12 September 2003
As the World Parks Congress theme “Benefits beyond Boundaries” began to unfold at the International Convention Centre in Durban this week, it became clear that spin-offs from protected areas are difficult to measure in monetary terms.
It is thus difficult to convince governments and communities that protected areas are as viable and profitable as mining and other economic development.
Ian Johnson of the World Bank pointed out that a great deal of biodiversity protection throughout the world occurred in poverty-stricken areas, and that while this created problems, it also created a number of opportunities for people – including turning poachers into protectors and providing employment through tourism concessions in poor communities.
Other opportunities, Johnson said, lay in cutting down corruption by forming public-private partnerships and involving political rulers in project planning.
Chief Emeka Anyaoku of Nigeria, chairperson of the World Wildlife Federation, pointed out that protected areas guard natural resources, which in turn can provide sustainable benefits.
“Protected areas are crucial to the future of Africa, and the continent’s natural resources are shrinking fast, but there is still time to turn this situation around”, Anyaoku said.
Enyaoku said that due to mounting debts, many African countries could not meet the needs of their people, let alone put money into environmental conservation. “So it is important to take advantage of the fact that so-called sacred forests, lakes and mountains are often protected for cultural reasons”, he said.
Conservationists from several countries also made presentations suggesting models based on their own experience. Carlos Manuel Roderiguez, of the ministry of environmental and energy affairs in Costa Rica, outlined his country’s programme for adding value to protected areas.
He said that part of the programme had been achieved through reducing gas emissions by law enforcement and regulation, aggressively protecting water resources and biodiversity, and preserving the country’s scenic beauty in order to attract tourists.
Brazil reported on drastic action taken to reduce deforestation in the Amazon Region and to encourage investments in conservation projects.
Eulalie Bashige of the Democratic Republic of Congo pointed out that her country had successfully weathered threats to its biodiversity, and was host to 409 mammal species, including chimpanzee, gorilla, okapi, 152 snake species and 11 000 plant species.
All parties at the conference agreed that benefits for people would come not only through conservation but also through the sustainable utilisation of natural resources.