Severing roots

Excerpt from UN OCHA,IRIN In-Depth report "Minorities Under Siege: Pygmies Today in Africa": "...Pygmies have depended on the forest since time immemorial. Today, heavy-handed environmental projects, such as the introduction of national parks, have caused tragic consequences for the well-being of the pygmy community..In an effort to protect natural resources, many conservation projects were launched in the 1990s throughout Central Africa. However, the practice of “gazetting” land – passing legislation that declares an area to be a natural park or a wildlife sanctuary – has pushed many indigenous groups out of their traditional habitat. The struggle to preserve the environment has had tragic consequences for some pygmy communities, which have fallen victim to heavy-handed environmental conservation projects...It started with the establishment of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in South Kivu, DRC, a forest that was declared in 1980 a World Heritage in Danger site by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Zairian Institute of the Conservation of Nature violently expelled 580 Batwa families from their land - with a view to protecting one of the last populations of mountain gorillas - without informing, consulting or offering them any reparation. The eviction destroyed their livelihood, culture and spiritual practices that tied them to the land...“We did not know they were coming,” said a Mutwa widow and mother of five who was among the 3,000 to 6,000 pygmies evicted from the forest. “It was early in the morning. I heard people in uniforms with guns. Then suddenly one of them forced the door of our house and started shouting that we had to leave immediately because the park is not our land. I first did not understand because all my ancestors have lived on these lands. They were so violent that I left with my children.” ..According to the NGO Refugees International, the trend continues.."

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