UNDP and IOC Bolster Awareness on Wildlife Conservation through Sports

23 Aug 2013

image UNDP's Deputy Country Director for Programmes, Georgina Fekete talks to footballers in Chiawa about the importance of conservation

The kick-off of the inaugural football match between the Chimwaye Zebras and their opponents, in the heart of the Chiawa Game Management Area, marked a new era in raising awareness on nature and conservation amongst the community, using the medium of sport.

“My participation in the work leading to the completion of this sports ground has made me develop a love for conservation. It has taught me how young people can play an active role in protecting and improving our environment. Since then, I have pledged to take conscious action in my community” said Windus Masimps, a 20 year-old football player who took part in the inaugural match.

Chiawa, situated on the banks of the River Zambezi, is home to some of Zambia’s most prized wildlife, attracting 1000 to 1500 tourists each year. At the same time, the Game Management Area is home to 9,000 Chiawa inhabitants, half of whom are youths. Their livelihoods primarily depend on jobs from the tourism sector. However, the wildlife is at risk of being depleted from illegal hunting. Each year it is estimated that up to 40 elephants are killed through illegal hunting.

Recognising the youth’s enthusiasm for sports in this area, UNDP introduced an activity within the Reclassification and Effective Management of National Protection Areas System Project (REMNPAS) to promote conservation through sports. With $30,000 from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and additional resources from UNDP, an information center and sporting facilities were constructed to harness sporting talents at the same time as conserving the wildlife.

“Zambia has a huge opportunity to address the challenges of environmental sustainability for future generations. 52% of the population is under the age of 18. To achieve the nation’s development objectives, as well as the Millennium Development Goals, young people must be equipped with an education. And that education includes awareness about what it takes to protect the environment and use its natural resources sustainably,” UNDP’s Deputy Country Director for Programme, Georgina Fekete said while handing over the facilities.

The conservation information center and changing room, a football pitch and a netball court were handed over to the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) recently for use by the people of Chiawa. The facilities provide an avenue to communicate to rural community groups, messages of conservation and respect for wildlife in an effort to sensitize people about the importance of their environment and natural resources that surrounds them. With the provision of these amenities, the youth can now drop in and share information on conservation and other development issues affecting them.

Receiving the facilities on behalf of the local population, ZAWA’s Board Chair, Guy Robertson committed that the information center would be used to run conservation awareness programs for different target groups, helping them understand how conservation of the natural and cultural environment, including protection of biodiversity benefits them in the long run. “The local administration is upbeat about such facilities that would help the youths get away from negative social vices that affect them. We encourage our young people to become better stewards of the vast natural heritage in their communities,” Ngoni Moyo, a local government official said in a message he delivered on behalf of Kafue District Commissioner, Grace Ngulube.

The views of the youths and representative of the Chieftainess who also spoke at the occasion were one of unanimity – that the initiative by UNDP and IOC has brought the communities together for the first time in the name of wildlife conservation.

The excitement from the players and the crowds watching the football and netball matches demonstrated not only aspiring sporting talents on the field, but also a commitment to sustain Zambia’s precious ecosystem for generations to come. “This is the first time we have received this kind of support from any organization. We will do our best to take ownership of these facilities and also spread the message of conservation through sports,” said Jones Katiyo, Chairperson of the Chiawa Sports Association.