Locals learn the benefits of environmental protection through Poverty-Environment Initiative
People who make their living from Thailand’s natural resources are seeing the benefits of environmental protection and pro-poor development planning thanks to the work of UNDP’s Poverty-Environment Initiative.
“It’s clear that people understand much more about how well-being is linked directly to ecosystems and the surrounding environment,” said Pawin Talerngsri, PEI Project Coordinator in Thailand.
The Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) is a joint global programme of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). PEI stresses that poverty reduction and environmental conservation need to be tackled together in order to bring about sustainable economic growth and human well-being.
Poverty remains high among rural populations. Agriculture is the backbone of Thailand’s rural economy. Around 87% of the poor are farmers in rural areas and farming, forestry and fishing still provide over half of all jobs and livelihoods for those living under the poverty line.
Samut Songkram, a province close to Bangkok, has managed to hold its tradition of agriculture-based livelihoods supported by its distinct ecosystem. Despite being the country’s smallest province, Samut Songkram is performing well. Before PEI, the province was under constant pressure from planners to conform to the mainstream development path of industrialization as a means to economic prosperity.
But PEI challenged the planning process in order to address two major development challenges: coastal development and sustainable tourism management. PEI in Samut Songkram supported capacity building for provincial and local government planners and strengthened community scientific knowledge to support the sustainable use of natural resources in their own locality.
“PEI made us see the relationship between the natural resources and the ecosystem and the well-being of the people. It allowed us to participate more effectively in the planning of the local community,” said Chitchanuwat Maneesrikum, the coordinator of a local Samut Songkram NGO.
“We can now analyze the economic, environmental and social problems and use the information to make better planning decisions.”
Local residents can also look to other Thai provinces as development models. And Samut Songkhram has a lot to be proud of. According to the 2009 Thailand National Human Development Report, the province ranks fifth among Thailand’s 76 provinces.
Other provinces, like its neighbor Samut Sakorn boast higher income and employment, but perform lower in terms of housing, education, and living environments. Pollution and health are also concerns, as the province is much more industrialized.
The Poverty Environment Initiative (PEI) in Thailand focuses on how to change public and private investment to reduce negative social and environmental impacts. Two other pilot provinces, Nan and Khon Kaen were identified to help make an evidence-based case for development decision-making at the provincial and local levels.
PEI engaged the public and increased local understanding of the connection between poverty and the environment through workshops and seminars. PEI coordinators worked with national partners to implement Sub Global Assessments (SGA) to evaluate changes in the environment and the impact on the well-being of local residents.
“PEI allowed us to learn from other communities so that we can adopt good practices for our own use,” said Tongkam Juathai, a local villager.