Celebrating the Stewardship and Resilience of Indigenous Peoples

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, 9 August

August 7, 2020

Since 1982, the world has celebrated the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August, highlighting their contribution to our planet and our common future. This year’s theme -- COVID-19 and Indigenous peoples’ resilience -- offers a moment for reflection.

Indigenous peoples are the frontline defence for our triple planetary crisis of biodiversity loss, climate change and inequality. They own land that represents 80 per cent of our planet's remaining biodiversity as well as 17 per cent of the world’s forest carbon stocks. Their stewardship slows deforestation by up to seven times. It reduces biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions -- a quarter of which are released by deforestation and land use.

Despite the best efforts of the world’s indigenous peoples, the world lost a football pitch-sized block of primary tropical forests every six seconds last year -- much of it on indigenous territories. They face increased intimidation. And they risk falling into even deeper poverty at a time when they account for nearly 19 per cent of the world’s extreme poor.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, indigenous peoples experience a high rate of socio-economic marginalization, and are more vulnerable than others, to the spread of the pandemic.

Indigenous peoples are, “taking action, and using traditional knowledge and practice such as voluntary isolation, and sealing off their territories, as well as preventive measures.” Indeed, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - Global Environmental Finance (GEF) Small Grants Programme has documented the ingenious ways that indigenous and local communities are adapting to COVID-19. As part of our wide-ranging support, UNDP is providing grants through this programme. The Lion’s Share, a UNDP programme to support biodiversity in partnership with the advertising industry, is showing us how innovative programming can focus attention on the role of indigenous and local communities in the preservation of biodiversity.

The winners of UNDP’s prestigious Equator Prize are showcasing innovative, nature-based solutions for tackling biodiversity loss and climate change. For instance,  in 2019, the Dayak Iban community in Sungai Utik, Indonesia achieved legal land tenure after 50 years of advocacy. Another shining example is the Shipibo community of Ucayali province in Peru that is using satellite imagery and drone technology to drive annual illegal deforestation to zero.

But we must do more: one important contribution is to help secure their land rights, such as the work that the Government of Peru and UNDP are undertaking to scale-up the Tuntanain community’s model of co-governance.

By supporting indigenous communities, we can help protect ecosystems and biodiversity and tackle climate change -- more important than ever as the world starts to build forward better from COVID-19.

Mourad Wahba, Acting Associate Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)