British cash will pay to update land ownership registers and fight environmental crime, official says
By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, June 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain pledged on Friday to give Colombia 64 million pounds ($80 million) to help the South American nation protect its threatened tropical forests as part of a new four-year conservation program targeting areas with high deforestation rates.
The money will be spent on updating a register of land ownership and use - known as a cadastre - as well as stepping up efforts to fight environmental crimes such as illegal logging, said Roberto Mario Esmeral, Colombia's environment vice minister.
It will also aim to create sustainable jobs in rural farming communities, he said.
Each year about 200,000 hectares of tropical forest are destroyed to make way for farming, cattle ranching or coca production, or as a result of illegal logging and mining, according to official figures.
Deforestation is rising in Colombia's protected areas and national parks, including in parts of its Amazon rainforest in the country's south.
More needs to be done to monitor and combat environmental violations, Esmeral said.
"This is everyone's responsibility," he noted during an online meeting to launch the project.
"We all have to unite and to start to denounce when we identify these crimes," said Esmeral, who is vice minister of territorial environmental planning.
Parts of the Amazon, the world's largest tropical rainforest, covers about 26 million hectares (100,300 square miles) of Colombia's territory.
Protecting the forest is considered vital to slowing global climate change because it absorbs vast amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide.
Colombia's national parks are not generally guarded by park rangers, instead relying on indigenous communities and military units for protection.
In February, Colombia said it will create a special military unit, including troops and equipment from the army, air force, navy and national police, focused on protecting national parks and stepping up operations against illegal armed groups who cut trees or cause forest fires.
About 22,000 members of Colombia's security forces are already involved in protecting the country's diverse ecosystems, from tropical forests to wetlands.
Last year, nearly 90 military operations were carried out to help protect the environment, according to defence ministry figures.
Those included seizing illegal timber and arresting more than 200 people for environmental crimes, according to the ministry.
The new British-financed project will also invest in building a more up-to-date cadastre in areas with high deforestation rates.
Better land registry records make property ownership clearer and help authorities make more informed decisions about which land to protect, said Esmeral.
"It can be a source of information to conserve forests and plan the ... sustainable use of the land," he said.
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Laurie Goering Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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