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eco tourism > newsfile > ecotourism in trouble at victoria falls

Ecotourism in trouble at Victoria Falls

Posted: 20 Mar 2002

Foreign investors have voiced their concerns over the future of 'ecotourism' in Zambia. According to a report by the Environment News Service (ENS), foreign investors have complained about what they call bureaucratic confusion of the Zambia Tourist Board, the Environmental Council of Zambia, Zambia Wildlife Authority, and the National Heritage Conservation Commission.

The problem centres on the Victoria Falls, the world's largest, which drop into a canyon 110 metres (360 feet) deep and just over one mile wide, and send up a plume of spray that can been seen for miles around.

Victoria Falls::� Zambezi Safari and Travel Company
Victoria Falls
� Zambezi Safari and Travel Company

But, says ENS, the glory of the falls is dimmed by environmental problems that include the dumping of raw sewage into the Zambezi River, a source of drinking water for over 70,000 residents in Zambia's tourist capital, Livingstone, and a source of adventure for tourists who come for the riverboarding, white water rafting, and canoeing.

Waste management is another problem hampering tourism development in the city, where human beings join stray dogs and vultures in scavenging from waste dumping sites to survive.

According to a report by Singy Hanyona, the environment and natural scenic beauty of the city is being harmed by infrastructure and hotel buildings, and the intrusion of large numbers of foreigners with little knowledge and respect for local culture and traditions.

With the Zambian copper industry in decline and up to 80 per cent of the people living below the poverty level, the government has been looking to tourism to provide an antidote to Zambia's economic woes.

Tourism slump

The Minister of Finance and National Planning, Emmanuel Kasonde, said in his 2002 budget speech that the Zambian government intends to make tourism the third economic giant alongside mining and agriculture. But today the tourist industry is falling short of local people's hopes.

Curio carver Abinot Sibajene says tourism is in a slump after the September 11 terrorist attacks. But wood carvers like him, are not the only ones who look to the tourism industry for their livelihood. The mushrooming of brothels in the city is another concern for conservationists and residents alike. There is an upsurge of prostitution and sex-related diseases, and the local economy is being disrupted because female labour is siphoned off from farming to the prostitution-related tourism sector.

Vincent Katanekwa, director of the Livingstone Museum, sees the extent of prostitution in the city, as a danger zone for HIV/AIDS. Katanekwa says the collapse of about 20 textile and blanket factories, shut down in the mid-1990s as a result of the country's structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), has adversely affected the value of labour, driving women into the sex trade.

Fenced in

Burglary of lodges and guest houses is another social problem with an environmental side effect that Livingstone must address. To protect their premises from constant breakins, most lodge owners near the Zambezi River and the Victoria Falls have built fences around their premises.

Tourists meet elephants along::the Zambezi River::� Victoria Falls River Safaris
Tourists meet elephants along
the Zambezi River
� Victoria Falls River Safaris

But this action has annoyed the Zambia Wildlife Authority, a wildlife regulatory body, and the National Heritage Conservation Commission. The regulators contend that the fencing of properties situated in Mosi-O-Tunya Zoological Park prevents free movement of animals such as sable antelope, eland, vervet monkeys, warthogs and elephants.

"I would rather you cage the human being and leave animals alone," said Benjamin Mibenge, public relations officer for the National Heritage Conservation Commission. But tour operators and lodge owners argue that animals are not the ones that break in and steal property.

New hope

Now, with the establishment of the Mukuni Environmental and Economic Development Trust, there is hope that over 7,000 of Livingstone's residents could benefit from tourism revenue. The trust in Mukuni Village is seeking to communicate the people's precolonial history and way of life as a method of enlightening tourists on the richness of African culture.

Senior Chief Mukuni says the trust is composed of civic leaders, representatives from villages and local community organizations.

For every flight on which United Charters takes tourists to view Victoria Falls, one dollar goes to the Mukuni Trust.

The chief, who sits on the boards of the United Air Charter, United Touring Company and Mukuni Industries, says the trust is valuable although one dollar may seem like an insignificant amount compared to the resources needed to transform Livingstone into a vibrant ecotourism centre.

Despite the creation of the Mukuni Trust, some foreign investors in the tourism industry feel the lack of coordination among various regulatory agencies is frustrating their business. But for those like the chief who believe in the Mukuni Trust, it is a sign of cleaner, more lucrative ecotourism to come for Livingstone and its residents.

Source: Environmental News Service, 5 March, 2002.

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