If so many poor people live around national parks in developing countries, does that mean that these parks are contributing to their poverty?
Yes, according to the conventional wisdom, but no, according to a 10-year study of people living around Kibale National Park in Uganda that was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Often people have lamented that the poorest of the poor live on the edge of the parks, and the assumption is that it's the parks that are keeping people poor," said Lisa Naughton, a professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The issue matters, she said, because "people say we can't afford to protect biodiversity" if that inflicts further economic hardship on people who are already poor.
"This project demonstrates the value of using integrated approaches to examine the complex interactions between people and the environments they occupy," said Thomas Baerwald, a program director for the Geography and Spatial Sciences Program at the National Science Foundation, which partially funded the study.
To explore the relationship of parks, poverty and biodiversity conservation, Naughton and colleagues monitored 252 families living within three miles of Kibale National Park beginning in 1996. The general trend 10 years later was toward greater prosperity, as measured by access to clean drinking water, ownership of more livestock, and living under an improved roof rather than the traditional thatch.
"Most of the households came out ahead, are a lot better off than when we started," said Naughton, who has worked in Uganda for more than 20 years. "I go back every couple of years, and people are generally optimistic, some say they never imagined life would be this good."
But 10 percent of the families in the original study sold or lost their land and moved away, which indicates severe poverty, said co-author Jennifer Alix-Garcia, an ass
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