Planned transborder nature park draws praise

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NELSPRUIT, South Africa -- Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe have worked since late 1999 to create a transborder nature preserve that they expect to debut sometime this year.

The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park incorporates the 1 million-acre Limpopo National Park, created last year in Mozambique, plus Kruger and Gonarezhou national parks in South Africa and Zimbabwe, respectively.

As part of the project, some animals already have been relocated, and South Africa this spring will begin removal of a fence it constructed on the Mozambique border during apartheid.

The plan also envisions a "univisa," said Fernando Sumbana, Mozambique's minister of tourism, a document that would let tourists enter the park from one country and leave from one of the other two.

The park, one of a series planned under the auspices of the Peace Parks Foundation, was hailed at the inaugural African Peace Through Tourism Conference here as an example of how tourism-related projects can contribute to peace.

Speaking at the conference, Valli Moosa, minister of environmental affairs and tourism for South Africa, said, "We won't create peace" at the Nelspruit conference, but joint efforts like the three-nation park make cooperating countries dependent on one another and "that focuses the mind on creating peace."

For Limpopo, internal peace in Zimbabwe turns out to be a greater concern, as observers worry that recent elections might spark a civil war.

If Zimbabwe cannot proceed initially, a Peace Parks spokeswoman said, Mozambique and South Africa will take the initiative because ecotourism is very essential to sustainable economic growth in this impoverished region.

Numerous African tourism officials addressed the conference, which was sponsored jointly by the Africa Travel Association and the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism.

There was a general agreement among the speakers that tourism contributes incrementally toward peace because travel leaves visitors "wiser and more tolerant," according to Dawid de Villiers, deputy secretary-general at the World Tourism Organization.

However, participants said, tourism's more direct role is in alleviating poverty, a key source of instability and, hence, violence.

Iain Christie, consultant to the World Bank, said that institution has recommitted itself to tourism development in order to reduce poverty, and it wants to help Africa increase its tourism share.

The welfare of the environment, deeply intertwined with tourism and poverty issues, was a key conference topic, as well.

Poverty degrades the environment, and a degraded environment contributes to poverty, de Villiers said.

If poorly managed, tourism can be harmful, too. For the lesser-developed countries -- often the most blessed with natural wonders -- using those resources to prosper hinges on using them wisely and involving local communities, said Philemon Luhanjo, permanent secretary, Tanzania Ministry for Natural Resources & Tourism.

He said if properly planned, tourism can contribute to the conservation of natural resources; de Villiers said tourism's positive impact already is discernible in the preservation of many global cultural and heritage sites.

De Villiers and others also noted that if unguided, tourism can result in the exploitation of people through child labor and prostitution, for example, and the degradation of local value systems.

Even the most benign tourist activity can accelerate the difference between the rich and the poor as well as between urban and rural, said Cheryl Carolus, chief executive officer, South African Tourism.

Other programs presented here that aim to facilitate African travel and provide tourism benefits to the region are as follows:

• The Peace Parks Foundation, based in South Africa, has identified several areas in Africa where transborder parks would be logical for resource maintenance.

The first of these parks, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Botswana and South Africa, launched in May 2000. Great Limpopo will be the second.

• About two dozen west and central African nations agreed to liberalize air transport among them.

Effective this August, the pact permits the nations' designated airlines to carry passengers between any participating states (fifth freedom rights), allows carriers to set fares without prior government approvals and ends limits on frequencies or capacity of service among any of the states. Participants can phase in certain provisions for up to two years.

• Mozambique's Sumbana said 14 southern Africa nations are discussing a regional univisa that would give visitors free movement among all participants. He said he expects the univisa to be available within two years.

Similarly, nearly a dozen west African nations are pursuing a multinational visa.

Tanzania will host the second African Peace Through Tourism Conference in November 2003.

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