Parks congress comes to Durban

8 September 2003

The World Parks Congress, convened every 10 years by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and a definitive event for the world’s protected areas, is being held in Durban, South Africa from 8-17 September – the first time the Congress will be held on African soil.

The 5th IUCN World Parks Congress, being organised by IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas in collaboration with the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and South African National Parks (SANParks), will evaluate the past and look to the future as it charts new directions for the world’s protected areas.

Over 2 000 leading members of the global conservation fraternity are expected to converge in the country for the event, which brings together governments, major international conservation organisations, non-governmental organisations and park authorities.

Main issues to be discussed include: reviewing and learning from protected area gains and setbacks of the past 10 years; building a more diverse and effective constituency for protected areas; and redefining and enforcing their relevance in the 21st century.

Integrating protected areas into the broader economic, social and environmental agenda will also be widely discussed at the Congress.

The director-general in the department of environmental affairs and tourism, Crispian Olver, told journalists recently that the Congress is the most significant event in conservation circles, and that because the world’s elite in the field would be attending, the decisions taken at the Congress were almost sure to be implemented.

Benefits Beyond Boundaries
The theme for this year’s congress is “Benefits Beyond Boundaries”, reflecting the meeting’s focus on addressing people’s needs and providing a stream of economic, political, and environmental benefits to societies worldwide. Without an effective network of protected areas, all these benefits – clean air and water, fertile soils, inspiring landscapes and unique wildlife – will be lost.

“It reflects our growing understanding of the many values that protected areas provide and the shifting approaches to their establishment and managemen”, Olver said. “We’ve been working since 1994 to restructure the face of conservation in this country, and with this conference we want to intensify our efforts to making conservation accessible to people from all walks of life.”

Olver said the department would use the opportunity to showcase to Congress delegates what the country had to offer, and to brand it as a frontrunner in the field of conservation and protected areas.

Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Mohammed Valli Moosa, updating journalists on the Congress last week, said the meeting would seek to take conservation went beyond nature reserves and parks to ensure that communities living in and around protected areas enjoyed economic benefits from their land.

Moosa said that conservation and social development ought not to be placed in opposition to one another, and that a number of South African initiatives demonstrated the social and economic benefits of conservation, citing the Makuleke region north of the Kruger National Park.

The Makuleke people were forcefully removed from their land in 1969 by the apartheid government. However, through the country’s land restitution programme, the Makuleke community has been acknowledged as the true owners, and have since enjoyed the economic benefits of land rich with bio-diversity and conservation value.

He said this was an example that nature conservationists around the world would be studying closely, as it showed that conservation created jobs, contributed to economic activity, provided opportunities for SMMEs, and promoted tourism.

Partnerships with the private sector in managing protected areas, and eco-tourism initiatives, were efficient methods of ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources, Moosa added.

Mavuso Msimang, chief executive of South African National Parks, said it was essential to create boundaries to protect conservation areas, but that this “should not mean that these areas become inaccessible to society”.

World Parks Congress scoresheet
The previous IUCN World Parks Congress was held in Caracas, Venezuela in 1992. Since then, a great deal of progress has been achieved:

  • The number and proportion of the Earth’s surface with protected area status more than doubled in the last 10 years.
  • The overall target of 10% of land and sea covered by protected areas has been surpassed.
  • Protected areas are recognised as a key element in the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by 187 nations.
  • Protected areas have been successfully linked across international boundaries and in some cases made a significant contribution to peace.
  • The value of traditional and other non-scientific knowledge has been recognised, and local communities are becoming increasingly engaged in protected area management.

However, protected areas have failed to:

  • Become a truly representative system that covers terrestrial, freshwater and marine biomes. For example, only 1.5% of all lake systems in the world enjoy protection. 
  • Halt species loss that continues at an intolerable rate. 11 167 species are known to be globally threatened with extinction, according to the 2002 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 
  • Achieve unconditional public and political support. Too many stakeholders see protected areas as a barrier to their activities; and too many protected areas only exist on paper and not in reality. 
  • Secure sufficient skills base and the financial and other resources. The amount of investment needed to operate an effective, representative global protected areas system needs to be increased sevenfold. 
  • Defend themselves in times of trouble. The past decade has been a time of increasing conflict and violence. Countries such as Colombia, Sierra Leone, New Caledonia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Burma/Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which are custodians for vital elements of the world’s biodiversity, have as a result faced severe challenges in maintaining their conservation programmes.

SouthAfrica.info reporter. Source: Vth IUCN World Parks Congress