Protecting biological diversity is critical - not just for the intrinsic value of a particular butterfly species or a specific rainforest, but for the vital role that biodiversity plays in people’s lives.
When biodiversity is threatened, people’s livelihoods are also put at risk. The communities on Papua New Guinea’s Fly and Ok Tedi Rivers are losing their staple food, the sago palm, due to the pollution spewed out by BHP Billiton’s Ok Tedi mine. The Ogoni of the Niger Delta can no longer safely eat the periwinkles, oysters and crabs upon which they have long depended because of repeated oil spills in their mangrove forests by Shell and other companies.
Members of the Penan in Sarawak suffer from skin diseases, headaches and stomach pains from the chemicals and oil dumped into their rivers by Malaysian companies logging for export. And the people of Tambogrande, Peru fear they will lose their sustainable livelihoods as fruit farmers if Manhattan Minerals’ open-pit gold mine goes ahead as planned.
These cases and many more found in this publication illustrate how dependent humans are upon biological diversity. This biodiversity is disappearing at an alarming rate: an estimated one third of global biodiversity has been lost since 1970, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2000.
On the human front, the rural poor – not only in the South but everywhere – are the main victims of this loss. Farmers, small-scale fisherfolk, and indigenous and other forest peoples are facing rapid economic, social and cultural impoverishment as the basic stock of their livelihoods is depleted. They are being forced to subsist without seeds, fertile land, water, food, fish stocks and the numerous goods and services provided to them by forests, wetlands and other ecosystems.