverty has always been an abused term by anyone who wants to take advantage of the poor in order to fulfil personal and self-serving interests.
For this reason, poverty has been a vicious cycle, hereditary like, reproducing itself to extreme extents and has regrettably become an undesirable label. Handling poverty in isolation and as something not related to the environment has made it some form of perpetual inheritance, in such a way that some people end up taking it as a curse to be poor. Being poor and with only the environment at their disposal, communities are left with no choice but to invade the forests, strip them of what they can possibly put their hands on.
The forest invasions and unsustainable harvesting of forest resources have become normal practice, normally accelerating conflicts among humans and between human beings and animals, thereby widening inequality gaps.
Poverty should never be handled in isolation of the environmental impacts, including the deeper and underlying human needs. People always make the mistake of viewing poverty as an individual entity without considering their unsustainable roles in the environment, including the roles played by the rich and powerful in destabilising the environment.
While the poor have only the environment at their disposal for survival, the rich and powerful have both the poor people and the environment to exploit.
The rich travel from distant countries to exploit the local poor, pay them measly wages while looting their forest and mineral resources, leaving the local environment potentially exposed, degraded and barren.
For this reason, the local communities end up not seeing the value of the environment to their livelihood recoveries, including seeing their poverty situations as God-given rather than human made and environmentally-induced.
After the rich and powerful nations, in connivance with corrupt leadership, loot environmental resources in developing countries, they label Africans as lazy and only capable of making babies. What else can these poor people do if their treasures have been looted and destroyed.
In this regard, it is very significant for the poor to know the significance of their environment, cherish it, treasure it and guard against it because it’s not only the environment and rolling forests but above all and everything else, their survival.
Furthermore, the environment is the only thing that can deliver these poor people from poverty. Poor people can come up with clubs, syndicates and groups, and sustainably harvest forest fruits, not wild fruits as they are made to believe, export them raw or process them into locally finished products, sell them to the rich and powerful countries, without letting them ever coming here in the first place.
The COVID-19 pandemic has proved that our local environment is replete with plants, trees and herbs with medicinal properties. The local environment is home to edible insects, especially the nutritious caterpillars/amacimbi/madora, which can contribute to food security and poverty eradication. Our forests are rich in Zumbani/Umsuzwane/Lippia Javanica including the black-jack and many more, so what more do we want.
All the poverty-related factors can be itemised and made music of but if they are not linked to the environment, they will continue to be with the people forever.
High rates of unemployment, carbon inequalities, malnutrition, food insecurity, gender-based violence (GBV), deforestation, land degradation and many more have their origins in unsustainable uses of the environment. In this regard, if environmental challenges go unfixed, they would forever worsen environmental destruction and climate change, thereby nurturing chronic poverty levels.
There are companies and organisations which have polluted water bodies with industrial chemicals and toxins, thereby depriving local communities and animals of safe-drinking water, making people poor in the process. This is because people cannot drink polluted water or use it for nutritional gardens, agricultural and horticultural productions, household chores, animal rearing, among others. Biodiversity loss contributes to ecological destruction and desertification, depriving people of clean and safe air and the most needed tree cover. In this regard, if the environment can no longer support human and animal lives, then poverty eradication won’t be feasible.
The absence of long-term strategies to address these environmental challenges, will witness deep-seated poverty for the unforeseeable future. Communities need to be equipped with environmental problem-solving skills at local, national and regional levels.
The poor’s over-dependence on natural resources for their livelihoods need to be controlled and minimised because it is also the poor who are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In this regard, extreme poverty can be managed if the environment is not over-exploited. Respecting the environment is not only an ecological right but a human right too.
Finally, there should be a shared responsibility for managing poverty and goal sharing, culminating in shared climate action strategies. These will in turn promote integrated approaches in order to chart inclusive and empowering recovery pathways. As a result, the sustainable development goals should be able to deliver for local communities everywhere, thereby improving their livelihoods.