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Biodiversity Conservation in Regions of Armed Conflict: Protecting World Heritage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

A program aimed at preserving the integrity of World Heritage natural Sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo represent half of the total area of tropical rainforest in Africa. The outstanding biodiversity of the Congolese forests, which provide shelter for many endemic species such as the bonobo, the mountain gorilla and the okapi, has justified the inscription, between 1979 and 1996, of five protected areas of the country on the World Heritage List. Facing threats which could have negative effects on its World Heritage values, these five Sites have been inscribed, between 1994 and 1999, on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

History of the program

In 2000, the UNESCO World Heritage Centre initiated the programme Biodiversity Conservation in Regions of Armed Conflict: Protecting World Heritage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, so as to preserve the five World Heritage Sites’ integrity in a protracted conflict situation.

The objective of the programme is to avoid the loss of the Outstanding Universal Value of the five Sites and to work towards favorable conditions for their withdrawal from the List of World Heritage in Danger. The programme is implemented with the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) - an organism in charge of the management of protected areas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo - under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism, and with the active involvement of Conservation NGOs partners of the ICCN.

Phase I (2000-2005)

The first phase of the program has focused on maintaining conservation activities in the five sites and establishing a “Diplomacy of Conservation” (a political and diplomatic support for the sites’ conservation). Relying on the World Heritage Convention, the programme has done everything to obtain the cooperation of the different parties involved in the conflict in order to achieve the safeguard of the World Heritage sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Promoting and Preserving Congolese Heritage; Linking biological and cultural biodiversity

The conference was held from the 13th to 17th of September of 2004, has gathered all the programme’s partners to present the review of the first phase of the programme, and to raise additional funds to launch the second phase. More than 50 million dollars was pledged by donors.

Phase II (2005-2010)

During the second phase of the project, the programme supported the implementation of emergency action plans in the five Congolese sites, while continuing to implement « Diplomacy of Conservation ». In a context of high security risks linked to the presence of armed groups in the Eastern Congo, emergency action plans have been developed for the three pilot sites: Kahuzi-Biega and Virunga National Parks and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. In Garamba National Park, a strategy of community conservation has been developed.

Phase III (2010-2013)

The third phase is aimed at setting the necessary conditions for the rehabilitation of the five Congolese sites, mainly through the finalization of emergency action plans, and strengthening the element of “Diplomacy of Conservation”. This phase was mainly about implementing the corrective measures adopted by the World Heritage Committee in consultation with the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and following the evolution of the sites’ State of Conservation, so as to allow their withdrawal from the List of World Heritage in Danger.

High-level Meeting between the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and UNESCO

A key event of this phase was the holding of a High-level Meeting between the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and UNESCO, on 14 January of 2011 in Kinshasa. This meeting, chaired by the Congolese Prime Minister, Adolphe Muzito, and by UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, aimed at exploring ways to strengthen the protection of the five Congolese sites inscribed on the World Heritage List in Danger. A significant result of this meeting is the adoption of the Kinshasa Declaration’s, which marks Congolese government’s involvement in implementing the corrective measures decided by the World Heritage Committee for the rehabilitation of the Outstanding Universal Value of the endangered sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with UNESCO’s support.

Key dates

1974

Ratification of the World Heritage Convention by the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

1979, 1980, 1984, 1996

Inscriptions on the World Heritage List of Virunga, Kahuzi-Biega, Garamba, Salonga National Parks and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.

1994 - 1999

Inscriptions of the five sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

1999

Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation’s appeal for international mobilization in order to preserve the five Congolese sites threatened by the generalization of the Great Lakes Conflict.

2000 – 2005

First phase of the programme‘s implementation.

2004

Organization of the international conference “Promoting and Preserving Congolese Heritage: Linking biological and cultural diversity” to close the first phase of the programme and launch the second one.

2005 - 2010

Implementation of the second phase of the programme.

2010 - 2013

Implementation of the third phase of the programme.

2011

High-level Meeting between the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and UNESCO. Adoption of the Kinshasa’s Declaration.

Natural properties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo included on the World Heritage List: target Sites of the programme

Activities implemented by UNESCO and its partners through the framework of the programme

Emergency Actions supported by UNESCO

Garamba National Park

  • Direct support to the site for personnel and equipment.
  • Capacity building for ICCN personnel and local communities.
  • Awareness building and environmental education.
  • Ecological monitoring.
  • Rehabilitation of infrastructures.
  • Strengthening structures for collaboration between local authorities and park management.
  • Support for the validation of the Management Plan.

Kahuzi-Biega National Park

  • Direct support to the site for personnel and equipment.
  • Capacity building of ICCN personnel for ecological monitoring and monitoring of threats.
  • Awareness building and environmental education.
  • Ecological monitoring.
  • Rehabilitation of infrastructures.
  • Support for surveillance patrols.
  • Development of a zoning plan for the low altitude sector.
  • Removal of illegal farmers from the ecological corridor linking the high altitude and low altitude sectors.
  • Support for the validation of the Management Plan.

Salonga National Park

  • Direct support to the site for personnel and equipment.
  • Capacity building of ICCN personnel for ecological monitoring and monitoring of threats.
  • Awareness building and environmental education.
  • Ecological monitoring.
  • Rehabilitation of infrastructures.
  • Collaboration with military and police authorities to deploy joint anti-poaching activities, particularly elephant poaching.

Virunga National Park

  • Direct support to the site for personnel and equipment.
  • Capacity building of ICCN personnel for ecological monitoring and monitoring of threats.
  • Awareness building and environmental education.
  • Ecological monitoring.
  • Rehabilitation of infrastructures.
  • Support for surveillance patrols.
  • Support to the Committee to Save Virunga (CSV).
  • Support for the validation of the Management Plan.

Okapi Wildlife Reserve

  • Direct support to the site for personnel and equipment.
  • Capacity building of ICCN personnel for ecological monitoring and monitoring of threats.
  • Awareness building and environmental education.
  • Ecological monitoring.
  • Rehabilitation of infrastructures.
  • Support for implementation of an Emergency Action Plan in the wake of the attack by armed rebels on Epulu station in June 2012.
  • Finalizing and implementing the zoning plan for the RFO with the establishment of clearly defined agricultural zones and hunting zones in accord with the resident communities.
  • Supporting and strengthening local administrative and customary authorities through the establishment of Nature Conservation Monitoring Committees and Immigration Control Committees.
  • Strengthening the system of immigration control.
  • Support for the validation of the Management Plan.

Technical partners

  • Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN)
  • African Parks Network (APN)
  • African Conservation Fund (ACF)
  • Gilman International Conservation (GIC)
  • Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)
  • World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • Fauna and Flora International (FFI)
  • International Rhino Fund (IRF)
  • Milwaukee Zoological Society (ZSM)
  • International Programme for the Gorillas Conservation (PICG)
  • Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS)
  • London Zoological Society (ZSL)
  • German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ)
  • African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).