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Forest defenders on the COVID-19 frontline stand ready to assist the global EU response

12 Mai 2020

Forest defenders on the COVID-19 frontline stand ready to assist the global EU response

Fern and 15 EU NGOs working on climate, environment, social justice and sustainable development issues have come together to welcome EU support for partner countries. The NGO statement in support of local communities, vulnerable groups and those on the frontlines of the pandemic in partner countries asks the EU global response to reinforce the Green Deal, and calls for solidarity, transparency, inclusiveness and equity at all stages of the response. Importantly, NGO partners in target regions stand ready to help.

Since the pandemic broke out, European leaders have agreed the Global EU response to COVID-19, recovery, and stimulus packages to mitigate the social, economic and health impacts of the crisis in partner countries. A growing number of stakeholders, including EU environment ministers and the European Parliament are asking that the initiative be complemented by stronger measures on climate and the environment.

The links between environmental destruction, human encroachment into habitat and viral diseases has been recognised for years. Increasingly, the world’s land is being used for agriculture, mining and infrastructure, with tropical forests bearing the brunt of the dramatic changes, suffering high rates of agricultural conversion. Any EU support for recovery in partner countries must therefore integrate climate, biodiversity objectives and Sustainable Development Goals

As EU NGOs have indicated, local communities and civil society groups should be closely involved in monitoring progress to ensure that commitments become concrete action, to avoid duplication and to improve accountability. 

Fern’s partners are ready to offer their help: by giving practical advice, opening their address books, relaying information to far-flung communities and ensuring those playing a crucial role maintaining households throughout the crisis are fully involved. 

Partner NGOs already have networks that could be put in motion to contribute to the COVID response. For instance, across the four forest regions of the Central African Republic, a heavily aid-dependent and post-conflict country, Centre pour l’Environnement et le Développement Durable (CIEDD) is coordinating members of a civil society platform (Gestion Durable des Ressources Naturelles et de l’Environnement: GDRNE) to build on existing ties with Indigenous and local communities not only to exchange information on ongoing consultations for the Voluntary Partnership Agreement, REDD+ and Nationally Determined Contributions but also to inform them of the pandemic and help them prepare. In Liberia, the Foundation for Community Initiatives and Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) are now working with some 50 communities in Sinoe, Grand Bassa, Grand Gedeh, Margibi, Gbarpulo, Nimba, Lofa and Rivercess Counties to create awareness and help with COVID-19 response. In Cameroon, the Centre pour l’Environnement et le Développement (CED) has approached 20 rural communities in Southern Dja and in the Ocean. Such efforts exist in other regions also. 

These efforts go hand in hand with ensuring continued responsible management of natural resources and preventing unsustainably and illegally sourced forest commodities. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, forest-monitoring organisations Observatoire de la Gouvernance Forestière (OGF) and Réseau des observateurs indépendants des ressources naturelles (RENOI) are set to carry out COVID awareness-raising in at-risk forest areas, and will also assess COVID’s impact on forest management and governance commitments under the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI). Across the Congo Basin, fears that a proper lack of oversight may put forests and forest peoples in danger are looming despite emerging initiatives

“The post-COVID era offers an opportunity for the EU and its partner countries to re-think deep social and economic vulnerabilities,” says Christian Mounzéo from Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l’Homme (RPDH) in the Republic of Congo. For instance, access to quality and affordable internet and adequate civic space in low-income countries should not be a luxury but a prerequisite for lasting and efficient solutions to such crises.

As the Commission prepares a new version of its budget proposal, delayed to deal with the economic consequences of the pandemic, civil society’s practical input could help streamline allocation of important resources while allowing them to assess impact on intended beneficiaries. If the pandemic response integrates environmental and social concerns with practical efficiency, we all gain.

For more information, please contact Marie-Ange Kalenga, marieange@fern.org.

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