1.         Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) (N 63)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1979

Criteria  (vii)(viii)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger   1994-present

Threats for which the property was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger

Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger

See page http://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/4338

Corrective measures identified

See page http://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/4338

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1980-2005)
Total amount approved: USD 268,560
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

Total amount provided to the property: 2001-2005, the property received USD 900,000 in the framework of the UNESCO programme for the conservation of DRC World Heritage properties. 2005-2009, USD 300,000. 2010-2012, USD 411,900 (funded by United Nations Foundation, Italy, Belgium and Spain).

Rapid Response Facility: 2007, USD 30,000. USD 90,000 in support to the project to develop alternative energy sources to charcoal (funded by the French-speaking Community of Belgium).

 

Previous monitoring missions

April 1996: World Heritage Centre reactive monitoring mission; March 2006: World Heritage Centre monitoring mission; August 2007: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reinforced monitoring mission; December 2010: World Heritage Centre reactive monitoring mission.

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Armed conflict, lack of security and political instability;

b) Attribution of a petroleum exploration permit inside the property;

c) Poaching by the army and armed groups;

d) Encroachment;

e) Extension of illegal fishing areas;

f) Deforestation and cattle grazing.

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2012

The State Party submitted a state of conservation report on 2 February 2012. This report highlights an increase in the wildlife populations in the eastern sector of the Park on the Lulimbi plateau and the Rwindi plain, and the birth of nine gorillas in the Mikeno sector. It also mentions a timid return of tourism, mainly for gorilla visits and climbing volcanoes. However, the report notes that the persistence of pockets of militias in the Park at the Nyamulagira, Mount Kasali sectors and on the south and west coasts of Lake Edward remains a major constraint for its management.

The report provides information on progress in implementing corrective measures adopted at the 35th session of World Heritage Committee:

a) Take steps at the highest level to halt illegal exploitation of natural resources of the Park, particularly poaching, charcoal production and fishing by undisciplined elements of the army and armed groups operating within the property

The report gives a detailed description of surveillance and protection operations in the Park and signals the resumption of control of 80% of the Park: 17 joint operations with the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC) were organized, and 43,000 man-days of patrols were deployed. Out of 650 people arrested, 39 were armed and transferred to the military prosecutor. 121 civilians were transferred to the Country Prosecutor’s Office.

A programme of electric fencing of the Mikeno sector boundary is underway to protect the crops of local farmers from depredation by wildlife. The report notes a heavy toll of 11 guards killed in successive attacks and a guard who died following an accident.
The report does not provide details on measures taken at the highest level to support these monitoring efforts.

b) Strengthen efforts to disarm armed groups operating in and around the property, in cooperation with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO)

The State Party points out that the managing authority of the Park collaborated and provided logistical support to the FARDC (reconnaissance flights, communication, transport) in three joint operations to dislodge armed groups from the Park.

The report notes that the positions of the armed groups inside and outside the Park are known, but that, increasingly, they are small, highly mobile groups.

The report does not provide information on cooperation with MONUSCO concerning the disarmament of armed groups operating in and around the property.

c) Immediate closure and removal of the Nyaleke army training and reunification camp within the Park, in accordance with the decision of the Minister of Defence

The State Party points out that much of the Nyaleke army training and reunification camp inside the Park has been evacuated and the remaining armed elements represent only a small threat. However, it notes that the complete evacuation of the camp is not yet scheduled. No timetable on the complete evacuation and destruction of the camp is provided.

d) Take measures at the highest level to enable the ICCN to continue the peaceful evacuation of illegal occupants in the property without political interference

The State Party indicates that a second forum on the issue of development of natural resources of Virunga National Park was organized. During this forum, the participants pledged to evacuate the Park. The populations of Kilolirwe expressed their willingness to leave the Park as soon as security conditions are met in areas where they will settle. The report notes that encroachment at Lubiliha has increased, however, UNESCO, (IOM) the International Organization for Migration, UN HABITAT and the Congolese authorities have undertaken measures, and a study is ongoing to relocate offices built in the Park, and evacuate populations to the identified site of COTONGO, where the subdivision is in progress.

