The U.S is forgiving debt to protect lush forests like this one in Costa Rica.© www.costarica.com
In what amounts to the largest "debt-for-nature" swap in history, the U.S. government last week forgave $26 million owed it by Costa Rica on the stipulation that the funds be spent on the preservation of tropical rainforest tracts important for the survival of a wide range of endangered and as-yet unknown species of plants and animals in the lush Central American nation. The U.S. is also kicking in an additional $12 million to help spur on forest conservation efforts, while The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International, the two leading international conservation nonprofits that helped broker the deal, also put in almost $1 million.
According to Zdenka Piskulich, The Nature Conservancy’s Costa Rica program director, this particular debt swap is unique not just for its monetary size but also in that it uses scientific analysis to determine the six sites throughout the country where the funds are most sorely needed. She adds that the funding will also help local communities "to pursue sustainable and economically viable livelihoods, thus improving their lives and sustaining the biodiverse resources on which they depend."
Countries with large intact swaths of tropical rainforests (and democratically elected governments committed to economic reform) are eligible for a debt swap with the U.S. as long as they use the funds to finance forest conservation under the guidelines of 1988’s Tropical Forest Conservation Act. The former largest debt-for-nature swap took place in October 2006, when the U.S. forgave $24.4 million in Guatemalan debt to be used for forest conservation efforts. To date, the U.S. has arranged more than a dozen debt-for-nature swaps worth upwards of $170 million for conservation’s sake, not only in Costa Rica and Guatemala, but also Bangladesh, Belize, Botswana, Colombia, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay, the Philippines and Peru.