for National Geographic News
The world's parks and protected areas are underfunded and, as a result, lack the basic maintenance and infrastructure required to keep wildlife free from poachers and forests clear of illegal logging, according to a study presented today at the World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa.
The study was produced by an international panel of conservationists, scientists, economists, and government officials.
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Aaron Bruner, a member of the panel who works as a conservation and economics expert with the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International, in Washington, D.C., said the budget shortfall amounts to U.S. $2.5 billion annually.
Bruner presented the panel's findings today at the World Parks Congress together with John Hanks, a Conservation International colleague based in Cape Town.
The summit, organized by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Geneva, Switzerland-based scientific and conservation organization, is held every 10 years.
"A shortfall of $2.5 billion per year is very little considering the absolutely critical contribution it would make to protecting biodiversity, as well as the range of benefits to local and global communities," Bruner and Hanks said in an e-mail interview.
Stuart Pimm, a conservation biologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, agreed that parks and protected areas are clearly underfunded, but said he finds it difficult to put a credible number on the budget shortfall.
"I think that number has to be taken as a broad statement that countries throughout the world are not putting the necessary money into protecting their national parks," he said.
The panel called on the global community to help fund the world's existing protected areas and pay for their expansion to include the last unprotected refuges of threatened species and ecosystems.
"An expansion to cover some of the absolute highest priorities would cost approximately [U.S.] $23 billion at the most per year over the next 10 years," said Bruner and Hanks. "Twenty-three billion is a lot of money, but it would still be less than half of what Americans spend each year on soft drinks."
According to the panel, current global spending on park management is about seven billion dollars (U.S.) per year, less than a billion dollars (U.S.) of which is spent in developing countries. "That means that park budgets across the developing world average around 30 percent of what is needed, and many areas have no management at all," said Bruner and Hanks.
Kristalina Georgieva, a World Bank environment department director in Washington, D.C., said that a funding shortfall for protected areas is not surprising.
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