One of the world’s most diverse and pristine forests is at risk of dissipating, as it could soon fall into the hands of multinational oil companies come January 2012.
Yasuní Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini (Yasuní-ITT), a virtually untouched national park in the Ecuadorian Amazon, lies atop approximately one billion barrels of oil, worth up to $100 each, as well as hundreds of thousands of plant species that could be beneficial to the medical world.
Launched by Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa at the 2007 UN General Assembly, the Yasuni-ITT Initiative has received acclaim from conservationists and environmentalists the world over. The innovative plan seeks to protect the park by leaving its vast oil reserves undeveloped in exchange for half the assessed value, to be paid out to Ecuador via a Multi-Donor Trust Fund, administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
(also see video at end of article)
“It’s an international responsibility,” Bisrat Aklilu, UNDP’s executive director for the Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office, tells MediaGlobal. “Saving Yasuní is really important to saving the entire world.”
The fund requires a minimum $100 million payment by 31 December 2011, to remain viable. If this goal can’t be met, Ecuador can refund the donations and open up the park to development. Relying exclusively on corporate and governmental donations, only a little over half the goal has been reached, forcing Correa and the plan’s supporters to reach out to the international community to help them protect the 9,820-square-kilometer park.
According to Science Daily, any oil exploration or exploitation will “present the greatest threat” to Yasuní, leading many scientists the world over, including famed primatologist Jane Goodall and “father of sociobiology” Edward O. Wilson, to call for the park to be protected from oil conglomerates.
Named by the UN Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a “biosphere reserve” in 1989, Yasuní-ITT is home to nearly five million hectares of bio-diverse rainforest and some 600 types of birds, 170 mammals, 560 species of fish, over 300 reptile and amphibian species, as well as harboring the richest area in the world of woody plant species.
“When it comes to the development of pain killers, or antibiotics, there are organisms that are unique to this area,” Aklilu stressed. “If these resources are gone, we cannot get them back.”
In accordance with Ecuador’s National Plan for Good Living, which “guarantees the rights of nature and promotes a healthy and sustainable environment,” Correa’s initiative “responds to the commitments of governments to eradicate poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”
Ivonne Baki, Yasuní-ITT Commission Chair and former Ecuadorian Ambassador to the US, tells MediaGlobal, “The proposal comes from a developing country, dependent on oil; it becomes innovative and visionary to make a commitment that marks an example for development and international responsibility.”
Correa’s initiative also sets out to protect an estimated 180 tribal groups of the indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian communities, who have for decades voluntarily isolated themselves from the rest of the world. “These ancient people are part of this natural world and are under the protection of the [Ecuadorian] Constitution,” said Baki, “Protection of the Park is a proposed model conservation development – a substantial part is a commitment to the Ecuadorian people, their future, and the future of the planet.”
Considering the stakes, the Yasuní-ITT Initiative has yet to receive funds needed to keep the crude oil underground. “At first we had total cooperation from countries, but as the economy grows worse, it’s harder to get them involved,” Aklilu tells MediaGlobal. With hopes of a deadline extension, UNDP launched a private donor page, providing an opportunity to those people around the world to act and help protect Yasuní.
“We’ve had people from Australia donating money,” Aklilu said enthusiastically. “Why is this cause so important to someone in Australia?” Another notable donation came from Canadian investment banker Nina Chen, who, with the support of her husband, donated her entire year’s salary to the initiative.
“It’s great to have the support of countries, but when a private citizen donates whatever they can, that really means something,” said Aklilu.
If you’d like to find out more about the initiative or would like to donate, visit the Yasuní-ITT Initiative home page.
Images courtesy of UNDP
Photography/video upload by: Laurent Y.Peter