With a BSc in Environment, Economics and Ecology, Sarah has long been fascinated with the challenge of balancing human needs and environmental protection.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and its partners are in the final stages of building two schools and health centres for communities living in and around Maiko National Park in the DRC.
Around 11,000 people will benefit from the new facilities, which are being built in the villages of l’Osso, Mungele and Obosango.
This work forms an integral part of FFI’s community conservation programme which encourages local people to play an active role in conservation, implementing sustainable livelihood projects that improve people’s lives and reduce illegal and unsustainable activities.
The health centres will include maternity wards, while the schools will each have six classrooms plus toilets and a headmaster’s office.
Carried out by FFI in partnership with the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), this project is being funded by the German government through German banking group KfW.
The facilities are expected to be fully operational and open to the public by early May 2012.
Home to over half of Africa’s tropical forest as well as a number of spectacular endemic species (such as Grauer’s gorilla), the DRC is one of the most important countries in Africa for biodiversity conservation. Its 86 million hectares of rainforest also play a major role in regulating the global climate.
Despite its massive mineral and ore reserves, the DRC is now believed to be the world’s least developed country, with approximately 70% of the population living below the poverty line.
As a result, its people rely heavily on their natural resources, and unsustainable practices are widespread.
FFI’s work in the DRC focuses on helping ICCN (the Congolese protected areas authority) manage the country’s biodiversity and engage with local communities, who are dependent on the natural resources found within the DRC’s protected areas. The aim is to help avoid conflict and reduce human impacts.
Around Maiko National Park in north-east DRC, this engagement has included raising awareness of the importance of the protected area, as well as improving local capacity for community conservation and sustainable resource use.
In 2009 and 2010, in a bid to get a better understanding of local barriers to effective conservation, FFI carried out socio-economic and attitude surveys in communities around the park. These surveys identified an urgent need for better education and healthcare provision.
It is hoped that the new health centres and schools will address this requirement, while reducing the need for people to enter the park to collect medicinal plants and other resources.
The schools will also provide local children with enhanced employment opportunities, which will reduce their dependence on poaching and other illegal activities for income. What’s more, school children will be taught about their local wildlife and receive lessons in conservation.
As such, it is hoped that these new facilities will directly benefit not only the local communities they serve, but also biodiversity in and around the national park.