Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mere hand washing saves in Cameroon

The Cameroon Minister of Public Health is today granting a press conference. We will be treated to updates on the cholera outbreak. As usual it is hard to tell the exact number of people who have died in Cameroon over the last couple of weeks because of cholera. Official figures swing between 200 and 350 people.
I won’t venture to guess what reality might be. Cholera surfaced in the arid and poverty stricken Northern part of Cameroon and panic gripped the rest of the country as the disease flowed down the “civilized” South of the country. I mean real panic! Check this out.
A passenger crowded train (typical of sub Saharan Africa) making a routine trip from the cholera North to the South had to be stopped on its tracks when a victim was identified on board. The rest of the passengers were held hostage for a whole day by state authorities. Reason. The train must be disinfected and checks carried out to prevent the spread of cholera to the rest of the country.
Panic continues. A case is reported in the West Region; another in the East, Littoral etc. Unfortunately, the unreported cases grow. The advantage with this category is that the death toll keeps official figures down.
Smart state agents, NGOs and Common Initiative groups are having a feast – raising and using funds “to fight cholera” – Meetings here (with five coffee breaks and meals), missions there (with cholera allowances); conferences and brainstorming (with per diems).
This smart league for the protection of consumers comes up with a simple but eye catching idea. Buy and distribute a few bars of soap in addition to the slogan “wash your hands before and after meals – before?? and (obviously) after visiting the toilet”. The so called big media went for the story. Donors too are running to swell the league’s purse. Mere hand washing can save indeed.
The truth of the matter is, we need to get to the roots of what has been termed, “the poor man’s disease”. Some citizens think it is the “dirty man’s disease”.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Douala – Edea Reserve: the last refuge of hope for man and nature (Part 2)

Plantations galore
Bruno has been a driver for CWCS since the inception of the conservation organisation about ten years ago and knows the Douala reserve area like the back of his palms.

“It will take us about two hours to arrive at Mouanko because the roads are particularly bad at this time of the year”, the polite Bruno cautioned as we steered off the Edea – Douala road through Ekitie on a wide but pothole-packed earth road.

We drove along swinging from left to right and vice versa frequently, trying to avoid the larger potholes. For about ten kilometres, we drove beside the great Sanaga River as it made its way quietly down towards the sea.

As Bruno announced that we were about to hit the small town of Dizangue, I held my breath as he pointed out to my right, the Lake Olsa. From our vantage point from the road above, it was an excellent sight as the lake caved into greenery that stretched beyond the horizon. It all looked as intact as I had imagined. But, I was soon to discover that this was a landscape shimmer on a hot summer day.
The image of the beauty of Lake Olsa and the greenery around it disappeared as soon as we took the next bend. First, we drove past hectares of a rubber plantation and then a forest of palms.

“We will drive through plantations for more than three quarters of the journey”, Bruno told me as if reading my disappointment. “I was told by sages around here that many years ago, this was once a huge forest full of elephants and buffaloes”, the driver continued.

What had become of this wildlife after this vast human destruction? It began to dawn on me why the Douala – Edea Reserve had to be created as early as in 1930. Maybe the reserve should be the last remaining refuge for wildlife as human pressure keep closing in from inland towards the sea, I imagined. We arrived in the small town of Mouanko with this deep feeling of desolation all over me.

Mouanko, the last bastion of hope
There isn’t much to write home about Mouanko. But for the weary traveller or tourist anxious to discover the hidden treasures of nature in that part of Cameroon, the town is just fine with its two inns, a hospital, schools, a post office, a few small shops, bars and basics like electricity. The river Sanaga curls around the town as if resisting the last descent in to the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

At the centre of town is located the CWCS office where I met the organisations Manager, Ajinoni Gordon. In his modest office adorned with maps, pictures, charts and many other articles depicting the biodiversity of the area, one can tell this manager has been around for quite sometime and means business. So I wasted no time in asking about his area of work and what CWCS was up to. Gordon must have answered this same question from thousands of visitors before, judging from the way he turned on to one of his wall maps to treat me to a succinct presentation of the Douala – Edea reserve.

“This is the meeting point of Cameroon’s largest rivers – this means, the land around here is the reservoir of whatever these great rivers have carried along throughout their long journey from the interior to the sea”, began the project manager, using a ruler to point out the entry points of the said rivers. He pointed at the Wouri, Sanaga, Nyong and the Dibamba.
“This area constitutes one of most important biologically rich protected area within coastal and marine ecosystems”, said Gordon as he gave me the details of the visit we were going to make early the next morning.
Created in 1932 by the colonial administration, the Douala- Edea Reserve covers 160 000hectares of tropical lowland equatorial forest (80%) and Atlantic mangrove forests (15%). The zone is host to a rich fauna of flagship species including forest elephants, primates (chimpanzees, monkey species especially black Columbus), antelopes (sitatunga, blue duiker, etc), west African manatees, sea turtles, dolphins, crocodiles, alligator, many fish species, terrestrial and water bird species.

