Bolivia is one of the top 15 countries in the World in terms of biodiversity and endemic species. Consequently, Bolivia is of high priority for the international conservation community and so far more than 16% of the country’s surface has been declared protected area.
However, Bolivia is also one of the poorest countries in Latin America, desperately seeking ways of rapid development. This often involves the exploitation of natural resources, such as land, timber, minerals and petroleum in national parks and other areas that provide important environmental services.
Given that conservation and human development are both very worthwhile objectives, it is important to find ways to maximize both simultaneously, or at the very least have the other objective firmly in mind when maximizing the one that one happens to consider of primary importance.
Balancing and integrating the objectives of conservation and human development in Bolivia is exactly what we are trying to do in a series of joint projects with several other development and conservation institutions in Bolivia (1).
Fortunately, there does not seem to be a strong trade-off between conservation and development in Bolivia. It is a big country, with enough space for both humans and natural areas. The key is to take advantage of the impressive geographical variation in this country. Some areas are clearly more important for the conservation community than others, because they have higher biodiversity, more unique species, store more carbon, or bring a clean and steady flow of water to more people. Similarly, some areas are more attractive for human development than others. Unless the two priorities are highly correlated, and that does not seem to be the case, it is possible to super-impose the two maps of priorities and create an “optimal” mosaic of land uses (2). Some areas will be obvious candidates for conservation, while others will be obvious candidates for human activities. This means that interventions will only be necessary in the areas of conflict between the two objectives.
Conflict is often brought about by unfortunate location of public infrastructure investments. If you invest hundreds of millions of dollars in roads and other infrastructure smack in the middle of a high priority conservation area (e.g. Chapare), you are clearly not maximizing both objectives simultaneously, and probably not even one of them.
I hope that future infrastructure projects will be located with a serious attempt at maximizing human development and minimizing environmental damage, rather than succumbing to pressure from outside interests or pressure from small special interest groups within Bolivia.
I also hope that the conservation community will help find ways in which Bolivians can benefit from the extremely high levels of bio-diversity, so that conservation not just implies succumbing to outside pressure as well.
Know of any examples where the environment and development work together beneficially? Leave a reply below.
(*) Director, Institute for Advanced Development Studies, La Paz, Bolivia. The author happily receives comments at the following e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) See the Environment & Development projects at INESAD.
(2) See Andersen, L. E., J. C. Ledezma & M. Vargas (2006) “Un Mosaico de Conservación, Desarrollo Humano y Tensiones en el Corredor Amboró-Madidi.” Development Research Working Paper No. 04/2006. Institute for Advanced Development Studies, La Paz, Bolivia, June.