Saving the Earth’s Environment: ‘Planet in Trouble’ and U.S. Aid

Worldwatch Institute’s 1989 State of the World report recites the latest in the by now familiar saga of disappearing forests and spreading deserts (“Planet in Trouble,” editorial, Feb. 21). Regrettably, projects which the United States funded in the name of development have often made things worse. We should insist that our aid contributes to environmental preservation, not destruction.

It would be easy, and wrong, to blame Third-World poor people for increased desertification. In poor regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America people desperate to feed themselves and their children have cleared forests, overgrazed pastures and depleted topsoils. They do not see that they have any choice but to exploit these resources to the fullest in order to survive. We in the developed world do have a choice. As pointed out last year in Food Monitor, poor agricultural practices are often instigated by development institutions (supported by our tax dollars).

To end this misuse of our aid money, Congress should adopt the Global Poverty Reduction Act, which states that all development activities included in a global plan for poverty reduction be “consistent with maintaining and restoring the renewable natural resource base. Primary emphasis should be on small-scale affordable, resource conserving, low-risk local projects using appropriate technologies (including traditional agricultural methods) suited to local environmental, resource and climactic conditions and featuring close consultation with local people at all stages of project design and implementation.”

Environmental protection should be written into our foreign aid law, and our aid agency should be held to account for carrying it out.