World's Parks at Risk From Chronic Underfunding

DURBAN, South Africa, September 12, 2003 (ENS) - The world's parks and protected areas are suffering from a $2.5 billion annual budget shortfall, researchers said today at the World Parks Congress. The bulk of the shortfall is in developing countries, where the greatest wealth of biodiversity exists, and is leading to catastrophic results in many of the world's protected areas.

Current global funding for the world's parks and protected areas is $7 billion annually, according to an international panel of economists, scientists, governments and protected area managers.

But less than $1 billion of this total is spent each year in the developing world, the panel reports, and this chronic under funding could have stark consequences for the world's biodiversity.

The analysis was released today at the IUCN World Parks Congress by Birdlife International, the University of Cambridge, Conservation International and its Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS).

"This massive budget shortfall means that too often, protected areas have ineffective and insufficient management, resulting in the progressive degradation of resources these areas were established to protect," said John Hanks, director of Southern Africa Transfrontier Conservation Areas for Conservation International. "The acceleration of human encroachment is transforming vast natural areas, and species are still teetering on the brink of extinction - in the very places designed to provide them safe refuge." amazon

There is plenty of wilderness left in the world, but protection of these areas is very limited. (Photo courtesy Rainforest Action Network)
The panel discovered tens of thousands of protected areas worldwide suffer from a chronic lack of funding, resulting in a shortage of staff, ranger stations, communications equipment, vehicles and other basic infrastructure.

The lack of funding is causing direct and perhaps irreversible impacts on the very species the international community says it is keen to protect.

The report notes that in West Africa funding of many parks is so poor that areas once rich with elephants, hippos and monkeys are now empty.

In Latin America, the panel finds, protected areas have been cleared for agriculture, and in Asia, endangered species - such as tigers, monkeys and crocodiles - are poached for illegal sale.

These findings come on the heels of a report by CABS and the IUCN-World Conservation Union that some 700 endangered species have no protection over any part of their ranges, with many more at risk because the protected areas they depend upon as habitat are too small to be effective.

Expanding and maintaining the global protected area network to protect the most threatened - and currently unprotected - plant and animal species would cost some $23 billion a year over the next decade, the researchers said. gorilla

Poaching remains a major problem in parks and protected areas that are underfunded. Photo courtesy United Nations Environment Program)
The figure may seem high, but there is no question the developed world can easily absorb such costs, the panel said.

"The developed world easily has the capacity to help the developing world close this shortfall," said Aaron Bruner, manager of conservation economics for CABS.

The sum of $23 billion, Bruner says, is "significantly less money than Americans spend on soft drinks alone each year."

"For a fraction of that - just $1.5 billion a year - we could take the vital step of making sure that basic management of all existing protected areas in developing countries is well funded," Bruner said.

And parks ultimately pay for themselves through widespread benefits to society, the panel noted, in particular for poor communities.

They point to a 2002 study published in the journal "Science" that found the long term economic benefit derived from healthy ecosystems greatly outweighed the costs of protecting them. cheetah

The world is not spending enough to save endangered species, conservationists say. (Photo by Martin Harvey courtesy IUCN-The World Conservation Union )
That study showed that developing remaining wild habitats jeopardizes ecosystem services such as flood and storm protection, watershed protection, and carbon sequestration. It found the collective value of those services equaled some $33 trillion each year.

"In weighing the costs and benefits of a global network of protected areas, it is critical to take into account the enormous benefits that undeveloped habitats provide to society," said Andrew Balmford, senior lecturer at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the "Science" study. "These areas protect our natural heritage, provide numerous local benefits, and generate a wide range of globally valuable ecosystem services."

The panel called for a range of funding sources, including governments, foundations, non governmental organizations and private individuals to make a greater commitment to provide the increase in funds needed to support effective park management.

The 5th World Parks Congress, which has attracted some 2,500 delegates from more than 170 countries, continues through September 17.