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Message from the Resident Representative

Gabon, the Highest Forest Retention in the World
-- Congo Basin, One of "the Lungs of the World" --

Welcome to JICA Gabon Office!

Substantial JICA cooperation to a nation located in French-speaking central Africa has began when fisheries experts were dispatched in 2000. The grant aid has been provided to construct fisheries centers in Lambaréné and Port-Gentil, six Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) were initially dispatched in 2005, and today there are 24 JOCVs working in connection with such projects as a development study, a grant aid project and a long-term expert dispatch project.

Although Congo Basin is not well known in Japan, it is large enough to be compared to vast expanse of Amazon. It is so vital for absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen that it has been dubbed as one of "the lungs of the world" (Amazon being counted as the other lung).

While Amazon is a relatively flat forest region centered on Amazon River Basin, Congo Basin is characterized by mountainous territory, thus has a wide range of climates and is home of an immense number of rare animal and plant species. A large portion of the jungles have yet to be visited by humans, and each year new species of animals and plants are discovered making it a vital region for protection of "rare species" and "biodiversity".

The area has recently become well known in Europe as a symbol of the "environment," "climate change" and "greenhouse gases." International non-government organizations for environment protection such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society are very active here, and the UK and Norway allocated about more than USD 17 million for the "forest protection" measures in 2008. Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University has performed field work in Gabon as its base for more than a decade and Japanese government is also seeking a way to contribute to the region as part of Cool Earth 50 initiative.

13% of the land area has been set aside as national parks in Gabon. While national park boundaries are not clearly defined in many countries, the boundaries are clearly indicated and entering forests is not permitted in Gabon. That makes Gabon become one of the world’s foremost countries in forest protection. With most of its land comprising forests and lagoons, Gabon is a vast expanse of greenery, "a great land of forests". More gorillas inhabit in Gabon than anywhere else on earth and their forests are protected primarily as national parks or as protected areas. (More importantly, the population density is low, only about 5.4.) However, the more restrictive protection measures and prohibitions in entering forests are taken, the more wildlife flourishes, resulting in crop damages on farmers who are living on the outer periphery of the national forests. Some actions against this issue should be taken and JICA is then currently seeking effective measures in Gabon.

JICA Gabon Office primarily focuses on Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers projects. We are working throughout the country in such areas as fisheries, health and hygiene, HIV/AIDS prevention and education. The local working style, living style and eating habits are so different that the volunteer staff encounter a difficulty in getting used to, but at the same time, having a great joy in new findings on those as well. While their days pass with heavy worries and concerns, a new discovery may bring happiness to them.

The country itself is relatively peaceful and safe, and is free of serious diseases and incidents. However, people in Gabon struggle with the high price of daily goods because of an abundance of primary resources such as crude oil, manganese, iron and lumber. Government-controlled low-priced baguettes and national beer are partial relief on their daily life.

13 volunteers have returned from Gabon to Japan thus far. We look forward to spreading their knowledge and information about Gabon in Japan, raising the awareness of the natural wonder of that country.

Katsunari Harada, Resident Representative
JICA/JOCV Gabon Office

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