Ecuador and Peru sign action plan to protect fragile border region

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, left, and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. File 2011. (Credit: Cancillería del Ecuador/Flickr)

Ecuador and Peru have agreed to create what is being dubbed the region’s first bi-national biosphere reserve on their shared border.

The dry forests that make up the reserve (the Arenillas, in southeastern Ecuador, and the Tumbes, in northeastern Peru) have already been separately declared biosphere reserves. But beginning in 2016, according to a TeleSUR report, the two countries will work together to see that the 1.8-million-acre area of dry forest is officially declared a bi-national biosphere reserve by UNESCO.

The agreement, reached Dec. 18 at Peru and Ecuador’s ninth bi-national cabinet meeting, is significant for both countries who fought over their shared border for almost two centuries.

Although the biosphere reserve is the first to cross national borders in Central America, the agreement is not the first time the two countries have worked together to make improvements in their border region. Ecuador and Peru began talks in Feb. 2015 to tackle a recent spike in illegal drug trafficking, money laundering and mining on their shared border.

“There is a political will to make up for lost time in regions of the border which could not be attended to due to [these]conflicts,” said Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, during the meeting with his Peruvian counterpart President Ollanta Humala, according to El Telégrafo.

Before this, TeleSUR reported, the two countries have been holding binational summits since 2007, when they first agreed on a number of border projects to improve infrastructure in the region.

Correa claimed that the bi-national summit meetings have helped make Ecuador’s bilateral relations with Peru and Colombia the best they have ever been, according to Andina.

Correa, who described the meetings as a ‘breath of fresh air,’ said the agreements reached at these meetings have improved the quality of life of citizens living in Ecuador’s border regions. He added that 97 percent of bilateral agreements signed with Bogota in 2014 have been complied with, and that the fourth bi-national cabinet held with delegates from Colombia last month addressed 90 other cooperative goals for 2016, according to Prensa Latina.

The most recent agreement with Peru to create the bi-national biosphere reserve is an additional step toward the original 2007 agreements to improve infrastructure on the Ecuador-Peru border. The hope for the plan is to promote the conservation, development, research, monitoring and education of the protected area.

“Between Ecuador and Peru we have shared a dry forest where part of the Arenillas reserve is part of a shared ecosystem. We will develop a dossier to present to UNESCO next year,” Paola Inga, Ecuador’s director of the project, told El Telégrafo.

“The environmental ministers of both countries will not only consider the [written]agreement, but work with communities in the border area.”

Delegates from both countries agree on the need to organize the territory and propose strategies for conservation and sustainable use of the border, according to el Telégrafo. The leaders have organized the plan in four lines of action:

  1. Targeting buffer zones of protected areas (by focusing on surveillance plans, monitoring of mammals and biological corridors),
  2. Strengthening conservation efforts (including the management model of the Bi-national Biosphere Reserve and the creation of nodes for eco-regional management),
  3. Encouraging social participation from the border’s communities (relating to two topics: the Bi-national Biosphere Reserve and the dissemination of the Bi-national Network for Ecuador Protected Areas in Peru),
  4. And prioritizing the meetings between authorities from both countries.

Details aside, only time will tell if the agreement will actually work to conserve the Arenillas and Tumbas forests or improve the quality of life of those living near the border region. Ecuador and Peru have a long, muddled history of disagreement over their shared border that has not yet been completely resolved. This dispute never quite turned into outright warfare thanks to, in part, the economies of both parties, which are in any case too fragile to withstand the shock of war.

Still, the hope is that the agreements will prove worthwhile for the ecosystem these countries share. The 1.8 million acres of forest has linked the people of Ecuador and Peru since before there was even a border to fight about.

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About Author

Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Seattle-based journalist covering news, health and human rights in Latin America and worldwide. As a second-generation immigrant from Greece, Lisa’s objective is to encourage awareness of global issues and cultures through her stories. She has a B.A. in psychology and Spanish from Lawrence University in her home state of Wisconsin. You can contact her at lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org.