RFUK launches new interactive website on the human impacts of protected areas

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The Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) has just launched Rainforest Parks and People – an interactive website aimed at increasing the transparency and accountability of conservation projects across Africa’s Congo Basin rainforests, and showing how such projects have impacted on local people.

Drawing on publicly available information as well as RFUK’s own field research, Rainforest Parks and People features 34 protected areas across the rainforests of Gabon, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

The website compiles reports of displacement of people by most of the protected areas, and, most alarmingly, a high incidence of conflicts and allegations of human rights abuses at the hands of so-called “eco-guards”. Such abuses include extortion, beatings, extra-judicial killings and even rape.

Rainforest Parks and People also identifies whether communities were consulted before the creation of the protected area, whether they have a voice in managing it, and whether they have benefited from it economically. In only two out of 34 featured protected areas was meaningful consultation undertaken prior to the protected area’s creation, and in no case was a community’s prior consent documented at all.

Simon Counsell, RFUK’s Executive Director, said: “Our investigations have uncovered a grim picture of conservation’s impacts on the traditional inhabitants of Africa’s rainforests. Local and indigenous people’s rights to land and livelihood, as well as their rights to consultation and participation, have been grossly undermined, and serious rights abuses by park rangers have gone under the radar”.  

Rainforest Parks and People builds on a landmark report published by RFUK in 2016, which argued that the current model of nature conservation in central Africa is not only unjust to poor and marginalised local communities, but is also jeopardising conservation efforts by alienating the people who are best placed to protect biodiversity.

Importantly, the database also includes information on protected areas’ funding sources, where available.

“Rainforest Parks and People shows clearly that abuses of local people by conservation programmes is a widespread, systemic problem in Africa’s rainforests. There is a need for much greater transparency in who is funding such programmes, for these funders to call conservation agencies to account for their impacts on local people, and to ensure that abuses are eliminated”, said Counsell

Rainforest Parks and People films series

RFUK is also launching a series of short films on this issue with testimony from communities and civil society leaders in the Congo Basin. Read our first blog and watch the first film here.

**Rainforest Parks and People will continue to be updated as new information becomes available. RFUK is inviting those working in forest conservation, and indeed those affected by protected areas, to contribute where possible.