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Mining In National Parks Threatens Wildlife 

By Pegue Manga

The attribution of mining exploration licenses in sites found within national parks is causing concerns in Southeast Cameroon.

Miners picking the precious deposits in East Region

Cameroon’s Ministry of Mines, Water and Energy Resources has issued permits for mining exploration to be carried out in patches of land found within Lobeke and Boumba Bek National Parks and some logging concessions. World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF, fears this could be a potential source of conflict and threat to biodiversity conservation in Southeast Cameroon.

During a presentation of the situation to visiting Cameroonian MPs to Southeast Cameroon, WWF Jengi interim Coordinator, Zacharie Nzooh, stated that mining methods are incompatible with the objective of biodiversity protection. "There is bound to be fragmentation of wildlife habitats and restriction of animals’ liberty to roam freely," stated Dr. Nzooh. "An important migratory corridor of elephants in Lobeke that serves as highway for migration of elephants in Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville and Central African Republic, will be seriously perturbed if mining is allowed there," he declared.

The superimposition of mining sites in Lobeke and Boumba Bek National Parks and some logging concessions runs counter to international engagements made by the State of Cameroon, with regards to biodiversity protection, Nzooh argued.   In March 2009, WWF supported a field mission by local government delegates of Environment, Mining and Forestry to some mining sites in Southeast Cameroon.

The team reported that some 10 permits have been issued for mining, though only three are active. Mining pits are left open constituting potential traps to human beings and animals. Another area of potential conflict is the incompatibility between mining and forestry laws in the occupation of space. While forestry law proscribes the installation of people in forest concessions and exploitation in marshy areas, Cameroon’s mining law authorises the installation of mining teams within areas where activities are being carried out and exploration in marshy areas. The upshot might be a rise in poaching and destruction of sensitive ecological areas.

Consequently, "some logging companies are resisting the installation of mining companies within their forest management units, pending clarification on the issues," stated the government delegates in their report. Mining poses threats to Forest Stewardship Council, FSC, certified companies. SEFAC, an FSC certified logging company, exploiting some 400,000 hectares of forest in the north of Lobeke National Park, fears losing its certificate if the prevailing situation is not checked.

FSC set up criteria that if respected by companies will systematically result in sustainable forest management and improvement of livelihood of local people. If SEFAC fears losing its certificate, Alpicam, another logging company operating around Lobeke, has no hope of attaining certification. The logging companies have requested a review of the management plan for logging concessions to include mining issues. 

To help the situation, the delegates proposed a harmonisation of Mining and Forestry laws, definition of a set of obligations for mining companies operating in the area and the withdrawal of mining permits for areas found within National Parks.  They proposed the establishment of a concertation platform composed of different actors that will meet once a year to share information in order to check the negative impacts of mining on the environment.

Addressing Cameroon’s Parliament recently, Regional Representative of WWF in the central African sub region, Natasha Kofoworola Quist, said "WWF believes that mining should happen in an environmentally and socially responsible manner that does not compromise the needs of future generations for clean air, water, land, and viable populations of plant and animal species."

The Regional Representative stated that, "WWF recognises the importance of eradicating poverty and creating employment and sustainable livelihoods in Cameroon. However, there is need to properly regulate natural resources exploitation as well as infrastructure development in order to avoid the degradation of the natural environment which could also threaten the health and livelihoods of many local and indigenous people dependent on forest resources."

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