Think ‘tropical,’ and an image of a lush paradise emerges: softly squawking birds of paradise, palm trees bordering a crystalline sea, animals scuttling around a leafy jungle. A place of natural splendour and stress-free living, where human and animal life exists in happy harmony.
Unsurprisingly, reality is far-removed from the fantasy. The United Nations has designated 29 June as the Day of the Tropics, noting that while the area accounts for 40% of the world’s surface area and 80% of the world’s biodiversity, the region faces serious challenges from climate change, logging, urbanisation and population changes.
Almost half of people in the tropics are considered vulnerable to water stress, despite having access to over half of the world’s renewable water resources. The tropics are home to a high proportion of threatened species, and loss of biodiversity is greater in the tropics than the rest of the world.
And, on a human level, more people reportedly experience undernourishment and live in slum conditions in the tropics than the rest of the world.
In honour of the international day for the tropics, Global Shakers has identified 10 inspiring individuals working on charity, business and education initiatives in and around the tropics that have the potential to recognise the area’s great resources, while also addressing ongoing challenges.
First up is Joshua Konkankoh, a charismatic force of nature who is pushing the development of sustainable ‘eco villages’ across Africa and around the world. He’s the founder of Better World Cameroon, a charity that teaches traditional organic agricultural practices as a way of empowering communities to take control of their futures—particularly women and young people.
There’s also Faith Riunga, director of education at the famed Lewa Safari Camp, one of the most successful rhino conservation projects in the world. The organisation has realised that protecting wildlife relies on empowering local communities to live alongside animals in their natural habitat. In more than a decade of work, Riunga has led very successful adult and digital literacy programmes and expanded work done by the conservation organisations to 27 additional schools. In addition, the organisation has invested heavily in healthcare, youth empowerment and education schemes.
The tropics are home to the largest population of water-growing mangrove trees, but they’re constantly being chopped down for fuel or to be sold. This is bad news for local communities, leading to collapsing fish populations, decreasing protection against floods and storms and poorer carbon dioxide capture. Irina Fedorenko is a UK-based scientist using drone technology and ‘seed missiles’ to replant lost mangroves in Myanmar at a much faster rate than they’re chopped down, upskilling rural communities with drone technician experience in the process.
Then there’s the Cambodian teacher tackling malaria through a small-scale ‘guppy fish’ programme, the Costa Rican diplomat fighting for countries to accept tougher environmental controls and the person using dentistry to stop illegal logging.
The full list is available to read here.
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber