Society at the beginning of 2020 could have never anticipated what the globe would succumb to barely three months into the new year. COVID-19 overcame the modern world and forced thoughts of systemic change within all sectors worldwide. Within a few weeks, international travel came to a standstill as major cities shut down and countries closed their borders forcing tourists to flee for their home countries. It was difficult to understand to what degree this would affect conservation organisations and their work but when the ecotourism industry collapsed the effects were felt immediately. Conservation Lower Zambezi (CLZ), a non-profit organisation based in Lower Zambezi, Zambia, had to implement a new norm and find a way to adapt and continue to operate during the ongoing pandemic.
The flow of unrestricted funding, through membership fees from local tour operators and lodges, came to a halt and due to restrictions put in place for COVID-19 precautions in Zambia around communal gatherings, any form of income-generating activities were also put on hold. A conservation organisation such as CLZ relies on these unrestricted funds to run operations at the CLZ Basecamp as well as cover administration costs such as salaries, maintenance and ad hoc support to DNPW and the community. Without these funds the future of CLZ and its conservation efforts was uncertain.
Action was taken to help bridge this gap through a crowdfunding campaign, launched by CLZ in April, aiming to raise a total of 50,000 USD. Within the first week, there was overwhelming support from friends and families of the organisation as well as their wider community. CLZ has raised over $25,000 so far and are still pushing to reach their goal in order to develop financial stability for the remainder of 2020. Outside of this, they’ve also seen members of the community come forth and utilise their talents to raise funds for CLZ in other ways.
Artists, photographers, fitness instructors and many more talented individuals and organisations have come forth to use their expertise and skills to help raise money for the cause. With all this support, CLZ has been able to continue their day to day operations in the Lower Zambezi whilst also retaining all current staff. Many of the organisation’s long-term donors have also helped through allowing flexibility with on-going grants allowing them to reallocate funds to support areas of need which has lessened the financial strain. Although the fundraising has been successful there is still a way to go in order to secure financial stability for the remainder of the year and well into 2021.
Amongst these donations were funds dedicated to helping fight COVID-19 within the communities surrounding the Lower Zambezi National Park. With this CLZ has purchased a number of foot-operated handwashing stations which have been placed at clinics and communal spaces in the communities and are regularly supplied with antibacterial hand soap. They’ve also invested in a number of posters and booklets aimed at raising awareness around COVID-19 and what measures individuals can take to protect themselves and those around them. At the CLZ Basecamp, a number of protocols have been implemented in order to keep staff safe, such as handwashing stations, enforcing social distancing, consistent use of disinfectants and antibacterials and face masks for all staff including face shields for those in high-risk areas.
Conservation will struggle throughout 2020 not only from limited funding but also due to the fact that there will be a rise in poaching for subsistence amongst local communities. When countries shut down in early March it brought the economy to a standstill forcing many in the Lower Zambezi area who were previously employed by the tourism industry to find other ways to provide for their families. CLZ has sought ways to bring a cash flow back into communities through employment initiatives. One initiative, in particular, is the M’beli Women’s Group, a group of seamstresses trained through CLZ donor funding, who reside in the Chiawa Game Management Area. Through donor funding and crowdsourcing, materials were supplied in order for the women to sew facemasks which would then be sold to help support the community. These not only help bring in a source of income but also aid in stemming the spread of the virus within the region.
Lower Zambezi Tourism Association
CLZ will continue to help mitigate the risks that unemployment brings and work to support these vulnerable but resilient communities. CLZ will also continue to work with DNPW in or to continue law enforcement efforts throughout the remainder of the year. No one knows what the rest of 2020 holds or how the tourism industry will fair in 2021 but for now, through the support from tour operators, donors, partners and the wider community, CLZ will be able to continue their mission of preserving the wildlife and natural resources of the Lower Zambezi for future generations.