Douala – Edea Reserve: the last refuge of hope for man and nature (Part 1)

In all my 17 years experience making field trips as a journalist, never before had I been so excited and anxious to visit a conservation area. Maybe I was a little too nervous and scared about the prospect of mingling with big rivers, creeks and the high sea. During the two hour bus drive from Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé to Edea, I could not stop imagining how it would be out there in the Douala – Edea Reserve: the place where many of Cameroon’s biggest rivers converge as they end their journey of hundreds of kilometres from the north to the south into the Atlantic Ocean.
My anxiety dampened as the 70-seater bus dropped me off at Edea as it continued its journey to Cameroon’s economic and most populous city of Douala. I had arrived Edea at the peak of an October torrential down pour. The colonial town of about 100.000 people seem to be at a standstill under the deluge as I took refuge at a fuel pumping station. The rain battered on even harder.

Edea, the colonial town
Visiting the Douala – Edea Reserve can be a real rough experience if you don’t have a car of your own. Few vehicles ply the about 60 kilometres earth road that leads to the small town of Mouanko - the administrative seat of the reserve. The few available vehicles – the “clandos” offer extremely difficult travelling conditions. Apart from the rugged state of the pick-up clandos, you may find yourself seating on someone’s lap like a child or being seated upon, that is, if you are not standing on your feet and clinging tightly to whatever.

I was lucky to have made travelling arrangements with the Cameroon Wildlife Conservation Society, CWCS; one of Cameroon’s leading conservation organisations based and also operating in the Reserve. As I sat waiting for the CWCS vehicle, I had time to see Edea more closely, especially after the rain subsided.

Edea is less than an hour’s drive from the Douala International Airport. A conservative town, one would say. Most of the structures dating from the German colonial period over a hundred years ago still stand, though dilapidating. Notable among these is the once magnificent German bridge over the River Sanaga. Edea is host to one of the most important of Cameroon’s hydro electricity dams. The country’s main aluminium company as well as agro and timber industries make the town attractive to job seekers from other parts of Cameroon and beyond. Like many towns in Cameroon, hundreds of motorbikes swamp around, playing as taxis. There are visibly more bikes than cars.

Edea is one of those areas that depict Cameroon’s economic doldrums of the 90s. Most companies either folded up or rendered thousands redundant in restructuring attempts. Most of those who lost their jobs have since gone to rural areas either to roast or to search for greener pastures. One of such areas that experienced an influx is the small town of Mouanko and its environs.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

CBFP 8 CCR Kinshasa - Facilitation Transfer (Kinshasa, DRC)

All members of CBFP are invited to attend the next meeting of the CBFP Regional Consultative Committee (CCR) to be held in Kinshasa, 27-20 September 2010 at the Hotel Memling. This follows an announcement made by the German Facilitation of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership which comes after formal confirmation issued by the Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism of the DRC.

Thematic focus will be on sustainable management of forest ecosystems of the dry zones, and forest plantations in the Congo Basin. In addition, CBFP facilitation will be passed to Canada. It is hoped that a majority of those who follow CBFP activities and who are able to actively contribute to the debates and discussion will attend the meeting.

By Peter Ngea

New Canadian CBFP Facilitator

Mr. Gaston Grenier, former Director General of CIDA's West Africa bilateral program has been appointed new facilitator to the Congo Basin Forest Partnership on behalf of the Canadian government. Mr Grenier, an agricultural engineer by training, has represented his country in a number of international bodies such as the FAO Committee on Agriculture, CGIAR, the OECD Sahel and West Africa Club, the Special Program for African Agricultural Researc.
After retiring from the Federal Public Service in 2003, Mr Grenier undertook a number of mandates, such as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Africa Rice Centre, or scientific advisor to the Canadian Space Agency on the TIGER initiative, which uses space technology to develop sustainable earth observation services for integrated water resource management in Africa. He is also acting as a scientific advisor to International Development Research Centre (IDRC) on the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund and to the Inter American Institute of Cooperation in Agriculture in support of the Haiti minister of agriculture to gather resources to recover from the 2010 earthquake.
Gaston Grenier who has spent many years overseas in Africa and Latin America is fluent in French, English and Spanish.

Story by Peter Ngea

New Regional Director of FSC Africa

The new Regional Director of FSC Africa Mr. Elie takes on his new challenges with 32 years of experience in natural resource management and outstanding efforts to promote responsible forestry in the Congo Basin. He is a familiar and agreeable person with logging companies and key government officials in the Congo Basin and beyond. The new Regional Director is also credited for creating timber trade links and exchanges between key European and some African countries in the domain of responsible forestry.
Mr. Hakizumwami will lead all activities of the FSC Africa Regional Office and the implementation of the FSC Africa Regional Strategy including supporting the development of National Initiatives in strategic countries in the region. As FSC’s official representative for the African continent, Mr. Hakizumwami will liaise with international organizations and processes active in the region and engage with government representatives on forest related matters.

He is joining FSC after 13 years of work in the Congo Basin where he assumed different key regional positions such as the Sustainable Use of Renewable Resources Initiative Specialist Group, the African Elephant Specialist Group, the Forestry Programme Regional Coordinator for WWF-Central Africa and the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN) Regional Coordinator for Central Africa.