Balancing Environmental Protection and the Community’s Socio-Economic Needs
During a discussion with environmental law enforcement agency officials in Khartoum and Juba, Sudan, recently, the head of the department dealing with national cooperation on forestry raised an important question about balancing environmental protective objectives and human needs. The official pointed out that in Sudan about 70 percent of the country’s energy requirements comes from the wood biomass. Thus, any protective measures imposed on the forests of the country need to take into consideration the livelihoods of the local population who depend on them.
This brings us to a very important aspect regarding the process of formulating and implementing environmental policies and regulations. Traditionally, policy and legislation formulation have been carried out at the national level without necessarily involving or holding consultations with key stakeholders including the local communities. Policy makers perceive local communities as lacking expertise to make informed decisions. This top-down approach leaves some key stakeholders unrepresented in the development agendas.
Local populations depend on the environment for their livelihoods. This includes provision of food, fuel-wood, pasture, building material, medicines etc. Thus, local communities’ perceptions and socio-economic needs require special consideration when formulating national environmental policies and legislation without which implementation will be difficult. Even where local people are not directly involved in policy formulation, they need to be adequately informed about government development policies and goals and their role in implementing them. Having in place clear systems of disseminating environmental policies and legislation to local communities would promote national cohesion and integration which is vital for fostering political stability. This in turn makes local communities feel that they own the policies their governments formulate.
Institutions and agencies entrusted with enforcement of environmental laws work with local communities and hence support from local people is of paramount importance if success is to be realised. It follows from this, therefore, that when environmental protective measures do not take into account the socio-economic development of the local people, then they are rarely adequately enforced because of lack of support from the local community. This creates conflicts between conservation objectives and socio-economic needs of the local communities. More resources and time have to be spent either to enforce the laws or negotiate with the local population to secure their support. The forceful eviction of livestock keepers and crop cultivators from Ihefu wetlands in Usangu basin in Southern Tanzania and the socio-economic and political struggles in and around Mau Forest Reserve in Kenya are examples of inadequate involvement of local people in policy formulation and implementation.
Caution however is required in trying to secure the support of local people to achieve conservation goals through taking into consideration their socio-economic activities. In some circumstances, the needs and wills of local people are not necessarily environmentally friendly, as local people may wish to achieve their socio-economic goals at the expense of the environment. There is, therefore, a need to strike a balance between the socio-economic needs of the local people and environmental protective objectives. To achieve this, full and active participation of key environmental related stakeholders, including local people at different levels of decision-making is one of the essential steps. This could be achieved through community awareness and outreach programmes in relation to environmental policies, laws and environmental protection and management in general. Thus, environmental protection and management issues need to be translated into understandable concepts for an ordinary person who often views environmental resources as gifts from God and hence her or she has the “birthright” to use them. Some crimes the local people commit against the environment may be due to lack of awareness.
It is important to note however that the kind of environmental crimes referred to in this article are those that involve individuals and groups of people whose livelihoods depend on environmental resources. Organised criminal gangs that exploit environmental resources for commercial purposes are to be controlled through breaking their networks because they work in a chain from the source where a crime is committed such as illegal logging in the forests through transit routes such as transportation to the destination of the goods/products such as cities or industrial centres. The facilitators of the process are sometimes influential people in the society such as politicians, businessmen and even environmental law enforcement officials, hence the difficulty to control and apprehend. They share information at every step of the process making it difficult to apprehend and take them to a court or any other institution entrusted with powers to enforce the rule of law. For these environmental criminal gangs to be apprehended and punished there is a need to strengthen environmental law enforcement agencies and officials through improving governance in the protection and management of the environment and the resources therein. This in turn requires a thorough training and capacity needs assessment of the environmental law enforcement institutions and agencies in the regions concerned.
Donald Anthony Mwiturubani, Senior Researcher, Environmental Security Programme, ISS Nairobi Office