Security Dimension of Degradation on Indigenous Communities

Dr. Sophia Johnson

Environmental Security Reorienting Impact on Sustainable Communities


    Among the many controversies surrounding the paradigm of environmental security, two are central. First, is there enough evidence to support the claim that ecological change is, or will be, a major new source of conflict? Although a growing body of research points to specific cases in which environmental change seems to have played a role in promoting violent outbreaks or exacerbating wider social conflict, many questions remain.1 A second set of questions involve the more nebulous concept of "security." Are the advantages of linking economic globalization to environmental problems worth the risk of creating global insecurities over production and access to good and services for consumption? The arguments for redefining security and reconsidering the ramifications of globalization make clear that environmental protection is more than an effort to reconceptualize the nature of the present and future threats that societies face. It is also a political agenda aimed at mobilizing the state and society toward a new set of goals and at redirecting resources and energies away from the exclusively macroeconomic concerns. Both the nature of the security-ecology problem and economic methods and social tactics most likely to bring about effective environmental protection in tribal communities of southern Odisha are examined in this short paper.

Environmental Security

   Environmental security offers a potentially powerful but also controversial way to think about the social dimensions of environmental problems. The term denotes a concept which recognizes that security and stability have political, economic, social and environmental elements.2 The discourse broadly captures three claims: (a) environmental change is an important source of social conflict; (b) many societies face graver dangers from environmental change than from traditional military threats; and, (c) security policies must be redefined to take account of these new realities.

    The precise relationship between environmental scarcity and insecurity depends on context. In indigenous environments - the quantity and vulnerability of environmental resources, the balance of political power, the nature of the state, patterns of social interaction, and the structure of economic relations among social groups - affect how resources will be used, the social impact of environmental scarcities, and whether grievances will contribute to violence. The elements of this causal chain are: supply-induced (corresponding to environmental deterioration), demand-induced (resulting from population growth), and structural scarcity (due to inequality).3

    Among the scarcities created in indigenous environments, two are central: resource capture and ecological marginalization. Resource capture occurs when increased consumption of a resource combines with its degradation. For example, powerful groups within the region,1 anticipating future shortages, shift resource distribution in their favor, subjecting the remaining population to scarcity. Ecological marginalization occurs when increased consumption of a resource combines with structural inequalities in distribution. For example, if denied access to resource, weaker groups migrate to ecologically fragile regions that subsequently become degraded.4

Reorienting Impact on Sustainable Communities

    Despite the popularity of dualistic representation in the era of economic reforms, such as North/South and rich/poor strategic partnerships - most of the world’s inhabitants consume in ways that fall somewhere between excesses of a billion over-consumers and the desperation of a billion marginalized.5 Alan Durning, the author of How Much is Enough? suggests that we think not of two global consuming strata, but rather of three, which he labels consumers, middle income, and poor. Much of the world’s ecological peril, he argued, derives from over consumption by the upper-income stratum and – to a lesser but still troubling extent – from the economic and ecological marginalization of the world’s poor.6

    The indigenous communities of Koraput form at present non dominant sector of Odishan society, and are among India’s poor. The economy of this region is conditioned mainly by three ecological settings: (1) Tribals depend on the districts limited forest collection for livelihood, often shifting cultivation or the slash and burn type (Podu) and adopt terraced cultivation in arable places; (2) Tribals cultivate on bare hills and foothill lands with whatever soil cover is left; and, (3) The plateau and wider plains are where settled agriculture is permanently practiced. In addition to agriculture and collection of forest produce, the tribals depend upon agricultural and non-agricultural wage labor where opportunities are available.7

    To mitigate the continued impact of upper-income consumption on the sustainability of indigenous communities, security institutions could contribute directly to environmental protection, given their financial resources, monitoring and intelligence gathering capabilities, and scientific and technological expertise. Some proponents argue that only by framing the consumption problem in security terms can the necessary level of governmental attention and social mobilization be ensured. All this of course is grounded in the fact that there is wide agreement for change - a desperate need to reorder social priorities.


    The goal to increase the resilience of communities, natural systems, and infrastructure to climate risks 8 can only be achieved by reorienting social priorities to contextualize the security dimensions of degradation. A growing population, concentrated in a limited area, coupled with the structural inequalities that deny them access to basic services, such as energy, food, housing, employment, education, health, adequate sewage disposal facilities results in degradation. Severe environmental scarcity forces groups to focus on narrow survival strategies. This segmentation reduces the density of ‘social capital’ – the trust, norms, and networks generated by vigorous, crosscutting exchange among groups.9 It also reduces the economic legitimacy of the state and nurtures opportunities for violent collective action and other uncertainties.

  1. Using statistics, this study raises potent questions, as many scientists think natural weather cycles will become more extreme with warming climate, and some suggest ongoing chaos in places like Somalia are already being stoked by warming climate. See Solomon M. Hsiang et, al. Civil Conflicts are Associated with Climate Change, Annals of Nature 476, pp. 438-441, 25 August 2011.
  2. Nils Petter Gleditsch, “Armed Conflict and the Environment” in Environmental Conflict (Edited by Paul Diehl and Nils Petter Gleditsch). Colorado: Westview Press, 2000.
  3. See Val Percival and Thomas Homer-Dixon, “The Case of South Africa” in Environmental Conflict (Edited by Paul Diehl and Nils Petter Gleditsch). Colorado: Westview Press, 2000.
  4. See Val Percival and Thomas Homer-Dixon, “The Case of South Africa” in Environmental Conflict (Edited by Paul Diehl and Nils Petter Gleditsch). Colorado: Westview Press, 2000.
  5. Ken Conca, Consumption and Environment in a Global Economy. Global Environmental Politics, 1:3, August 2001. p.68.
  6. Quoted in Ken Conca, Consumption and Environment in a Global Economy. Global Environmental Politics, 1:3, August 2001. p.68
  7. K.K. Mohanti, et. al. Tribes of Koraput. Koraput: Council of Analytical Tribal Studies (COATS), 2006.
  8. See PLAN NYC, Section on ‘Climate Change’ ( )
  9. Robert D. Putnam, Making Democracy Work. New Jersey: Princeton, 1993. p.167.