The World Heritage Centre noted that MONUSCO has called on UNESCO to facilitate dialogue with ICCN and to resolve population / Park conflicts, at Lubiliha. This initiative led to the joint IOM / UNESCO / ICCN / MONUSCO project. Following this intervention, the border crossing will be transferred outside the Park by June 2012. The displacement outside the Park of the State administrations illegally installed in the Park shows the willingness of the State Party to find solutions to restore the territorial integrity of the property and will send a strong signal to remaining populations. The World Heritage Centre notes that for the area of the west coast of Lake Edward, new activities for peaceful evacuation are planned in the framework of the conservation programme for the DRC, with funding from Belgium.

e) Continue law enforcement focusing on priority areas, and maintain the measures taken in the context of the institutional reform to re-motivate the personnel of the Park

The State Party indicates that the institutional reform has led to the downsizing of staff from 990 to 340 officers and administrative and technical staff. It points out that it is important to continue to recruit guards to compensate for deaths and staff retirement.

f) Pursue communication and awareness raising activities targeted at the competent authorities and local populations

The State Party points out that following the organization of the second forum mentioned above, a consultation framework was put in place, which resulted in the creation of three forums for dialogue on issues of conflict resolution and fishing on Lake Edward. The report provides no information on the nature of these three forums for dialogue, or on their actions.

g) Pursue actions to eliminate all charcoal production within the property, and promote alternative energy sources

The State Party points out that the carbonization problem has significantly diminished and that alternatives and actions to reduce wood consumption were put in place. The report notes that in 2011, 2533 ha of land were reforested, 11,200 improved stoves were distributed, and a hydro-electric micro power station financed by the Park is under construction. It will serve more than forty thousand inhabitants.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note the improved situation as regards the carbonization problem which is a major threat to the integrity of the site, but also note the importance of providing quantitative information on this decline.

h) Petroleum exploration

The State Party report affirms that petroleum exploration may cause serious harm to the property's Outstanding Universal Value. It states that following the Government’s announcement of the suspension of exploration, a strategic environmental assessment was undertaken. But the SOCO Company, assigned to one of three petroleum exploration blocks straddling the Park, continues to hold meetings hostile to the Park.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN were informed of the signing of two ministerial decrees authorizing the start of petroleum exploration and the issuance of a Certificate of Environmental Acceptability to SOCO for its aeromagnetic and aerogravimetric data gathering campaign. In a letter dated 17 April 2012 addressed to the President, the Director-General of UNESCO expressed her deepest concern about these decrees, which are contrary to the Government's decision of March 2011 to suspend petroleum exploration pending completion of the strategic environmental assessment. This letter was preceded by a communication of 5 March 2012 from the Director of the World Heritage Centre to the Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism. In his reply dated 19 April, the Minister clarified that the aerogravimetric and aeromagnetic data gathering campaign will be carried out without physical incursion into the Park and that a decision on petroleum exploration will be taken based on the results of the strategic environmental assessment.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN were also informed that one of the two other petroleum exploration blocks straddling the Park was awarded to the TOTAL Petroleum company by Presidential decree. 

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note the significant progress reported by the State Party in the implementation of certain corrective measures, including resumption of control of 80% of the Park despite the persistence of pockets of militias in the Park, marked reduction in the carbonization problem, the measures taken against encroachment at Lubiliha and the creation of forums for dialogue with communities to resolve some important conflicts.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN take note that the State Party mentions an increase in the numbers of wildlife in some sectors of the Park and consider that given that the numbers of most large mammal species of the plains have been reduced by 50% to 96% since the property’s inscription, it will take time to restore these populations. They recommend that aerial surveys of key species be performed regularly to confirm these positive trends and to monitor the indicators set for the Desired State of Conservation for removing the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the Committee express its deep concern over the granting of the Certificate of Environmental Acceptability for the aeromagnetic and aerogravimetric data collecting campaign and that it reiterates its request to cancel all the permits for petroleum exploration within the property’s boundaries.

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that the significant funding mobilized for the conservation of the property, notably by the European Commission, reflects the importance that the international community attaches to this site, and seems to be bearing fruit, but they also note that the petroleum exploration and exploitation projects could destroy these efforts. Therefore, they recommend retaining Virunga National Park on the List of World Heritage in Danger and maintaining the Reinforced Monitoring Mechanism for this property.

