World’s richest biodiversity hotspots are most war prone

February 21st, 2009 - 3:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 21 (IANS) More than 80 percent of the world’s major conflicts have taken place in the the most biologically rich and diverse places on earth, a new study says.
These hotspots are considered top conservation priorities because they house more than half of all plant species and at least 42 percent of all vertebrates, and are highly threatened.

The study found that more than 80 percent of major armed conflicts - defined as those resulting in more than 1,000 deaths - occurred in countries that contain one of the 34 biodiversity hotspots. While 81 percent took place within specific hotspots. A total of 23 hotspots experienced war over the half-century period studied.

Titled “Warfare in Biodiversity Hotspots”, the study by leading international conservation scientists, compared major conflict zones with the earth’s 34 biodiversity hotspots identified by Conservation International (CI).

“This astounding conclusion - that the richest storehouses of life on the earth are also the regions of the most human conflict - tells us that these areas are essential for both biodiversity conservation and human well-being,” said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of CI and study co-author.

“Millions of the world’s poorest people live in (these) hotspots and depend on healthy ecosystems for their survival, so there is a moral obligation - as well as political and social responsibility - to protect these places and all the resources and services they provide.”

Examples of the nature-conflict connection include the Vietnam War, where the poisonous Agent Orange destroyed forest cover and coastal mangroves, and timber harvesting that funded war chests in Liberia, Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In those and countless other cases, the collateral damage of war harmed both the biological wealth of the region and the ability of the people to live off of it.

In addition, war refugees must hunt, gather firewood or build encampments to survive, increasing the pressure on local resources. More weapons means increased hunting for bush meat and widespread poaching that can decimate wildlife populations - such as 95 percent of the hippopotamus slaughtered in DRC’s Virunga National Park, according to a CI release.

“The consequences extend far beyond the actual fighting,” said lead author Thor Hanson of the University of Idaho.

“War preparations and lingering post-conflict activities also have important implications for biodiversity hotspots and the people who live there.”

In total, the hotspots are home to a majority of the world’s 1.2 billion poorest people who rely on the resources and services provided by natural ecosystems for their daily survival.

These findings were published in Conservation Biology.

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