Credit: Claudio Contreras
Less Debt, More Conservation
By Yadira Ferrer
Colombia is to invest 10 million dollars to protect ecosystems. That sum will be discounted from the country's debt to the United States.
BOGOTA, (Tierramérica).- Colombia is guaranteed an investment of more than 10 million dollars over the next 12 years for conservation projects targeting five strategic ecosystems rich in forest, biodiversity and water resources, to be financed through a debt swap with the United States.
The Colombian government has pledged to invest that sum in conservation efforts, and it will be deducted from the nation's debt to the United States, which in December 2003 reached 38.27 billion dollars, or nearly half its gross domestic product (GDP).
Colombia is the seventh country to engage in an agreement under this ''debt-for-nature'' program, joining Bangladesh, Belize, El Salvador, Peru, Philippines and Panama.
The accord was signed in April and includes the participation of the environmental groups World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Conservation International, and the Nature Conservancy, which will contribute 1.4 million dollars.
Dorely Estepa, with the Colombian office of Conservation International, told Tierramérica that the role of the three organizations in this process is to support the governmental environmental agencies in ''determining precise objectives so that it is possible to develop realistic projects.''
The fund is to be used to establish nine protected areas, public and private; restore and maintain existing protected areas; and develop and implement a natural resources management system, WWF expert María Ximena Galeano said.
Money will also go to training programs to improve scientific, technical and management skills of the people and groups involved in the conservation efforts, she added.
One of the areas to benefit from the agreement is the Caribbean Corridor, in the north, which encompasses the national nature parks Tayrona, Salamanca Island, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Ciénaga Grande Lagoon Complex, declared biosphere reserves by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
Salamanca Island needs special care in order to restore the mangroves that were destroyed in the late 1960s to build a stretch of the Troncal del Caribe highway. The road cut off the exchange of seawater and freshwater from the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta, essential to the mangroves.
The destruction of that extensive area of mangroves is seen as one of Colombia's biggest ecological disasters.
Another area to benefit from the debt swap initiative is the Andean Oak Corridor, in the northwest, home to one of the broadest extensions of oak trees in the country.
WWF says that zone has unique elements of biodiversity, including a seemingly endless array of endemic species, as well as animals that require large areas of natural habitat to survive, like the Andean (or spectacled) bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and the tapir (Tapirus pinchaque).
Money is also to be earmarked for the Sumapaz-Tinigua Conservation Corridor, in central Colombia, where there is natural diversity characteristic of Amazonian and Andean ecosystems, including hummingbirds, which use the hillsides in their migratory journey.
The areas involved in the debt swap were selected by the Colombian government and the environmental NGOs based on their biological and socioeconomic importance, their vulnerability to loss of biodiversity, the institutional capacity and resource management abilities of government agencies, local communities and other groups in those locations, and the priorities in terms of current and potential financing.
In the opinion of Manuela Hernández, biologist at the public University of the Atlantic, the debt-for-nature swap is important because, she says, the destruction and fragmentation of ecosystems are without a doubt the worst threats to Colombian tropical forests.
* Yadira Ferrer is a Tierramérica contributor.