Thriving Park, Thriving People

In the 4,067 square kilometers of wilderness that comprise Gorongosa National Park, lions, elephants, impala, zebra, and hartebeest wander the grasslands; crocodiles and hippos relax in the rivers; and over 400 bird species fly overhead. But this region in central Mozambique has not always been so hospitable to the animals. Years of civil conflict have degraded the area's ecosystem, and the number of large animals inhabiting the park was reduced by 95 percent. Things began to turn around in 2004 when field workers started to take steps to restore Gorongosa National Park’s environment, reintroduce wildlife, and develop an ecotourism industry to help reduce poverty in neighboring communities.

The revitalization of Gorongosa National Park is one of the great park restoration stories of recent times. The non-profit Carr Foundation, along with USAID and the Government of Mozambique, support the Gorongosa Restoration Project, which addresses both the needs of the park’s plants and animals and the needs of surrounding communities.

“Our communities have always complained about the lack of basic health services and the fact that they have to travel great distances to get basic treatments,” said Paulo Majacunene, the Gorongosa District Administrator.

Already 25 villagers, chosen by their communities, have been trained as community health workers (CHWs) and have traveled from village to village to offer health advice and services to families who lack access to health care facilities. They provide a low-cost, efficient way of addressing community health problems resulting from untreated drinking water obtained from streams, pools, springs, and marshes.

Medical technicians and gynecological, pediatric, and general health nurses teach the CHWs about topics including prenatal and infant care, household cleanliness, proper nutrition, regular vaccines, the links between personal hygiene and common illness, and HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The CHWs then visit different communities and work with families to prevent and address health issues. “After arriving in a community, I would see health problems, for example, many kids under 5 years old were suffering badly from diarrhea, malaria, and malnutrition,” said Carlos Felix Melo, a CHW from Murombodzi. “I also observed that many families don’t have latrines,” he added.

Mr. Melo said that the trainings enabled to him to help the villagers that he encountered. “With the knowledge I gained, I was able to reach out and advise these families,” he said.

The park’s restoration plan goes beyond these health initiatives and calls for reforestation activities, anti-poaching teams, rebuilding park infrastructure, biological monitoring, and a permanent biological research center located in the park. Now, Gorongosa National Park’s myriad of ecosystems – grasses and savannahs, dry forests and deserts, and seasonally rain-filled wetlands – have seen many animal species return. A burgeoning ecotourism industry is underway.

“There is a strong interdependence between the people who live around Gorongosa National Park and the resources that are within the park and the buffer zone,” said Pedro Muagura, manager of the reforestation program of Mount Gorongosa. “Gorongosa National Park and its natural resources will only be healthy if the surrounding environment and communities also enjoy good health.”

C. Cooney

Last updated: July 17, 2013

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