– The protection of natural resources is reaching new heights in the South American country Suriname, where a $15 million conservation trust fund is a driving force in the country's economic development. Suriname's President, Jules Albert Wijdenbosch today announced the creation of the Suriname Conservation Foundation, endowed by Conservation International (CI), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Foundation (UNF).
"The establishment of the Foundation shows that there is global support for our country's commitment to nature and the protection of tropical forests. We welcome this investment as a way to preserve our planet's natural heritage," said President Wijdenbosch.
The Foundation will allow Suriname to plan for and manage protected areas equaling nearly 15 percent of the country's 63,039 square miles (163,320 square kilometers). This includes the 4 million acre (1.6 million hectare) Central Suriname Nature Reserve, created by the government in 1998 with an initial $1 million endowment raised through private funds by CI.
"Suriname has shown great leadership in establishing a new era of conservation-based economic development," said CI President, Russell A. Mittermeier. "The Foundation recognizes the challenge Suriname faces in making conservation a key part of its development. This capital investment will help them succeed in making economic progress while protecting this important tropical wilderness area."
Mohamed T. El-Ashry, CEO and Chairman of the GEF, said "We are pleased to approve a grant of US$9.54 million for the Suriname project which stands as an outstanding example of the kind of effective partnership the GEF seeks to support. It underscores Suriname's commitment to nature conservation and to sustainable development, as well as the important role of non-governmental organizations at the community level."
On-the-ground projects of the foundation will be guided by a board of directors that will seek participation among local and international non-governmental organizations. The foundation will also seek partnerships with the private sector and multilateral and bilateral government agencies to expand investment and further develop conservation enterprises as well as outreach and education programs.
Among the projects planned are biological assessments of the forest reserves to help create a management and monitoring system. Ecotourism development is also a major economic enterprise component. An international gathering will meet to begin charting ecotourism development in Suriname on April 10 in Paramaribo.
"UNDP is pleased to support the Government of Suriname and Conservation International in this groundbreaking collaboration to protect biodiversity through the establishment of the Central Suriname Nature reserve," said Elena Martinez, Director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean. "We welcome Suriname's generosity and foresight in setting aside such an important part of its territory for the benefit of not only the Surinamese people but for global society. UNDP is ready to play an active role in assisting Suriname to effectively integrate conservation and development."
"It is crucial that governments, the UN and civil society work together to create sustainable financing mechanisms for conservation if we are to be successful in protecting biodiversity, " said Timothy Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation. "The United Nations Foundation is proud to be part of this innovative program which can be a model for the world."
"Suriname should be commended for its commitment to biodiversity conservation. This fund will give them the opportunity to carry out a plan for development that already serves as a model for other countries," said Peter Seligmann, CI Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
Suriname claims more rain forest than all of Central America combined. The area now protected by the Central Suriname Nature Reserve was once targeted by international logging companies, which sought concessions in some 11 million acres.
The Central Suriname Nature Reserve is part of the Guayana Shield, the world's least disturbed tropical wilderness areas extending across the southern Guianas, southern Venezuela and adjacent parts of Brazil. These forests have at least 80 to 90 percent of their original forest cover and many, like Suriname's, are still in pristine condition, virtually uninhabited and in some places, unexplored. Other tropical wilderness areas are today found mainly in Western and Central Amazonia, Africa's Congo Basin and on the island of New Guinea.
UNESCO is currently considering the Central Suriname Nature Reserve as a World Heritage Site.