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#BestOf2014: Six Popular Environmental Stories You Shouldn’t Miss

Andy Shuai Liu's picture
As we get ready to kick off the new year, let’s recount the voices and stories about how we can enhance the way we interact with our planet. From Ethiopia to Indonesia, we’ve seen our efforts improve lives and help incomes grow as countries and communities strive for greener landscapes, healthier oceans and cleaner air.
 
Take a look back at some of the most popular stories you may have missed in 2014:
 
1. Raising More Fish to Meet Rising DemandPhoto by Nathan Jones via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Aquaculture is on the rise to help feed a growing population. New #Fish2030 report: http://t.co/0fbH4fLDJO http://t.co/Lm5eHsGZaR

— World Bank (@WorldBank) February 6, 2014

Empowering new generations to act

Paula Caballero's picture
Photo by CIAT via CIFOR FlickrWhen I look at the rate of resource depletion, at soil erosion and declining fish stocks, at climate change’s impacts on nearly every ecosystem, I see a physical world that is slowly but inexorably degrading. I call it the "receding reality"—the new normal—slow onset phenomena that lull us into passivity and acceptance of a less rich and diverse world.

In my lifetime, I have seen waters that were teeming with multi-colored fish, turn dead like an empty aquarium. I have seen the streets of Bogota, my home town, lose thousands of trees in a matter of years.

It’s tempting to feel demoralized. But as the world’s protected area specialists, conservationists and decision makers gather in Sydney, Australia, this week for the World Parks Congress, there is also much to hope for.

 

Trafficking wildlife and transmitting disease: Bold threats in an era of Ebola

Timothy Bouley's picture

The illegal wildlife trade opens up countless opportunities to spread different diseases.


​The Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone continues to spread despite country and international efforts to stop it in its tracks and make sure it never returns.  As of October 1, 3,338 people have died and 7,178 are infected. More people have perished in this latest Ebola outbreak than in all previous outbreaks of the virus on the continent combined. In addition to the large number of people who have died, and the steady march of new infections, the three hardest-hit countries are also suffering heavy economic costs from trade and travel restrictions, food being in short supply, and other impacts.  While health workers, international health agencies and charities work furiously to contain the outbreak, we must also think ahead so that we might avoid similar epidemics in the future. What might the first step be? Better understanding the animal origins of Ebola and other infectious diseases so that we can prevent an epidemic like this from ever happening again.

Ebola is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it is transmitted from animals to humans. In past outbreaks, this has occurred during the handling of wildlife – bats, gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys, even porcupines. The running hypothesis for this outbreak is that it came from bats, though an early focus of consideration was on primates trafficked through capital cities. Regardless of the precise path of transmission, it is clear that we must examine human relationships with wildlife to ensure we protect against this and other future disease risks.

Beyond the allure of the Serengeti: What can nature-based tourism do for development?

Paula Caballero's picture
Ruaha is home to 10 percent of the world’s shrinking lion population

Think Tanzania and you may imagine yourself in the plains of the Serengeti or the peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro. This week I was in Ruaha National Park, the second largest national park in all of Africa, but merely a blip on the tourist map. It is not just geographically large but ecologically rich and mega diverse – it has more than 1,400 species of plants and is home to abundant iconic wildlife species. Compare the tourism traffic:  while Serengeti has 300,000 visitors annually, Ruaha has only 20,000 per year. Despite its share of nature’s bounty, Ruaha symbolizes a missed opportunity to be an engine of growth for Tanzania. By building an effective sustainable tourism policy, this reality could change fairly quickly.
 

Can Carnivorous Animals Boost Education and Agriculture, and Fight Climate Change?

Julian Lee's picture

Lion in Kenya. Curt Carnemark/World BankIt may seem like a silly question. And of course I’m not proposing that we stock schools with bears and lions – that would probably keep students away. Nor am I suggesting that saving lions will solve the undersupply of education in developing countries. Rather, I am making a broader point about the links between different parts of ecosystems, which often have an indirect but underappreciated bearing on human development.

Habitat conversion and fragmentation, depletion of prey, and hunting have in many parts of the world reduced the ranges of wolves, lions, bears, tigers, sea otters, and other large carnivores to less than half of their original range. When their numbers nosedive, we not only lose iconic species. Ecosystems also lose the keystone species that eat smaller carnivores and herbivores. When fewer animals down the food chain get eaten, ecosystems change – and those changes affect us humans too. A recent article in Science Magazine casts a systematic light on the issue, and its lessons are important for development.

On land, large carnivores can help ensure functioning ecosystems. Consider the case of West Africa, where lions and leopard populations have dropped precipitously. Both species hunt olive baboons, which in turn like to eat the small antelopes, livestock, and food crops that humans also consume. Fewer lions and leopards have resulted in more baboons and more competition for food with humans. In some areas, baboon raids on fields have even forced families to keep children home from school so that they can protect the family crops. Also, since carnivores often go after sick prey, they reduce the prevalence of disease in their prey population. This can limit disease spillover between wild and domesticated animals, as well as cut related pastoralism and animal husbandry costs.

Why We Need to Count Elephants (and Other Natural Resources)

Julian Lee's picture

Elephants with Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. Curt Carnemark / World BankLate last year, ministers and delegates from some 30 countries met in Botswana to discuss how to fight the booming illegal trade in ivory that is decimating Africa’s elephant population.
 
CITES estimates that 22,000 elephants were killed in Central and East Africa in just the year 2012. Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda are just a few of the countries affected by elephant poaching. The poached ivory is used for ornamental carvings that serve as status symbols, religious icons, and collector’s items for buyers across East Asia, Europe, and North America. This is not just a conservation issue. Wildlife crime is also a development and security challenge: It undermines government authority, breeds corruption, increases the supply of small arms, and destroys valuable natural resources. So the growing political attention wildlife crime is receiving – British Prime Minister David Cameron will host the next summit in February – is a welcome sign of high-level political commitment to address the crisis.

The Fight to End Wildlife Crime Is a Fight for Humanity

Valerie Hickey's picture

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Elephants in Kenya. Curt Carnemark/World Bank

Elephant ivory is on the march. Not elephants, but their ivory. The elephants are left bloodied and dead on the range. So are many rangers who work to protect a country’s natural capital. In the past 10 years, over 1,000 rangers have been murdered in 35 countries alone; the International Ranger Federation tell us that as many as 5,000 may have been murdered worldwide in that time.
 

At the CITES COP – the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species – the halls in Bangkok ring loud with concern for the elephants and other charismatic species, particularly rhinos, that are being exterminated across Africa in pursuit of private profit, at the expense of communities that rely on nature for their food, shelter, start-up capital, and safety net in a warming world.


So why should the World Bank care? Our concern is to build strong economies and healthy communities by revving the engine of inclusive green growth as we prepare countries and communities for the impacts of climate change.

What does this have to do with elephant ivory you ask? Simply put, we cannot achieve our dream of a world without poverty without taking account of the rise in wildlife crime.

Where wild tigers roam

Anne Elicaño's picture
No tigers made an appearance but this little fellow emerged from across the stream while I was at a lookout tower in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, Thailand.

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There are only about 250 tigers in the wild left in Thailand and around 3,200* globally. Not a single one made an appearance when I covered the Global Tiger Initiative’s Regional Training on the Smart Patrol System at the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary but I learned more about tigers then than I ever did at a zoo.

Experts give urgent call to save wild tigers

Tony Whitten's picture
There is a great deal of passion surrounding the subject of tiger conservation, and there was a great deal of energy at the recent Global Tiger Workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo courtesy of catlovers under a Creative Commons license.)

I’m writing this in Kathmandu, Nepal, at the end of the Global Tiger Workshop, the latest event leading up to the Tiger Summit expected to be held late next year in Vladivostok. This process all began with the major launch of the Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) in Washington, DC, in June 2008, and direct engagement with the tiger range countries on the issue of illegal wildlife trade really took off in Pattaya, Thailand, in April this year with ASEAN-WEN and other partners.

This was no ordinary World Bank-facilitated meeting inasmuch as National Geographic filmed the event, and it included a kilometer-long, elephant-led parade of children calling for the conservation of tigers. The GTI team keyed into the Asian and global media through op-eds, press releases, and YouTube. It also had significant support from the highest levels of the Nepali government which excelled itself not just in organizational support and hospitality, but also in commitments for tiger conservation – i.e. plans to double the size of one of its top tiger habitats, Bardia National Park. As remarked by Eric Dinerstein, World Wildlife Fund-US Chief Scientist, there has not been such a positive period for the future of Nepal’s tigers in all the 35 years he has been living in and visiting Nepal.

Returning to Siberut: 30 years later, little has changed on remote Indonesian island

Tony Whitten's picture

Go anywhere after a 30 year break and you expect to see change – and you hope things will be better. Thus my wife Jane and I, together with our four children, were intrigued to see what life was like now on Siberut, the largest and most northerly of the Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra, when we visited it a few weeks ago. Jane and I had lived in a hut in the middle of the island conducting wildlife research for over two years until 1978. We wanted to see our closest friend there, Potifar Tengatiti Siribetuk, as well as other old friends, our old study area, some of the remaining traditional houses, and as many of Siberut’s four endemic species of primates as we could.

Visiting the island and the provincial capital of Padang also provided an opportunity to observe the impacts of the $1 million of grants which had focused on Siberut under the Phase 1 of the World Bank-implemented Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. These grants had followed on from an Asian Development Bank loan project (pdf) from 1992-2000 which was not a resounding success for a variety of reasons. This had itself followed on from WWF projects.


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