Thursday, January 26, 2006

East African People and Wildlife Struggle to Share Land and Water

Namibian -- Elephants, buffaloes and other wild animals drink water from one side of a swamp, while Maasai warriors watch hundreds of cattle graze on another side as the tropical sun sears the parched land of the wildlife sanctuary.

Wildlife officials recently bent stringent conservation regulations to allow cattle into this national park - the only permanent source of water in the region - to help the Maasai save precious livestock from a punishing drought.

Conservation workers warn that Amboseli's delicate swamps and streams face a severe threat from government plans to hand over management of the park to the local county council, a move that will likely result in the granting of rights to Maasai for collection of firewood and water in the sanctuary and to regularly graze their cattle there.

Competition for pastures and water could drive wildlife out of this tiny sanctuary and intensify conflict between animals and people in a region already scarred by clashes over scarce resources, said Connie Maina, spokeswoman of the Kenya Wildlife Services.

While the prolonged drought has yet to kill any animals in wildlife sanctuaries, it has already started to push elephants to leave national parks and game reserves to search for food and water near human settlements - triggering conflicts between pachyderms and people.

Dwindling wildlife would discourage tourists from visiting Amboseli, Kenya's second-highest earner of tourism revenues.

That would hurt the local community that uses the earnings for education, health services, and digging wells, said Deputy Senior Warden Thomas Mailu.

Conservation groups have sued the government to stop the handover to Olkejuado County Council, whose predecessor ran the sanctuary from 1961 until environmental degradation caused by mismanagement and internal wrangling prompted the central government to take over in 1974.

Local and international conservation groups say the county council politicians lack the ability, experience and qualified personnel to conserve wildlife and its habitat, maintain roads and provide security for tourists and animals in a border region troubled by armed banditry.

Still, government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the government will go ahead with plans to hand over the park to the council.

"The government is empowering the local community so that they can benefit directly from the resources in their area," Mutua said.

Amboseli is essentially a huge salt lake that fills with water during the rainy season and dries up completely in arid months except for the swamps and streams that provide water for wild animals, migratory birds, people and cattle.

The water comes from rain and melting snow that seeps from Kilimanjaro - Africa's tallest mountain.

Amboseli's new status "is going to be absolutely suicidal as far as the management of wildlife is concerned" because the removal of stringent conservation controls could lead to the drying up of water sources, Mailu said.

The Maasai, however, said they were happy that they could set new priorities over access to water and pastures for cattle and wildlife once the sanctuary is handed over.

They plan to press their councillors to open up more parts of Amboseli to livestock.

"We could negotiate with them because they are our people.

If it is cows, they have cows like these, so they are people that we could talk to and they could listen to us," nomadic cattle herder Saiyanka Mollel said after washing a herd of 400 cows that later grazed in Amboseli.

"Cows are our life," Mollel said as two elephant calves pressed heads together and used their trunks to fight in the distance.

Amboseli is the second-highest earner of revenues among Kenya's 59 national parks and reserves.

Only six of these make a profit and finance conservation in others.

Taking Amboseli from the Kenya Wildlife Service would hurt the less popular sanctuaries, said KWS' Maina.

Local tourist guide Saitoti Saibolob said the new arrangement is fairer to residents who would get a bigger portion of revenues since they share the land with wildlife and often lose cattle to wildlife.

Kenya is not the only East African nation struggling to ensure wildlife and people share water and land.

Ethiopian authorities have relocated members of local ethnic groups from the Nech-Sar National Park and handed over its management to a private firm.

The Netherlands-based African Parks Foundation is also expected to take over Ethiopia's Omo National Park, home to the Mursi, towering nomads famous for huge clay plates inserted into the lips and ear lobes of their women.

Government plans to evict them "would severely disrupt their present economy, a semi-nomadic mix of cattle herding, riverbank cultivation following the Omo flood and bushland cultivation following the main rains", Survival, a London-based group that helps tribal people, said on its Web site.

One official, however, said Ethiopia needs to develop the tourism industry, which is Africa's second largest source of foreign exchange, after oil.

"For the last 40 years we have totally neglected our conservation areas and wildlife," said Tadesse Hailu, head of the Ethiopian Wildlife and Conservation Department.

In Tanzania, conservation workers are concerned that officials are studying an application by a Dubai-based businessman to build a hotel on the route of the annual migration of more than 1,5 million wildebeest, zebras and other herbivores - the world's most spectacular wildlife sight.

The planned hotel in the Serengeti National Park would violate stringent conservation rules that ban the construction of permanent structures inside national parks.

- Nampa-AP

Related Story...

