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Development projects must respect indigenous peoples' rights, senior UN official says

Development projects must respect indigenous peoples' rights, senior UN official says

Dam-building, new mines, road construction and other large-scale development projects should only be allowed after a thorough assessment of their impact on indigenous peoples, the senior United Nations environment official said today in Nairobi, Kenya.

Addressing the Fourth International Conference of the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Klaus Toepfer, said big schemes as well as insensitive tourism projects were either forcing indigenous communities from their lands or causing cultural conflicts.

Throwing his support behind a call by the Alliance to assess cultural damage, the UNEP chief said, "The more we lose diversity, both culturally and in the natural world, the more we run the risk of instability, the possibility of disasters such as crop failures and basic knowledge on coping with natural disasters such as drought."

Mr. Toepfer said studies carried out by UNEP and its partners had found a firm link between cultural and linguistic diversity and biodiversity. "On a global level we have less than 7,000 languages and of those up to 2,500 are on the 'Red List' of endangered languages," he noted. "If you correlate this to biodiversity - the wealth of animal and plant life on the planet - you see that where you are losing cultural diversity, you are losing biodiversity, and visa versa."

Pledging to address the issue, he said UNEP's Governing Council would take it up in February. "Genetic resources and indigenous knowledge are too often treated as a common public good," Mr. Toepfer said. "This has to re-considered and UNEP will do all it can in its power to see that happen."