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Biodiversity:
A World Bank Perspective

Ismail Serageldin
Special Programs, The World Bank, 1818 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20433

We live in a time of unprecedented assault on biodiversity and natural resources at global, national, and local levels. The battle for the environment is being fought between growing populations and the need to conserve natural systems in countless arenas. Solutions are attainable, but it will require our genius, commitment, and ability to cooperate if we are to secure a future that generations to come can celebrate, instead of looking back and condemning us for opportunities lost, challenges forgone.

From the World Bank's point of view, however, that does not translate only into protection of pristine environments and conservation of a rare plant or animal, important as these might be. Rather, it is about the maintenance of life-support systems and people. It is about recognizing the need to conserve resources and manage them sustainably so that people have access to clean air, clean water, and fertile soils both now and in the future. Today, such access is denied to much of mankind.

At the global level, we face the pervasive reach of poverty, uncertainty over food security and the resource base, and increasingly diminished if not lost natural habitats and ecosystems. Biodiversity is being eroded at an unprecedented rate, and we can only guess its ultimate impact. Of the estimated 10–100 million species on the planet, only 1.4 million have been named. Fungi are the least known (only 69,000 of the 1.6 million thought to exist have been described) and we can only imagine the complexity and wealth of the estimated 8 million arthropods. However, bacteria are the “black hole” of systematics, with only some 4,000 recognized. In a recent study in Norway, 4,000–5,000 species (virtually all



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