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Poverty and Reefs

1.5 Characteristics of reef-dependent poverty

Among those people dependent on coral reefs the numbers living in poverty is significant. Two-thirds of all countries with reef areas are developing countries, one quarter of which are least developed countries (UNDP, 2002). According to the UNDP Human Development Index ranking (2002), one third of all countries ranked as Low Development have coral reefs, while nearly a half of the Medium Development countries have reefs. In 1999, the largest proportion of people living on less than 1US$ a day was found in Sub-Saharan Africa, followed by South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and East Asia and the Pacific (UNDP, 2002). This picture is largely unchanged since 1990 as illustrated in Figure 6, which indicates high levels of poverty in Eastern Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Western Caribbean, regions which are also associated with large areas of coral reef, as described in the following section (1.6).

Beneath the global and regional pictures and aggregate figures, the reality of poverty in coastal areas is far more complex. As recent DFID-funded research has indicated (Box 3) the coastal ecosystem, on the interface between land and sea, is one of the most dynamic environments in which poor people live. This dynamism provides opportunities for the poor, but it also creates threats. Coasts are associated with high levels of development, particularly around ports and urban centres and associated with tourism developments. At the same time the coast is vulnerable to frequent storms, cyclones, floods and coastal erosion, which make it a dangerous place to live. This physical hostility often discourages those with a choice from settling, and so provides space for the poor to live in otherwise marginalized coastal areas. The dynamic nature of the coast combined with the fragmented development and often hostile conditions, can also result in poor infrastructure and weak support services. Such conditions are likely to particularly affect the poor, who typically have poor access to support systems and are ‘hidden’ or excluded from development.

At the same time, near-shore coastal resources can provide a rich and accessible resource for the poor. Shallow coral reef resources represent an accessible open access resource, which is highly diverse and productive, and provides an important resource for poor people living on the coast or migrating there to escape hardships and access new opportunities. Given the number and diversity of reef stakeholders, coral reef resources clearly provide a considerable range of benefits. Those benefits on which the livelihoods of poor stakeholders depend are discussed in detail in the following chapter.
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