Laos, Mekong habitat hotspot aid helps communities, climate, conservation

Human lives and habitats intertwine
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With a habitat range boasting more biodiversity per square metre than the mighty Amazon basin, the arc where mountains meet the plains via the Mekong and other major river valleys form the Indo-Burma hotspot that includes Laos is well known as an area of immense natural and ecological value that is nevertheless under increased threat from degradation as populations and demands grow and the climate changes.

Efforts to protect, preserve and nurture wildlife habitat and the landscapes as well as the communities that live nearby have been given a boost via a 4-year project to support conservation activities centered on six high biodiversity landscapes in Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Encompassing some 14 protected areas in total regionwide, the Financing Agreement for the conservation of biodiversity and green growth in the Indo-Burma hotspot is co-financed by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the French Global Environment Facility (FFEM) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The hotspots in Laos subject to the agreement include Phou Sithone (Bolihamxay), Nam Gnouang (Bolikhamxay) and Nam et Phou Louey (Houapanh LPB and Xieng Khuang). 

The three parties inked an agreement in Vientiane Wednesday for joint implementation by local authorities of each country, the private sector and WCS teams on the ground.

The project will focus on 5 key components and follows a first 4-year phase (2014-2018) and aims at strengthening the achievements, extending geographical coverage and developing integrated management models for landscapes.

Components include (i) an integrated landscape management approach, (ii) development of community-led enterprises that value the conservation of biodiversity, (iii) Improvement of commercial practices for green growth, (iv) promotion of the application of environmental, social and governance safeguard standards, and (v) communication and experience-sharing.

‘Climate and Biodiversity are global common goods. Tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity are top priorities for France,’ Her Excellency Ms Florence Jeanblanc-Risler, Ambassador of France to the Lao PDR told the gathering for the signing of the agreement in Vientiane attended by Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Mr Khambounnath Xayanone and Director-General of Department of Forestry, Mr Susath Xayakhoummaane and representatives of the embassies of Myanmar and Cambodia to Laos.

“This project will directly address the strategies identified in Laos’ National Biodiversity and Action Plan that aims to enhance the role of biodiversity as a national heritage and as a substantial contributor to poverty alleviation, as well as sustainable and resilient economic growth,’ Dr Santi Saypanya, WCS Lao PDR Deputy Director said.

He said WCS has been present in the countries of Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia for over 20 years.

This project ‘fits very well within the National Biodiversity Strategies of each country, and setting up public-private partnerships to finance the protection of biodiversity is a sustainable mechanism to be modeled for ensuring inclusive local economic development’, Mr. Matthieu Bommier, Head of AFD Vientiane Office, told the gathering.

‘Lessons emerging from WCS’s regional program show that responding to large-scale drivers of deforestation in high biodiversity landscapes requires solutions that integrate action across multiple scales with engagement of local communities, government, business sector developers, and financial investors.

“These drivers of deforestation, which are local, national and international in scope and scale, continue to exert severe and growing pressure on protected areas and local livelihoods in these high biodiversity landscapes, and demand sustained and coordinated action at multiple scales to address them,’ he said.

This presence forms the backbone of the WCS Greater Mekong priority region, providing the most advanced WCS regional program in terms of addressing major cross-cutting threats to biodiversity conservation and human welfare.

WCS has multi-year MoUs with the governments of Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia enabling a smooth and collaborative continuation of activities from the previous phase.

A video highlighting ongoing efforts including the popular tourist-friendly Nam Nern Night Safari at Nam Et Phou Louey Protected Area in Huaphan province was also screened at the signing.

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