close this bookThe Courier - N°158 - July - August 1996 Dossier Communication and the media - Country report Cape Verde
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View the documentNational park restoration in Chad: luxury or necessity ?

National park restoration in Chad: luxury or necessity ?

by Phllippe Dejace

Terms like 'democracy' and 'sustainable development' are increasingly used to keep donors happy, and to present new development projects in the most favourable possible light. With this in mind, it is interesting to look at an example from 'the field' to see how genuine the commitment actually is. Adherence to these concepts has undoubtedly made a positive contribution to environmental protection, but there is also a negative side

Since 1989, the Zakouma National Park in south-east Chad has been undergoing restoration in a programme supported by the KU. Devastated by a decade of conflict, this wildlife sanctuary of nearly 3000 square kiLométres was little more than a huge graveyard in 1986 when Pierre Pfeffer of the Paris Natural History Museum visited it and decided to campaign for its restoration. Today, this is recognised to have been a sensible decision. It is acknowledged that wildlife are better off when they have a reasonably large area in which to live, away from human activity. Aerial counts made in 1986, 1991 and 1995 confirm that animal numbers are on the increase in the park and that irreversible destruction has been averted. Currently, Zakouma is the only area effectively being protected in Chad. The other designated sites (one park and seven reservations) remain impoverished and in a state of near devastation.

Recognising the challenge

One should not be lulled into complacency. Even when a process involving local village communities is initiated, the low standard of living of the inhabitants, their educational level, and the progressive deterioration of vegetation around protected areas in variably make the latter a tempting 'target'. In these circumstances, it is very hard to preserve their integrity. At Zakouma, a busy time lies ahead. The local people must be educated and informed as quickly as possible. This presents us with the first hurdle given the inadequacy of the education sector. The Ministry of Education is underfunded and with growing numbers of pupils in the system, it is virtually impossible to plan special programmes aimed at increasing awareness of this particular problem.

There are other reasons why there should be short-term investment in this sector. There are good arguments for preserving a few control sites while the awareness programme is under way, since these will one day serve to illustrate what can be achieved. It is also much less difficult to preserve an area than to try to reconstitute it, once desertification has set in. The site is part of the national heritage whose value can only increase. Moreover, in most cases, the protected areas ensure the survival of fish stocks in lakes and rivers downstream and act as a reservoir for game: many of the animals which breed there provide food for the people living at the zone's edges. Even frequent wholesale slaughter of wildlife, as happens during a war, is reversible if the vegetation remains intact.

Although the park is cut off from human activity (the area is flooded and therefore closed, to all intents and purpose, for four months of the year), it has an uncertain future. It faces pressure from itinerant herdsmen and poachers, the latter tracking giraffe right up to the outskirts of Zakouma village, which is in the middle of the park. Although located in a wildlife reserve of 20 000 km2 - which is supposed to be a buffer zone - the park is not truly protected because human activity inside the reserve is not controlled. In the dry season, the park teems with wildlife. A clear density gradient has been identified with the animal population dropping as you move from the centre to the periphery. Indeed, only about a third of the 3000 km2 is intensively exploited by the wildlife which lives there - and even this area is relatively insecure.

Enclosure would give those who are keen to defend the park a grace period in which to set up long-term awareness strategies. Ironically, one danger results from the striking democratisation that has taken place in Chad. To win votes, some politicians have called for the bans applying to the park to be lifted. This approach has the potential to succeed because, owing to shortfalls in the education system, the electorate is insufficiently mature in political terms. Another factor is that traditional leaders, seeing their power progressively diminish, are inclined to 'revolt'. Thus, they may fail to intervene when stockmen deliberately invade the park, encouraged by demagogues in search of votes. When the grasslands are invaded by cattle, few wild animals can compete and they are forced to retreat to the central area of the park. Against this background of a need for urgent action, the Zakouma Park team is concentrating its awareness-raising efforts on traditional leaders and the administrative authorities - rather than on teaching schoolchildren about environmental protection (although such a campaign is also envisaged).

Participation ?

