Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs


Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Jun 10 2005 (IPS) - The formulas followed in Latin America and the Caribbean to fight environmental damages are not bringing the hoped-for results, and the region is unlikely to meet the commitment of guaranteeing environmental sustainability by 2015 or 2020, one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The situation is alarming in this region that accounts for nearly half of the world’s tropical jungles and seven of the 25 ecosystems richest in biodiversity, according to a new report, “Millennium Development Goals: A Latin American and Caribbean Perspective” presented in Chile Friday by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

There have been setbacks in most of the indicators related to the environmental sustainability MDG, which makes compliance with the goal highly unlikely, says the report.

The eight MDGs were adopted by the international community in 2000 with the aim of boosting development by drastically reducing poverty and inequality in the world by 2015, taking 1990 levels as the baseline.

The first MDG is to halve the proportion of people living in poverty and suffering from hunger, and the seventh is “ensuring environmental sustainability” by meeting three specific goals.

The first of these is to “integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources,” the second to “reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water,” and the third to “achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020.”

But Latin America is not making fast enough progress towards fulfilling the seventh MDG because “economic growth and environmental deterioration are still linked in this region,” Ricardo Sánchez, the director of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) regional office for Latin America, told IPS in Mexico.

“Our economies are still based on the intensive use of natural resources, and that must clearly change in order to grow without continuing to damage the environment,” said Sánchez.

The ECLAC report, which was co-authored by UNEP, reveals the huge gap between reality and the commitments adopted by governments in the region.

The forest surface, for instance, is shrinking fast. Deforestation, which destroyed 46.7 million hectares of forest between 1990 and 2000, is advancing at an annual rate of 0.5 percent in the region, double the global rate, says the ECLAC study.

Just two of the 33 countries studied have made progress in terms of forest cover, while in seven there has been no change, and 24 suffered setbacks.

Forty percent of the planet’s plant and animal species are found in Latin America and the Caribbean.

But of the 178 “ecoregions” identified in Latin America and the Caribbean, 77 percent are endangered, while South America alone accounts for 47 percent of the world’s illegally captured animals.

“A major effort is still needed to revert phenomena like deforestation and the degradation of soil and water,” but above all the region’s development model must be revised, “because there are things that have proven to be ineffective,” said the regional director of UNEP, whose Latin America and Caribbean bureau is in Mexico.

“The model of greater trade and a smaller state does not work,” said Sánchez. “Although more trade is needed, it must take into account the characteristics of developing countries. A strong state is also necessary, to oversee and guarantee sustainability.”

The environmental panorama outlined by the report depicts a region that is destroying its natural environment.

For example, only eight out of 20 countries studied have made any progress towards the efficient use of energy. And in terms of per capita emissions of carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas – only four of the 33 countries in the region have made advances.

With respect to the oceans and seas, the outlook is no different, with overfishing and degradation of ecosystems the norm. And in agriculture, three-quarters of crop diversity has been lost.

Meanwhile, the report painted a more uneven panorama with respect to the goal of making clean water and sanitation available to half of the population lacking access to these services.

Although it is possible to meet the access to safe water goal, that is not the case for sanitation, a service that should reach 150 million people (121 million in urban areas and 29 million in rural areas) by 2015.

In 2002, 84 percent of the region’s urban population had sewage services, compared to 44 percent of people in rural areas. That reflected a mere 27 percent advance in rural areas and 35 percent in urban areas since 1990, noted ECLAC.

Although the urban sanitation target has been met by the countries of the Caribbean, the situation in Bolivia, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Peru and the Dominican Republic remains worrisome, the report points out.

The assessment of the progress made towards the last sustainability goal, “significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers,” shows that eight out of 16 countries studied have progressed, while eight have made no progress or have slid backwards.

In 1990, 35.4 percent of the urban population of Latin America was living in substandard housing, a proportion that had dropped to 31.9 percent by 2001. But in the same period the urban population increased by 79 million, while the number of people living in slums rose from 111 to 127 million.

The proportion of slum housing is especially alarming in Belize, Bolivia, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua and Peru, observes ECLAC, and to a lesser extent in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela, a highly urbanised country where more than 25 percent of the urban population lives in shantytowns.

ECLAC expresses particular concern over the loss of forest cover and biodiversity, air pollution, and the growth of urban slums. It points, on the other hand, to expanded access to safe water, although access to sanitation has not accompanied that progress.

But the lack of headway in preserving the environment is not surprising in a region where only Chile and Mexico earmark more than one percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to spending on the environment.

Republish | | Print |