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Environment and Poverty in Southern Africa – regional linkages

Background Paper prepared for DFID SA and CA

November 2000

Susan Parnell
- Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, University of Cape Town, Private Bag Rondebosch, 7700.
Thanks are extended to Saskia Kuiper for research and assistance on this paper.

[Download complete document - 104Kb ~ 1 min (29 pages)]

Executive Summary

1. Objectives

The objective of this report is to provide an overview of the linkages between poverty and environment in Southern Africa. It is neither a synopsis of environment, nor of poverty, but rather focuses on the interface and inter-relationship of these issues in the region.

2. The poverty/environment matrix

On the basis of the international literature dealing with the relationship between poverty and environment a framework of analysis is proposed. Application of the matrix highlights the differential impacts associated with a focus on either governance issues, disaster mitigation, strengthening livelihood strategies, the health and other costs of degradation or opportunities for mobilising around environmental issues.

The poverty/environment matrix in Southern Africa

  Poverty and Environmental governance Poverty, disasters and risk mitigation Poverty, the environment and livelihoods Poverty and environmental degradation Poverty and environmental justice and entitlement
Coastal zone          

3. Regional variation in poverty and environment

The application of the matrix to the regional scale masks the very significant variation between and within nations of Southern Africa. A portrait of some of the differences in environmental and poverty profiles is presented in the Appendices. The Bibliography gives details of the extensive empirical material available on these issues in the region.

4. Key findings

The three major points to come out of this report:
  1. Poverty and environment are inextricably connected in Southern Africa.
  2. The relationship between poverty and environment is complex, varying geographically and sectoraly.
  3. Different conceptual understandings of the causes and dynamics of poverty influence the evaluation of how environment and poverty are connected. Five related but distinct perspectives are identified in the report. It is argued that they need to be simultaneously accounted for in policy and practice that aims to mainstream poverty and environment into development practice.
Other general points to emerge are:
  • The most pressing issues in the poverty/environment nexus in Southern Africa are urbanisation and land tenure reform.
  • Key issues at the environment/poverty interface that can only be addressed only at the regional scale are migration (and the associated issues of urbanisation and HIV/aids), water scarcity, trade agreements and debt.
  • There is some national specificity of issue. The political tensions in Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho and Mozambique all directly undermine efforts to achieve sustainable development. The uniqueness of the South African reconstruction programme and the scale and diversity of its economy pose particular challenges for sustainable development. The most pressing country specific challenge is to end the thirty year long war in Angola.
  • Some issues are reflected within countries across the region. The overview of issues from the poverty/environment matrix highlights the importance of each Southern African country addressing, among other issues – the following key areas:
    • land redistribution
    • devolution to local government
    • disaster mitigation
    • environmental health
    • urban environmental problems
    • land tenure reform
  • The regional scale of analysis is too broad and does not allow sufficiently detailed evaluation to inform local project support.