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06 May 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has spread across Africa, with more than 500 000 confirmed cases reported in 54 countries. With this rapid escalation, comes great concern about the level of preparedness of the continent and how the poorest and most vulnerable rural communities will be affected.
Peace Parks Foundation is leading a community support initiative that aims to alleviate the effects of these challenges, and help communities curb the spread of the pandemic.
Many communities living in and around transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs) are largely impoverished, relying on subsistence agriculture and other alternative livelihoods. This also means that most have limited means, struggling to afford the most basic of hygiene material to stave off infection. Some live in remote areas, unable to easily access health care and essential services, while others live in and around overcrowded community hubs where infection can easily spread amongst village populations.
Peace Parks, along with its regional and global networks of partners, has been one of the leading conservation agencies in the expansion of transfrontier conservation estate in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for more than two decades. Alongside these conservation efforts, Peace Parks prioritised socio-economic development for those who reside in the TFCAs, recognising that conservation without local communities as partners is unsustainable.
Whilst much success has been achieved in unlocking opportunities for communities to derive equitable benefits from conservation and related nature-based economies, COVID-19 threatens to reverse progress that took decades to achieve. Critical intervention is needed – as swiftly and as widespread as possible.
The first critical step is to implement measures to protect the lives of community members. Alongside this, it is vital to look at the potentially far-reaching economic consequences of the pandemic and mitigate these by preserving the livelihoods of the communities.
Peace Parks has already made $100 000 of its own resources available towards this relief mission and is working hard to secure additional donations to positively impact on as many vulnerable sectors as possible.
In the short-term, Peace Parks is aiming to assist more than 425 000 people in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique by improving personal protection through the provision of information pamphlets, soap, and masks. So far, the initiative has seen the distribution of, amongst other things:
Community hubs in these communities receive government-endorsed posters, sanitisers, hand washing mechanisms (such as tippy taps or 20 L water buckets with taps), and non-contact thermometers, as needed.
To support clinics and healthcare centres, specific effort has gone into sourcing and distributing items such as medical oxygen regulators, humidifiers, oxygen concentrators and non-contact thermometers, as well as personal protective equipment for medical staff and patients, such as isolation gowns, disposable aprons, eye protection goggles, face masks and surgical gloves.
Together with printed material and educational sessions held with community leaders, local radio stations are being utilised to ensure that the most important information regarding the prevention of infection is distributed as widely as possible.
Support was also given to schools in readiness for reopening.
COVID-19 is having adverse economic impacts on industries such as hospitality, as well as other activities from which communities derive livelihoods. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), Africa faces projected job losses of 7.6 million due to impact on the travel and tourism sector, while the total GDP loss could be close to $53bn.
Communities living adjacent to conservation areas furthermore struggle due to restrictions that prevent them from carrying out their normal subsistence activities, such as the sale of their agriculture yields, honey and fishery products at local markets, and the sale of handicrafts to tourists who visit the reserves.
To assist in easing the effect of job-related casualties, Peace Parks is working on programmes that would offer assistance through cash-for-work interventions implemented in the communities in and around conservation areas where the Foundation has an operational footprint. The initiative would also compensate for park revenue losses due to border closures and loss of tourism.
One example of such a cash-for-work solution that has already been implemented, is the establishment of local manufacturing of face masks for the communities. Masks are not only an essential item to protect against the spread of COVID-19, but also have now become a legal requirement in various lockdown scenarios. In support of the Zambia Ministry of Health, Peace Parks assisted in equipping local tailors to produce cloth face masks for their villages. Seamstresses in the Simalaha Community Conservancy, situated within the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, now produce over 1 000 masks a day. This not only helps address the shortage of masks, but also creates additional livelihood opportunities so desperately needed in these difficult times. Similar projects are planned for Mozambique and Malawi.
Other strategies around cash-for-work programmes are currently being formulated in close collaboration with local governments, partners, donors, and in-country leadership.
COVID-19 has once again reminded us how important it is to respect all life and to make sure that there is enough space for humans and animals to safely co-exist on this planet, without actually invading each other’s worlds. We are all connected, and we are all in this together.
It is with pride that Peace Parks can unite as an organisation to keep the protection of natural resources in place during this critical time, whilst at the same time assisting vulnerable communities against this global threat – steadfast towards our goal to reconnect Africa’s wild spaces to create a future for man in harmony with nature.