Around the World, Parks Underfunded, Studies Say

John Roach
for National Geographic News
September 12, 2003
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.

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.

"Placing areas under protection—now nearly 12 percent of the Earth's cover—has moved much faster than the funding required for effective protection, leading to the existence of many 'paper parks'," she wrote via e-mail from Durban.

The World Bank estimates U.S. $20 billion is needed to stop and reverse the loss of terrestrial biodiversity by 2010, a goal established during the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

Protected Area Value

According to a 2002 study led by conservation biologist Andrew Balmford at the University of Oxford in England and published in the journal Science, the economic benefits provided by protected areas greatly outweigh the costs of protecting them.

"In weighing the costs and benefits of a global network of protected areas, it is critical to take into account the enormous benefits that undeveloped habitats provide to society," Balmford said in a related statement.

Protected areas provide clean drinking water and serve as a sink for carbon dioxide, which helps curb the pace of global warming. According a 1987 study in Nature by Bob Costanza, a professor of ecological economics at the University of Vermont in Burlington, such "ecosystem services" are worth U.S. $33 trillion each year.

Georgieva said it is difficult to estimate the total value of ecosystem system services provided by protected areas owing to a lack of scientific, not economic, data, but the World Bank does study the benefits provided by specific protected areas.

A recent examination of the benefits of protected areas in Madagascar, for example, found that the country's 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of protected area generate benefits worth about three dollars (U.S.) per hectare per year in irrigated agriculture and potable water and four dollars (U.S.) per hectare per year in ecotourism benefits.

When protected areas are not properly managed, the consequences can be dire. As an example, Pimm points to the island of Cebu in the Philippines where a large national park exists on the map but in reality has been severely logged.

"There is nothing but a line on the map," he said. "Well, that was the watershed for the city, and as a consequence there has been degradation of the water supply and a lot of attendant problems."

Funding Solutions

Bruner and Hanks say that a wide range of solutions at local, national, and international levels must be implemented to generate the necessary funding for the proper maintenance of existing national parks.

At the local level, ecotourism is seen as a lucrative source of income and jobs. Pimm said that in countries like South Africa, entrepreneurs have caught on to the demand for parks and have established private ones that cater to ecotourists. "People visit these places and spend money when they get there," he said.

At the national level, Bruner and Hanks suggest environmental exit taxes on tourists to support park management as well as increased long-term domestic funding.

However, given both the scale and urgency of need, the researchers say the budget shortfall will be met only with direct financial support from developed countries. "What is needed is significant direct international support for basic, ongoing management expenses," said Bruner and Hanks.

Georgieva said the World Bank is working with governments and donor organizations to secure the funds required for long-term maintenance of protected areas. Examples include conservation trust funds that generate long-term revenue streams and charging beneficiaries for the services provided by protected areas.

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