Peru Swaps Debt For Tropical Rainforest Protection

WASHINGTON, DC, June 26, 2002 (ENS) - Peru's rare pink river dolphins, jaguars, scarlet macaws, walking palms and giant water lilies will be better protected after an agreement signed today in Washington under which the United States cancelled $14 million in Peruvian debt payments.

For the first time, conservation groups joined the U.S. government in making up the funding to finance a debt-for-nature swap. These debt swaps relieve foreign debt in exchange for a government's commitment to spend a certain amount of their local currency for conservation work.

Under the agreement, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and the World Wildlife Fund each committed approximately $370,000 for a total of $1.1 million. The U.S. government allocated $5.5 million to cancel a portion of Peru's debt to the United States.

Treasury Department Under Secretary for International Affairs, John Taylor, and Peruvian Finance Minister Pedro Paulo Kuczynski signed the agreement today at the U.S. Treasury Department.

As a result, Peru will save about $14 million in debt payments over the next 16 years, and will provide the local currency equivalent of approximately $10.6 million toward conservation over the next 12 years.

At the signing ceremony, Under Secretary Taylor said the Bush administration is committed to "protecting this hemisphere's natural resources," and is using the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998 to fund this debt-for-nature swap.

"From the top of the Andes to the Amazon basin, Peru is home to 84 of the 103 types of "life zones" found on Earth, with nine "life zones" in Machu Picchu alone," Taylor said today. "The funds generated will go towards protecting rainforests in Peru, including the Peruvian Amazon. This area is home to dozens of endangered species, such as the jaguar, harpy eagle, the giant river otter, black caiman, and several species of macaws and rare plants such as walking palms and giant water lilies," he said.

The debt swap will generate funds for distribution to local Peruvian conservation groups that will use them to protect 10 tropical rainforest areas covering more than 27.5 million acres within the Peruvian Amazon -about the size of the state of Virginia.

"This strong international partnership marks a key step in protecting a spectacular place that is among the biologically richest on Earth and facing imminent threats," said Peter Seligmann, chairman and CEO of Conservation International.

Threats to these areas include the loss of habitat due to unsustainable logging of hardwoods such as mahogany and cedar, conversion of forest land to agriculture, mining, oil and gas exploration and unsustainable harvesting of nontimber forest products such as Brazil nuts and hearts of palm, the U.S. conservation groups say.

"This agreement provided a perfect opportunity for our organization and our conservation group partners to put our monies where our convictions lie," said Steve McCormick, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. "We have long advocated the use of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act as a tool to help protect vital rainforests around the globe, so being able to pitch in to help make this agreement happen is particularly gratifying to me."

"With this debt-for-nature swap, one of the world's great biological libraries can be saved for future generations," said Kathryn Fuller, president of WWF. "We applaud the governments of Peru and the United States for helping protect these places of exceptional wonder and beauty."

The Peruvian conservation groups may use the funds to establish, restore, protect and maintain parks, protected areas and reserves.

They can improve natural resource management systems and train individuals and organizations involved in conservation efforts. Funding can be used in the development and support of livelihoods for people living in or near these tropical forest in ways that help protect them.

The funds may be used for the restoration, protection, or sustainable use of animal and plant species, and for the research and identification of medicinal uses of tropical forest plant life to treat human diseases, illnesses, and health-related concerns.

Under Secretary Taylor said today's agreement is the second U.S. debt-for-nature swap, and the fifth agreement concluded under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act.

"We are still looking to extend the benefits of the program," said Taylor. "We have already seen agreements with Bangladesh, Belize, El Salvador, and Thailand, we expect to conclude an agreement with the Philippines this year."


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