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However, conservation efforts need not wait until development is complete. But make no mistake, such efforts must be part of the framework of overall economic development to fully succeed. Protected areas will not survive in a human environment of futility and dire need. Poor peasants do not burn the forests just because they like to see fires. They need fuelwood, or they need cleared land and the wood ashes to help them produce food for their families. Only if they are provided with feasible alternatives to the wasteful slash-and-burn system will the world be able to protect the natural habitats and, in turn, to maintain biological diversity.
Although the provision of such alternatives and better livelihoods for the world’s poorest people is a major contribution of development assistance to conservation efforts, more can and must be done. First, it is encumbent upon the development-assistance community to ensure that our policies, programs, and projects are environmentally and ecologically sound as well as economically feasible. USAID’s policy on natural resources and the environment and our environmental review procedures are designed to fulfill these requirements. Our policies and procedures are also designed to ensure that our program directions and our project review system adequately address the impacts of our assistance activities on endangered species and their critical habitats. The World Bank has recently adopted an operating policy on wildlands, which are discussed by Goodland in Chapter 49.
Second, USAID is playing a lead role within the donor community in establishing a dialog with the governments of developing countries on the importance of wise natural resource management, including the conservation of biological diversity. As an initial step in this dialog, we have assisted some 23 developing countries in preparing country environmental or natural resource profiles. These profiles outline the current status of renewable natural resources and identify major environmental issues, information on the biological diversity resources of countries, existing conservation programs, and future needs. We plan to accelerate the preparation of environmental profiles in the remaining countries in which USAID has programs and to ensure that biological diversity is better addressed.
USAID is also assisting several countries in the preparation of national conservation strategies that establish explicit conservation objectives, which can be integrated into overall economic development goals. This is a logical followup to the profiling effort and can lead to the identification of gaps in a national protected area system and of land use options (parks, multiple-use areas) that most realistically fit the country’s socioeconomic status.
Without explicit plans and budgets, conservation efforts can be ineffective and development schemes can founder for lack of a thorough understanding of the environment and the resource base. For example, one government ministry may be planning a major hydroelectric project that happens to coincide with another ministry’s plans for the project area as a wildlife refuge. A third ministry may also be planning the sale of timber concessions in the same area. With proper interagency consultation, project design, and implementation, the dam could provide power, well-managed logging could produce timber, and the overall reservoir catchment area could be set aside to protect the reservoir’s watershed and help maintain the regional biota.