More than 100,000 different species of insects, 600 species of birds and 150 species of amphibians reside in this place. Several uncontacted indigenous peoples also dwell among these trees. Unfortunately for this life, it also shares its home with millions of barrels of oil hidden beneath its lush surface.
The picture for Yasuní National Park, located in the Amazonian stretches of eastern Ecuador, looks grim. In an impoverished country (28.9 percent of the population lives beneath the poverty line) where oil counts as more than half the country’s export earnings, the park begins to look more like a valuable commodity rather than a nature reserve.
However, there is hope for the creatures and cultures in Yasuní National Park.
In 2007, President Rafael Correa made a groundbreaking offer to the world: In exchange for $3.6 billion, Correa will ban drilling on an estimated 850 millions barrels of oil (20 percent of Ecuador’s known oil reserves) inside Yasuní’s northeastern corner in a tract known as the ITT Block.
According to the so-called Yasuní-ITT Initiative, the funds (representing half of the potential gains of exploiting the oil) would be used for community development and alternative energy projects.
While Ecuador received pledges totaling more than its goal of $100 million in 2011, it struggled to raise the planned $291 million in 2012. In order to combat the slow growth of the program, the country is planning a large marketing campaign focused on North America and Australia. Instead of only accepting donations of $100,000 or more from governments and corporations, the fund now accepts any donation greater than $25 in an attempt to generate more income.
However, even if the initiative itself is unsuccessful, it represents a new idea in the global conservation conversation. It allows poorer countries to ask the world for help in protecting their natural splendor. It keeps irreplaceable beauty out of the power of the flighty masses and greedy companies. It also buys time: The longer the Yasuní can be saved from drilling, the longer humanity has to engineer drilling and extracting processes that are less harmful.
Critics of the Yasuní-ITT Initiative claim Correa is committing “environmental blackmail.” However, Correa is simply looking for help from the rest of the world to protect one of its jewels. The Yasuní is not only a treasure of Ecuador, but of each citizen of our globe, and thus, each person should contribute to its upkeep.
The initiative is not perfect. National parks should be protected from drilling without having a price on their heads, but it is a step in the right direction.
As the world demand for oil and other natural resources increases and supplies dwindle, national parks will begin disappearing. What were once temples of the natural world will slowly become financial assets to be bargained and traded. Correa has offered a change of tone to the conversation that should not be ignored, but should instead be considered as a viable option as a new conservation strategy for cash-strapped countries.
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