Around the World, Parks Underfunded, Studies Say

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"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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