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[NAIROBI] A new atlas that draws attention to the relation between regional ecosystems and poverty was launched in Kenya this week (30 May).

Kenya will be able to identify regions with the greatest potential to reduce poverty and make it a priority development agenda, said Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace laureate, at the launch of the atlas.

The atlas, 'Nature's Benefits in Kenya', was developed with input from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing, the International Livestock Research Institute and the World Resources Institute.

It provides statistical data on population density, food availability, biodiversity, weather (such as rainfall and temperatures), economic activities, household expenditure, livestock production and tourism development.

The atlas overlays these data — associated with a particular geographical location — with data on ecosystems.

"[This] yields a picture of how land, people and prosperity are related in Kenya," says Nobert Henninger, the senior associate in charge of the people and ecosystems programme at the World Resources Institute.

For example, the atlas reveals that abundance of water in a particular area does not guarantee a reduction in poverty. The same applies to tourism, with proximity to a tourist attraction providing no protection against poverty in the local population.

The atlas also includes analyses of how poverty could be linked to variables such as biodiversity, food availability, water and wood fuel. These links are useful to policy-makers worldwide, says Henninger.

"The lessons learned in Kenya can be usefully applied to other countries and regions," he told SciDev.Net.

The atlas will be used by people responsible for policy decisions to help them construct the best initiatives for tackling poverty reduction in specific locations.

"The atlas [will] improve the targeting of social expenditures and ecosystem interventions so that they reach areas of greatest need," write the authors of the atlas.

It will also inform natural-resource managers to develop strategies for sustainable utilisation of ecosystem resources — for example, in devising means to harness water in areas of abundance for use in areas where water is scarce.

The Kenyan government has already used the atlas to map the distribution of funds to alleviate poverty and to assess whether the different issues are being addressed fairly and successfully.