Some argue that setting up a 'sustainable and participation-based development' strategy would make it possible to avoid the situation that now exists in Zakouma. The idea behind such a strategy - which clearly has its attractions - is that man is perfectly capable of managing his native territory. All that is needed is for him to be granted land and to receive support for his initiatives. Many who espouse this approach continue to despatch teams to demonstrate that this is the ideal response. Unfortunately, in the particularly complicated case of managing the environment on the fringes of a national park, the local people are usually reluctant to make the investment. The more normal inclination is to reap a short-term profit from resources that are within reach. The inhabitants are also tired of the lectures they get from specialists who visit for just a few hours. The scope of the problem is such that expertise needs to be available on an ongoing basis. Considerable resources are also needed to ensure.that the effort is sustained.

It is not easy to halt environmental destruction in a market economy which has overturned traditional values and gives priority to increasing personal wealth and consumption. A natural environment's potential for exploitation is always limited. Yet stock-rearing involves the use of animals 'selected' over thousands of years to take maximum advantage of the least scrap of vegetation. By contrast, a wild animal is much more selective and never ruins the environment it exploits. It may even be able to adapt its reproductive cycle to the available food resources! We are nowhere near this situation in domestic stockbreeding!

This is where 'sustainable development', which sounds highly reassuring, appears at odds with reality. Beyond a certain threshold, one cannot avoid depleting the resource. If one is to adopt an approach that involves the population actively, one must acknowledge that their response may fall short of what is needed. Indeed, they may do things which provoke migration, and are thus damaging. Thus, for example, the opening-up of a water source may attract more nomadic herdsman, thereby undermining rather than enhancing the surrounding area.

Awareness programme

The single most significant step towards protecting the park would be to ease population pressure, but progress in this area is very limited. We can only wait for the birthrate to decrease; something which invariably happens as a country develops. But what will become of the national parks in the meantime ? In Zakouma, an eco-development team is currently listening to the villagers' claims. As elsewhere, an attempt is being made to gain time. Unfortunately, the current climate of transparency in Chad, which is one of the positive aspects of democratisation and should be a major asset, has not had much impact in this area. The awareness programme suffers from a serious lack of trained workers and when meetings are held, they usually turn into interminable discussions, simply increasing the level of frustration. On the other hand, a convincing discussion-leader can advance matters considerably and discussion is surely the right approach to adopt. Furthermore, the process must lead to concrete results. Otherwise, decisions taken may end up being postponed indefinitely because they conflict with the interests of political decision-makers.

Despite the difficulties, the Zakouma team is placing heavy reliance on this desire for transparency. Although the project's initial aims have essentially been to restore infrastructures and thereby promote an increase in wildlife, the addition of an ecodevelopment aspect and ecological monitoring has made it possible to create an important 'reservoir' of knowledge. A computerized map of the vegetation has been produced with the help of a microlight equipped with a GPS (satellite positioning) system. There have also been aerial inventories tracking the seasonal density and distribution of wildlife, as well as in-depth sociological surveys in the villages most hostile to the park's existence. This major database makes it possible to organise meetings, conferences and discussions to demonstrate that the park's contribution is greater than it seems. One big frustration for local people living on the park's fringes concerns the redistribution of the income it generates. Looking first at tourism, Chad hardly qualifies as a major holiday destination and those who do visit the park are too few to make a significant contribution (the income raised barely covers the cost of replacing their bedlinen !)

One interesting conclusion has been drawn from studies of the animal distribution in the different seasons. It appears that when pressure from nomadic herdsman is at its strongest, during the dry season, the wildlife take refuge in the park and numbers multiply in safety. When the stockmen return northward, the wild animals then go beyond the park boundaries where they are hunted and eaten by villagers. This is surely a form of income redistribution! Moreover, many young fish in the park's only river (the bahr Salamat), take advantage of the flooding of the area during the rains. This releases huge volumes of nutrients back into the ecosystem. In the park, the fish are safe from the fishermen who work downstream and they can swim back to their spawning grounds. This guarantees the renewal of stocks depleted during the dry season. The level of fish stocks in Lake Iro - and probably in the River Chari as well - is thus linked to the existence of the Zakouma Park! When this version of income redistribution is explained, it often helps to convince traditional leaders who then use their influence to limit incursions by stockmen or poachers. However, a lot remains to be done because demographic pressure and standards of living both make it more difficult to get the message across.

We know that excessive human activity always results in environmental deterioration. Zakouma, although under pressure, has been 'spared' to some extent, and as such, it represents an important resource. But some see it as a luxury and it faces a suspended death sentence. If people stop regarding its conservation as something that is necessary, the sentence will end up being carried out. In my opinion, the most reliable way of guaranteeing its preservation would be to enclose it completely.

P.H.D.

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