The Biodiversity Challenge - Supporting India’s Ecosystems

Bhuvan Pal Singh points to traditional medicinal plants in his village in Chhattisgarh
Bhuvan Pal Singh points to traditional medicinal plants in his village in Chhattisgarh

Recognising India’s rich biodiversity, the United Nations Development Programme is supporting several initiatives to conserve the country’s rich and diverse ecosystems and demonstrate strategies to reduce poverty.

Rapid economic growth and limitations in integrating environmental concerns into development planning have put increasing pressure on biodiversity across India. Globally recognised as a megadiverse country rich in biodiversity, India accounts for seven to eight percent of the world’s recorded species, thousands of species of animals and nearly half the world’s aquatic life. Conserving India’s biodiversity is of global significance. Recognising this, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting several initiatives across the country to conserve rich and diverse ecosystems and demonstrate strategies to reduce poverty. Their importance cannot be underscored in a country where 47.2 percent of those living below the national poverty line are members of scheduled tribes, the overwhelming inhabitants of India’s forest areas.

Highlight Title

  • UNDP’s conservation activities focus on elements such as conserving and enhancing floral and faunal diversity through the active involvement of joint forest management committees and sustainable livelihood support to communities
  • Engaged in protection of coastal and marine ecosystems in globally significant areas, arresting land degradation and extending conservation outside Protected Areas of several states
  • Established a network of Medicinal Plants Conservation Areas in several states in collaboration with the government
  • Integrated traditional medicine into the government’s primary healthcare system in 28 Primary Health Centres in the state of Karnataka
  • Improved the conservation status of rare and endangered species and associated reef fish in the Gulf of Mannar

Fifty-year-old Bhuvan Pal Singh can barely read or write but for thousands of inhabitants of the Katghora forest reserve in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh he holds a revered position as a traditional healer.

Bhuvan treats his patients with medicinal plants for free. He believes he cannot charge for knowledge that has been passed down for generations and for something that is after all from nature. Many of his patients travel miles for treatment and his register reveals the diversity of ailments he diagnoses, everything from backaches to cancer.

His wrinkly face lights up as he explains the medicinal treasures that the forests hide. “There are many things doctors can cure but so too can the forest,” he says. Home to 8,000 medicinal plants, India’s natural forests form the primary source of healthcare for 60 to 80 percent of the population and often the only succor for the 320 million that live on less than a dollar a day.

Changes in the last few years however have begun to worry him. “Five years ago it used to take me barely a day to find dhatu (an orchid commonly used to cure rheumatism) today it takes me double the time,” he worries.

Bhuvan is not alone in his concerns about his forest’s diminishing wealth. An estimated 10 percent of India’s flora and fauna are on the list of threatened species, and many more are on the verge of extinction.

Rapid economic growth and limitations in integrating environmental concerns into development planning have put increasing pressure on biodiversity across India, which is one of the globally recognized megadiverse countries rich in biodiversity. With only 2.4 percent of the earth’s land area, India accounts for seven to eight percent of the world’s recorded species.

Home to 89,000 species of animals, 46,000 species of plants and nearly half the world’s aquatic plants, India’s management of its natural resources has regional and global significance. However with half of country’s land already under cultivation, rising population and the threat of climate change, protection of diverse habitats poses a formidable challenge.

Recognising this, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting several initiatives to conserve the country’s rich and diverse ecosystems and demonstrate strategies to reduce poverty. The importance of such initiatives cannot be underscored in a country where 47.2 percent of those living below the national poverty line are members of scheduled tribes, the overwhelming inhabitants of India’s forest areas. UNDP’s conservation activities cover several states, including Bhuvan’s state of Chhattisgarh where the project focuses on several key elements – conserving and enhancing floral and faunal diversity through the active involvement of joint forest management committees and sustainable livelihood support to communities.Elsewhere UNDP is engaged in protection of coastal and marine ecosystems in globally significant areas like the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserves; extending conservation outside Protected Areas in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa states; and arresting land degradation across Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland and Rajasthan.

Working with government and other stakeholders, UNDP’s notable achievements include establishment of a network of Medicinal Plants Conservation Areas in several states; integrating traditional medicine into the government’s primary healthcare system in 28 Primary Health Centres in the state of Karnataka; improving the conservation status of rare and endangered species and associated reef fish in the Gulf of Mannar; and others.

At the national level, UNDP has been working to create an enabling environment to ensure effective implementation of relevant legislations and frameworks for conservation. For this, UNDP supports capacity development initiatives for the implementation of the country’s Biological Diversity Act, 2002 the guiding framework for biodiversity conservation in India.

UNDP is also committed to supporting the government in meeting objectives under various multilateral environment agreements. This included independent studies to assess India’s capacity to fulfill the mandates under three multilateral environment agreements including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN Convention to Combat Desertification and UN Convention on Conservation of Biological Diversity.

Here is hoping that the efforts are in time to save Bhuvan’s magical plants.

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