Safe and prosperous communities depend on healthy ecosystems

Source: N. (Neven) Mimica i, published on Monday, May 22 2017.

Today, on the International Day for Biological Diversity, it's important to remember the links between development and nature conservation.

Take, for example, the coastal zones of South East Asia’s Coral Triangle and the Caribbean Sea, home to many poor communities, who depend on fisheries and other marine resources for their food and livelihoods. The coral reefs, sea grass beds and mangroves provide a rich habitat for a vast diversity of marine species, and protect shorelines from the impacts of extreme weather, whilst also supporting fishing and tourism.

But overfishing, coastal development, pollution and climate change are destroying the marine systems, exacerbating climate change impacts, and threatening valuable sources of prosperity. With a growing population and tourist numbers predicted to reach 535 million a year in the Coral Triangle by 2030, this is a key priority for us therefore. Our forthcoming 'Larger than Tigers' study on wildlife conservation in Asia will identify the main areas for action in the coming years.

A different set of challenges faces the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where millions of people have been displaced by conflict, and lack jobs and basic services. Poor governance and poverty has driven many, including children, into illegal activities such as wildlife poaching, mining, charcoal production, and logging in protected areas. This area - rich in valuable minerals and oil - is also another global biodiversity hotspot, known for its mountain gorillas, elephants, lions and dense tropical forests.

In this most volatile of regions, hampered by 20 years of armed conflict, Virunga National Park has succeeded in becoming a micro-hub of stability and good governance, which has also helped to drive economic development. At a basic level, the park provides security and employment for managers, wildlife wardens and rangers - both male and female. This enables tourism to flourish, with wider environmental and economic benefits for the whole community.

Support from the European Union since the 1980s, to the tune of over EUR 30 million, has enabled the region to improve infrastructure and services, offer loans to small businesses, and build hydropower plants to supply cheap electricity. This reduces the demand for charcoal fuel, and thereby the incidence of violent incursions and forest clearance in protected areas.

The success of such initiatives is far from certain. Significant threats persist, which have taken a heavy toll: 150 Virunga Park employees have been killed in the past 20 years. In April, elephant poachers killed two rangers in the Garamba National Park, also in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is why we will continue to work with partners and local communities to manage protected areas and ensure security, and to support the good governance of natural resources which underpins long-term prosperity.

In our efforts to combat this sort of violence, we fund the training of park rangers, equipment (such as radio and vehicles), and infrastructure (including airstrips, medical centres, and schools). We also support wider efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, such as monitoring the illegal killing of elephants, and capacity building for customs officials for example.

Today it's important to remember therefore that human well-being depends on healthy ecosystems and vice versa. So on this International day for Biological Diversity, I hope you will join us in partnership to support a healthy planet for the good of our people, peace and prosperity!