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Friday, November 27, 1998 Published at 19:07 GMT


WWF's panda campaigns for poor

Ending poverty matters as much as saving species, say campaigners

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The World Wide Fund for Nature, renowned for its work to save endangered species, is set to campaign overtly for the world's poor.

In a move which may startle some of its supporters, the British branch of the organisation, WWF-UK, will call for the promotion of basic human and political rights.

WWF-UK is holding a conference on 1 December on poverty elimination and the environment.

The secretary of state for international development, Clare Short, is due to launch her department's new environment policy at the conference.

Call for new vision

WWF believes action is urgent. Six years after the Rio Earth Summit, it says governments still see conflict between protecting the environment and working for sustainable development.

"A new approach is needed to ensure that poverty reduction and environmental protection is tackled as a single, indivisible issue," says WWF in a statement.

It argues that:

  • one-third of the natural world was destroyed between 1970 and 1995

  • the number of people living in absolute poverty is now 1.3 billion - 23% of the world's population

  • the world's poorest people live on the least productive land

  • rich countries still use more than twice their fair per capita share of basic resources, including grain, wood, fish, water and fossil fuels.

    WWF argues that solutions will require equity between countries, and political change within them.

    [ image: The poorest are pushed onto the most marginal land]
    The poorest are pushed onto the most marginal land
    It says it is trying to tackle the twin problems of conservation and poverty through more than 50 integrated conservation and development programmes (ICDPs).

    In Kenya, for example, a WWF project tries to ensure that much of the money generated by wildlife tourism goes to the local Masai people, to compensate them for the land they have lost for the tourists' sake.

    In Mexico WWF was involved in the formation of a local union, the Triumph of the Poor.

    This helped to negotiate better prices for farmers for the chillies they grew.

    And because the income of the communities doubled, they have adopted better farming techniques and are clearing less of the forest.

    [ image: Fun for tourists, but not for locals]
    Fun for tourists, but not for locals
    WWF says the developed world must ensure that international systems of trade, finance and investment, like the World Trade Organisation, support national strategies for sustainable development, instead of undermining them.

    And it says the promotion of basic human and political rights must be an important priority.

    The organisation is convinced that it cannot save animals without giving at least as much importance to the needs of people.

    A different campaign

    Its senior press and campaigns officer, Ed Matthew, says: "By providing poor people with alternative ways of meeting their economic aspirations without destroying nature, WWF is helping to protect the environment upon which both humans and wildlife depend."

    But other big development agencies which campaigned for political change in developing countries have been warned by the Charity Commissioners not to exceed their brief.

    Not everyone who puts money in a collector's tin to save the tiger will see the need to save people as well.

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