Central America - power to the people

05 November 2012 | Article

Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean is a unique region. Home to high levels of biodiversity, including remarkable species and ecosystems that are found nowhere else on earth, its natural services benefit not just the region but the entire world.

Alongside its diverse ecosystems that include wetlands, seagrass beds, fisheries, coral reefs and tropical forests, this region has a rich cultural heritage represented by indigenous peoples who harbour a vast reservoir of traditional knowledge.

However, this natural and cultural richness is threatened by poverty, inequity and a host of environmental challenges that hamper efforts to achieve sustainable development.

Conservation policies, when they do exist, often fail in their implementation because of lack of governance, low budgets for environmental agencies and conservation projects, poor land planning and the exclusion of civil society in decision making.

This situation has increased the loss of biodiversity and affected livelihoods and ecosystems which local people depend on. Indigenous rights are often ignored when big infrastructure such as dams, mines and oil installations are built in areas where rural settlements have existed for years.

Insular Caribbean, Central America and some regions of southern Mexico are seriously affected by the impacts of climate change. Droughts, floods and storms not only affect the natural resilience of ecosystems but lead to poverty, loss of infrastructure, and loss of traditional livelihoods.

IUCN is addressing these challenges in many ways. One is to help rural and indigenous peoples influence political decisions and help set the conservation agenda. It is helping to create the necessary legal frameworks and strengthen civil society organizations.

Achieving the equitable and sustainable use of nature and its services means coordinating the efforts of partners, members and organizations that work with IUCN.

Together we’re developing field projects to boost natural and social resilience and to reduce the vulnerability associated with climate change and environmental degradation. Examples include ecosystem restoration, integrated water management, and strengthening local capacity to expand the options for sustainable livelihoods.