The coronavirus pandemic has placed further focus on the dangers associated with failing to preserve the natural world. Furthermore, economic growth and sustainable development depend on the natural environment. GIZ is therefore working in around 100 projects worldwide to preserve biodiversity – showing that it is possible for human beings to live in harmony with nature.
One million of the estimated eight million species on the Earth are threatened with extinction. This development has serious consequences which also affect human beings. ‘Conserving biodiversity is of existential importance to humankind. It is about protecting resources vital to human life,’ says Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven, member of the Management Board of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. ‘The loss of biodiversity also threatens economic growth and sustainable development – particularly in our partner countries. The survival of over 60 per cent of the rural population in Africa depends directly on the natural world,’ she adds.
The current coronavirus pandemic also originated in a failure to conserve nature and in the shrinking wildlife habitats. This brings humans into critical proximity with wildlife, which increases the risk of what are called infectious zoonotic diseases. Studies have shown that more than three quarters of all newly emerging infectious diseases affecting humans originate in the animal kingdom.
‘The current pandemic has acted as a wake-up call and shown just how disastrous the effects of destruction of biodiversity can be,’ says Hoven. ‘For this reason GIZ supports schemes such as the establishment of the International Alliance against Health Risks in Trade with Wild Animals.’ This alliance was initiated by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), and is intended to take consistent action against unregulated trade in and markets for wild animals. ‘Risks to health can be reduced by providing information and through alternative sources of income,’ Hoven explains. These activities realise the basic idea of the One Health approach: ‘This is because the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and the environment.’
GIZ has been pioneering the conservation of biodiversity for many years. Around 100 projects around the world are aligned primarily on the objectives of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. This means, for instance, that in 2019, protection was improved for 775,000 km² of natural habitat. This is an area roughly twice the size of Germany. Sustainable management has conserved 219,000 km² of forests – and 12 million people have benefited from nature conservation.
Mangroves protect humans and the climate
Take mangrove forests, for example. They are home to countless species of plants and animals. For human beings, these coastal forests are both life-savers and a supply of food. They act as a barrier against flooding because a mangrove belt 100 meters wide can dissipate two thirds of the energy from storm surges. The regeneration of mangroves can be up to five times more cost-efficient than artificial breakwaters. At the same time, they store large quantities of carbon and thus mitigate climate change.
The largest contiguous mangrove forests in the world are the Sundarbans in Bangladesh and India, covering an area of over 10,000 km². They provide habitats for a large number of animal and plant species, including 355 different species of birds, dolphins and the Bengal tiger. Yet large sections of this habitat are seriously threatened. A total of 4.5 million people live in villages on the margins of the Sundarbans. They go fishing, gather honey and cut wood, which means that the population is heavily dependent on the forest. In addition, rapid population and economic growth also pushes up their demand for natural resources. Furthermore, the rising sea level and increasingly severe storms resulting from climate change are also affecting the mangrove forests.
This impacts on mangrove forests worldwide. ‘At present we’re losing mangrove forests faster than tropical rainforests,’ says Jochen Renger, climate expert and Director of GIZ’s Climate Change, Rural Development, Infrastructure Division. Around 20,000 hectares is lost every year. Approximately 40 percent of the mangroves that existed in 2019 have been destroyed.
Finding the right balance between humans and nature
GIZ supports the coastal population in the Sundarbans and around the world in sustainably managing the mangrove forests. The benefits are three-fold: food security and income for the local coastal population, habitats for flora and fauna, and reduced emissions (good for the global climate). As in the Sundarbans, GIZ involves the local population directly in many projects engaged in the conservation and sustainable use of mangrove forests. Wildlife rangers receive training and patrol local protection, observe partners and document the ecological development of the mangrove forests.
‘Projects like the Sundarbans show that it’s possible for nature and humans to live in harmony while preserving the resources essential to life,’ Renger says. Yet the mangrove forests are just one example among numerous ecosystems that supply people with important ecosystem services – such as fertile soil, clean water, regulation of the climate, protection from extreme weather events, and raw materials for medicines. ‘Sustainable development is inconceivable without conserving these important resources for life,’ Renger explains.
Last update: May 2021