A Guest Blog Post by Kelly Keenan Aylward
Washington Office Director, Wildlife Conservation Society
While much of the aid that the United States sends abroad directly addresses health, food and security needs, a similarly important portion of U.S. assistance benefits the environmental conservation work in developing countries. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Biodiversity Program, Sustainable Landscapes, and Adaptation Program all seek to protect the natural environment in places that, for mostly economic reasons, are under threat.
During the current debate on foreign assistance priorities, authoritative voices from Secretary Hillary Clinton to General David Petraeus to Senator Lindsay Graham are imparting its benefits to American interests including national security and trade; this is true, and conservation funding contributes to that. Since President Obama announced in 2010 the three pillars of his Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, identifying priority objectives in the areas of global climate change, global food security, and global health, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has offered conservation-focused policy reform recommendations to U.S. development agencies by drawing on its decades of experience as an implementing partner.
Recently, members of the administration, Congress, non-governmental organizations and international governments came together on Capitol Hill to discuss conservation as development, specifically in the new country of Southern Sudan. As the only environmental non-profit organization on the ground in Sudan, WCS and program director Dr. Paul Elkan do critical work advising the government on natural resource management, mediating land-use disputes between conflicting tribes and developing infrastructure to turn Southern Sudan’s majestic wildlife into a thriving ecotourism industry.
Dr. Elkan was the featured presenter at the policy briefing event. The undercurrent of the event was the notion of reforming foreign assistance by aiming to reinforce diplomatic investment with development. Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), USAID Science and Technology Adviser Dr. Alex Dehgan, and USAID Sudan Deputy Mission Director Susan Fine spoke of the need to bolster diplomacy with an infusion of aid dollars in order to ensure those the initial investments sustain.
One of the clearest examples of success in this approach has been WCS’s work in Southern Sudan. The U.S. committed much energy and resources to ensuring a peaceful and smooth separation of Northern and Southern Sudan before and during the successful referendum on independence. Now, WCS is helping establish sound land and resource policy within the burgeoning government of Southern Sudan to broaden the economic base and ultimately prevent a regression into violence.
The development agencies would do well to use such a model for insuring diplomatic outcomes. In Sudan, ‘development by conservation’ will hopefully encourage the nascent democracy with the strong economic foundation it needs to stand on and continue to grow peacefully.