Benefits beyond

Nelson R. Mandela and Her Majesty Queen Noor
say that protected areas, including World Heritage sites, are essential for safeguarding the future

It was with great enthusiasm that two years ago we pledged our utmost support to the Vth IUCN World Parks Congress. In doing so, we aspire to bring this vitally important gathering to the widest audience ever. We hope to encourage political leaders, business and all other constituencies to recognize protected areas as assets to be cared for and shared for the benefit of our and future generations locally, nationally and internationally.

World Heritage sites and other protected areas are an outstanding gift passed from one generation to another. On land and at sea they are home to millions of species that form a web of life intricately linked to human survival. They safeguard our historical treasures and cultural heritage. They generate sustainable income for local communities worldwide.

Protected areas regulate and buffer the Earth’s natural processes to balance our climate. Protecting these natural systems also improves the quality of our air, soil, water and life. Protected areas are genetic storehouses that promise a healthier future for the planet and its peoples. Safeguarding these precious areas means safeguarding our future. Without an effective global network of protected areas these benefits to society will be lost, the chances of alleviating poverty reduced and the inheritance to future generations diminished.

And yet local communities’ and indigenous peoples’ rights have, at times, been compromised and their voices not heard; habitats are disappearing or becoming degraded in deserts and wetlands alike; species are being lost at an intolerable rate. Too many key stakeholders view protected areas as a constraint to their activities, with valuation systems failing to recognize the benefits that protected areas provide to society. A truly representative system of protected areas has not been achieved; too many parks exist only on paper, many lacking appropriate financial structures and adequately trained staff.

Ring of promise
Against this backdrop, the central theme of the World Parks Congress in Durban – ‘Benefits Beyond Boundaries’ – rings with promise. It offers a forward-looking agenda that will enable us to reconnect with our best, yet often ignored allies – the wider communities of interest – to achieve new outcomes and ambitious targets. By Africa hosting the Congress, it will also reinforce our focus on addressing people’s needs and reducing hardship so that sustainable development becomes the true underpinning of conservation.

The challenges are real, yet the Congress agenda is visionary. The Congress must do more than state which trends should be reversed: it must be a catalyst for enhanced global action for the benefit of people and protected areas.

Many of Africa’s most beautiful protected areas have their origins in the colonial past, and by tradition have been ‘set aside’ by the privileged and for the privileged. We need to continue to break from this legacy.
When nations find it difficult to remain on speaking terms, protected areas can step in to enhance cooperation across borders
In many parts of the world, the job of park rangers is becoming more and more dangerous, with protected areas often being the targets/victims/subjects of crime and violent conflict. It is also time to ‘protect the protectors’, those who work on the front line of conservation and sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice for protected areas.

As worldwide efforts are deployed to combat cancer and HIV/AIDS, we forget that protected areas may be the unique ‘gene banks’ t hat hold the key to curing the world’s most devastating diseases. It is time to allocate more resources to conserving this biodiversity and to recognizing traditional knowledge.

When nations find it difficult to remain on speaking terms, protected areas can step in to enhance cooperation across borders, and contribute both to security and conservation. We must increase our efforts to promote the ‘Peace Park’ concept, and demonstrate political leadership in this field.

In welcoming the Durban Congress, we are sharing our passion for change and optimism for the future of humanity and the planet. In celebrating the achievements of the past, we should also acknowledge what we have learnt to ensure that the future of protected areas becomes a force for unity and common purpose in the development of our communities – local and global alike

Nelson R. Mandela and Her Majesty Queen Noor are patrons of the Vth IUCN World Parks Congress.

PHOTOGRAPH: Gerald Hinde/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Biological backbone | Benefits beyond boundaries | Common inheritance | Beauty or beast? | Wonders of the world | Protecting heritage | People | Parks and participation | At a glance: Protected Areas | Profile: Harrison Ford | Scorecard, catalyst, watershed | Coral Reef Fund | Coral jewels | Reef knots | Brief window for biodiversity | Books & products | Conservation amid conflict | News | Green, red or black? | Keeping faith with nature | Make parks not war

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on WSSD, 2002
Issue on Mountains and Ecotourism, 2002
HM Queen Noor of Jordan: Security in a shrinking world
(Chemicals and the Environment) 2002
HM Queen Noor of Jordan: The right to diversity
(The Environment Millennium) 2000
Issue on Biological Diversity, 2000
Issue on Tourism, 1999
Issue on Culture, Values and the Environment, 1996

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment: