Fighting Wildlife Crime to End Extreme Poverty and Boost Shared Prosperity

Now a US $213 billion industry, environmental and natural resource crimes such as poaching, illegal logging and wildlife trafficking are growing every year, putting natural resources and biodiversity at risk. This is not just a tragedy for people who love animals or care about the environment. When elephants are slaughtered for their ivory and trees are illegally logged, ecosystems break down. The world’s poorest often bear the brunt of the fallout. That is where and why the World Bank comes into the picture.

The Leading Financier in the Fight Against Wildlife Crime

“75 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and rely on healthy ecosystems for food, shelter and livelihoods,” says Valerie Hickey, Practice Manager of the World Bank Group’s Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice. “The World Bank’s goals are to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity in a sustainable manner, which is why we’re committed to fighting wildlife crime, and protecting the animals, plants and marine life people depend on for survival.”

The World Bank’s fight against wildlife crime is unfolding on many fronts. As the largest provider of development assistance for fighting environmental and natural resource crime around the globe, the World Bank has invested US $300 million in 39 ongoing projects related to forestry, fisheries and wildlife law enforcement. The Bank is also a leading voice against money laundering, which keeps wildlife crime networks running. In addition, the World Bank partners with national agencies and global organizations engaged in law enforcement, finances research and intelligence around natural resource crime prevention, and funds organizations such as the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).

Protecting a Global Public Good with Information and Innovation

“Natural resource law enforcement is a global public good and not enough is being done in this area,” says William Magrath, Lead Natural Resource Economist at the World Bank. “Many of the most damaging environmental crimes involve transnational activities, such as smuggling, where the effectiveness of the authorities in any one country is inherently limited. There are big gaps when it comes to financing, policy and capacity, which is why the environmental sector in developing countries is more vulnerable to crime than other areas and international cooperation is essential.”

The World Bank actively identifies investment and policy reform needs so that it can help fill the gaps. Since there is little information available on wildlife crimes and networks, the Bank is funding the ICCWC work in establishing a mechanism for criminal intelligence. To address the lack of national data, the World Bank finances the ICCWC analysis of wildlife law enforcement in Bangladesh, Nepal, Peru and Tanzania.

The World Bank also supports innovative approaches in the fight against wildlife crime, including the development of forensic technology that allows prosecutors to determine the origins of ivory. In 2013, this type of DNA analysis was used on three large ivory seizures, providing prosecutors in Togo with scientific evidence to build a strong case against one of West Africa’s largest ivory dealers.

Helping Countries Prevent, Detect and Respond to Environmental Crimes

The World Bank focuses its efforts on environmental and natural resource crime prevention. “The Bank believes that good resource management that involves and benefits local communities helps crowd out illegal activity,” says Magrath. The Bank ’s support for forest resource inventories, wildlife population studies, management planning and community forestry should be seen as contributing to crime prevention and law enforcement.

Aside from crime prevention, the World Bank also helps Governments build capacity in environmental crime detection. The Bank has helped Governments enhance coastal patrols and control illegal fishing in nine West African countries, including Cabo Verde, Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Fishermen along the coast have benefited from bigger catches, which have not only boosted incomes, but also created jobs in fishing supply stores and trucking operations that transport fish to markets.

When prevention fails, Governments need to be able to respond to crimes. This is why the World Bank supports socially-responsible police work. In Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, the World Bank has worked with Governments to strengthen law enforcement agencies, improve regional cooperation against wildlife trafficking and provide rangers with the training and equipment they need to protect animals such as tigers and rhinoceroses. The World Bank has also helped preserve forests and protected areas in South-East Asia by supporting the establishment of a forest police agency in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and a forest crime monitoring system in Cambodia.

Safeguarding Natural Resources for Future Generations

The desire to protect natural resources for future generations is at the heart of the World Bank’s fight against environmental crime. The destruction of just one part of an ecosystem leaves communities with less wood for shelter, raw material for livelihoods and food to eat.

Beneficiaries of World Bank projects confirm that depleted resources are not an option for the world’s poorest. “Without fish, it would be very, very bad,” says Addie, who saw how the World Bank ’s work to control illegal fishing helped increase fish stocks in Freetown, Sierra Leone. “For most, fish is the only protein available. Without the fish, we would get thin and weak—we would die.”