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Giant panda and cub - Sichuan, China. Credit: UNESCO.

Emergency funding ‘critical for the wellbeing of World Heritage sites’

Posted on: 12.11.14 (Last edited) 11 November 2014

As leaders gather for the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, a new report highlights the importance of emergency funding for World Heritage sites in times of crisis.

Giant pandas, Sumatran rhinos and eastern lowland gorillas are just three species to have benefited from emergency support provided by the Rapid Response Facility (RRF), according to a new report released today.

Many of the world’s disasters occur without warning and can have horrific and irreversible consequences without timely intervention. The new report, Rapid Response Facility: Legacy Review, assesses the impact of emergency funding on World Heritage sites during times of crisis.

Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, Brazil. Credit: Marcelo Scaranari.

Sometimes an immediate response is needed. Credit: Marcelo Scaranari.

“If your house is ablaze, buckets of water aren’t going to help much – by the time you’ve put out the flames, all your valuables will have been destroyed,” explains Esther Bertram, Senior Programme Manager at Fauna & Flora International.

“In the same way, some wildlife emergencies need a faster response than can be provided by traditional fundraising mechanisms, and this is where the RRF comes in – providing support when it is most needed, to ensure that a crisis doesn’t become a catastrophe.”

Earthquake recovery for giant pandas

To date, UNESCO has designated 197 natural World Heritage sites – areas of outstanding natural value (containing important natural habitats or significant ecological, biological and geological processes), which are often home to unique and critically important wildlife populations.

When these sites are threatened by natural or man-made disasters, the RRF provides emergency funding that allows park authorities to respond immediately to alleviate the imminent threat and put in place the foundations needed to achieve a lasting positive change.

A collaboration between Fauna & Flora International and UNESCO, the RRF assesses emergency grant applications within eight days, ensuring that funds are on the ground before it is too late.

Among other case studies, the report highlights the May 2008 earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province which caused extensive damage and halted daily conservation activities in the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries World Heritage site, located just 50 km from the epicentre of the earthquake.

Giant panda. Credit: Xiaohegou Nature Reserve.

Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries World Heritage Site is home to over 30% of wild giant pandas. Credit: Xiaohegou Nature Reserve.

Funding provided through the RRF allowed the Dujiangyan World Heritage Conservation Association to replace critical equipment, recommence panda monitoring and repair infrastructure damage. The lessons learned from this incident were put to good use in April 2013, when another earthquake of 7.0 magnitude hit the site.

Other cases highlighted in the report range from natural disasters such as wildfires and tidal surges to man-made crises such as oil spills, sudden escalations in wildlife poaching, and unregulated developments.

Saving lives

It is not just wildlife that has benefited from this support, however. One poignant case study describes how the RRF responded after a ranger was killed by armed illegal loggers in Pang Sida National Park, Thailand.

Funds allocated through the RRF allowed local organisation FREELAND Foundation to carry out intensive ranger training (including gunshot first aid) as well as other activities aimed at boosting the number of staff and park patrols.

Ranger training. Credit: FREELAND Foundation.

Ranger training supported by the RRF is helping to save lives. Credit: FREELAND Foundation.

Rangers have reported that their first aid training helped them successfully evacuate one ranger (who was wounded in an armed encounter) and deal with other injuries sustained in the field, demonstrating that the RRF is not just about saving protected areas – it’s about saving lives.

Setting the agenda for protected area conservation

To date the RRF has contributed to the protection of nearly 30 million hectares of the world’s most valuable natural habitats. Yet this is a small fraction of our planet’s incredible natural areas, many of which face similar pressures but are not yet protected.

The publication of the RRF report coincides with the start of the IUCN World Parks Congress – the global forum on protected areas, which is taking place from 12-19 November. The congress will highlight the imperative role that protected areas play in the preservation of nature and provision of ecosystem services, and seeks to set the agenda for protected area conservation for the decade to come.

To find out more, read the full RRF report (PDF). You can also stay up to date with RRF activities on Twitter and Facebook.

Main image courtesy of UNESCO.

Written by
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Sarah Rakowski

Sarah is Fauna & Flora International's Communications Manager. With a BSc in Environment, Economics and Ecology, she has long been fascinated with the challenge of balancing human needs and environmental protection.

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