The Post (Buea)

Cameroon: Fallout of HIPC-I: France Offers 25 Million Dollars for Forest Conservation

France and Cameroon have signed the first-ever Central African debt for nature swap. The agreement signed recently on behalf of Cameroon by Prime Minister, Ephraim Inoni, and Bridget Girardin, French Minister Delegate for Cooperation and Development, will see the investment of 25 million dollars over the next five years to protect part of the world's second largest tropical forest.

This information is contained in a press release dispatched to The Post by the Central African Sub-Regional Communication Service of the World Wildlife Fund, WWF.

According to the release, the agreement, which comes from France's Debt Development Contract (C2D), is a complement to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, HIPC-I.

The goal of C2D is to provide 100 percent debt relief of the concessional loans France contracted to other countries. Twenty-two countries are eligible for C2D, and the total amount of C2D debt relief stands at 4.6 US billion dollars, the release notes.

The document requires Cameroon to earmark funds for four different sectors: education, heath, infrastructure and natural resources. Noting that the C2D agreement was the first allocation of funds to natural resource conservation, the release says previously, funding had only been directed to education and health sectors.

It added that emphasis is being placed on the environment at the request of the French President, Jacques Chirac.Through the funds, the Forest and Environment Development Program, a double-faced programme of reducing poverty while protecting and managing natural forest resources would be implemented.

A better management of protected areas, wildlife and forest production, increased community forest resources and research capacity would equally benefit from the funds.

In a quick reaction, the Director of WWF's Central African Regional Program Office, Laurent Some declared:

"The importance of this unique and history-making agreement lies in the combination of debt forgiveness and investment in forest conservation and local communities."WWF sees this agreement as a concrete example of the commitment expressed by the region's heads of state at the Brazzaville Summit in February 2005, and looks to other nations to follow France and Cameroon's example.

Being one of the world's largest remaining areas of intact rainforest, the Congo Basin forests are a haven for indigenous peoples, habitat for endangered species such as elephants and gorillas as well as safeguard for water quality.

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