Rural communities within or adjacent to national parks largely depend on tourism for survival. They have been hit hard by the national lockdown due to Covid-19. Even when South Africa will move to lower levels in order to revive the economy, the livelihoods of the people will remain volatile.
This situation had the South African National Parks (SANParks) thinking on their feet to ensure a rapid response bringing relief to communities. On 24 April, the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Ms Barbara Creecy, led a SANParks initiative to distribute food parcels and water tanks to vulnerable communities bordering the Kruger National Park in both Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
This initiative will be extended to communities bordering national parks countrywide. The funding has been sourced from the South African National Parks (SANParks) Honorary Rangers, SANParks Socio Economic Transformation (SET) Legacy Fund and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). A total of R6 million will be used to purchase food parcels, hygiene products, education materials and water tanks. A total of 7,500 families will be supported nationally.
Over the past six years, UNDP and SANParks have been successfully implementing the Improving Management Effectiveness of the Protected Area (PA) Network project. The focus of which is to expand protected areas by working closely with private and communal landowners, ensuring they recognise and drive conservation efforts to lower the risks of loss and degradation of critical biodiversity areas. The project is funded via UNDP by the GEF Trust Fund and will end in 2021.
This intervention is also an urgent attempt to mitigate the effects the pandemic might have on the partnerships built over the past years. The work undertaken by the PA Project through various programmes - in the Greater Kruger for example through SMME support and governance training for land claimants, tourism products and access to markets - is severely impacted by Covid-19.
The much-needed support handed over by the Minister together with SANParks officials and Chief Mdluli to members of the Traditional Authorities in Mpumalanga and Limpopo was an important act to strengthen the relationship between the park and communities.
The sustainability of the PA Project relies on partnerships between funders, project leaders, implementing agencies and communities to carefully balance socio-economic considerations to support the local economic recovery with the need to continue implementing the activities to improve the management effectiveness of protected areas.