Sheka Forest will be in the UNESCO global list soon.
“Welcome UNESCO and Congratulation to those who worked hard for this to become a reality”
The Sheka forest will be soon included into the biosphere reserves list of UNSECO as it fulfils the three functional requirements-the conservation, development and logistics support functions to the desired level. In terms of the conservation function, the forest contributes to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation. It is a well-known fact that Sheka forest constitutes one of the few remaining afromontane forest vegetation in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has nine vegetation-based major ecosystems. The country contains outstanding physical features, including the lava lake of Erta`le and the sulphur deposits of Dallol. Most recent studies indicate that: there are more than 6500 species of higher plants (10-12% endemic). About 887 plant species are used for medicinal purposes, constituting over 10% of the vascular species existing in Ethiopia.
Despite the fact that Ethiopia is the second largest in its population on the African continent and 14th in the World, with over 86 million inhabitants, tenth African and 27th World largest by area, its capital, Addis Ababa known as “the political capital of Africa and having huge biosphere and geopolitical importance, it has been known to the outside world as a country of famine, food shortages, endemic hunger, and chronic dependency on foreign aid. On an average more than five million Ethiopians need emergency relief every year. One of the major factors for its chronic and long-lasting food shortage rests on the ever increasing environmental degradation due to misguided policies and programs in the country.
Many lives perished due to drought induced famines in the country. Drought-induced famines are being experienced within short time intervals. Moreover, the areas affected by famine are also rapidly increasing and is the number of people affected. Since 1974, Ethiopia has experienced major humanitarian crises. In 1974, the number of affected compatriots was 300,000, of which 80, 000 people died. By 1984 the figure escalated to three million of which at least 400,000 people died. The total number of people needing emergency relief rocketed to 12.6 million in 2003, with unspecified number of deaths. Famine has been identified as the gravest human problem facing this country since forty years and demanded the highest intellectual honesty, the highest moral integrity and the most determined human commitment and social responsibility.
On the other, Ethiopia is endowed with extensive land area, varied topography and rich natural resources. Sheka is one of few areas gifted with rich natural resources. Sheka is located in the south western part of Ethiopia. It is one of the remotest and neglected zones in the country. Formerly it was part of the then Illubabour province where many political opponents, ill-disciplined public staffs and criminals were exiled as punishments. A very good example was Abbe Gobegna who was a writer and political opponent to the imperial regime. Abbe was exiled in early 1960s due to his political views. In spite of the cruelty and dictatorial leadership of the previous governments, the Shekacho people maintained and survived views, outlooks and cultural practices towards natural forest protection and preservation.
Among Shekacho people, if someone was not privileged to have child/children due to reasons beyond control, say biological factors, he used to plant a tree, give every love and care like he could do if he had a child. This was the case under the imperial and the communist regimes. Because of the positive cultural values and practices of Shekacho people, the natural forest cover remained large until EPRDF government came to power and took politically motivated actions that endangered many species in the area.
The traditional tenure rights, management practices and religious value of forest managements of the Shekacho people has been violated by governments. The level of violation of the rights of indigenous people is at its peak in the 21st century Ethiopia. The following figure could give good insight about the fact in three decades. The total area under dense forest cover was on average 55% in most of the Derg time (1973-1987). There has been massive decline in forest cover from 1987-2005 in the area. The forest coverage in the area was 60% in 1973, 50% in 1987, 32% in 2001 and 0nly 20% in 2005. As can be seen, a dramatic decline was recorded between 2001- 2005 due to misguided investment policy of the government. Larger proportion of forested-land in the area has been handed over to pro-government investors for mono-cropping without proper research and consensus of the local community.
The Sheka forest is one of Ethiopia’s largest and last remaining tropical forest, which is now on the verge of extinction in the era of 21st century. Not only the forest coverage reduced in the area, but also the values and cultural practices that have been maintained for generation has been undermined and the constitutional rights of the people has been retracted by politically motivated government policies and programs.
Will the inclusion of Sheka forest into UNESCO global list mean restoration and preservation of the already endangered species?
The United Nations Millennium Declaration (2000) has put forward much for the “Respect for Nature” considering it as one of the fundamental values for humanity. The Declaration encourages far-sightedness in the management of all living species and natural resources, in accordance with the principles of sustainable development.
It is understandable from the United Nations Millennium Declaration that respect for Biodiversity shows the respect for humanity. Both biological and human elements are fundamental for peace and security in effect for sustainable development.
Researches have revealed that, the Sheka forest is rich in plant and animal life with over 38 threatened species of flora and fauna. It is well known fact that the values and cultural practices of the local population remained very positive for generation until a dramatic shock has occurred in the last two decades. The local people are deeply committed to maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem through the practice of ecologically sustainable agriculture. This is good news to UNESCO and other like-minded organizations who are enthusiastic to work for good cause in the area. The Sheka people have placed much hope on the UNSECO’s involvement for the protection and preservation of their biosphere, however; things will not be easy to UNSECO to stand to the expectation of the local community. It is rational to expect that the political and policy bottle-necks that UNESCO encounters in the implementation process in line with the values and cultural practices of the local people. This shows us t the local community have got massive work to do to bring the expected outcome by standing to their own values and to the principles of UNESCO.
Save Sheka Forest Campaign Group (SSFCG) is happy and committed to work with UNESCO and others to change the situation for better. However; we understand that unless the willingness and commitment of the local community is associated with the political willingness and commitment of the government and the supremacy of the law rules the country, the situation will be frustrating and gloomy not only to UNESCO, but also to organizations that work towards good causes in the area.
Save Sheka Forest Campaign Group (SSFCG), January23, 2013, LONDON