- As tourist facilities have been developed in southern Ethiopia's Nechasar National Park, local residents have been forcibly evicted without any compensation, a new report says. The park is managed by a Dutch foundation, which is developing eco-tourism facilities. The foundation claims relocations were "negotiated" and voluntary.
The lush grasslands of the Nechasar National Park in southern Ethiopia are a wildlife paradise, but the thatched huts of the people who formerly lived on this land are empty. A reported two thousand families have been compelled to leave their homes and relocate outside the boundaries of the park to accommodate the development of the park by the Dutch foundation African Parks.
The US-based organisation Refugees International (RI) today issued a report, highly critical to the management of the Ethiopian park. Visiting Nechasar, the group had met a number of local people who said that they had been forced off their land earlier this year so that the park can be fenced and tourist facilities developed.
They said that they did "not receive any compensation for the lands they lived on for many years and little assistance of any kind," RI reports. Moreover, the land to which they were moved outside the boundaries of the Park was already occupied.
- A bridge and road to their new homes was washed out by a flood, cutting them off from access to health facilities, schools and other social services, the RI report says. "The planned fence around the park will also separate them from the town of Arba Minch, already a long day's walk away," it adds.
On the other side of the fence will be 980 Kore farming families and 1,025 Guji Oromo pastoral families - a total of about 10,000 people and their livestock - who have long lived inside the boundaries of the park or used its lands. If present plans for the park are implemented, "fishermen on Lake Chamo and local families who gather firewood will also have their precarious livelihoods disrupted," RI says.
Nechasar National Park was established in 1962. It is a small, undeveloped, and beautiful park covering 514 square kilometres and with large tourism potential. The park was originally established to protect Swayne's hartebeest, a species endemic to Ethiopia with only 500 remaining individuals. The hartebeest is listed by the IUCN among the species in the world in "imminent danger of extinction."
In February 2004 the Ethiopian government signed a contract with the African Parks Foundation of the Netherlands as the concessionaire to manage Nechasar. Among the plans for the park are an electric fence and the reintroduction of rhinoceros, elephant, and other species of interest to tourists. Tourist accommodations are to be built, and tourists will be guided around a pristine natural environment devoid of Ethiopians.
The African Parks Foundation claims on its website that it "takes responsibility of important areas of biodiversity in Africa, always with the inclusion of local communities" including "the integration of flora and fauna and poverty relief."
In the case of Nechisar National Park, the foundation holds that it "was completely uninhabited" when established in 1962. "Since then, during a period of political turbulence in the country, people invaded the park with substantial numbers of domestic stock." Ethiopian authorities where now relocating them "to suitable areas near to the park where basic services can be provided."
A letter from the Dutch foundation to RI states that "African Parks has no involvement in the relocation of these recent settlers." However, the foundation's website claims that the relocation of the people within the park "has been negotiated, and is being undertaken with the consent of the people involved." This statement is at variance with what RI was told by former residents of Nechasar.
The US refugee protection group says it is "a cruel irony" that people are being forced from land on which they depend for their only livelihood at the same time as Ethiopia is facing chronic food insecurity and hunger. In other parts of the country, authorities have launched a large resettlement programme, which encourages the movement of people from overcrowded to less crowded areas with a promise of aid and social services.
In the case of the 10,000 people of Nechasar, however, "there was no pretence of voluntary movement and apparently little government assistance provided to them," RI says. "While the development of the park may provide employment and economic opportunity in the distant future, the need to assist the relocated people is now."
African Parks Foundation, on the other hand, claims that the management of Nechisar National Park is both environmentally sound and to the benefit of its former residents. There were some loose plans of "setting up the local manufacture and marketing of small, low-cost stoves" to solve some of the more pressing problems of over-utilisation of parks resources, the foundation holds.
The Dutch foundation, which works on a commercial basis, already manages four parks in Africa, including the Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia, the Majete Wildlife Reserve in Malawi and the Marakele National Park in South Africa. Also in Zambia, the foundation plans to introduce access restrictions for the population of the 108 villages within the park, and in the Malawian and South African parks, it prepares a restocking of elephants.
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