Eight-country plan to conserve the Amazon

Posted: 29 June 2005

A project that brings together eight Amazon Basin countries to help the region's 10 million inhabitants conserve and better manage the Amazon waters, forests and wildlife was announced in Salvador Bahia, Brazil, at the weekend.

For the first time, the Amazon Basin countries of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinme and Venezuela will work together to manage the water resources of the region. The basin as a whole contains about 20 per cent of the world's fresh water supplies.

Pollution hot spots and damaged habitats and 'ecosystems' are to be identified. Measures will be drawn up to reduce the threats and restore the damage. And efforts will be made to harmonise laws covering the management of the Amazon Basin.

A regional vision on how to achieve true sustainable development across the eight countries concerned will be drawn up, taking into account the need for vulnerable countries and communities to adapt and cope with acute climate change.

The project, announced at the International Waters Conference in Salvador Bahia, is being funded by the GEF, an independent financial organisation that provides grants that benefit the global environment and local communities.

It will cost US$1.5 million over nearly two years and US$10 million in a second phase starting in 2007. Altogether it is hoped that total resources for this second phase will rise to US$30 million.

Development Goals

The project will be implemented by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the funds will be adminstered by the Organisation of American States, with the Amazon Co-operation Treaty Organization as the regional executor.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said he believed the new project would play an important part in helping the region meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

"This new project, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), fundamentally acknowledges the crucial economic value of nature and the goods and services provided by river systems, forests and otherecosystems," said Mr Toepfer.

"It reflects the fact that the environment is not a luxury good, affordable only when other issues have been resolved, but is 'natural capital' on a par with human and financial capital."

Severe drought

The people, the land and the wildlife of the Amazon Basin are becoming increasingly vulnerable to climatic phenomenon, health concerns and a declining natural 'capital' as a result of deforestation, mining, urbanisation and other land use changes.

This was graphically underlined in the severe El Nino year of 1997. The drought was so severe it led to millions of acres of forest going up inflames triggering respiratory and other health calamities.

Lagoons dried up affecting wildlife such as turtles and the region experienced power rationing and a reduction in the transport carrying capabilities of the Amazon and its tributaries.

Experts are worried that climate change, linked with rising global emissions of carbon dioxide and other so called greenhouse gases, are setto aggravate the basin's problems making it harder and harder for people and wildlife to cope.

Meanwhile, there is also an urgent need to deal with other environmental issues including pollution of rivers from activities such as agriculture and mining which have impacts on drinking water and human health.

The project will aim to coordinate the numerous but fragmented national efforts currently underway designed to better manage and conservethe basin's natural resources and natural ┬┤capital'.

It will also draft a shared, long term strategy on how to more effectively achieve sustainable development for current and future generations living in this vast and diverse region.

Five pilot projects, designed to show how different communities can cost effectively deal with climatic extremes, are to be undertaken.

Source: UNEP and the Environment News Service