Human well-being better in a better protected environment

Posted on 24 May 2008
Poverty and lack of integrated management have led to deforestation and erosion, and degraded freshwater habitats around Lake Malawi.
Bonn, May 22, 2008 – Well planned and managed protected areas can play a key role in reducing poverty, with the relationship strengthened when well-being is measured as more than just income, according to a new analysis by WWF.

SafetyNet:protected areas and poverty reduction, prepared with the assistance of the environmental research group Equilibrium, uses new tools to analyse what works and what doesn't in improving both human well-being and environmental quality, finding that community involvement, benefit sharing and consideration of protected areas in overall landscapes are crucial factors to consider.

“Poverty is much more than not having enough money. Not having enough to eat, or access to medicines or a clean water supply are the fundamentals which really define poverty at its most basic level,” said Liza Higgins-Zogib, Manager of People and Conservation at WWF International.

“We live in a world where half of the six billion population live not just on minimal incomes but most are in rural areas depending a great deal on natural resources for their nutrition, shelter, health and nutrition. It is vital that we appreciate that the right type of well managed protected areas can make all the difference to the lives of those people.”

The report’s analysis draws from management effectiveness assessments of over 1000 protected areas and developed a new tool to assess protected area benefits in detail in case studies drawn from Argentina, Finland, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Poland and Tanzania.

“Safety Net: protected areas and poverty reduction” provides the largest body of evidence yet of a strong link between well managed protected areas such as national parks and reserves and increased levels of food, medicine, water and cultural and spiritual fulfilment for people living in the surrounding areas, including some of the world’s poorest.

On Apo Island in the Philippines, the establishment of protected areas covering reefs and shorelines increased the average fish catch from 0.15 kg/person hour in 1980-81 to 1-2 kg/person hour in 1997-2001. Tourism revenues from the reef are now estimated at $US 500 per hectare per year and 75 per cent of tourist fees go to the local community.

In China's Baimaxueshan Nature Reserve, incomes from sustainable mushroom harvesting in the park have risen 5 to 10 fold in the 70 villages participating in the scheme while for 10,000 people in and around Mairauà State Ecological Station in Brazil incomes have increased by 50 per cent and in some cases by 99 per cent following the introduction of a park-based Economic Alternatives Programme. Infant mortality has declined by 53 percent with better health education and water quality.

Although the report stresses that every protected area is unique, the most successful in terms of the benefit they provided to poor people sought to balance conservation and poverty reduction, established direct and integrated links between the needs of people and nature and recognized that trade-offs between human and wildlife needs needed to be negotiated.

In these cases, environmental and development outcomes were well monitored and protected areas were viewed, not in isolation, but as parts of the overall landscape.

“It is all too easy to over-simplify the relationship between poverty and protected areas, but this report makes a significant contribution to separating myth from reality,” Higgins-Zogib said. “It is clear from this research that protected areas can and do lift many people above the most basic levels of poverty, but the report also reveals that protected areas set up or managed without enough care for human needs can have the opposite effect on the lives of poor people.

“It is vital that those involved in establishing and managing protected areas remember that people are also part of the landscape.”

Poverty and lack of integrated management have led to deforestation and erosion, and degraded freshwater habitats around Lake Malawi.
© WWF / Helena TELKÄNRANTA Enlarge
The program emphasizes integrating forests into sustainable economic development, harnessing the potential of forests to reduce poverty, and protecting vital environmental services and values.
© WWF Central America / Cinthya Flores Enlarge