The outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Uganda and subsequent nationwide lockdown by the government helped the country register low coronavirus cases, but the measures had a devastating impact on the country’s economy particularly on the Tourism sector, which placed the livelihoods of tourism host communities at risk and perhaps triggered a sudden rise of poaching cases in most landscapes of Uganda, including Murchison falls landscapes
In response Environment Governance Institute (EGI), with support from IUCN Save Our Species and Co-Funded by the European Union(EU) commissioned a Rapid Assessment Survey in the five districts of Hoima, Kibale, Masindi, Kiryandongo, and Bulisa that are within the Murchison falls national park green belt. The main objective was to assess the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the livelihoods of tourism host communities’.
The target groups of the Survey; were the tourism host communities around tourism sites in Murchison falls landscape, the traditional custodians of these sites; the Community, Environmental Groups, and tourism associations that have been affected by the halt of tourism activity, the District and sub-county concerned officers and representatives of Uganda Wild Life Authority.
The findings of the Rapid Assessment generally indicate that; the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic put all activities of tourism host communities at a standstill. The closure of protected areas led to the loss of revenue from the sector which resulted in a lack of funds to support tourism host communities’ in pursuing alternative ventures.
Tourism, more broadly, was hit hard by the Pandemic with anticipated effects trickling to the amount of funding available for tourism revenue sharing next year. On average, UWA reported losing around UGX 7bn ($1.8 million) per month due to the outbreak and subsequent lockdown period.
According to UWA, “It was certainly a difficult time in that the community conservation work which involved regular meetings and consultations with community members came to a standstill as a result of lockdown and social distancing regulation” which hampered the work of conservation efforts to curb pressures on the landscape.
Due to covid-19, the community conservation wardens haven’t been able to give the much-needed on-the-ground support and supervision that was usually provided due to social distancing measures. Last year alone UWA reported having given out over UGX 10 billion (around US$2 million) to local communities under the revenue sharing program for development projects around several parks including Bwindi, Murchison Falls, Kibaale, and Lake Mburo. The revenue was from wildlife-based tourism, however, there has been a drastic decrease in revenue to support conservation work due to Covid-19
The survey also reports a rise in food insecurity resulting from elephants evading people’s crops, this situation has remained a common community wildlife conflict. Given the fact, that no compensation in the forms of food relief and other products have been received as it used to be before the pandemic, communities’ have turned to poaching as a sign of revenge especially the youth in order to earn a living.
The Survey further identified some livelihood options, like Eco-friendly agriculture with crops that deter animal invasion into the community, there was also loss of jobs that were previously offered by hotels, lodges, restaurants, and other related tourism service industries like entertainment groups and art craft industry among others, which led to widespread unemployment.
Therefore, following the resumption of the tourism sector and the opening up of protected areas, it is important, that different stakeholders take a practical role in supporting tourism host community initiatives with stimulus packages in order to minimize encroachment and poaching
EGI is has partnered with UWA and calls for concerted effort and cooperation not only from local communities but also from local and international partners to help host communities cope with the covid19 impacts and Save Our Ecosystems.
John Peter Okwi, Programs Co-Coordinator Environment Governance Institute (EGI-Uganda)