Fighting Wildlife Crime to End Extreme Poverty and Boost Shared Prosperity

July 17, 2014


Photo: Matthieu Aubry via Flickr CC

  • Environment and natural resource crimes threaten ecosystems, food security and livelihoods. The poor are usually the most affected.
  • The World Bank is a leading financier in the fight against environment and natural resource crime, with US$300 million invested in forestry, fisheries and wildlife law enforcement.
  • The World Bank works with partners like ICCWC, IUCN and others to protect the natural resources that provide food, shelter and livelihoods.

Now a US$ 213 billion industry, environment and natural resource crimes such as poaching, illegal logging and wildlife trafficking are growing every year and putting natural resources 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. And that is where—and why—the World Bank comes into the picture.

The Leading Financier in the Fight against Wildlife Crime

"75% of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and rely on healthy ecosystems for food, shelter and livelihoods," says Valerie Hickey, Practice Manager, Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice, The World Bank."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 Bank’s fight against wildlife crime is happening on many fronts. The Bank is the largest provider of development assistance for fighting environment and natural resources crime around the globe, with US$ 300 million invested in 39 ongoing projects related to forestry, fisheries and wildlife law enforcement. It backs forest law enforcement and governance processes around the world, such as the ENPI-FLEG program, funded by the European Union and implemented by the Bank in partnership with WWF and IUCN. The Bank is also a leading voice against money laundering, which keeps wildlife crime networks running. In addition, the Bank partners with national agencies and global organizations engaged in law enforcement, finances research and intelligence around natural resource crime prevention and law enforcement, and funds organizations such as the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime or ICCWC.

" Seventy-five percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and rely on healthy ecosystems for food, shelter and livelihoods... [W]e're committed to fighting wildlife crime, and protecting the animals, plants and marine life people depend on for survival. "

Valerie Hickey

Practice Manager, Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice, The World Bank


A forest ranger in Tesso Nilo National Park, Indonesia. 

Photo: Flore de Préneuf / PROFOR

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 Resources Economist, 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 environment sector in developing countries is more vulnerable to crime than other sectors and international cooperation is essential."

The Bank actively identifies investment and policy reform needs so that it can help fill the gaps. Because there is little information on wildlife crimes and networks, the Bank is funding the ICCWC’s work to establish a mechanism for criminal intelligence. To address the lack of country data, the ICCWC’s analysis of wildlife law enforcement in Peru, Bangladesh, Nepal and Tanzania is also being financed by the Bank.

The Bank also supports innovative approaches in the fight against wildlife crime, including the development of forensic technology that now allows prosecutors to determine the origins of ivory. In 2013, this type of DNA analysis was used on three large ivory seizures, and provided 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 Bank focuses its efforts on environment and natural resource crime prevention. Magrath says, "The Bank believes that good resource management that involves and benefits local communities helps crowd out illegal activity." The Bank's support to forest resource inventories, wildlife population studies, management planning and approaches such as community forestry should be seen as contributing to crime prevention and law enforcement.

Aside from crime prevention, the Bank also helps governments grow capacity in environmental crime detection. The Bank has helped governments enhance coastal patrols and control illegal fishing in nine West African countries including Cape 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. In Liberia, the Program on Forests, a partnership hosted by the Bank, helped put in place a sophisticated log-tracking system that keeps illegal wood from being exported. 

When prevention fails, governments need to be able to respond to crimes. This is why the Bank supports socially responsible police work. In Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, the 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 Bank has also helped protect forests and protected areas in Southeast Asia by supporting the establishment of a forest police agency in LAO PDR 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 Bank’s fight against environment and natural resources crime. The destruction of just one part of an ecosystem could mean that communities have less wood for shelter, raw material for livelihoods, and food to eat.

Beneficiaries of 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 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."