In response to intense pressure from indigenous and environmental organizations opposed to drilling for oil in an Amazon rainforest, this May Ecuador asked the world for financial help, according to the Environmental News Service.

The oil fields under Yasuni National Park are estimated to contain 900 million to 1 billion barrels of oil, about one-quarter of Ecuador’s total reserves. In about a year, international oil companies will be allowed to bid for the right to drill.

Yasuni National Park

To avoid this fate, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is asking the international community for about $350 million a year.

Correa said:

Ecuador doesn’t ask for charity, but does ask that the international community share in the sacrifice and compensates us with at least half of what our country would receive, in recognition of the environmental benefits that would be generated by keeping this oil underground.

Dan Gretch for NPR’s Marketplace reports:

The money could come from debt forgiveness, individual contributions and donations from countries and NGOs.

Ecuador could use the cash. Nearly half of its population lives in poverty. President Correa needs the money for social programs that are the cornerstone of his populist administration.

Many famous scientists — including Jane Goodall and E.O. Wilson — have spoken up to defend the Yasuni, which is believed to be the most ecologically diverse forest on the planet. Dr. William Lawrence, a Smithsonian biologist, told Andrew Revkin of The New York Times [$] in 2005:

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Yasuní. It’s arguably the biologically richest real estate on the planet. You can hardly walk 50 yards in any direction without tripping over some rare plant or an endangered species. Where else can you find 300 species of trees in an area no bigger than two football fields?

Dr. Matt Finer of Save America’s Forests has made a public appeal:

We now have an unprecedented opportunity to work with a progressive administration in order to save one of the greatest spots on Earth. What are urgently needed now are viable proposals from the international community to present to President Correa.

Members of the Huaorani people have been coming to Washington to call for a moratorium on oil development in their land for years, but the Ecuadoran government has never before asked the international community for help saving the Yasuni.