Conservation Biology

Monday, March 05, 2007


Awareness and concern about environmental degradation have grown around the world over the last few decades; these concerns are shared by people of different nations, cultures, religions and social classes [1]. Poverty is defined as a condition of being poor [2]. Degradation is change from a higher state to a lower state [3]. Environmental degradation is a process induced by human behaviour and activities that damage the natural environment [4].

Poverty is considered as a great influence of environmental degradation. In many regions of the world, regional overgrazing has resulted in destruction of grazing lands, forest and soil. Air and water have been degraded [5]. The carrying capacity of the natural environment has been reduced. As the people become poorer, they destroy the resources faster [5]. They tend to overuse the natural resources because they don’t have anything to eat or any means of getting money except through the natural resources, they start to depend more on natural resources.

Poor people harvest natural resources for their survival or in order to meet their basic needs such as firewood, agricultural productions (such as maize), and water and wild plants for their medicine. All people regardless of being poor or rich depend on natural resources; the concern with poor people is that they are utilizing the resources directly. The rich people do depend on these resource but they do not go to the forest directly and harvest the resources.

Due to the lack of sufficient income people start to use and overuse every resource available to them when their survival is at stake. As desperate hunger leads to desperate strategies for survival, many trees are harvested for fire wood, timber and art craft. Most of the poor people use this fire wood as their source of income by selling them, and art craft products are also used for income generation. The roots of the trees are dug out for medicinal purpose. This leaves the soil exposed as the grasses are also grazed by animals and also collected for roofing the houses. When it rains the entire top and good soil are eroded which makes it difficult for that soil to produce better agricultural products.

Poor people often lack sufficient income and education to afford higher quality life where they can use electricity and also buy electric appliances to ease their domestic life. Instead of cutting trees for fire wood they can use electric stoves for cooking. They can also use electric heaters to warm themselves during winter month. Electricity can also slow down the firewood business as most people will no longer be relying on firewood as it takes time to prepare the fire using wood than just switching on the electricity. The use of electricity will make their lives simpler because it will save time, they won’t go to the field to fetch wood. The chances of been bitten by a snake or get injured are high when they are in field.
They have no quality drinking water as they pollute the rivers by washing inside them and by also using a river as a dumping site for the bins. The lack of education also prohibits them from practicing environmentally sustainable agriculture; protect natural resources against degradation or rehabilitate degraded resources like rivers [6]

In the poorest regions it is estimated that one in five children will not live to see the fifth birthday due to environment-related diseases [7]. Statistics show that almost four million children are dying each year because of acute respiratory infection linked to indoor and out-door air pollution [7]. Other environment-related diseases killing the children are diarrhoea caused by lack of clean water and sanitation and also cholera, malaria and asthma [7].

The better solution which can rescue both the environment and poor people is through the government by increasing the rate of job creation for poor people. If they have jobs they can afford higher quality life which includes affording electricity, they can also afford nice roofing materials instead of using grasses and they can have somewhere to wake up to instead of harvesting the natural resources everyday. Many of poor people are very skilled in a way that a government can build a huge art and craft and timber structures where these people can be employed and still practice their art but in a professional way where the harvesting of plants can be done sustainably.
The government can export these products to other countries where a lot of money can be generated.
Some can also work in guarding the natural environment from culprits. Others can be employed only for harvesting the natural resources for different purposes like medicinal, art and craft, timber, fire wood etc under the supervision of ecologists. This can help in keeping the poor people busy, they will be earning a stable and reliable salary which will keep them away from the natural resources, and after all it will be difficult to access the resources as a close eye will always be kept on them.

They also need to be educated and shown how important the environment is to both people and animals, though education can not always be a solution to all the people, few people can see natural resources in a different way just because of being educated. Though it can take a while to totally eradicate poverty, poor people can still use natural resources in a sustainable way which will still benefit them as well as the environment.


1. Walsh, T. 2005. Causes of Poverty. [Internet]. 2006 Jan 10, 09:21 UTC [cited 2007 Feb 26]. Available from:

2. Anon. 2007. Definition of Poverty [Online]. 2007 Feb 23, 11:08 UTC [cited 2007 Mar 02]. Available from:

3. Anon. 2007. Definitions of Degradation [Online]. 2007 Feb 27, 11:08 UTC [cited 2007 Mar 02]. Available from:

4. Anon. 2007. Definitions of Environmental Degradation [Online]. 2007 Feb 27, 11:14 UTC [cited 2007 Mar 02]. Available from:

5. Mennonite, 1990. Poverty and Environmental Degradation. [Internet]. 2007 Jan 10, 13:55 UTC [cited 2007 Feb 23]. Available from:

6. Andersen, P.P. and Rajul, P. C. 1995. Poverty, food Secutity, and the Environment. [Internet]. 2007 Jan 12, 11:13 UTC [cited 2007 Feb 28]. Available from:

7. Wikipedia contributors. Ten Threats [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2007 Jan 10, 15:17 UTC [cited 2007 Mar 1]. Available from:

Dianah Nangammbi
Cilla CSIR
P.O Box 395
Tel: +27 12 841 2133
Cell: +27 73 121 3589


  • It is true that poverty lead to resource degradation, People in poverty utilises resource to meet their basic need without caring for the future. These results in resource depletion and it further impoverish them. The Environmental Kuznets hypothesis indicates that development influence environmental degradation. When there is development, there is environmental degradation, and this lead to the increase in economic growth. The growth of economy reduces over utilisation of resource. In this sense the change in income per capita, tend to change the state of environment.

