Imèn Meliane is the new WCPA Regional Vice Chair for North Africa, The Middle East and West Asia (NAMEWA). Imèn describes her vision for protected areas in the region, a region facing numerous challenges from conflict to desertification, but also gifted with unique opportunities.
There are about 1500 protected areas in the 22 countries of the region, but only five countries have protected more than 10% of their land. As for marine, with the exception of Jordan, no country has reached the 10% target, with most countries still below 1%.
The NAMEWA region is perhaps one of the most beautiful and least visited parts of the world. It hosts a wide variety of landscapes, as it sits in the junction between three continents and with coastlines on the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean, Red, Black, Caspian and Arabian seas and the Arabian/Persian Gulf.
But numbers and coverage are not good indicators of the situation of protected areas. The challenges faced in the management of the existent protected areas are significant particularly with the active conflicts and wars in the region.
Still, the potential for establishing new protected areas is huge and my vision is that the region takes the lead to design new protected areas that respond to the often-forgotten priority established by the Aichi Targets – Areas of importance for ecosystem services. New protected areas should not only conserve important species and habitats but should be designed to help address some of the important challenges faced by the region, and increasing impacts of climate change: improved access to water, food security, coastal protection, and flood mitigation. I hope we can design a new generation of protected areas that responds to the needs of the despairing youth in the region that provide them with new sources of jobs, income and pride in their natural and cultural heritage, and that contributes to reducing rates of migration.
My question to the governments in the region is not what more can you do to help achieve an arbitrary number. I think that a simplistic pursuit of simple PA coverage targets is unlikely to be sustainable, and could even undermine the progress realised so far.
The question I would like to ask the governments, the WCPA network and the partners in the region is how can we work together to shape protected areas so they help us generate enduring environmental and social benefits for the communities and deliver on the new sustainable development goals.
This would require us all to cast a much broader net, reach out beyond the ‘usual suspects’ and open to novel approaches of designing and managing protected areas that include local communities and the private sector more fully and that particularly taps into the creativity and dynamism of the youth.