International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

Root causes

Root causes are linked to the underlying social and economic causes and sectoral pressures but they are often related to fundamental aspects of macro-economy, demography, consumption patterns, environmental values, and access to information and democratic processes. Many of these may be beyond the scope of GEF intervention, but it is important to document them for two reasons:

  1. Some proposed solutions might be unworkable if the root causes of the problem are overwhelming.
  2. Actions taken nearer to the root causes are more likely to have a lasting impact on the problem.

Root causes can be divided into the following categories:

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Root causes are often the most difficult to assess. Within each of the above categories, the underlying causes or pressures will link to numerous social/economic/governmental causes, at scales and levels that may vary significantly from region to region.

For example, in the case of eutrophication, a root cause might be a cultural change in diet – such as an increase in meat consumption – that leads to a market demand for cheap meat, and the intensification of animal farming resulting in higher nitrogen and phosphorus emissions. It is unlikely the GEF would be able to intervene here, but it is important to understand the driving force for this causal chain when deciding whether or not to intervene at all.