New UN-sponsored project seeks to rescue Amazon from deforestation

Amazon Basin

27 June 2005 – With the environment of the Amazon Basin increasingly under siege from deforestation, mining, urbanization and other land use changes, the United Nations is co-sponsoring a new project to conserve and better manage the eight-nation region’s economically important waters, forests and wildlife.

Pollution hot spots and damaged habitats and ‘ecosystems’ are to be identified and measures drawn up to reduce the threats and restore the damage under the scheme, which UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer says will play an important part in helping the region meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

These internationally-agreed goals cover issues such as poverty reduction and reversing the spread of diseases like malaria to the empowerment of women and the provision of safe and sufficient quantities of drinking water.

The new Amazon project, announced over the weekend at the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Third Biennial International Waters Conference in Salvador Bahia, Brazil, is being implemented by UNEP/GEF and is being undertaken by the Organization of American States with the Oganization of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty as the regional body. The nearly two-year project will cost just under $1.5 million.

The GEF is an independent financial organization that provides grants to developing countries for projects that benefit the global environment and promote sustainable livelihoods in local communities.

“This new project, funded by the Global Environment Facility, fundamentally acknowledges the crucial economic value of nature and the goods and services provided by river systems, forests and other ecosystems,” Mr. Toepfer said.

“It reflects the fact that the environment is not a luxury good, affordable only when other issues have been resolved, but is ‘natural capital’ on a par with human and financial capital. Indeed, this project underlines that sustainable development and the achievement of the MDGs will only be possible through respect and good stewardship of the Earth´s natural resources,” he added.

The project, covering Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela, will aim to coordinate the numerous but fragmented national efforts currently underway designed to better manage and conserve the basin’s natural resources and natural 'capital.'

Experts are worried that climate change, linked with rising global emissions of carbon dioxide and other so called greenhouse gases, are set to aggravate the basin’s problems, making it harder and harder for people and wildlife to cope.

This was graphically underlined in the severe El Nino year of 1997. The drought was so severe it led to millions of acres of forest going up in flames, triggering respiratory and other health calamities. Lagoons dried up, affecting wildlife such as turtles, and the region experienced power rationing and a reduction in the transport-carrying capabilities of the Amazon and its tributaries.

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