Surprisingly large proportions of protected areas lie on borders between countries. In Africa, for instance, 40% of national parks are found along borders. A further phenomenon is that protected areas often lie close to one another on either side of the border. The Peace Park concept is based on the belief that the collaboration of bordering nations to share in the management of the natural areas that lie between them, promotes peaceful relations between these nations. Dr Robert A G Davies, a wildlife biologist and illustrator based in South Africa, reports on transboundary protected areas and peace parks.
Of all the conservation measures that environmentalists are propagating and governments and parks boards are taking to slow down the rate of loss of global biodiversity, perhaps the most bold is the setting aside of pieces of land formally designated as “protected areas”.
These are not distributed over the planet randomly. Unexpectedly large proportions of protected areas are associated with border regions between countries. In Africa, for instance, 40% of national parks are found along borders. Furthermore, protected areas aligned to the borders of different countries very often lie in close proximity to one another on either side of the border. These have been identified as Transboundary Protected Areas or TBPAs.
To animal and plant populations, TBPAs represent large contiguous refuges of intact habitat. To people they represent opportunities to manage natural resources co-operatively on a truly international level. These benefits have been increasingly recognised by the major international conservation and development agencies. As a direct result of this, TBPAs are now proliferating globally.
Africa, Central America and Europe harbour large numbers of TBPAs. Such regions of the globe contain many countries and thus are well-sampled by international boundaries. Protected areas along these boundaries may coalesce into much larger contiguous conservation areas than the individual countries can each afford, especially where these are well-populated. Furthermore, multiple TBPAs in regions with many borders may be connected through network programmes such as the Central American Biological Corridor development to provide a co-ordinated spatial framework to conservation strategy.
In Southern Africa TBPAs are referred to as Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) because their sphere of influence often extends beyond the protected areas involved into buffer zones, conservancies and other forms of land-use. Examples of TBPAs in Namibia are the Skeleton Coast Park in the far north-west and Angola’s Iona Park, separated by the Kunene River, and in the south the Hunsberg Mountains and South Africa’s Richtersveld, separated by the Orange River.
How do TBPAs come into existence?
The total amount of protected areas adjacent to national boundaries and adjoining across these boundaries is still being debated, but is thought to comprise between 10% and 25% of all protected areas worldwide. The spatial tendency for protected areas in different countries to come together at borders may be explained as follows. National boundaries often pass through remote areas, distant from more developed parts of nations, and are frequently areas that may be marginal for agriculture and thus suited to conservation.
National boundaries often follow barriers to human movement such as expanses of water, deserts and mountain ranges. Thus transboundary areas, despite their sometimes-arbitrary political bisection, often have a strong ecological identity of their own to which the fauna and flora and often also the indigenous people have adapted over time.
TBPAs thus represent opportunities to escape political limitations and achieve more holistic conservation objectives. They represent a more open-minded shift in thinking from natural resources “owned” and managed by individual nations, to natural resources shared by nations and managed through co-operation. There are 136 TBPA complexes that have been identified worldwide. With the growth of interest in this field of conservation there is now an acute need for information on TBPAs, which is readily available in a standardised format. This can be considered as a focused component of the wider need for information on protected areas recognised in general at the World Parks Congress in Caracas in 1992.
As mentioned before, it is firmly held in many quarters that the collaboration of adjacent nations to share in the management of natural areas that lie between them promotes peaceful relations between these nations. It sets an example or precedent for international relations on other matters.
Recognising this, many TBPAs are now considered for serving as Peace Parks, and two of these have been formally incorporated into peace accords in the Middle East and Latin America. This is an entirely new field, and the contribution made by TBPAs in the promotion of peace is not as well documented as their contribution to conservation. It is a field in great need of research and testing.
Co-operative management of shared resources has proved beneficial to human relations in certain other instances. For example, the joint exploration for oil reserves and their successful commercialisation in the South Atlantic by Britain and Argentina has done much to restore Anglo-Argentine relations following the Falklands war.
Where use of an internationally occurring natural resource by more than one country is unsustainable, it is a source for future conflict. It is widely predicted that future water shortages will cause war in the Middle East and Southern Africa. It follows that TBPAs may have a very obvious role to play in promoting peace by ensuring wise management and facilitating equitable use of water supplies where catchments are transboundary and involve conservation areas.
Proponents of a “Peace Parks Concept” believe in synergistic properties of TBPAs – that co-operative conservation encourages peaceful relations and that peace provides the right political environment for further conservation. The concept brings together many disciplines (conservation, development, humanitarian, security, and international law). Should these assertions prove correct, TBPAs may be used as tools to cultivate peace between people and their environment and to extend this quality into the fabric of local and regional societies. This potential of TBPAs has caught the interest of a number of peace-promoting organisations world-wide and there is now a much wider audience wishing to learn and hear more about the subject.
Global Partnership for Peace Parks
Recognising the need for a consolidated effort regarding TBPAs, a global consortium or partnership has been forged between the University for Peace (UP), the World Conservation Union (IUCN – Protected Areas Programme), the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWFN), and possibly the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC). This Global Partner-ship for Peace Parks aims to take the TBPA movement further by complementing and not duplicating other related endeavours such as the Protected Areas Database and the Protected Areas Resource Centre project (PARC). The establishment of a TBPA Resource Centre is seen as a major component of the Global Partnership.
The partnership will work closely with other organisations involved with TBPAs or which have an interest in their success. Future partners may be considered. One suggestion received during this consultation process was the involvement of a global humanitarian organisation or a peace-promoting NGO.
This article appeared in the 2001 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.