By Victoria Lassaga, Laura Steffolani, Rosario Espina and Andrea Michelson
The territorial work is one of the fundamental pillars of Natura International in its main activity: promoting the creation of protected areas. This year, as in all areas, the pandemic disrupted the work routine. Our task in the ‘old normal’ consisted of carrying out technical environmental and social surveys, workshops and talks with communities, key actors, other civil society organizations or academic entities and the different local actors that converge in these spaces, mainly representatives of governments, whether municipal, provincial or national.
This year, due to the isolation measures in the wake of the global pandemic, we face a great challenge: how to sustain contact with the territories at a distance. As the ability to visit the territories was completely limited, we had to look for other mechanisms to sustain fluid communication channels both among team members and with other actors. The situation forced us to rethink and rethink institutionally, with the conviction that our work has a very clear purpose that transcends us as individuals: the conservation of biodiversity in the long term.
Some of the sites we work in are isolated, with little connectivity or access to digital tools, as they are areas with a high conservation value and at a great distance from large cities, the focus of the main environmental problems. Communities of native peoples or high mountain communities with whom we work do not always have the resources – economic or technological – to guarantee good connectivity. This fact limited the communication we had with them. Some processes that needed to reach horizontal consensus were postponed, as we understood that mechanisms of participation through the virtual route might not be comprehensive and representative of the real interests of these local communities, and that the lack of participation due to problems of Internet connection deepened inequalities. In other processes, we managed to speed up the virtual communication mechanisms and were able to generate meetings for decision making and even trainings and workshops.
The pandemic presented us with a great challenge to face both from the institutional point of view and from our individuality as professionals. But for those of us who work in conservation, the challenges do not paralyze us. On the contrary: they stimulate us. We have managed to sustain the projects despite the necessary social distancing. We looked for diverse and new ways to communicate and this allowed us to achieve great results: the signing of agreements with government institutions and working agreements with other foundations, the maintenance of periodic contact with the communities and key actors of each of the projects using diverse forms of communication, the realization of workshops, talks and training on the demand that the circumstances required, the strengthening of our information bases from a technical/scientific point of view and the revaluation of communication with others and others through our social networks.
The pandemic had a great global impact as it affected the whole of society in different ways. It increased inequalities by leaving the sectors that suffer the greatest vulnerability more exposed, and challenged us to rethink those of us who are in a more privileged situation. The effect of the hand of man on the environment decreased significantly but the lack of monitoring by the agencies in charge also. For example, deforestation rates in Argentina increased significantly.
There was a great learning in the pandemic: although the distance was a new challenge to solve, it awakened our creativity when looking for solutions. We cannot take any steps back now: it is very likely that the strategies for economic reactivation will come from extractive processes. That is reason enough to reinforce our commitment to continue promoting clean economies to conserve our limited natural resources through new protected areas.