Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013, Claudia Lewis, Plan C Initiative, Carlos L. de la Rosa, Catalina Island Conservancy, "The Youth Guide to Biodiversity" 1st Edition (Chapter 12) Youth and United Nations Global Alliance. Reproduced with permission.
Chapter 12. Verbatim.
The success of conservation programmes and measures, whether government initiated or not, ultimately depends on human behaviour and community action.
This is especially true of international-level programmes. No matter how clever a strategy to conserve biodiversity may be, or how strict the international treaties ratified are, unless people in the relevant areas embrace them, success is impossible or short-lived at best.
The involvement of civil society can take place in many forms. Sometimes grassroots movements lead the way, other times they get involved after international and/or national organisations decide to implement a programme. In other cases, all parties may work at the same time to evaluate issues or devise and implement solutions.
Local Community Involvement Is The Key
Governments and organisations working directly withlocal communities in the development of sustainable practices are more likely to be successful and have a lasting effect on the conservation of biological resources.
Communities are closest to these resources and are their true ‘managers’. The communities are often very knowledgeable, and can provide critically important information for the development of programmes to conserve biodiversity.
When communities are an integral part of the development and implementation of conservation programmes, they become empowered and have a sense of ownership of the programmes, making them more likely to care, inform and/or help other communities to follow suit. Also, by having a say in the decisions that affect biodiversity, communities can ensure that they will derive direct or indirect benefits from the conservation measures.
On the other hand, if communities are indifferent about nature, or if they lack the incentives, knowledge, resources or means to help conserve it, biodiversity pays the price.
The more informed the public are about issues and the impact of their own actions, the better they understand what constitutes harmful practices and the more willing they will be to utilise more sustainable practices, thus lessening their impact. Informed citizens can also influence environmental policies, elect politicians who will protect the environment, and remain vocal and active in keeping biodiversity issues on the agenda.
Environmental Disasters Caused By A Lack Of Involvement
The Cuyahoga River in Northeast Ohio, USA , is an example of what can happen when the public doesn’t get involved in the stewardship of their resources. This river was once one of the most polluted rivers in the United States, and a large portion of it was totally devoid of fish and other wildlife. The Cuyahoga became famous for being the river that caught fire, and not just once but more than a dozen times! The first fire occurred in 1868, and the largest one was in 1952.
In those days, burning rivers in industrialised areas were common; rivers flowing through urban centres served as convenient sewers for industrial and human wastes. When the Cuyahoga’s worst fire occurred, the citizens of Cleveland said the fire was no big deal and the chief of the fire department called it “strictly a run-of-the-mill fire”! In 1969, a fire on the river captured the attention of the Times magazine, which described it as the river that “oozes rather than flows” and in which a person “does not drown but decays”.
This last fire, and the publicity it generated, finally spurred an avalanche of water pollution regulations, including the Clean Water Act, which sets limits on the amounts of pollution acceptable in all freshwater systems across the USA . Although these dramatic events occurred at a time when there were no water pollution regulations, it was the apathy and lack of involvement of the local citizens that allowed the situation to escalate to the point where it developed into an ecological catastrophe.