Central African Republic: conserving nature and beating the virus together
Dzanga-Sangha, a protected reserve in the south-west corner of the Central African Republic, boasts a wealth of animal, bird and plant species, including forest elephants and one of the world’s most endangered gorilla populations. Together with its sister reserves in Cameroon and the Republic of Congo, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and protects the world’s second largest rainforest, the Congo Basin.
The Dzanga-Sangha area is also home to local communities like the Ba’Aka pygmy tribe, who rely on its natural resources to make a livelihood from sustainable activities like low-impact agriculture and collecting non-timber forest products. While rich in nature, Dzanga-Sangha is poor in terms of access to basic social services like health and education.
Under its ECOFAC programme, the European Union has been funding projects in Dzanga-Sangha to improve the living conditions of its indigenous communities sustainably, while also doing more to conserve its precious biodiversity and wildlife. Run by the World Wildlife Fund under the supervision of the relevant national ministry, these projects focus on a range of activities – from biodiversity preservation, ecotourism and sustainable rural energy to anti-poaching and indigenous people’s rights. Community involvement is central to the projects, and the Covid-19 pandemic has made it more vital than ever, as efforts to minimise the spread of the virus in Dzanga-Sangha gather pace.
Social distancing does not come naturally to any of us, and that includes the Ba’Aka people. However, they have actually embraced the idea of voluntary confinement. They have grouped themselves by family, clan or village and confined themselves in their old hunting camps in the forest until the worst is over.
Dozens of community representatives will be in charge of organising the camps and keeping in touch with the outside world. And the Ba’Aka people will continue to receive the support they need. Over 3 000 people will receive food and essential supplies for at least three months.
For those indigenous and local people who do not want to confine themselves in the forest, a series of other measures is in place to keep the spread of the virus within villages to a minimum.
Door-to-door campaigns and public messaging have helped raised awareness around the virus. Radio Ndjokou, a community radio station, broadcasts information about the fight against Covid-19 every day, with special features for children. These awareness-raising activities have also targeted youth groups, teachers, churches and local moto-taxi drivers.
Moreover, part of the community conservation department has been converted into a workshop to make face masks. Nearly 2 000 have already been distributed and more are on the way.
Meanwhile, health control posts are now in place on the main road into Dzanga-Sangha from the capital, Bangui; and reagents to test for the virus in both people and wildlife have now arrived from Germany.
Overall, infection rates in Dzanga-Sangha remain low. This has been possible because indigenous and local people have understood the challenge and are confronting it together. We could learn a lot from their example.