    Porter hypothesis indicate that if there is environmental policy that govern the use of resource the will be a sustainability. This can result in the growth of economy and mitigation of resource depletion. The use of resource can also be managed by implementing restoration process that can sustain and recover the depletion. The Beckerman hypothesis indicates that the resource can be utilised, but there must be a restoration process.

    The entire hypothesis shows that there is a relationship between poverty and environmental degradation. However, it is caused by development, which in the later stage will result in economic growth that can help to restore the process.

    The concern of environmental can be dealt if people /public understand the term of development and also knows that all the assets extracted from natural resource halve of it have to help in the process of restoring the impact. Then the issues of poverty and degradation can be managed.

    By Blogger Elelwani, at March 06, 2007 12:34 PM  

  • Indeed, poverty influences environmental degradation e.g. the environmental degradation of Madagascar is severe as a results of poverty. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. There are over 18 millions (1) of people who are living there and the population grow very fast. About 80% (1) of the population depend on subsistence farming and many of them depend completely on natural capital to meet their basic needs. Farmers usually clear a plot of land and cultivate that area until the soil is depleted. When the area is depleted, they clear another plot which results in high percentages of erosion. The Malagasy people also burn the forest in grazing areas for their cattle. Habitat loss is caused by clearing and burning. The Malagasy people use plants animals for food, firewood, medicine and construction of households. (1). All these activities result to environmental degradation.

    Roberson M.R. 2007. Evolutionary Biologists Aim to Protect Madagascar’s Plants and Animals. [Online]. [Cited 2007 February 27] Available from:

    By Blogger Kedibone, at March 07, 2007 11:07 AM  

  • Great Guys - the discussion - this is what we wanted to see and lots of it.

    Dianah raised the following issue "people regardless of being poor or rich depend on natural resources" and the went on to say "the concern with poor people is that they are utilizing the resources directly. The rich people do depend on these resource but they do not go to the forest" - this is a very good insight. Unfortunately Western Society often preaches that the poo people should not degrade their environment so the wealthy people of the world can enjoy it! It is about finding alternatives and the basis of sustainable societies.

    By Blogger Rich Knight, at March 07, 2007 9:43 PM  

  • Dinah - please try and hyperlink your refs within the text - see how other people are doing it!

    By Blogger Rich Knight, at March 07, 2007 10:03 PM  

  • Even rich overexploit the natural resources, for example making of paper,for development and the worst of them all is mining. These factors are caused because of economic reasons.
    Atleast at plantation they try to plant replant trees but the problem is that some of these trees are exotic trees, for example blue gum tree. the blue gum treee requires a lot of water which means other vegetation such as grass will surver because of lack of water since the blue gum uses a lot of water.
    so not only poverty causes overexploitation of natural resources.
    What if the gooverment supply all the poor people with free electricity, water and food does these mean that there won't be any exploitation of natural resources such as wood?

    By Blogger Lethabo, at March 08, 2007 8:54 AM  

  • Lethabo, there's just no way the government can provide poor people with free electricity, water and food. And even if it did, these resources have to be generated somehow - there'll still be an environmental impact. Socioeconomics and politics are complicated things, and the government is ultimately just the collective controllers of the tax money of those who have - and they probably wouldn't take too kindly to supporting other people as directly as you seem to suggest.

    But yeah, interesting discussion...

    By Blogger NcK, at March 08, 2007 12:44 PM  

  • hi Nick the government does give free electricity and water mostly to old people and those who cant afford. where i come from some people are using these free electricity and water, even Gauteng province, i am not sure about other provinces. These also food handouts for those who can't afford.

    By Blogger Lethabo, at March 08, 2007 1:33 PM  

  • Hi Lethabo. I'm well aware that there are allowances made for the poor, and a welfare system is in place, and the electricity and food thus provided is, in that sense, "free". But it's EXTREMELY limited (the government doesn't provide enough free electricity for a family to power a television, microwave, lights, and all the other luxuries of middle class life - some, perhaps, but not all). And again, the free stuff is generated by the same environmental impacts as it would be for the wealthy, and possibly in some instances as much as it would be if the poor were directly exploiting natural resources. It's also not free in the sense that people are paying for it - just not the poor people who are the recipients...

    By Blogger NcK, at March 15, 2007 9:57 AM  

  • Hi Diana, interesting topic

    It is true that poverty influences environmental degradation. In the third paragraph, you indicated that poor people harvest natural resources to meet their basic needs. Did you know that, sometimes you can find out that rich people contribute much in environmental degradation than poor people?