Decision Adopted: 36 COM 7A.36

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-12/36.COM/7A.Add,

2. Recalling Decision 35 COM 7A.35, adopted at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011),

3. Expresses its concern that signature of the January 2011 Kinshasa Declaration has not yet resulted in a concerted action between the different Ministries, the army and different technical agencies which is necessary to resolve some urgent conservation issues in the sites and create the conditions for their rehabilitation;

4. Notes with concern the consistent reports from different properties about continued involvement of elements of the Congolese Army in illegal exploitation of the natural resources;

5. Considers that the recent permit which has been granted to the international oil and gas company SOCO to start oil exploration activities in Virunga National Park is not in conformity with commitments made by the State Party in the Kinshasa Declaration;

6. Urges the State Party to ensure a full implementation of the commitments made in the Kinshasa Declaration and ensure the implementation of the Strategic Action Plan and in particular to urgently set up the inter-ministerial committee to ensure that specific activities of the action plan which need political decisions or the cooperation and commitment from other Ministries and state entities are implemented;

7. Welcomes the continued support from donor countries for the conservation of the five properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the on-going efforts to set up a sustainable financing mechanism;

8. Requests the State Party in close cooperation with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN to organize an evaluation of the implementation of the action plan, identify obstacles to its implementation and ways to address these with the concerned Ministries and present a report on this evaluation to the World Heritage Centre, for consideration by the World Heritage Committee at its 37th session in 2013.

Decision Adopted: 36 COM 7A.4

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-12/36.COM/7A.Add,

2. Recalling Decision 35 COM 7A.4, adopted at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011),

3. Extends its deepest condolences to the families of guards killed during operations conducted to protect the property, since its last session;

4. Welcomes with satisfaction the significant progress reported by the State Party in the implementation of certain corrective measures, including the resumption of control of 80% of the Park, despite the persistence of pockets of militias in the Park, diminishment of the carbonization problem, the measures taken against encroachment at Lubiliha and the creation of forums for dialogue with the communities to resolve important conflicts;

5. Expresses its deep concern over the granting of a Certificate of Environmental Acceptability for an aeromagnetic and aerogravimetric data gathering campaign, which appears to contradict the Government's decision announced at the 35th session of the Committee to suspend petroleum exploration pending completion of the strategic environmental assessment;

6. Reiterates its request to the State Party to revise its authorizations and not to grant new authorizations for petroleum and mining exploration and exploitation within the property boundaries and recalls its position on the incompatibility of petroleum and mining exploration and exploitation with World Heritage status;

7. Appeals to the TOTAL and SOCO companies to adhere to commitments already made by Shell and ICMM not to undertake petroleum and mining exploration or exploitation within World Heritage properties;

8. Notes that the TOTAL company, in conformity with its current policy of non-exploration of the protected areas of the park, has not undertaken any petroleum or mining exploration or exploitation within the World Heritage properties, and invites it to formally commit to this policy;

9. Requests States Parties to the Convention to make every effort to ensure that petroleum and mining companies in their territory cause no damage the World Heritage properties, in accordance with Article 6 of the Convention;

10. Notes that the report of the State Party refers to an unquantified increase in the numbers of wildlife in some areas of the Park, and considers that it will take time to restore these populations, given that the numbers of most species of large mammals of the plains have been reduced by 50% to 96% since the inscription of the property;

11. Also requests the State Party to undertake aerial surveys of key species to confirm these positive trends and monitor indicators established for the Desired State of Conservation for removing the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger;

12. Urges the State Party to continue the implementation of the corrective measures decided by the Committee at its 35th session (UNESCO, 2011) in accordance with the commitments in the Kinshasa Declaration to rehabilitate the Outstanding Universal Value of the property;

13. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2013, a detailed and quantified report on the conservation status of the property and on progress in implementing corrective measures, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 37th session in 2013;

14. Decides to continue the application of the Reinforced Monitoring Mechanism;

15. Also decides to retain Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Decision Adopted: 36 COM 8C.2

The World Heritage Committee,

1.   Following the examination of the state of conservation reports of properties inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger (WHC-12/36.COM/7A and WHC-12/36.COM/7A.Add),

2.   Decides to maintain the following properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger:

Decision Adopted: 36 COM 8E

The World Heritage Committee,

1.   Having examined Document WHC-12/36.COM/8E,

2.   Congratulates States Parties for the excellent work accomplished in the elaboration of retrospective Statements of Outstanding Universal Value for World Heritage properties in their territories;

3.   Adopts the retrospective Statements of Outstanding Universal Value, as presented in the Annex of Document WHC-12/36.COM/8E, for the following World Heritage properties:

4.   Decides that retrospective Statements of Outstanding Universal Value for World Heritage properties in Danger will be reviewed by the Advisory Bodies in priority;

5.   Further decides that, considering the high number of retrospective Statements of Outstanding Universal Value to be examined, the order in which they will be reviewed by the Advisory Bodies will follow the Second Cycle of Periodic Reporting, namely: