Elephants – in particular the forest elephants of Central Africa – are being poached at unprecedented rates for their valuable ivory. It is estimated that at least 200,000 forest elephants – a whopping 65 percent of the elephant population – have been slaughtered since 2002. Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been hotspots for the killing.
Now you might ask why we should care--an especially appropriate question to ask as we celebrate Earth Day. As humans, we may be attached to charismatic species such as elephants – but will their extinction affect us directly? The answer is yes. The intricate interconnections within ecosystems mean that the disappearance of a species has effects that are never limited to just that particular species. The impact can be broad and deep, affecting other animal and plant species, our water supply, people’s livelihoods, and even – in small ways – the climate.
If I had to pick one critical source of exports and a key driver of economic growth for Armenia, I would pick mining.
But mining is a risky business and is fraught with hurdles. Exploration often comes up empty. Investments are very large, in excess of hundreds of millions dollars. Commodity prices can change dramatically and governments can change policies and taxes. Moreover, there can be large environmental and social risks associated with things like tailings, dams, and resettlement policies.
A risky business does not, however, mean that mining is or should be an irresponsible business. Many of these risks can be mitigated or eliminated. This requires proper policies, laws, regulations, careful implementation, and planning for life when the mine closes – all of this even before the mine opens. Supporting policies, such as easy access to updated geological information and predictability in transferring licenses, reduce the risk in exploration.
Remember when you were a kid and everyone asked: “What do you want to become when you grow up?” What did you answer? Have you fulfilled your dreams?
Most of us aspire to live our lives to the fullest; to develop our talents; to make a difference in the world. Sometimes we may feel lost in the great scheme of things. But as the World Bank Group’s Jim Yong Kim points out: The most successful movements to change the world started with a small group of like-minded people. Think of the movements to find a treatment for AIDS, to promote human rights or to ensure gender equality.
We know that numbers are useful. We rely on them to analyze global economic trends, but also to count calories, create passwords, manage schedules and track our spending. Numbers give order to the chaos of our lives. And that means we can use numbers to reflect, learn, and re-discover ourselves.
We’ve launched a new YouTube series called ‘My Favorite Number,’ that shows how a single digit can give us unique insight into global development and humanity. A number can have a profound effect on human lives.
It 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.
What is it about oceans? Ocean events seem to be getting bigger and broader in their participation. No matter whether the people in the room are representing government, seafood companies, private foundations, or conservation groups, they are unified by one thing: the need for serious action and soon.
Late 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.
But nothing stays the same forever.
Why should this matter to people who care about development? Illegal fishing can undermine the livelihoods of poor people who depend on the ocean to make a living. The evasion of tax and royalty regimes can deprive developing countries up to hundreds of millions of dollars a year in much-needed revenues. In some regions, the rate of illegal fishing is high enough to endanger the sustainable management of a resource already stressed by overfishing.