Protected areas play an essential role in contributing to poverty alleviation and sustainable development. In addition to serving as world’s most effective instrument for conserving biological diversity, protected areas are recognized as an important tool in maintaining ecosystem services, which many people around the world, particularly the poor, are directly dependent on for their livelihood and well-being ( Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005
). Maintaining biodiversity is vital to preserving essential human well-being ecosystem functions and services. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the services provided by ecosystems include: provisioning services – food, fresh water, timber, fiber, genetic resources and bio-chemicals; regulatory services – water, climate and disease regulation and water purification; cultural services – recreation and ecotourism, educational and spiritual; and supporting services – bio-geophysical systems of soil formation, nutrient cycling and biological production that support all other services ( Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005
Despite their importance, most of these ecosystem services are being used unsustainably. Based on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
, 15 out of 25 essential services provided by ecosystems are being degraded and overused (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). In turn, deteriorating ecosystems and biodiversity loss have devastating effects on the health and well-being of individuals, limiting the availability of fresh water, food and other basic necessities. Furthermore, ecosystems degradation and habitat destruction seriously weaken the ecological resilience of ecosystems and their ability to safeguard communities by regulating hazards, thus making poor people most vulnerable to natural disasters, such as storms, floods and droughts (Roe and Bond, 2007). The health impacts from unsustainable use of ecosystem services, including unsafe water and sanitation, climate change, air pollution and growing disease burdens, are felt most acutely by the world’s poorest, who depend heavily on forests, pastures, farming and fisheries for their livelihood (TEEB, 2008).
Therefore, recognizing the link between ecosystem services and the health and well-being of individuals, it must be understood that meeting the Millennium Development Goals without taking measures to conserve biodiversity and protect ecosystems is impossible: “The loss of services derived from ecosystems is a significant barrier to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the MDG targets for 2015” ( Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005
, 18). Based on the evidence presented in the Millennium Assessment report, in order to sustain critical ecosystem services in the long run, the integrity and completeness of ecosystems must be maintained. For this reason, protected areas can serve as a powerful tool in helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and targets ( Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005
Hence, if properly designed and maintained, protected areas can substantially contribute to poverty alleviation. Although as many as 130,000 of protected areas have been established worldwide, covering 13% of the world’s terrestrial surface, many protected areas are inadequately maintained and shockingly underfunded (http://www.cbd.int/protected). The LifeWeb Initiative plays an instrumental role in strengthening financing for protected areas, thus serving as an important mechanism contributing to the improvement of health and well-being of individuals around the world.