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This presentation by Jeremy Carew-Reid, Director of the International Centre for Environmental Management was adapted and presented at round table meetings in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

It serves to answer the question:

"Why the urgent need to study the links between
protected areas and socio-economic development?"



Protected areas are an “engine” for national development

The review is seeking to better define the benefits of protected areas for development and to have those benefits reflected in economic decisions.

There are two ways of looking at protected areas: as areas of natural resources under siege from all development sectors; or as productive units of the economy, integrated with it.

This review aims to establish protected areas as economic assets to be carefully managed for conservation and use, rather than as conservation assets to be protected from the economy.

Why do we need to rethink our approach to protected areas in this way? The answer is straight forward. Despite mounting investment, protected areas in the four countries of the lower Mekong continue to degrade, many so rapidly that they have ceased to be of importance for biodiversity conservation or economic uses. Lets take a closer look at the trends.


Increase in protected areas coverage

increase in protected area coverage

There has been a dramatic increase in the use of protected areas as a mechanism for natural resource management. The diagram only covers terrestrial protected areas. Marine protected areas are a very significant proposed field of growth in the three coastal states. They encompass the largest protected area systems in the world.


Increase in investment

There has been a dramatic increase in investment for protected areas (something this review needs to get a clearer picture on), including both:

  • Domestic investment
  • ODA (eg Vietnam - see diagram below)

Increase in ODA to Vietnam from 1986 to 2000


Degradation of biodiversity

Which ever way you look at it, it is difficult to be positive about the biodiversity situation. On all fronts the news is discouraging. The region's key forest, wetland and coastal/marine systems are losing their biodiversity. At the same time there is growing evidence globally that the greater the biodiversity of an area the greater is its stability and potential to provide economic services and products.

Remarkably little is known about most ecosystems and species diversity.

The positive news is that the more information that comes to light, the more important/significant the region becomes internationally for its biodiversity.

One indicator of the biodiversity trends is forest cover and quality.

Forests have very significant direct and indirect economic values. 50% of foreign exchange in Cambodia and Laos come from forest products. In all countries there is very high NTFP use by local communities.

% loss of remaining forest

















This loss has many direct and indirect implications for protected areas. As serious for forest ecosystems is the trade in wildlife which is leading to the "empty forest syndrome". A permanent degradation of forest ecosystems. In international earnings, wildlife trade is second only to the trade in illegal drugs.

Why is it that despite increasing attention, protected areas are continuing to degrade. Let me paint a picture of underlying causes that you are all very familiar with....


1. Investment

While investment is growing it is still a very small proportion of GNP given the size of the areas and importance of the natural resources involved.


2. Increase in populations
rate % rural/mountain
62 million
77.1 million
12.8 million
5.2 million

Since the 1960s populations have doubled and they may double again before levelling out over the next 50 years. Also a very high proportion are rural/mountain communities which subsist on natural resources.


3. Population distribution

Populations are not evenly distributed. For example, in Cambodia 80% of the population live in 20% of the land area, largely concentrated in the southern portion of the Mekong basin and now moving along the coast as densities increase.

The map shows population distribution in Cambodia by the density of grey spots. Red areas show protected areas. Blue areas show the coastline and Tonle Sap Lake.

Population distribution in Cambodia

In Vietnam there is a similar situation where population concentrations are in the Red River and Mekong River deltas (The Red River delta has one of the highest population densities in Asia at 1000 km2). There is a good reason for these concentrations; linked to available natural resources.


Migration trends within Vietnam4. Migration

People are moving seasonally and permanently in increasing numbers. For example, in Vietnam they are moving from rural to urban areas and to regions of biodiversity wealth. People are increasingly mobile and have growing access to once isolated parts of the country. More people are living in and around protected areas.

Infrastructure is expanding to accommodate these growing and increasingly mobile populations, e.g. the Ho Chi Minh highway in Vietnam. This major field of development alone requires that we better understand the economic values and benefits of protected areas in local and national economies. The relationship between roads and protected areas is a critical issue in the region. Many protected areas are under threat of death by a thousand cuts.


The development cycle in the region

There is a clearly identifiable set of relationships linking populations and natural resources in a cycle of development which has been operating over the past decade in all countries.

