Reprinted with kind permission from ENS newsletter 20 March 2006-06-24 http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/mar2006/2006-03-19-01.asp
CURITIBA, Brazil, March 19, 2006 (ENS) -
The realization that conservation of indigenous sacred places also conserves Earth's embattled biological diversity is the inspiration for a new international initiative to safeguard ancient sacred natural sites.
The new project, backed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and indigenous peoples' groups such as the Foundation created by Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu, has secured preliminary funding from a multi-billion dollar development fund, the Global Environment Facility. Menchu said, "It may seem accidental, but is not accidental, that where indigenous peoples live is where the greatest biological diversity, the diversity of nature, exists too. The values on which indigenous peoples have built our complex systems are founded in the ethical, spiritual and sacred nature that links our peoples with the whole work of creation." "This is why we demand the formal recognition of our conservation efforts, of our protected territories, of our sacred places, of the ethical values that support our lifestyles," she said.
1992 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala (Photo courtesy Fundacion Rigoberta Menchu Tum)
The project, Conservation of Biodiversity Rich Sacred Natural Sites, will be publicly unveiled at the 8th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) taking place in Curitiba, Brazil, between March 20 and 31. Many of the mountains, forests and islands, desert oases, lakes, rivers and groves recognized by indigenous peoples as having cultural and spiritual significance also shelter endangered and threatened species. Experts have selected several such sites as pilot ecosystems of global importance. Included in the list of pilot projects is a site in Mexico's Chihuahuan Desert where it is said the sun was born, and a network of skull caves in the Kakamega forests in Kenya, revered by Taita and Luhya people. Other pilot sites are Mount Ausangate in the Peru's Vilcanota mountain range, a group of islands in Guinea Bissau whose beaches and mangroves are used exclusively for rituals, and sacred forest groves in the India's Kodagu District.
Mount Ausangate stands 6,380 meters (20,905 feet) in the Peruvian Andes, towering over hot springs and glacier-fed multicolored lakes. (Photo by Norman Benton courtesy Still Pictures/UNEP)
"There is clear and growing evidence of a link between cultural diversity and biodiversity, between reverence for the land and a location and a breadth of often unique and special plants and animals," said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer. "Sadly sacred sites are also under threat and there is an urgent need to help local, indigenous and traditional peoples safeguard their heritage which in turn can do much to conserve the biological and genetic diversity upon which we all depend," he said. In 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, governments committed themselves to reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010.
"Conserving sacred sites and their biological richness can play a major role in achieving the 2010 target and perhaps act as beacons from where good and sustainable management practices can be exported to nearby areas and beyond," said Toepfer. Supporters, which include a wide range of conservation organizations, other United Nations bodies and governments, are now raising the over $1.7 million needed to start action on the ground. Gonzalo Oviedo of IUCN-the World Conservation Union, one of the organizations involved, said, "Communities managing such sites have made many efforts locally to try and boost the prospects for such sites, but to date global action has been far from the level needed to ensure a global shift in their fortunes. This project aims to cement a wide alliance and mobilize the international attention so urgently needed in this neglected field."
A series of side events on biodiversity and indigenous peoples is being held at the 8th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity, opening Monday in Curitiba. Visit: www.biodiv.org
Sacred Sites - the Pilot Network
A Bijagos man at a festival in the Baloma-Bijagos archipelago (Photo courtesy Guinea-Bissau.net)
Two sites have been earmarked in Kenya: The Tiriki ceremonial sites in the west and the Taita skull caves in the coastal province.
The Kakamega indigenous forest in Kenya (Photo by Charlotte Thege courtesy Still Pictures/UNEP)
An old bridge in the Wirikuta region, Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. (Photo courtesy CalState-LA)
Puma runs through the Manu National Park, Peru (Photo by Heinz Plenge courtesy Still Pictures/UNEP)
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