It is indeed a sad piece of news for the world that Ecuador will abandon its plan to protect the pristine Amazon preserve in Yasuni National Park, considered  “the biologically richest place on Earth”, from oil exploitation.

Yasuni in north-eastern Ecuador is home to one-third of all mammal types found in the Amazon region. As many as 28 of the vertebrates on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature are at home in the park. Ironically, Yasuni also holds about 20% of Ecuador’s oil.

Announcing the decision, which has enraged environmental activists in Ecuador, President Rafael Correa has reportedly criticised industrialised countries for their failure to provide the “solidarity” money he had expected in exchange for not drilling in the park.

Under a plan proposed in 2007 and formalised in 2010, Ecuador had agreed to hold off on oil drilling if the developed world contributed $3.6bn to a Trust Fund, established in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, to finance renewable energy projects and compensate for the sacrifice of an estimated $18.3bn in oil revenues.

But Correa said that over the past six years, it has received only $13.3mn - 0.37% of what it had expected by this time. The president says Ecuador needs the income from three oil fields in the park to fight against poverty.

Test drillings have showed rich reserves in three areas of the park - Ishpingo, Tambococha and Tiputini - after which the Yasuni-ITT Trust Fund was named.

Correa has signed a decree asking Parliament to approve drilling in Yasuni, as Ecuador’s Constitution recognises the Rights of Nature and natural resources cannot be exploited without specific permission.

Though the proposed drilling is said to affect only 0.1% of the 1mn-hectare park, it is feared that it would further endanger the fragile eco-system of a pristine environment already threatened by oil exploration in the adjacent areas.

A Unesco world Biosphere Reserve since 1989, Yasuni is one of the most intact sections remaining in the Amazon Basin and home to two of the last indigenous communities living in voluntary isolation to preserve their ancient cultures and traditions – the Tagaeri and Taromenane, both belonging to the Waorani ethnicity.

Because of its unique location at the intersection of the Amazon, the Andean Mountains, and the Equator and its function as a biological refuge during the last ice age, Yasuni is home to 2,704 species of vascular plants, 596 species of birds, 382 species of freshwater fish, at least 169 species of mammals, 151 species of amphibians and 121 species of reptiles.

There are also more than 100,000 species of insects per hectare, the highest number in the world. Every year, more species are being discovered in Yasuni. To borrow the words of environmental scientist Prof Kelly Swing, Yasuni hosts “about one-tenth of all life on the entire planet Earth”.

Protecting Yasuni is not just Ecuador’s responsibility as the rest of the world also benefits from the oxygen and fresh water generated from the park, to say the least.


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