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Protected areas seen as way to help poor

Protected areas seen as way to help poor

Areport on protected areas in the Lower Mekong region has recommended the country

manage its protected areas under a single system and integrate them into the national

poverty reduction strategy (NPRS).

The report, which was sponsored by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), found that

protected areas are becoming increasingly important in the economic development of

sectors such as tourism, energy, water resource management and agriculture.

It recommended setting up conservation trust funds at the local and national level,

and implementing a user-pay principle to tax industries that benefit from natural

services.

It remains to be seen whether the government will adopt the proposal. The review,

which was finished in March, will be sent to ministries and project partners such

as the Asian Development Bank and Mekong River Commission this month. Similar reviews

are underway in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.

The NPRS, which is a $1.5 billion effort to combat poverty, was approved by the National

Assembly earlier this year, but makes only general recommendations about how to meet

economic goals while offering ecological safeguards.

Russell Peterson, who heads NGO Forum, said the NPRS had room for revision.

"The government has said the NPRS is a rolling strategy," he said. "Any

new input such as the IUCN report should be able to be inserted into its poverty

plans."

IUCN's coordinator, Mao Kosal, said many of the initiatives envisioned in its report

were not detailed, but would be fleshed out over the coming months. At least nine

ministries ranging from industry to environment are engaged in discussions aimed

at protecting threatened areas.

Kosal said he had submitted the report to the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and Ministry

of Economy and Finance, and was awaiting a reply.

The MoE said it had already adopted sustainable development and decentralization

programs - central elements of the IUCN plan - in its conservation strategy. Meng

Monyrak, the MoE's deputy head of national parks and wildlife sanctuary office, said

sustainable development methods were being tested.

The MoE has handed over ten protected sites this year as demonstration projects for

community management. Monyrak said the idea was to alleviate poverty while ensuring

local communities guarded their natural resources. If it proved successful, he said,

more reserves could be introduced.

"This is a policy of poverty reduction and giving power to the community,"

he said.

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