Category: Sustainable Development

Parklands in Costa Rica help reduce poverty

Entrance to Tortuguero National Park

A recently released report from Georgia State University gives us yet another reason to protect the rainforest: parklands, it turns out, can also help with economic development.

Studying data from Costa Rica and Thailand, researchers concluded that national parks in developing countries can actually help to reduce poverty in the areas surrounding the preserves.

“The effect of national parks and reserves on their human neighbors is arguably the most controversial debate in conservation policy,” says the new study, “Protected areas reduced poverty in Costa Rica and Thailand” released in April 2010. The debate is especially heated in developing nations, where ecosytem preservation and economic development are often seen as at odds.

“Because ecosystem protection limits agricultural development and exploitation of natural resources,” says the report, “opposition to protected areas is frequently driven by the assumption that they impose large economic costs and thus exacerbate local poverty.”

And while the researchers found that people living near national parks were indeed on the whole poorer than the national average, careful analysis of census data revealed that the poverty wasn’t a result of land preservation, which in fact often “generates economic benefits by…promoting tourism and improving infrastructure in remote areas.”

In the graphic below (courtesy of the report), protected areas created before 1980 are in green (these were the areas that the report studied). The relative poverty levels throughout Costa Rica are shown, with pink being the richest and dark red the poorest. The diagram makes use of data from 1973; the report compared that to economic data from 2000.

Apart from the effect of protected areas on poverty, the map is interesting to me in that it shows where Costa Rica’s wealth is (or was) concentrated: in the Central Valley around the capital city of San Jose, which is to be expected, but also in pockets around the country, like near Palmar Norte and Palmar Sur (north of the Osa Peninsula), near Cuidad Neily and Paso Canoas (near the Panama border), around Liberia in Guanacaste, and along the Pacific Coast between Jaco and Dominical. I would imagine that an updated map would show even more wealth along Guanacaste’s “Gold Coast” – where in beach towns like Tamarindo and Playas del Coco development is moving along at breakneck speed.

Here are some maps of Costa Rica with cities and towns marked, if you want to compare them to the map below.

Green means protected parklands; light pink means wealth, dark red poverty.

See also:
Boom town greed and condo ghost towns in Playas del Coco