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How Environmental Degradation Impoverishes the Poor  

Edward B. Barbier

Globally, around 1.5 billion people in developing countries, or approximately 35% of the rural population, can be found on less-favored agricultural land (LFAL), which is susceptible to low productivity and degradation because the agricultural potential is constrained biophysically by terrain, poor soil quality, or limited rainfall. Around 323 million people in such areas also live in locations that are highly remote, and thus have limited access to infrastructure and markets. The households in such locations often face a vicious cycle of declining livelihoods, increased ecological degradation and loss of resource commons, and declining ecosystem services on which they depend. In short, these poor households are prone to a poverty-environment trap. Policies to eradicate poverty, therefore, need to be targeted to improve the economic livelihood, productivity, and income of the households located on remote LFAL. The specific elements of such a strategy include involving the poor in paying for ecosystem service schemes and other measures that enhance the environments on which the poor depend; targeting investments directly to improving the livelihoods of the rural poor, thus reducing their dependence on exploiting environmental resources; and tackling the lack of access by the rural poor in less-favored areas to well-functioning and affordable markets for credit, insurance, and land, as well as the high transportation and transaction costs that prohibit the poorest households in remote areas to engage in off-farm employment and limit smallholder participation in national and global markets.


Housing, Indoor Air Pollution, and Health in High-Income Countries  

Richard Sharpe, Nicholas Osborne, Cheryl Paterson, Timothy Taylor, Lora Fleming, and George Morris

Despite the overwhelming evidence that living in poor-quality housing and built environments are significant contributors to public health problems, housing issues persist and represent a considerable societal and economic burden worldwide. The complex interaction between multiple behavioral, lifestyle, and environmental factors influencing health throughout the “life-course” (i.e., from childhood to adulthood) in high-income countries has limited the ability to develop more salutogenic housing interventions. The resultant, usually negative, health outcomes depend on many specific housing factors including housing quality and standards, affordability, overcrowding, the type of tenure and property. The immediate outdoor environment also plays an important role in health and wellbeing at the population level, which includes air (indoor and outdoor), noise pollution and the quality of accessible natural environments. These exposures are particularly important for more vulnerable populations, such as the elderly or infirm, and those living in insecure accommodation or in fuel poverty (i.e., being unable to heat the home adequately). Being homeless also is associated with increased risks in a number of health problems. Investigating pathways to protecting health and wellbeing has led to a range of studies examining the potential benefits resulting from accessing more natural environments, more sustainable communities, and housing interventions such as “green construction” techniques. Built environment interventions focusing on the provision of adequate housing designs that incorporate a “life-course” approach, affordable and environmentally sustainable homes, and urban regeneration along with active community engagement, appear capable of improving the overall physical and mental health of residents. While some interventions have resulted in improved public health outcomes in more high-income countries, others have led to a range of unintended consequences that can adversely affect residents’ health and wellbeing. Furthering understanding into four interrelated factors such as housing-specific issues, the immediate environment and housing, vulnerable populations, and natural spaces and sustainable communities can help to inform the development of future interventions.


Economics of Gender in Resource Dependent Communities  

Biswajit Ray and Promita Mukherjee

Gender inequalities exist within commons-dependent communities in developing countries regarding the role of society’s overall attitudes to women as decision-makers. While, in forestry, women have some access to resources and decision-making, in other community resources like fisheries and irrigation water, women are absent and males entirely dominate. Different theories on gender and environment suggest that women’s inclusion is an important step toward reducing their economic marginalization and argue that in reality women’s economic advancement/empowerment may not get carried into home and community spaces as durable empowerment if society holds negative attitudes toward women’s needs, contribution and deservedness in families and beyond. Due to society’s negative attitudes toward women, women remain trapped in a vicious cycle of exclusion. Breaking this vicious cycle requires combining household assets and income to assess women’s true poverty type. A flat implementation of economic policies toward women’s pathway out of poverty may not yield the desired results and may even be counterproductive if society’s negative attitudes and the poverty characteristics of women or female-headed households are not taken into account. Since all women are not homogeneous and that a few communities hold pro-women attitudes, to promote women’s economic empowerment, the role of society’s attitudes toward women’s participation as decision-makers cannot be ignored as women’s relations to their social, economic, political, and natural environments are itself a culturally and historically specific process, which can be understood only through identifying and understanding gender-specific attitudes and actions toward those environments.