22 August 2005

Make Poverty History: Protect the Safety Net

"Nature is the safety net of the poor," a colleague said last week.

What I think he meant by that is there are a range services nature provides upon which the Earth's one billion poorest people depend. From food production to flood control, from fuel for heating and cooking to traditional medicines, nature is the fabric that supports the poor and, ultimately, all of us.

Technology may be what drives the poorest to ascend the rung of the ladder of development, as Jeffrey Sachs suggests, but without nature's services, the poor would have nothing to fall back on. We need to protect those attributes most commonly found in the full range of biological diversity, while encouraging the most efficient means possible of getting the poor up that ladder.

Jon Christensen in "Forgive Us Our Debts" points out that "governance is the key word in international development." Good governance is just as important for biodiversity protection, whether we're talking protected areas or community conservation action. Governance, according to a recent release by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), includes "all the processes, traditions and rules that concur in establishing decisions, and should be based on principles like accountability, transparency, effectiveness and participation."

"Good governance is also a way of simultaneously expanding the conservation effectiveness of Protected Areas and their global coverage," said Ashish Kothari, co-chair of the IUCN's Theme on Indigenous and Local Communities, Equity, and Protected Areas, which is raising the awareness of existing governance tools.

When the Group of Eight agreed to forgive the debt of 18 of the world's poorest countries, Christensen writes, "they tied the debt relief to good government practices, improvements in health and education, and elimination of poverty."

Christensen notes the absence of the environment on that list. However, many of us believe the environment is intrinsically linked to those areas in need of improvement. Does it need to be called out? Possibly, but the effort to support the Millennium Development Goals through conservation measures is a step in the right direction. The time to ensure the equitable sharing of costs and benefits of biodiversity protection is at hand -- right next to the white wristband.

I agree with Christensen that sound governance "needs to be pushed further to embrace conservation of ecosystem services and biodiversity through good laws, adequate administration, and practical incentives that work for people on the land." We're talking not only governments here, but also communities and NGOs. Let's work toward that goal and, at the same time, revisit our conservation practices to encompass the needs of the communities in which we work -- be they global or local.

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