People Starve Because Policy Fails!

In preparation for the Earth Summit 2012, discussion about challenges and solutions for achieving sustainable development is regaining momentum worldwide. However, misconceptions around the essential dynamics of population, environment and resource access, still remain. This conversation with IIED for the SID Forum aims at clarifying some of these dynamics and their impact on people and society as a first effort to step into the broader debate around sustainability.

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It is often feared that people's access to livelihoods and resources is more at stake in urban contexts as it can be exacerbated by rural-to-urban migration (people move to cities and increase urban poverty). This leads to a temptation to try and control people's mobility. As Cecilia Tacoli points out, the issue of migration should be seen as a closely linked with transformations in a country's economy.

Urban poverty is increasingly a common feature of both rich and poor countries; however 1) there are large differences in the risks urban poor face in low and middle income countries when compared to high-income nations; and 2) the number of urban residents that live in poverty is not accurate and may be largely underestimated. As David Satterthwaite remarks, 'Set a poverty line too low and no one appears to be poor!'

When it comes to population growth and access to natural resources, 'the concern - Cecilia Tacoli points out - is not how many people there are, but what people do and how they use natural resources'. In this regard, it is compelling to understand the extent to which low and middle income countries with a huge energy potential can take advantage of the green market which is gaining a new momentum now as a key theme of the Earth Summit's agenda.

Is there a chance that these countries can pursue sustainability in two ways, by shifting to renewable energy market and preventing local communities from being exploited? Emma Wilson explains that in the case of Nigeria, despite the efforts of the government to engage in low-carbon debates and climate change forums, the combination of economic incentives plus political and commercial interests, are such that and so many that the current system is unlikely to change.

Nevertheless, she believes that decentralised renewable energy may offer more opportunity for local communities to gain greater control and ownership over energy systems. It is a matter of raising awareness among community leaders and interest groups.

There is strong evidence from Africa, Asia and Latin America, as stressed by David Satterthwaite, of local municipal governments working together with the local people to contribute to risk reduction from climate change. Strengthening local governance and people's participation is therefore crucial, in order to mitigate the risk of disasters stemming from policy failures and poor governments practices.

Conversation facilitated by Angela Zarro (SID)

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About IIED: The International Institute for Environment and development - - is an independent international research organisation, specialist in linking local to global, and focusing on the issues of climate change, sustainable markets, natural resources, human settlements and governance.


Photo: Oxfam East Africa/flickr