The briefing, “Protected Areas in the Congo Basin: Failing People and Biodiversity?”, which contains the initial findings of detailed research due to be published in 2015, states that, despite hundreds of millions of dollars having been spent on conservation efforts in the Congo Basin over the past 10 years, current conservation policy and practice in the region lag far behind international standards for the protection of local peoples’ rights.
Displacement of local and indigenous communities has been reported in 25 out of 34 protected areas surveyed by the RFUK; conflict between communities and park managers, some giving rise to serious human rights’ abuses, has occurred in at least 12 areas. Consultation with and compensation given to affected local communities was found to be “insufficient or completely lacking” in every single case. Restrictions to access and use in these areas, on which local peoples’ livelihoods depend on, are imposing additional hardships to some of the poorest people on the planet.
There is often little or no scientific evidence that protected areas are bringing any positive benefits in terms of biodiversity protection. However the evidence so far gathered by the RFUK suggests that conservation goals are not being met. Drastic declines in gorilla and elephant numbers are reported, despite substantial funds being targeted at park patrolling, management and anti-poaching, and eco-tourism. In addition, very little research has been done on the impact of overlapping or neighbouring logging and mining activity.
However, whilst current conservation practices in the Congo Basin often dispossess and anger local people, there is growing evidence internationally that shows that allowing local people the right to own and control the land they occupy is the best way to protect rainforest in the long term.
Ana Osuna Orozco, Policy Advisor for the Rainforest Foundation UK, said: “We need a new model of conservation that places forest peoples at the centre of protected areas’ management, and recognises their rights to lands and livelihoods. Without a better understanding and respect for the cultures, knowledge and rights of these peoples, as well as the sustainable use they have made of forest resources for centuries, conservation will hinder local development, instead of being integral to it.”
RFUK’s briefing calls for greater transparency of the levels of public spending on protected areas in the Congo Basin. It says that local peoples’ rights should be built into existing protected area’s management plans, and that new conservation areas should respect local peoples’ right to Free Prior and Informed Consent. Research is urgently needed on biodiversity trends, drivers of biodiversity loss and the effectiveness of protected area management in this context, as well as, importantly, the correlation between protected areas, poverty and development outcomes.
RFUK will host a debate on these findings at a World Parks Congress event on Friday 14th November.