Population and natural resource use - the development cycle

population agricultural expansion forest and soil loss
agricultural intensification demand for energy, water and chemicals migration to urban centres industrialisation
migration to areas of biodiversity wealth
demand for and scarcity of water, energy, soil and forests

Those countries that maintain reserves of these resources will have a distinct competitive advantage in the long term. Lets look at these relationships a little more closely...


Available resources

All countries are reaching (or have reached) the limit of their available arable land. Scarcity in accessible water resources and arable land will be key factors limiting development.


Hydropower potential

Once again Cambodia and Laos are in the front seat in terms of development potential, but it will require complex trade offs and economic relations with neighbouring countries.


Where to from here?

Protected area planners and managers need to adopt the language and approach of the two dominant fields of development reform which the four countries are promoting.

  1. Reform of public administration and governance
  2. Reform to the economic system

These two fields of reform are intimately linked and reinforce each other.

1. Reform of public administration and governance

There are three key areas in which the four governments are seeking to change the way decisions are made and planning is carried out.

  1. Decentralisation
  2. "Democratisation"
  3. The rule of law

What has this meant in practice? Directions the reform is taking:

  • Devolution of planning responsibilities to local government.
  • Devolution of budget management.
  • Devolution to the private sector and increasing use of economic incentives
  • Increasing opportunity for stakeholder and community involvement.
  • Increasing mechanisms for cross sector working links and links between regions (although this remains a challenge).
  • Better defined frameworks of laws and regulations - leading, for example, to greater definition of rights over the use of land and resources.

All these directions for reform are receiving the highest priority and budget support from governments. They all have great significance for protected areas.

Protected area planners and managers need to be proactive in promoting themselves in terms of these top priority fields of government reform, and not remain passive like leaves in the wind.

In this case, protected areas should be seen as "engines" of good governance.

2. Reform to the economic system

Similarly protected area planners need to build on the momentum of government commitment and use the reform process to shift themselves to mainstream development.

Protected areas are a critical ingredient of sector development for:

  • Water resources
  • Fisheries and aquaculture
  • Transport
  • Non-timber forest products
  • Agriculture
  • Wildlife trade
  • Energy
  • Forestry
  • Tourism
  • Industry


Protected area economic footprint

An important way to begin this change in perspective is to see protected areas as having zones of economic influence. They each have an economic footprint.

The review is to explore ways for economic and protected area planners to better understand these zones of economic influence so that protected areas are expressed as productive assets in local and national development planning.

The review will be looking at the economic planning process itself, at various kinds of economic instruments and at the role of economic valuation in taking protected areas from the sidelines to the mainstream of development.

To set priorities and the agenda for this work the review has begun by defining the lessons from experience throughout the world on the economics of protected areas.



A quick look at one key set of lessons which the review team has defined. They point to the fact that appropriate economic valuation of protected areas can demonstrate their importance as productive assets.

  1. Valuation has increased the emphasis given to protected areas in mainstream economic and development decisions.

    For example the valuation of benefits from protected areas in Kenya.

    Contribution of protected areas in Kenya

  2. Valuation has helped justify protected areas as economic uses of land and resources by due to benefits ranging from flood protection to fisheries production.
    The review field study in Thua Thien Hue province in Vietnam is examining this in more detail.

  3. Valuation has helped to increase community benefits from protected areas
    For example willingness to pay for the conservation of Halong Bay. In the year 2000, the total recreation benefit of Halong Bay tourism was estimated to be approximately US$ 27 million, and consumer surplus to exceed US$ 7 million. It was estimated that a modest US$ 1 per night per room would have raised US$ 0.65 million in that year.

  4. Valuation has pointed to innovative financing and cost sharing arrangements for protected areas.
    For example the joint ventures and private environmental management in Komodo National Park, Indonesia.



Valuation is just one tool that can help to mainstream protected areas. While the review team believes that it is a tool for planners which has limitations and must be used very carefully, the global lessons show that...

... if we do not value protected area benefits and costs:

  • Protected areas will continue to be marginalised when development decisions are made.
  • Markets, prices and economic policies will continue to ignore protected areas values.
  • People will continue to be economically unwilling (and unable) to support protected areas.
  • Protected areas will continue to face financial and economic sustainability problems.