Ever heard of a debt-for-nature swap? As strange as it sounds, it is a wonderful way to aid poor countries and preserve biodiversity at the same time.
Third World countries face a dilemma: how do they save their precious habitats and at the same time provide for the growing population? Not surprisingly, the people take priority. Therefore, pristine environmental locations are destroyed in the race for new resources and new farmland. These habitats contain varieties of specialized species and exotic plants that may only be found in that one place. Though these developing countries may be internationally pressured to conserve their environment, they simply cannot afford to set aside tracts of land and maintain them.
Even worse, many of these countries are heavily indebted to wealthier nations such as the U.S. That means part of their GNP each year must go to paying back the debt.
Fortunately, debt-for-nature swaps help solve the problem. Basically, the program allows for the wealthier nations to forgive some debt in return for the poor country to preserve a certain piece of land. For example, the U.S. agreed to forgive Costa Rica of $26 million in return for the preservation of Costa Rica's unique tropical rainforests. In the short term, the animals and plants can thrive and the people of Costa Rica have a little more money to use. In the long run, the whole world will benefit from preserving the environment's biodiversity.
Other countries that have experienced this exchange include Belize, Panama, and Jamaica. For more information, visit The Nature Conservancy. This image is from the Redwood Forest Foundation.