Speaker raises issues on poverty

By Meghan Hurley
September 22, 2006

Water and the degradation of natural resources are directly linked to poverty, making the environment a central focus of many humanitarian aid organizations. Dr. Gaye Burpee spoke on these issues on Sept. 7 to a variety of audiences.

“The people that I am going to be talking about in this talk are people that are so poor and struggling to survive.that when a crisis comes, that’s it for them.they die, they split up their family or sell themselves into prostitution,” Burpee said.

Burpee, who works for Catholic Relief Services, is the Deputy Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean and will be moving to Guatemala at the end of this month. She gave presentations to classes as well as the campus community on ecology, poverty and water in global perspective.

Burpee’s talk focused on the importance of maintaining watersheds in poverty-stricken communities because the poor depend the most on water and other natural resources for survival. When natural disasters hit, they are the most affected.

“The poorest people are on the worst part of the watershed and they don’t have very many options to use and they often use land in ways that are inappropriate and in way that will degrade it,” She said.

Burpee has been studying the environment all her life. She has degrees in sociology, Latin American studies and a PhD in soil physics and sustainable agriculture. She has worked on environmental issues in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic and served as a PeaceCorps volunteer in Grenada and St. Vincent.

“Twenty percent of the increase in water scarcity is due to global warming,” She said. Water is fundamental to the poor because it nurtures the natural resources that they are so dependent on. According to Burpee, without a watershed to maintain a healthy water supply, plants die, topsoil erodes and food supplies diminish.

George Post, a junior English and communication major, went to Burpee’s speech as a part of his social problems class.

“I thought her talk was fascinating. I found it really interesting when she told us about how just by planting trees, you can save hundreds of lives,” Post said.

Burpee’s presence at Cabrini started off as a simple request from Dr. Anne Coleman, assistant professor of life and physical sciences, for a speaker for her ecology class. This idea grew and Burpee ended up being the kick-off speaker for this year’s theme of environment.

Every year, the faculty selects a theme revolving around a social justice issue. Dr. Mary Harris, assistant professor of business administration, is one of the people who helped decide on that theme.

Harris said, “For this year, the faculty chose to look at the environment. The idea is that we will look at the social justice issues that are related to the environment – especially because many times it goes hand in hand with poverty and discrimination.”

Burpee’s speech is just one of many activities that are planned to educate the campus on the social justice issues involving the environment.

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Meghan Hurley

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