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UNDP's Equator Initiative To Spotlight Partnerships that Work

22 May– Using the old ways and methods, there are indigenous people in the Amazon who can make natural rubber into a material that is virtually indistinguishable from leather. And now, models are parading skirts and handbags made of that mock-leather on runways in Paris, New York, and Rio.

The initiative is a partnership between an entrepreneur, a non-governmental organization and a local people that has worked to protect the rainforest, provide steady incomes, and maintain traditional customs. According to Sean Southey, Manager of the United Nation Development Programme's Equator Initiative, this is just an example of how partnerships can protect biodiversity and reduce poverty.

"The dilemma is, how do you develop an income from a standing forest that is more than the income from chopped wood?" he asked. "Here, these people were in danger of losing a way of life. They were being forced from the land." The answer was the partnership, which recognized that there was traditional knowledge to tap the rubber from trees, and work it to become the leather-like product.

Are partnerships really the best way to promote sustainable development? To test the theory, which has almost become an article of faith in the preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Equator Inititative is working to see how well partnerships work in the area of the world where results are needed most in the fight to reduce poverty and protect biodiversity.

To spotlight partnerships that have made a difference, the Equator Initiative will present awards to six partnership initiatives that can be replicated in other equatorial regions in Johannesburg, during the Summit. The Initiative received over 300 nominations for the awards, which will be determined by a panel of independent judges.

Through the Equator Initiative, which started last August as a result of discussions between UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown and Timothy Wirth of the UN Foundation, UNDP aims to raise the profile of partnerships that work in the world's equatorial region to fight poverty and protect the biodiversity.

Part of the problem so far, is that programmes that work often have a stealth quality. "A lot of what's working and is viable is not widely known and that is why the Equator Initiative was created," says UNDP's Senior Environmental Policy Adviser Charles McNeill. "We are not lookinhg for a silver bullet, but we are trying to find out what works and why. He added, "our initial findings sugest that exciting, innovative results can happen through partnerships, especially at the local level."

The equatorial region, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn, at 23.5 degrees north and south of the Equator respectively, touches 116 countries, according to McNeill, and includes an enormous proportion of the world's biodiversity, and much of the world's poverty.

McNeil said about 60 per cent of the equatorial region's population was dependent on local plants for their health needs. But it is not just the tropics that benefits-- 9 out of 10 leading prescription drugs originally came from organisms and estimates put the over-the-counter cost of drugs from plants alone was estimated in 1998 to be $20 billion in the U.S. and $84 billion.

Beyond the awards, which the Initiative plans to award every two years, UNDP expects the Equator Initiative to heavily promote South-South cooperation and to encourage the spread of technology that has proved successful in equatorial development. In addition, it is hoped that the Initiative will produce policy recommendations that could foster the proper environment for other partnership initiatives to flourish.

Aside from its role in promoting partnerships, the Equator Initiative is, by itself, an example of a partnership initiative that may be featured at the Johannesburg Summit. The Initiative is a programme of UNDP, BrasilConnects-an NGO, the Government of Canada, the International Development Research Centre, IUCN, the Television Trust for the Environment, and the United Nations Foundation.




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24 August 2006