A new perspective on combating poverty Protecting the Environment Will Combat Poverty: Wangari Maathai

Edited by Ellen Kalisperati Sociologist

The morning plenary session at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting last Friday was on the “Global Impact of Rural Innovation” and had quite a distinguished panel of speakers. Well, every session at CGI had impressive credentials, but this one was particularly inspirational. Here are some of the highlights from Wangari Maathai , founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya:If You Destroy the Environment, Poverty Cannot be Eliminated

I eventually found out that no matter what we do, after the global level, even at the national level, that it is extremely grassroots level, and the majority of the people that we have mentioned here, when we mention poverty, we are thinking about a large number of people at the grassroot level.

Now those people are mostly dependent on primary natural resources. We’re talking land, soil, water, forests. Yet we haven’t mentioned many of those issues except in terms of deficiency […] But we need to think of how we can sustainably manage these primary resources that all of us depend on.

But the people at the grassroot are the ones that are most directly dependent on them. And even on issues of climate change. Even as we speak of what is going to happen, it’s already happening to a large number of people. They are experiencing lack of water. They are experiencing drying rivers. And most of all, they are worried because their forests are disappearing. And that is partly why I think that the environment is extremely important.

At the United Nations you will know that they are talking about millennium development goals. For me, the millennium development goal number seven, which is the environment, sustainability of the environment, is the most important, it should be number one, not poverty, because if you destroy the environment, all the other millennium development goals can not be achieved.

Protect the Soil, Protect the Forests, Invest in Education

…we must invest in the protection of the national resources on which these goals as I said if you flip it over, instead of starting with the poverty, start with the environment, protecting the soil, protecting the forests, and invest in the people because that’s one thing that we keep saying that Africa is not doing enough, is investing in education […] making sure that every primary school child is about to go to school but that they move on. […] They have to go to secondary and they also have to go to can be assisted, but I really think that if you look at many of the governments that have not achieved these goals and you compare the resources allocated to different ministries which address these goals, and then compare that to the ministry, for example of defense. […]

Secondly, I think that it is very important for us, especially working at the grass root level, to invest in initiatives that empower these local people so that they can do what they can do for themselves and that is what the Green Belt Movement has been trying to do for many years is to help people manage their natural resources more responsibly, understand how they govern themselves so that they can challenge their leaders, and demand better management of the resources that they have, both within the country and what comes in from France, so that we can move forward. Now, until we empower the people at the grass root to do things for themselves, we won’t achieve these millennium development goals …

Though often seen as being at odds with poverty reduction, the focus being on economic development first and environmental preservation once a measure of affluence has occurred, I found it very inspirational (and accurate) that Maathai sees that without preservation of the environment, preservation of natural capital, lasting economic development, lasting poverty reduction, cannot be achieved.



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