Poverty and prosperity are the two greatest polluters, says Indian NGO

By Tierney Smith

If environmental and biodiversity conservation methods do not boost the livelihoods of the very poorest, a sustainable future will not be possible, according to Indian development charity the Naandi Foundation.

“Poverty and prosperity are the greatest polluters,” Manoj Kumar, CEO of the Naandi Foundation told RTCC. “We are talking about an average American citizen living today thinking there are four planets for him, and the average European citizen thinking there are two planets for him,” said Kumar referring to the number of Earth’s required to provide sufficient natural resources to sustain their way of life.

“Then there is someone in poverty who thinks there is only a quarter of a planet left and that too is owned by someone else and he can barely move around.”

He said the challenge of conservation, for countries such as India, was not a fight with those who realise that they are over using the planets resources but trying to negotiate this with the poor farmer who is using resources and degrading the environment in order to earn a living.

Kumar warned if you can not convince the poor farmer that conservation will help boost his livelihood then a sustainable solution would not be possible.

“The issue is not about luxury, it is not about the relative quality of life that the West can claim is important,” he said. “Here it is an issue of survival.

“We need to tell them, your livelihoods can be taken care of by being connected to the biodiversity and agroforestry needs of the larger Earth, and then we might have a win-win solution.”

But for Kumar, the biggest problem in India comes from the growing middle classes. He said few in this bracket really understand the importance of biodiversity.

By 2030, around 50% of the Indian population is expected to live in cities. As the urban areas of the country expand, the biodiversity is under increasing threat.

Kumar warned that little is being done to protect this threatened biodiversity in India. For example, he said while there is legislation in many cities for new apartment blocks to include rainwater harvesting, very few follow through with this requirement.

“I would say that the growing middle class to me is a larger concern than the poor,” he said. “The poor are very conscious, very strongly worried about conservation, and they are trying their best, but there is a need for more than awareness.

“I think there is a need for stronger enforcement when you violate the needs of conservation as you try and expand inner cities and try to go through a different sort of consumerist expansion. That is the missing point if you ask me.”

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