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Endangered Species, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, and Foreign Aid to Afghanistan

Ambassador Mark Green
Mountain Gorillas
Mountain gorilla family group, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

As many as one in five species around the world are in danger of extinction.

A 2019 UN report sent shockwaves through the conservation community when it stated that more than one million animal and plant species stand on the brink of extinction. Although the exact number of species is unknown today, some scientists estimate it at 5.3 million. This accelerating rate of decline substantiates scientists’ predictions of a new mass extinction, defined as a 75% loss in Earth’s species within a short geological time span. Earth has suffered five such events in the last 450 million years, most caused by some variety of catastrophic climate change. This time, according to scientists, it is not predominantly climate change per se (although it contributes), but instead largely due to human agriculture and other activities disrupting habitats and ecosystems.

In recent decades many governments have taken steps to restore species richness. Conservation strategies such as protected areas, invasive alien species management, and hunting limitations, have helped mitigate biodiversity loss. The North American Bald Eagle was rescued from the brink beginning with the banning of toxic DDT in 1972. The Indus River Dolphin has recovered from numbers as low as 1,200 in 2001 to1,800 today, thanks to increased monitoring, education of fishing communities, and ecotourism.

Yet these efforts are fragile, and at best protect only a small fraction of endangered species. At the end of September, U.S. federal wildlife officials declared the extinction of 23 more plant and animal species, despite their protection under the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Even the Mountain Gorilla, practically eponymous with the cause of conservation, is barely hanging on with a population of 1,000, despite decades of intense protection. Ultimately, as the 2019 UN report recommends, systematic changes in human land use, such as sustainable intensification of existing farmland or bio-sensitive urban development, will be required if we are to slow the rate of extinction.

As Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega runs for his fourth consecutive term, his regime has arrested seven other candidates and banned the main opposition party.

In its recent party congress, a spokesperson for Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front was quoted as saying, “We have our formula, our candidates were elected unanimously.” Ortega seems to be doing everything he can to make that formula the country’s new standard operating procedure.

Ortega, 75, has been in power since 2007. In 2017 his wife, herself 70, became his so-called Vice President, and will again be his running mate in the November 2021 election. Arresting opposing candidates is only part of the strategy Ortega is pursuing: his regime also banned the main opposition party in August, detained or unjustly jailed more than 35 major opposition figures, harassed journalists, and attacked Nicaraguan press outlets. In early September, Nicaraguan police issued an arrest warrant for 79-year-old novelist Sergio Ramirez, a former comrade of Ortega’s and winner of Spain's Cervantes Award for Literature. Ramirez now finds himself a fugitive because, apparently, his latest novel hits a little too close to home for Ortega’s taste.

In 2020 foreign aid was equivalent to more than 40 percent of Afghanistan’s economy.

In 2020 Afghanistan received about $8 billion in foreign aid, whereas its total Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, equaled $19.8 billion. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan’s economy actually declined that same year by almost two percent. Now, with almost all aid suspended because of the Taliban takeover in August, there is growing concern that the economy will collapse entirely, leading to renewed civil war and a new wave of migrants headed for Europe.

Having already spent more than $1 trillion failing to secure and rebuild Afghanistan, the United States is understandably skeptical of investing more in a country now governed by a designated terrorist group. Nor are the Chinese and Russians—both critical of the U.S. while we were there—pouring in resources now that we’ve left. For their part, the Chinese pledged only $31 million out of $1.1 billion in aid committed at a September UN conference on the growing humanitarian crisis. Still driven almost exclusively by Western donors, the humanitarian response in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan will be rife with challenges: gaining access to people in need, delivering goods and services without triggering international sanctions, and ensuring that the Taliban and other armed groups do not divert or otherwise benefit from the aid.

About the Author

Ambassador Mark Green

Ambassador Mark A. Green

President & CEO, Wilson Center
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