Regional Report on Protected Areas and Development
Ecosystems in their natural state play a critical role in maintaining the stability and productivity of local economies and social systems in the Lower Mekong Region. Few regions in the world demonstrate in such dramatic terms the fundamental links between human and ecosystem well being. Around 80 per cent of its population is directly dependent on the productive capacity of healthy natural systems. The relationship between water resources and protected areas in particular is of growing significance to the regional economy as the chapters in this Regional Report on Protected Areas and Development Report show.
Governments of the region appear to have recognised that the protection and maintenance of the region’s remaining natural systems is essential to national welfare. By 2005, the region’s protected area system will approach 22 per cent of the collective national territories, exceptional by world standards. Yet, that growing natural estate remains outside mainstream development as expressed in public policy, programs and investment - as though once locked away it is forgotten. The store of natural capital and its complex linkages with surrounding human activity is not well appreciated in development terms. Consequently, when economic development options arise which appear to use that natural capital to greater benefit, the status of protected areas becomes tenuous.
There are two main challenges to shifting the perception of protected areas as development neutral or negative. First, the methods and skills for systematically expressing their various attributes in development terms have not been available within the region. Second, and more fundamental, is that governments continue to give overriding emphasis to economic growth as a goal in itself, so that other critical dimensions of development relating to quality of life tend to be sidelined. Some important attributes of protected areas which bring contentment, happiness, health, enjoyment and education to a community, for example, fall outside an economic growth perspective. Most goods and services flowing from protected areas can be expressed in economic terms - but many can not, or at least not readily in terms of growth. This limitation in the concept of development is changing. For example, in 2003, the Chairman of the Dong Nai Provincial Peoples Committee in Vietnam gave recreation and a sense well being in the growing urban population as two important reasons his government is intending to reform three large State Forest Enterprises in the north-west of the province into forest protection management boards. Change in this arena rests on political will and vision.
Also, it relies on providing governments with the most complete information on which to base and justify their decisions. Currently there is a large information gap in development planning concerning the contribution of natural systems which means that protected areas are not covered in national accounting and are degrading as a consequence.
The PAD Review is a step by the four governments of the lower Mekong in the process to have protected areas treated as productive units in the economy. Each country needs to move to a situation where the natural capital held in their national PA system is subject to regular stock taking with the results reflected in GDP and budgets. The level of investment must match the level of importance of the PA capital to the economy. The investment needs to go to sustaining, restoring and expanding the stocks available within each protected area so it is able to produce more abundant ecosystem services and natural resources.
The PAD review and its eight reports provide insights and directions in making this vital shift in the way the Mekong countries account for protected areas and become an essential development strategy.
This regional report deals with those issues requiring collective action from all countries in the region because of their many natural system and development connections. It has three aims:
The report examines the relationship between protected areas and key natural resource dependent sectors – fisheries, water resource management, energy, forestry, agriculture and nature based tourism. It defines key challenges in each case and the directions the sector needs to take to obtain optimum benefit from protected areas while safeguarding their assets.
Significantly, the report includes a thorough analysis of the relationship between poverty reduction and protected areas. This is the highest priority in all countries. Unless protected areas can hold their own in local development terms with other more intensely exploitative forms of tenure then it is very difficult for governments to justify protection regimes. Critical strategies here are to help poor communities maintain their basic livelihoods and to create market opportunities for sustainably harvested PA produce. Most important, systems are needed so that payments from commercial users of PA capital and services ensure benefits are shared and contribute to the advancement of local communities in return for their role in ecosystem conservation. Protected areas can be a nurturing and supportive form of natural resource management for the poorest and most isolated communities in the region.
The natural systems which are the foundation for regional development cross national borders. It is not surprising that some of the most important protected areas are adjacent to others in neighbouring countries. This connection between countries through the independent establishment of separate PAs covering important shared natural systems provides significant new opportunities for political, technical and cultural collaboration leading to mutual economic gains. Border areas are usually remote and relatively poor - protected areas can be a vehicle for social and economic development reinforcing government policies for decentralisation and the promotion of remote regions. Transboundary PAs provide the seeds for collaborative action on a region wide protected area system which will bring growing development returns.
Finally, the regional Report synthesises the strategies into a framework for a regional conservation program including a formal agreement and special institutional arrangements as essential ingredients in the regional development strategy. The PAD Review found that a serious imbalance in investment over many years has diminished the region’s natural capital through a neglect of maintenance. That imbalance is now impeding development and must be redressed.
ICEM, 2003. Regional Report on Protected Areas and Development. Review of Protected Areas and Development in the Lower Mekong River Region, Indooroopilly, Queensland, Australia. 197 pp. ISBN: 0 975033 25 5
Thematic maps of the regional protected area system
Table of contents
Part 1: Regional overview
1 Protected areas and development in the Lower Mekong Region
Part 2: Protected areas and development
2 Poverty reduction and protected areas
3 Freshwater fisheries and protected areas
4 Water and protected areas
5 Energy and protected areas
7 Agriculture and protected areas
8 Tourism development and protected areas
9 Transboundary protected areas as a mechanism for conservation and
10 A regional protected areas and development program
References and suggested reading