    Did you know that access to natural resources is the most important issue that cause environmental degradation? Vulnerability is a set of conditions and processes resulting from physical, social, economical and environmental factors, which increase the susceptibility of a community to the impact of environmental degradation. Most communities are vulnerable to health issues such as HIVAIDS, malaria and cholera. Outbreaks in malaria will cause poor people to be more vulnerable than rich people. Rich people can afford better vaccination and medication making them less vulnerable. Poor people depend on natural medicines harvested from forest and depend from the medicines provided by the government, making them more vulnerable.

    Diana sometimes you can find that managing open access ecosystem is complex than managing ecosystem in nature reserve. The millennium ecosystem assessment try to address the issue of how much we gain from nature everyday in the form of ecosystem goods and ecosystem services. But people are still continuing with the destruction of our environmental ecosystem.

    This lead South Africa to be more vulnerable to localized incidents such as veld fires, seasonal flooding and environmental degradation caused by people.

    Various kinds of knowledge will help the community to deal with the incident more effectively. Availability of resources (tangible, non-tangible and people) will reduce vulnerability. It is necessary for community to have highly skilled and trained individuals who have environmental knowledge.

    By Blogger linette, at March 16, 2007 4:36 PM  

  • Environmental policy has a major part to play in meeting the development needs of people in the new democratic South Africa. Everyone can agree with me that the colonial and apartheid systems is the major cause of environmental degradations.for example they denied the majority of South Africans (poor bakground)the right to participate in democratic decision-making and access to the country's natural resources.

    Diana, i agree with you that the government must do something (like creation of employement, and more resources available) to the poors inorder to sustain the environmental degradation.

    By Blogger Ramapulana, at March 27, 2007 1:55 PM  

  • Land degradation is encouraged by soil erosion. The soil erosion which occurs as a results of over cultivation, over-grazing, deforestation, etc.

    In some of the rural areas, parents are no longer paying school fees for the studies of their children and this will help those who were not going to school because of not affording to pay the school fees. As a result, there will be a decrease in over cultivation of the forest because the children will spend more time at school than at home.

    I agree the government must create more job opportunities for the disadvantage communities. The Global Environment Facility Units within the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Environmental Sustainable Development Group, Bureau for Development Policy are aiming to assist the local communities to realize sustainable long-term benefits by protecting water resources, ecosystem and landscape.

    By Blogger Maleka Evelyn, at March 28, 2007 9:25 AM  

  • Hi Dianah
    Good exploration of the topic. Yes it is true that poverty plays a major role in the environmental degradation. Poverty is defined as being poor, but it is defined according to measures that include: lack of basic needs, social exclusion, unsustainability of the livelihood, human development and income or consumption poverty (Maxwell, 1999). Even though we cannot live without poverty but it needs to be kept down. In order for environmental degradation to be reduced, improvement of the land is necessary which will lead to the reduction of the shortage of land, technology which is productive need to be increased which will lead to the reduction of poverty and pressure on the natural resources and conservation of the land resources.

    By Blogger peter, at March 28, 2007 12:03 PM  

  • wow- this article really lacks some basic knowlege of the political economic reality of the global economy which results in a 'blame the victim' analysis. For one, wealthy people consume much MORE resources on average than poor people (one way to define being poor is lack of access to resources)- consumption in wealthy nations is the major reason poor nations degrade their environment- to send to wealthy nations for their consumption (where do wealthy nations get their resources? the factory?). Also, 'jobs' is not a solution but a perpetuation- the political economy is such that though the consumption habits of the wealthy create jobs for the poorer nations- it leaves them with nothing but insufficient wages. Here's the relationship-
    example, tanzanians around lake victoria send 500 tonnes of perch to European markets daily, (meanwhile the lake is near collapse due to the overfishing)- locals work in factories processing this fish for export and are paid a tiny amount- that they cannot even afford that very fish they prepare for Europe. Meanwhile, this fish, that could be feeding a million people goes to an already overstocked market in Europe and locals in Tanzania face food shortages and food insecurity. hmmm, now what if they didn't have these 'jobs', but kept their fish?...

    By Blogger stellarsoulartist, at February 26, 2010 8:56 PM  

  • What about the fact that many of the world's most impoverished people live in the world's most resource abundant places on the planet which happen to be on the African continent?

    By Blogger stellarsoulartist, at February 26, 2010 9:37 PM  

  • For people without any roofing over their heads or who are so impoverished they will be focusing on mere survival, more so than anything else.

    By Anonymous Compass Roofing, at February 16, 2011 10:08 PM  

  • The government should really do something to address poverty. Poverty can cause a lot of negative things in the society.

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  • I agree that poor people often lack sufficient income and education to afford higher quality life where they can use electricity and also buy electric appliances to ease their domestic life.

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  • The King of Africa Mansa Musa: the richest man who ever lived (much richer than Bill Gates or Carlos Slim ) lived over 600 years ago, and how is the situation in Africa now?

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