The region includes the Coral Triangle, which has the highest marine biodiversity in the world. Covering only two percent of the world's ocean, the Coral Triangle contains 76 percent of all known coral species and a wide variety of fish due to this high coral diversity. Over 120 million people directly depend on these seas for their food and income.
The region also takes in the Heart of Borneo, rainforests covering 22 million hectares that are some of the last refuges for orangutans, Asian elephants, and Sumatran rhinos.
Each year logging, mining and farming destroys millions of hectares of forests, including those supposedly legally protected, threatening the extinction of a wide range of species.
Endangered Hawksbill turtle in the Coral Triangle (Photo © WWF-Malaysia/C.F.Hiew)
Overfishing and destructive fishing methods including the use of cyanide and dynamite have destroyed large coral areas and depleted marine resources. Global warming may hasten the damage, the bank said.
"The degradation threatens millions of people who rely on the natural resources for their livelihoods," said Urooj Malik, director of agriculture, environment and natural resources of the bank's Southeast Asia Department. "Urgent attention is needed to stop the deforestation and damage to the marine environment."
The grant will provide funding for the global conservation organization WWF to undertake an environmental and socio-economic profile of the region.
GIS mapping and stakeholder consultations in the four countries are intended to lead to the development of a long-term program to establish regional environmental management policies and strategies to strengthen the sustainable management of natural resources.
The grant also will allow the countries to assess policies and institutional capabilities in managing natural resources. They will address cross-border environmental issues such as trans-boundary haze pollution.
The four countries will determine requirements for strengthening institutional and coordination mechanisms, and implement policies through setting of minimum standards, monitoring and self regulation.
The program will establish a framework for regional cooperation in managing natural resources and biodiversity as well as develop joint investment projects in forestry, fishing, minerals, and energy.
The program will then work with the four governments, donors, private sector and nongovernmental organizations to foster support for the program and forge partnerships for action.
The four governments will each contribute $50,000 of in-kind support to complete the required funding for the program.
The program is being carried out under the umbrella of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area, an initiative launched in 1994 to hasten, through regional cooperation, the development of the economy of Brunei Darussalam and sub-national areas of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
"There is only one place remaining in Southeast Asia where tropical rainforests can still be conserved on a very large scale - a place where endangered species such as orangutans, elephants and rhinos, and countless other undiscovered species continue to thrive," WWF says. "We call this area the Heart of Borneo."
Cloud forest in the Heart of Borneo shelters endangered species. (Photo courtesy WWF)
The Heart of Borneo straddles the transboundary highlands of Indonesia and Malaysia, and extends through the foothills into adjacent lowlands and to parts of Brunei.
WWF says, "The future of this transboundary area depends on the collaboration of all three governments as no one country can protect these unique uplands alone."
The six governments of the Coral Triangle - Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor Leste - last December agreed to establish a new international partnership to conserve the coral reefs and the species and fisheries they support.
Three of the largest conservation organizations in the world - WWF, The Nature Conservancy, and Conservation International - welcomed the commitment of the Coral Triangle governments and pledged half a million U.S. dollars to support initial start-up activities for the Coral Triangle Initiative, CTI.
WWF Director General James Leape said, "WWF, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International stand united and ready to participate as full partners in this great effort by providing financial support for stakeholder consultations in the six countries, organizing a CTI Donors Roundtable in 2008 to mobilize large-scale public and private funding needed, and initiating sustainable funding strategies for marine protected area networks across the Coral Triangle region."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.