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Poverty and Reefs

5.3 Policy considerations

The policy formulation and implementation environment surrounding reef-dependent people is only partially focused on those people, the main emphasis is on reef conservation. Many of the key international institutions and initiatives concerned with coral reefs are those whose primary objective is nature conservation. There is a considerable short-fall in the required skills, awareness, attitudes and institutional orientation required to respond effectively to reef-related poverty. However, there is a growing awareness of this deficiency and recognition that coral reef conservation cannot meet its desired objectives without better consideration of poverty issues and the sustainable livelihoods of reef-dependent poor people. This change in thinking has also been encouraged by the shifting priorities of international donor agencies and governments towards poverty alleviation. However, in many circles the awareness of povertyrelated reef issues is still in its infancy. For many others, despite growing realisation of past and current deficiencies in dealing with poverty and reefs, there remains insufficient capacity to understand and respond more effectively.

There is an urgent need for guidance and support amongst coral reef practitioners, agencies and initiatives to assist the changes needed to address poverty-related reef issues more effectively. Unless this is achieved in the near future many poor people will confront greater levels of hardship than they have faced before and many coastal communities above the poverty line will start to fall into poverty. The implications for international development targets are serious in terms of both people moving back into poverty, and an increasing trend in the loss of reef-based environmental resources. There is a need for a major drive to re-orient the current approaches to reefs and reef-dependent people. To bring about this level of change requires a series of initiatives at the macro, meso and micro levels.

At the macro-level there is a need for a change in the global policy framework that shifts the focus from reef conservation to the sustainable and equitable use of reef ecosystems where poverty reduction is a central theme rather than a means towards an end. This requires a large degree of awareness raising, consensus building, policy reform and the uptake of a new array of policy instruments. These need to be based on a much better understanding of the issues facing the reef-dependent poor. There is a growing willingness to accept this kind of reform, but a lack of coordinated understanding about how to achieve it. Support at the macro-level is also required to reflect the interconnected nature of reef problems and to deal with the interstitial and dispersed nature of reef-dependent poverty.

At the meso-level there is a need for substantial capacity building in coastal community development and poverty reduction approaches. This applies not only to governments in countries where reef dependence is an issue, but also to regional intergovernmental and NGO agencies concerned with these issues. Many of the approaches that need to be applied have still to be developed, some are currently being developed and others exist, but need to be brought together and applied to reef issues.

At the micro-level there is much to be done in understanding the nature of reef-dependent poverty. This study has shown that there is already a large amount of information out there, but this has rarely been brought together to provide a cohesive body of knowledge that can inform policy. The poor have even more to teach us about the way they live with, use and manage their reefs. From this, new approaches to sustainable livelihoods, livelihood enhancement, poverty reduction and reef management can begin to be developed.
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