This initiative, which was officially launched in Curitiba with support from the three Bornean governments - Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia and Malaysia - aims to preserve one of the most important centres of biological diversity in the world. It includes some 220,000 sq. kms. of equatorial forests and numerous wildlife species.
"Today's announcement by the three governments shows vision and leadership," said James Leape, WWF International's Director General. "Three countries sharing one conservation vision give hope to one of the most important areas for biodiversity in the world."
A recent WWF report highlighted that 361 new species have been discovered in the last ten years.
"The Heart of Borneo harbours up to six per cent of the world's total biodiversity and is the source of 14 of the island's 20 major rivers," said Mr. Arman Mallolongan, Director General, Forest Protection and Nature Conservation, Indonesian Ministry of Forestry. "Conserving the Heart of Borneo will not only save hundreds or even thousands of species, but also provide water security, food security and cultural survival for the people of Borneo."
Dato Suboh, Secretary General of the Malaysian Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment said ghe initiative represented 'a very significant milestone for transboundary cooperation'.
Half forest gone
Today, only half of Borneo's forest cover remains, down from 75 per cent in the mid 1980s. According to WWF, all lowland rainforests in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, would disappear by 2010, if the current deforestation rate of 1.3 million hectares per year continues. That's an area equivalent to about one-third the size of Switzerland. Forest fires, the conversion of forests to plantations, and logging are also driving the destruction of Borneo's forests.
Nevertheless, there is reason for optimism, WWF says. Healthy forests cover much of highlands and adjacent foothills along the borders of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia, connecting in places with rich, lowland forests to form a corridor of life - the Heart of Borneo.
In addition, the three Bornean governments recently announced new conservation measures within the Heart of Borneo. Malaysia declared it will protect more than 200,000ha of key forest habitat in Sabah for the protection of orang-utans, elephants and rhinos; Brunei has established two conservation areas; and Indonesia has proposed a new national park of 800,000ha.
According to WWF, today's announcement also spells the end of plans to create the world's largest palm oil plantation in Kalimantan along Indonesia's mountainous border with Malaysia. The scheme - supported by Chinese investments - was expected to cover an area of 1.8 million hectares and would have had long-lasting, damaging consequences on the Heart of Borneo. WWF repeatedly said new oil palm plantations should be established on degraded, non-forested land.
"WWF considers the Heart of Borneo to be one of its top global priorities," added Leape. "It is hugely important to maintain a large enough area of Borneo's forests for the survival of the natural ecosystems. This is critical for sustainable development, and WWF stands ready to assist Borneo's three governments with technical and financial support, so that we can make the conservation vision a reality."
The Government of Brunei's representative, Mr. Mahmud Yussof, said he hoped a tri-country Declaration for the Heart of Borneo could be signed at the fourteenth session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, next May in New York.
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