A Seat at the Table: Including the Poor in Decisions for Development and Environment

This just issued 42 page report by the World Resources Institute closely examines access rights to environmental decision making in four countries: Cameroon, Paraguay, Philippines, and Sri Lanka. The World Resources Institute’s executive summary states:

Decisions that have significant environmental and social consequences are often made without the involvement of those whose interests are directly at stake. For poor people whose lives and livelihoods often depend on natural resources, and who are therefore most vulnerable to environmental risks, the consequences of exclusion can be especially severe. Weak access to decision-making may expose poor communities to high levels of pollution, remove them from productive land, and deprive them of the everyday benefits provided by natural resources.

The three pillars of sound decision-making for the environment that are key to responding to the challenge of providing “access” are: access to information, public participation, and access to justice. Many countries, regardless of their level of economic development, have promoted these pillars as policy aspirations or as enforceable legal rights. Yet even where progress has been significant, more work remains if such laws are to be implemented in a way that is meaningful to all citizens, especially the poor.

To better understand the obstacles to access facing the poor, and the efforts by governments to reach this population, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and its civil society organization (CSO) partners in The Access Initiative (TAI) closely examined access rights and practices in four countries—Cameroon, Paraguay, Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

The case studies highlighted in this report cover a range of environmental concerns including water quality, land use, data availability, and the use or absence of environmental impact assessments (EIAs). The findings and literature review show that the poor in these countries face a daunting array of barriers to access, including low literacy, high costs (including the costs of corruption), exposure to risk from participation, and lack of documentation of legal identity or rights to a resource that is necessary to influence decisions. Additionally, cultural norms that limit who may speak in public disproportionately exclude the poor.

The case studies also provide examples where civil society organizations, community groups, and – most importantly – governments have taken steps to overcome these barriers. Based on the findings and literature review, we have identified six poverty-related barriers to access to decision-making and proposed eight categories of policy responses to overcome these barriers. Importantly, a general lack of access to information for all citizens had a commensurately larger impact on access to information for the poor.

Read the entire report in PDF, 2.7 MB


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