Empowering Indigenous Peoples

By Kessler, Rebecca | Environmental Health Perspectives, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Empowering Indigenous Peoples


Kessler, Rebecca, Environmental Health Perspectives


Deforestation, erosion, and loss of biodiversity all directly affect Central American indigenous peoples' sustenance, health, and way of life. The new Integrated Ecosystem Management in Indigenous Communities Regional Program (IEM) aims to alleviate these problems and the extreme poverty of many indigenous groups by helping communities manage their lands sustainably. The IEM will help communities establish and manage conservation areas and finance income-generating projects like sustainable tourism, sustainable forestry, and production of handicrafts, organic coffee and cocoa, and other traditional products. The program emphasizes traditional land management practices to combat declining biodiversity, soil, and water quality.

"One objective is to strengthen local groups to prepare strategies to help with these problems," says Alberto Chinchilla, regional facilitator for the Central America Indigenous and Peasant Coordination Association for Community Agroforestry. This group, along with the Central American Indigenous Council and Central American Commission for Environment and Development (CCAD), will implement the program.

The IEM will support small projects in some 550 communities in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, where nearly 7 million indigenous people account for about a quarter of the population. The Global Environment Facility granted the program $9 million through the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank, cofinanced through other projects from both banks. Indigenous groups and CCAD will contribute another $2.5 million.

Indigenous groups' environmental problems stem from their tenuous rights to the land they occupy, advocates say. Not all of the region's nations enforce or even legally recognize indigenous land rights. Nor do governments or the World Bank require indigenous groups' consent before approving projects that affect their lands or require their forced relocation, say advocates.

Poverty and encroachment onto their lands by ranchers, Farmers and loggers wielding environmentally devastating practices has led many indigenous groups to forsake traditional land use practices for often unsustainable hunting, agriculture, and timber harvest methods. …

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