Conservation practitioners realize they must deal with conflict but often lack the training to do so, says Dr. Andrew Plumptre, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Albertine Rift Program. Moreover, they don’t realize their conservation efforts—by restricting access to resources or creating new burdens, costs, and risks for communities—are at times directly responsible for spawning new conflicts where none existed before.
WCS tackled the conflicts with an array of strategies:
To combat overfishing, WCS helped villages establish sustainable targets and implement internal policing mechanisms
To curtail encroachment and poaching by the military and those living in the greater Virunga National Park area, WCS trained Congolese Park Authority (ICCN) staff in enforcement and monitoring techniques, established channels of communication with military commanders, and engaged in general and targeted environmental educational campaigns.
To relieve resource pressures from the presence of Ugandan pastoralists, WCS worked with the Congolese and Ugandan governments to ensure pastoralists could safely and freely return to Uganda to settle elsewhere.
All of WCS’ work was carried out in conjunction with local ICCN members. WCS also regularly convened meetings of elected stakeholder representatives, where disputes, accusations, and interests could be openly aired and mediated. The meetings also fostered collaboration between the stakeholders and created an enabling environment for conflict resolution.
Beyond Virunga National Park
Since completing their project in 2007, Plumptre and his team have established similar projects in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, the Itombwe Massif, and Misotshi-Kabogo. Now, however, they are working to prevent conflicts before they take root. WCS has guided communities in the Misotshi-Kabogo area to work together to petition the Congolese government to turn their territory into the DRC’s 8th national park.
Climate change is predicted to spur local, often intra-state or regional, migrations in response to droughts and flooding. Could these migrations lead to similar resource conflicts in the future? The rate of migration, governance and carrying capacities of the absorbing communities, and economic status of the migrants will all come in to play. In cases where conflict might result, Plumptre’s work successfully demonstrates that “conflict-sensitive conservation” should have a place in the peacebuilders’ toolkit.