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Poverty and environmental degradation

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The relation between poverty levels and environmental degradation has been widely debated inside academic circles. The theoretical linkage between poverty and environmental degradation has for some time been shroud in ambiguity. Environment degradation and poverty are closely interrelated and inseparable, particularly in developing countries. 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. In recent years economic researchers have become increasingly aware of the important implications that the state of the environment has for the success of development effort. .(Michael P Todaro, Stephen C Smith, Economic Development)

it has been asserted that the interaction between poverty and environmental degradation can lead to a self perpetuating process in which ,as a result of ignorance or economic necessity, communities may in advertently destroy or exhaust the resources on which they depend for survival.(Michael P Todaro, Stephen C Smith, Economic Development)

According to Michael P Todaro and Stephen C Smith, environmental degradation can have severe consequences on the poor in developing countries. They further conclude that since the solution to environmental problems involve enhancing the productivity of resources and improving living conditions among the poor, achieving environmentally sustainable growth is synonymous with achieving economic growth.

Poverty is considered a great influence on environmental degradation. In many regions of the developing countries, regional overgrazing has resulted in destruction of grazing lands, forest and soil. In addition air and water have been degraded . It has been hypothesized that as people become poorer, they destroy the resources faster . By so doing tend to overuse the natural resources because they don’t have any means of survival except through the natural resources. They therefore tend to depend more on natural resources. An increase in poverty gives rise to an equal increase in environmental degradation thereby necessitating the need to improve the quality of living.

Ghana is located on the west coast of Africa bordering the Gulf of Guinea with a 539-kilometer stretch of coastline. The capital, Accra, is situated along the coast. The country shares borders with Togo to the east, Cote d’Ivoire on the west and Burkina Faso to the north. Ghana covers a total area of 238,537 square km (92,100 square miles).

Ghana is well endowed with natural resources – gold, timber, and cocoa – the major sources of foreign exchange, and recently discovered oil in commercial quantities. The domestic economy continues to revolve around subsistence agriculture, which accounts for 34.7 percent of GDP and employs 56 percent of the work force, mainly smallholders. The country has a total of 170 metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies within its ten administrative regions and has approximately 22 million people. Most of the population is concentrated in the southern part of the country, with highest densities occurring in urban and cocoa-producing areas.(USAID) .

Ghana is rapidly urbanizing. Despite this, most of Ghana’s poor live in rural areas without basic services such as health care and clean water. Small-scale farmers, who are affected most by rural poverty in Ghana, depend on outdated farming tools and lack access to improved seeds and fertilizers to increase crop yields.

Since independence Ghana has had a long fight with poverty. There have been six development plans implemented in Ghana since 1951. They have all generally sought to improve upon the growth of GDP and ensuring an acceptable level of social and political life for the country. The most recent and significant have been the Vision 2020 and The Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy.( Eugene Eluerkeh,2004)

Environmental degradation is difficult to define. In simple terms environmental degradation can be said to be the deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil, the destruction of the ecosystems and the extinction of wildlife. Poverty is the state of having inadequate access to one’s survival needs and basic social amenities which include food, clothing, shelter, education, good health, employment, transport, communication and other basic social services.

Poverty breeds frustration, depression, helplessness, carelessness, insecurity, indiscipline, crime and struggle to meet immediate survival needs at the expense of long-term environmental benefits. This struggle for survival has been the major linkage of the poor to environmental degradation such as deforestation, land degradation of coastal habitats and poor urban sanitation that keep perpetual poverty.

Poverty can be assessed at the individual, household, community, district, regional and national levels in which case a nation’s capability to provide the social needs of its people is used as a measure of its poverty status.

One out of five people on earth still live with $1 a day, and many coordinated effort

and commitment have been targeted to reduce the number of poor people including the socalled

Millennium Development Goals: halving extreme poverty by the year 2015 (World

Bank, DFID, EC, UNDP, 2002).

As part of the conditions to be met for the realization of (HIPC) relief package, Ghana, like its counterpart countries, was to develop a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) to indicate how monies accrued from joining (HIPC) would be used to alleviate poverty among Ghanaians.

The broad strategies outlined in the document included good governance, macro-economic stability, production, employment, vulnerability and exclusion, and human resource development. Unfortunately, however, the environment, which is the primary ingredient for survival, growth and development was not streamlined in the document.

Environmental degradation is a result of the dynamic inter play of socio-economic, institutional and technological activities. Environmental changes may be driven by many factors including economic growth, population growth, urbanization, intensification of agriculture, rising energy use and transportation.

Poverty still remains a problem at the root of several environmental problems.

Poverty is said to be both cause and effect of environmental degradation. The circular link between poverty and environment is an extremely complex phenomenon. Inequality may foster unsustainability because the poor, who rely on natural resources more than the

rich, deplete natural resources faster as they have no real prospects of gaining access to other types of resources.

Moreover, degraded environment can accelerate the process of impoverishment, again because the poor depend directly on natural assets

Environmental sustainability should thus, be a key priority area in our strategic plans towards poverty alleviation. Within this context therefore, the right linkage between the various specific environmental degradation and poverty must be well established to the appreciation of all stakeholders.

In search of an explanation of the poverty- environmental degradation linkage, many studies have been done in this regard. In terms of urban poverty, it is suggested that there is little evidence of it being a significant contributor to environmental degradation but strong evidence that urban environ-mental hazards are major contributors to urban poverty (David Satterthwaite).

Most of the studies on the poverty-environment linkage have used panel data studies and hence have not been country specific. This study thus aims to explore in detail the poverty-environment linkage with specific reference to the Ghanaian situation. It will thus review the existing literature on the poverty-environment linkage, provide an overview of the poverty and environment profile in Ghana and attempt to provide policy recommendations suitable for the Ghanaian situation.

Statement of Problem

Poverty in Ghana has for a long been considered an economic problem. Hence economic policies that have been developed haved not considered the environment. It is however useful to consider the interplay between the environment and poverty in formulating policies designed to alleviate poverty. Various studies have established that there exists some kind of dynamic interplay between the state of the environment and poverty levels. Hence it is useful to consider the impact of the various economic policies designed to reduce poverty on the environment.

Significance of the study

The study will be of immense significance to the economy of Ghana. It will attempt to explain the poverty-environment linkage in Ghana. The study will review the literature on the poverty and environmental profile of Ghana. It will then explore the impact that policy reforms that have been designed to alleviate poverty have had on the environment.

Objectives of the study

The main objective of the study will be to:

  1. explore the poverty-environmental degradation linkage in Ghana.
  2. Explore the determinants of environmental degradation im Ghana.
  3. Elaborate on steps taken to reduce environmental degradation in Ghana
  4. Evaluate the existing economic policies designed to reduce poverty

Data and Methodology

The study will use macro data on poverty levels and measures on environmental degradation. To achieve the above objectives the study will adopt and modify the model used by Shaista Alam in the study “Globalization, Poverty and Environmental Degradation: Sustainable

Development in Pakistan” .

The model is given as:

lnEGt= β0+β1lnPVRTt+β2lnFRTt+β3lnURBNt+β4lnPOPt+β5lnEDUt+ε

where the variables are defined as follows:

EGis environmental degradation,FRTis fertilizer consumption (in metric tons), URBN is the rate of urbanization, POP is the population growth, PVRT represents poverty, EDU is the education.


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