The United Nations has declared 2011 as the “Year of the Forests” as it continues to work to encourage nations across the globe to take sustainable actions to protect the planet’s woodlands. One of the first countries to answer the call to action is Rwanda, which has laid out an ambitious plan to protect its jungles, even as it struggles to develop economically.
As most people know, Rwanda was devastated by civil war and genocide during the 1990’s. That struggle extended throughout the country and caused untold damage to its natural resources, including the rainforests that are home to a host of amazing creatures – not the least of which are the endangered mountain gorillas. Since that time, Rwanda has been experiencing plenty of growth and prosperity however, with the economy making strides forward in recent years and the population expanding at a rapid pace. Those conditions have put demands on the country’s natural resources, including the jungles. One report says that the Gishwati rainforest, for example, has shrunk in size by as much as 90% since 1960.
Earlier this week the Rwandan government vowed to change that pattern. Minister of Land and Environment Stanislas Kamanzi has pledged that “By the year 2035, Rwanda will have achieved a country-wide reversal of the current degradation of soil, land, water and forest resources.” A bold statement indeed for a country that faces many challenges to its continued growth.
The pledge was met with applause by environmentalists across the planet, who say that the commitment to protecting the environment is the first of its kind from a developing country. The plan is to not only re-plant and replenish forests, but to also build an infrastructure to improve water, work on soil conservation and build more sustainable agriculture as well.
One area that may aid Rwanda in their efforts is tourism. The country is already seen as a model for how ecotourism can be put to great use, as it is viewed as one reason why the population of mountain gorillas is increasing. Visitors to their protected habitat are willing to pay a hefty sum to spend a few hours with the creatures, and that money goes directly to preserving the forests that they call home. That same approach may be extended to protecting other regions and species in the country as well.
Rwanda’s landmark pledge to protect the environment is a good thing and hopefully they’ll be able to put it into action. In the long run, it will be an important piece to the country’s continued development and its ability to support its population. As an eco-conscious traveler, that’s just the kind of place that I want to support with my dollars.
[Photo credit: d_proffer via WikiMedia Commons]