South Ethiopia, Africa. Wal-Mart Chairman Helping To Evict Tribal Peoples

Sprawl-Busters -- S. Robson Walton, the son of Sam, is the Chairman of the Wal-Mart Board of Directors. He has served on the Wal-Mart Board for 28 years. In his private, philanthropic role, the multi-billionaire has used his money in some ways that are as exploitive as the corporation he leads. The following exclusive report was submitted to Sprawl-Busters by Will Hurd, the founder of a group called Remote Peoples Heard Worldwide. Here is Hurd’s disturbing report about the Walton/Ethopian eviction connection:
“Omo National Park in Southern Ethiopia is being taken over by the Dutch conservation organization, African Parks Foundation and 50,000 tribal people are in danger of losing their land. Rob Walton, as both a board member of African Parks Foundation of America and major donor to African Parks Foundation, is helping to do this. The 1,570 square mile Omo National Park is home to the Suri, Dizi, Me'en, Mursi and Nyangatom tribes. These tribes live in or use nearly the entire park for cultivation and cattle grazing. They have made this land their home for centuries. The boundaries of the Omo National Park were recently legalized, gazetted, to pave the way for a management contract between African Parks Foundation and the Ethiopian Federal and Regional Governments. This gazettement was accomplished by Ethiopian Park officials forcing the tribal people to sign away their land, on documents they could not read. One Mursi tribal member reported he “saw the police grab three Mursi people … and force them to sign the paper with their thumbprints.” The gazettement of the Omo Park further eroded the Omo tribes’ already tenuous land rights, as pastoralists under the Ethiopian state. This effectively made them illegal squatters on their own land. African Parks Foundation was aware of the forced signatures and was asked repeatedly to include a ‘no evictions’ clause. But they signed a contract with no mention of the tribal peoples, in November 2005. African Parks Foundation has been involved in evicting people in Ethiopia before. In February 2004, they signed an agreement to takeover management of Nech Sar National Park, near Arba Minch. In November 2004, 463 houses of the Guji people were burned down by Ethiopian park officials and local police, to coerce the Guji to leave their land, inside Nech Sar. "We usually hear news on the radio even when a single house is burned down by criminals. We hear all different kinds of crimes reported. In our case we lost 463 houses, but it was not reported at all," said one Guji tribal member. In 2004, ten thousand people of the Guji and Kore tribes were forcibly displaced from and within Nech Sar, with little compensation, endangering their survival in food insecure Ethiopia. This was done to fulfill a contractual agreement that all people be removed, before African Parks Foundation took over management. “We didn’t want to be involved in the resettlement, so I put a clause in the contract that said we wouldn’t take over the park until the resettlement was completed,” said Paul van Vlissingen. African Parks Foundation was founded by Paul van Vlissingen, the Chairman of the global retail giant Makro Retail. Rob Walton is heavily involved. The Walton Foundation is listed as one of two major funders to African Parks Foundation, along with the US Department of State. African Parks Foundation manages parks in Zambia, Malawi, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Ethiopia and is reportedly looking at managing more. The revenue from these Parks accrue to their projects, and are put towards opening more parks. “National Parks must become virtual companies,” Paul van Vlissingen has said and this corporate philosophy for his conservation organization makes sense, with the business tycoon Rob Walton on board. The environmental impact of this plan could be disastrous, if people who have managed this land and its wildlife, for centuries, are removed. Tribal people have formed this landscape over thousands of years of agricultural and grazing. The most radical change to the area would be the removal of humans, who the wild animals have evolved behavior patterns with over millennia. Hungry, angry peoples surrounding the park would be detrimental to the success of the park and to the biodiversity. If the tribes of the area are removed, there is great risk of both violent conflict with the government and with any tribes whose land they are moved onto. There is no unused land in the area; fights would ensue over too little land for two many people. "The Ethiopian government should be very worried about the prospects of even more violence if they go ahead with their apparent policy of removal in the Omo … area" said David Turton, a British anthropologist with over 30 years experience working among the Mursi, one of the tribes living in the boundaries of the Omo National Park. "Any attempt to encroach on Mursi territory will ratchet up the existing pressure on resources in the lower Omo area."

What you can do: There is an old saying, “When billionaires play, poor people pay.” These parks are the playthings of billionaire retailers like Walton and van Vlissingen. For more information about Rob Walton's role in the African Parks Foundation, contact Will Hurd, at hurd@hailmail.net. Financial contributions to help in the battle to prevent these Ethiopians from being evicted, can be made by contacting Hurd.

To FIND out more about the Mursi, click here.

Mursi, Southwest Ethiopia.

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