Monday, January 11, 2010

Sand dune development and safaris without elephants

I consider myself an optimistic person but I sunk into a defeatist moment late Sunday afternoon. I was looking out at the Indian Ocean from atop a hill, a large sand dune, just inland from the beach we had been swimming at earlier. The beach lies on an inlet protected by a barrier island where the water is shallow and too warm and the sand is covered in inches of squishy muck. The beach, however, is white sand and pleasantly unpopular. As the light was beginning to cast long shadows, we left the beach and drove up the hill to see the property of a friend. It was a perfect scene. A cool breeze was moving the long grasses on the hillside and the sky was turning warm colors. Behind us, farther up the hill, a woman was standing on a rock in a flowing skirt, partially silhouetted against the sky. She looked as if she were guarding something, distrustful of our presence there. Around us, crisscrossing the field, was barbed wire strung between fence posts. It outlined the property we were there to look at, still untouched save a sign claiming its ownership. Beside the woman in the flowing skirt was another property framed in barbed wire, but this had the cement skeletons of condos under construction. On our friend’s property I imagined all the creatures living in those grasses, the unseen diversity and hidden worlds. My friends told me they will be cutting the grass there in anticipation of construction… more cookie cutter condos. They stood, arms folded, and discussed the grass cutting. It would take a few men a whole day, laboring away with machetes.

At least habitat destruction in Mozambique is slowed down by the constraints of physical labor and limited capital. Slowed but speeding up daily. With the influx of tourist income from South Africa and elsewhere, these rare untouched spaces are quickly disappearing under cinderblocks and cement. I have yet to hear any murmurings of dissent against this tide of development. The word “development” is tossed around without much consideration, too often confused with “progress,” too often assumed to be the solution to poverty and illness. The Millennium Development Goals, for example, are an often talked about motivator of change in Mozambique. The seventh of the eight goals is to “ensure environmental sustainability,” though I fear this goal is nothing but a string of catchphrases woven into grant proposals and never really acted upon.

But there is hope. The volunteer I am replacing is staying in Mozambique for a third year to work in Gorongosa National Park. Mozambique was a big safari destination for Portuguese vacationers before independence and the civil war scared off any tourists. What we’re left with are large areas of preserved habitat but no elephants (they were killed by hungry soldiers). Who wants to go on a safari without elephants? The idea at Gorongosa is to reintroduce the megafauna and attract tourism that both promotes the preservation of natural habitats and provides income to local residents. All I know about Gorongosa is what I got in a 60 Minutes special featuring the American billionaire investor (voicemail inventor Greg Carr) who has made it his pet project. Watch it online: I look forward to getting the inside scoop about Gorongosa from the other PCV’s who are working in and around the park and seeing if it really is an example of the “sustainable development” that Mozambique aspires to.

1 comment:

  1. Please have a look here to become more knowledgeable about the Gorongosa Restoration Project:

    Vasco Galante
    Communications Director (Gorongosa National Park)