World's Parks to Weigh Conservation, Human Needs

Leon Marshall in Durban
for National Geographic News
September 5, 2003

The 5th World Parks Congress meeting in South Africa next week will focus on "Benefits Beyond Boundaries"—reflecting the 21st-century need to balance conservation of dwindling wilderness sanctuaries with the needs of struggling human societies.

It is estimated that there are some 44,000 wilderness parks, together comprising about 10 percent of the Earth's land surface. In many parts of the world the parks are the last few remaining repositories of biodiversity, but increasingly they are being devastated by poaching, illegal logging, pollution, and other incursions by human communities struggling to survive.

This is the first time the congress is being held in Africa, perhaps the continent that is most in need of assistance to find sustainable solutions to alleviate human pressure on its hard-pressed parks. One of the most tangible benefits for Africa for discussion at the congress next week is a global trust fund to finance protected areas on the continent, which boasts some of the world's most spectacular wildlife.

Other valuable help could be in the form of management and technical advice and assistance, which are desperately needed in some resource-starved parts of the continent.

The congress is organized by World Conservation Union (IUCN), a partnership of 70 governments and more than 750 non-governmental organizations that has its headquarters in Switzerland. It is being held from September 8 to 17 in Durban, South Africa's major port.

Benefits Beyond Boundaries

"The congress, the first in Africa and the first of the new millennium, has a special significance, and the theme of 'benefits beyond boundaries' captures perfectly the essence of the debate which will occur in Durban," says IUCN President Yolanda Kakabadse.

Mavuso Msimang, head of South African National Parks and chairman of the World Parks Congress national planning committee, says: "The countries of southern Africa are fortunate to have many magnificent national parks and nature reserves, and we have made good progress towards developing meaningful partnerships between protected areas and local communities…Southern Africa is a particularly appropriate region in which to explore the World Parks Congress theme of 'benefits beyond boundaries.'"

Convened every ten years, past congresses have spurred governments to proclaim new protected areas and have helped generate additional resources for their stewardship. World Parks Congresses have also helped set the world's conservation agenda for the next decade.

The first congress, in Seattle in 1962, focused on the global significance of protected areas.

That congress set the tone for its 1972 successor in America's Yellowstone Park, where the emphasis was on establishing global standards for administering protected areas.

The 1982 congress in Bali, Indonesia, underscored the need for broader understanding of the value of parks, and the 1992 congress in Caracas, Venezuela, developed the theme by emphasizing the importance of fitting protected areas into local, regional, and international planning.

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