Peace through

Gerardo Budowski
describes the advantages of peace parks and suggests ways in which they could be extended

The future of transboundary protected areas (TBPAs) and peace parks looks bright. Interest has focused on the possibility that TBPAs can promote peace and cooperation. Their number has grown substantially. In 1993 the inventory indicated the presence of 70 TBPAs in 65 different countries. In 2001 this had grown to 169 located in 113 different countries.

They bring many benefits to the people living in or close to them – and to society at large. They promote peace and international cooperation between countries by creating a protected area on their borders. TBPAs enhance environmental protection across ecosystems, and there are often significantly more of these than each country possessed individually. And they facilitate a more effective exchange of information and research and, often, joint management.

They also bring economic benefits through tourism. The visits of ecotourists are enhanced by providing them with a larger territory and, possibly, with an understanding of past conflicts in the area. TBPAs ensure better cross-border control of problems such as illegal exploitation of timber, fire, pests, poaching, pollution and smuggling. And transboundary mountain areas can help provide a steady supply of high quality water.

But should peace parks be restricted only to transboundary protected areas, as the definition by IUCN- The World Conservation Union (see below) suggests? If so, this eliminates the possibility of creating peace parks for island countries, at least for terrestrial areas, while limiting the possibility for many other countries with only one, very few or small borders with neighbouring countries.

Past conflicts
There are many promising areas in the world that qualify for peace parks, because they were well-known scenes of past conflicts, without being located on the borders of two or more countries. These could include lands with past – and present – conflicts between native communities and recently arrived settlers, particularly in Africa, Kalimantan and Brazil.

One prime example of an ongoing non-transboundary project is Laj Chimel, in central Guatemala. It was triggered by Rigoberta Menchú, the 1992 Nobel Peace laureate, in a magnificent mountain cloud forest, in the Quiché of Guatemala, an area where many Mayan Indians were killed in the civil war less than two decades ago. Mrs Menchú not only aspires to preserve this magnificent forest and create what she calls ‘an ecological reserve for peace', but also intends to establish a centre for reconciliation.

I propose the following suggestions for a peace parks programme:

  • Organizing an inventory of existing or proposed peace parks. Part of this has been done by IUCN but if peace parks are ‘redefined’ this may produce favourable new developments. There are many promising initiatives such as the demilitarized zone between the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Other promising examples may be the creation of one or several peace parks in Kashmir, as well as possible areas in the Near East.

  • Adopting criteria and guidelines for qualification as a peace park. The main work has been done but details have to be finalized.

  • Highlighting ways of obtaining the greatest added value when the peace parks are designed and managed. This requires extensive consultation and agreements with populations living close to or within the projected park.

  • Attracting other interested stakeholders – including local and international NGOs and funding agencies – to participate in creating and managing peace parks.

  • Designing a system of annual rewards for the most successful peace parks.

  • Producing curricula, education and teaching materials where biodiversity conservation is combined with the promotion of a culture of peace.

This should have the following results:

  • An increase in the number of peace parks and a significant contribution to biodiversity conservation, adding benefits for planned or existing biological corridors.

  • Increased opportunities for visitor centres and qualified guides.

  • Better possibilities to involve greater cooperation between governmental organizations and NGOs in their efforts to create peace parks, including a welcome participation of potential donors. There is for example a significant initiative between two private conservation organizations in Bolivia and Paraguay to merge two places in the dry Chaco area, where a well-remembered war was fought in the 1930s.

  • Propitious scenarios for education, short international courses, research, ecological and cultural tourism, and the promotion of peace as an instrument for reconciliation.

  • The creation of marine peace parks, since abating pollution from outside the park could be justified in mitigating or avoiding present and future conflicts.

Gerardo Budowski is Professor Emeritus, Department of Natural Resources and Peace at the University for Peace, Costa Rica.

PHOTOGRAPH: Ronnie de Camino


Transboundary protected area (TBPA): An area of land and/or sea that straddles one or more boundaries between states, sub-national units such as provinces and regions, autonomous areas and/or areas beyond the limits of national sovereignty or jurisdiction, whose constituent parts are especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed cooperatively through legal or other effective means.

Parks for peace (also sometimes called peace parks): Parks for peace are transboundary areas that are formally dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and to the promotion of peace and cooperation.


The demilitarized zone which stretches across the Korean peninsula has become one of the most valuable wildlife havens on Earth. Nature has flourished in the 250-kilometre long, 4-kilometre wide belt which has been almost entirely untouched by people since the end of the Korean War in 1953. It is believed to be home to some 2,200 species of wild animals and plants, including some highly endangered ones. Surveys suggest that it provides wintering grounds for two of the world’s most threatened bird species, the white-naped crane and the red-crowned crane, and supports amur leopards, Asiatic black bears and possibly the last remaining population of the Siberian tiger.

In recent years there has been a growing hope that this last vestige of the Cold War could become a symbol of peace. In 2001 former South African president Nelson Mandela proposed that the two Koreas should build a ‘peace park’ inside the demilitarized zone – to help peace take root in one of the world’s last Cold War frontiers. He put the idea to his fellow Nobel Peace Prizewinner, the then President of the Republic of Korea, Kim Dae-jung, who relayed the proposal to the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north.

The Peace Parks Foundation – whose Patron Emeritus is Nelson Mandela – says: ‘Dr Mandela’s meeting with the South Korean President was very positive on this issue and information from the North indicates that “green” is very important to their culture.’

Transboundary conservation areas, or peace parks, have a long history; the first – the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park between the United States and Canada – was established in 1932. In more recent times they have long been promoted by IUCN-The World Conservation Union, and the Peace Parks Foundation was set up in 1997. Southern Africa leads with six such parks – including the Great Limpopo Park between Mozambique and South Africa – and 16 potential ones. IUCN has identified 169 potential peace parks spanning 113 nations worldwide.

Nelson Mandela says: ‘I know of no political movement, no philosophy, no ideology, which does not agree with the peace parks concept as we see it going into fruition today. It is a concept that can be embraced by all.’

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Action for tomorrow | Turning words into action | One hand washes the other | People | Fragile resource | Realizing the dream | Washing away poverty | At a glance: Water and sanitation | Music makes magic – Angélique Kidjo | Targeting sanitation | In a city like Mumbai | Flowing from the bottom up | Books & products | Watering a thirsty land | Peace through parks | Reaching the unheard

Complementary issues:
Culture, Values and the Environment, 1996
The Way Ahead, 1997
Biological Diversity, 2000
WSSD, 2002
World Heritage and Protected Areas, 2003