UNDP-sponsored Institute helping safeguard Thailand's protected areas
In an effort to address the emerging challenges of keeping Thailand’s national parks and wildlife sanctuaries both healthy and sustainable, UNDP and the Department the National Parks, Plants, and Wildlife Conservation in Thailand (DNP) established an “innovation” Institute—the benefits of which may extend beyond the country.
Efforts have been made to increase in forest coverage in Thailand, but coverage remains under 40 per cent of total land area. But this has always been a tall order, with around 500,000 people living inside protected areas, the increasing demand for land, mega-project investments, and the global challenge of climate change.
“Protected areas provide clean air, fresh water, food, and protection from floods for local people as well as those living in the urban areas. The links between the resources that ecosystems provide and well-being are clear and it’s important that we all understand their immense value,” said Sutharin Koonphol, Programme Analyst, Environment Unit at UNDP in Thailand.
Charged with four main goals, the National Parks and Protected Areas Innovation Institute is working on ways to create sustainable financing for payments for ecosystem services (PES), establish an information system for managing protected areas, providing vital research and development, and supporting Thailand’s convention obligations.
The Institute was established in part as a result of a $3.3 million UNDP/GEF-supported project titled, “Catalysing Sustainability of Thailand’s Protected Area System” or CATSPA, which focuses on developing and delivering new policy guidance enabling effective PA system management planning and financing.
The Institute has already made concrete contributions. It has drafted a master plan of Thailand’s national parks, which has just gone through stakeholder consultations, improved information and database for protected areas management plans using Management Effectiveness Tracking Tools as one of the means; and conducted economic valuations for selected protected areas to design revenue-raising programmes and PES schemes.
The five-year National Parks Master Plan is expected to be finalized by October 2013.
“We would like to build the Institute to become a think tank in protected area management, serving as a clearing house to support Thailand in its obligation to international conventions in the areas of biodiversity and climate change,” said Songtam Suksawang, Director of the Institute.
Evolved from Research and Development Unit, the Institute started its function late last year with a central unit in Bangkok with eights centers in four regions, with over 30 staff.
“In light of the ASEAN Integration in 2015, we also would like to position the institute as a leading hub for knowledge sharing and capacity building among ASEAN countries,” Suksawang said.
Suksawang said the institute has already started to gain traction and international recognition, providing trainings for visiting park managers from neighboring countries and have on-going projects on cross-boundary protected areas with Myanmar and Cambodia
UNDP Thailand's Koonphol said the Institute is expected to spearhead thinking and to provide scientific and technical information for policy decision-makers.