for National Geographic News
Indonesia's poorest province, Papua, is a natural-resource trove that is both awaiting exploitation and begging for protection.
Conservationists hope an innovative software program will help residents guide the province to sustainable development. The program essentially allows local people to predict the effects of their civic decisionswhether to sell off local forests, whether to ban women from schools, and so onon their communities.
"Papua significantly contributes to Indonesia's status as one of the biologically richest countries in the world," said Dessy Anggraeni, a resource economist in Indonesia with the Washington, D.C.-based environmental organization Conservation International (CI). "But its people are also among the poorest in Indonesia."
To many people, Papua's lush forests of old-growth timber, latent precious metals, and untapped reserves of oil and natural gas are the answer to province's poverty woes. But environmentalists have long argued against large-scale resource extraction, saying it benefits big, multinational corporations and leaves locals impoverished.
To determine if there is a way to alleviate poverty of Papuans without irreparably harming the environment, CI has brought a planning tool, called Threshold 21, to Papua. The tool is a computerized development model that helps stakeholders and decision makers create and analyze strategies for the future.
"It won't predict the future, but it's the best way of getting a consistent idea of where things will lead," said John Shilling, a senior advisor with the Millennium Institute in Arlington, Virginia. With his colleagues, Shilling has worked over the past 20 years to develop the model.
Already customized for more than 15 different countries and regions around the world, CI recently asked the Millennium Institute to develop a version of Threshold 21 for Papua. Ultimately, CI hopes that Papuans will take control of the model and use it to chart their own course.
Comprehensive and Transparent
CI analyzed a host of available computer models before choosing Threshold 21. Such tools have long been used by financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to decide what projects and initiatives to fund around the world.
"In most cases, a standard cost-benefit analysis is used to assess the suitability of public investments, while the impact of the possible policies to be implemented on the local society and environment is not taken into account," Anggraeni said.
A deciding factor in CI's choice of Threshold 21 was the model's embrace of environmental and social factors in addition to economic factors as it analyzes any given strategy for the future.
The result of this integrated, three-pillar approach creates what the Millennium Institute says is a more "comprehensive" picture of what happens when one path is chosen over another. And that picture comes with all the details of how it was put together, a concept referred to as transparency.
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