Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) (N 63)
Year of inscription on the World Heritage List 1979
Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger
Threats for which the property was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger
- Increased poaching of wildlife
- Incapability of staff to patrol the 650 km long boundary of the Park
- Massive influx of 1 million refugees occupying adjacent parts of the Park
- Widespread depletion of forests in the lowlands
Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger
Adopted, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/4338
Corrective measures identified
Timeframe for the implementation of the corrective measures
Adopted, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/4338
Previous Committee Decisions see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/documents/
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 268,560
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/assistance/
UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds
Total amount granted: USD 1,802,300 from the United Nations Foundation and the Governments of Italy, Belgium and Spain as well as the Rapid Response Facility (RRF).
Previous monitoring missions
April 1996 - March 2006 - December 2010: World Heritage Centre Reactive Monitoring mission; August 2007: joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN reinforced monitoring mission; March 2014 : World Heritage Centre / IUCN / Ramsar Reactive Monitoring mission.
Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports
- Armed conflict, lack of security and political instability
- Attribution of a petroleum exploration permit inside the property
- Poaching by the army and armed groups
- Extension of illegal fishing areas
- Deforestation, charcoal production and cattle grazing
Illustrative material see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2016
On 5 February 2016, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property, available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/63/documents.
- No activity linked to petroleum was observed in the property in 2015. The report noted that the State Party retains the option of officially addressing in the near future the World Heritage Centre to solicit an advisory mission of the Advisory Bodies to discuss;
- The efforts of the joint Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature – ICCN) ) and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) patrols have enabled the coverage of 75% of the Park area. Nevertheless, insecurity continues to affect the implementation of the corrective measures and staff security. Military operations continue in the northern and central sectors, against the different armed rebel groups. Attacks have been directed against the Park causing the death, in June 2015, of four guards and about fifteen soldiers. Further attacks were also carried out, on 12 March 2016, targeting the control posts where two guards of the ICCN were killed;
- The population of mountain gorillas accustomed to humans continues to increase as does the hippopotamus population, roughly 40% in two years following a dramatic decline in the last twenty years. Elephant poaching continues (16 killed in 2015 against 13 in 2014 and 25 in 2013); also 15 telemetric collars were placed to reinforce their surveillance;
- Combat against encroachment has enabled the recuperation of 29% of the invaded areas, including 15,000 ha in 2015 alone, of the 85,000 ha of occupied land. However, the invaders encourage the extension of their villages into the park creating a new threat;
- The State Party notes the continuing activities of charcoal production controlled by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) The State Party has completed the construction of the hydro-electrical central at Matebe (13.8 MW), which should result in a decreased demand for charcoal. Two new centrals will be built in 2016. These major projects are the result of the work initiated by “Virunga Alliance” to transform the ecosystem services into social service to improve the social well-being of the neighbouring populations of the park;
- A study carried out at Lake Edward shows that the fish stocks remain important, but the tendency is to overfish.
Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN
Although petroleum activity has not been observed, it must be emphasized that petroleum exploration continues to threaten the integrity of the property. The State Party has still not confirmed the cancellation of the petroleum concessions that encroach the property and has not confirmed its commitment to no longer authorize new petroleum explorations or exploitations within the property. It has not yet transmitted the results of the seismic prospection undertaken in 2014 by the SOCO Society. It is recommended that the Committee reiterate its request to the State Party to cancel the petroleum concessions granted in the property as well as to confirm its position according to which petroleum exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status.
In a call for tender concerning the attribution of petroleum exploration concessions at Lake Edward, published on the official Internet site of the Petroleum Directorate of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD), the Republic of Uganda has decided to include the Ngaji block that is located in the Ugandan part of Lake Edward and borders the property. With regard to this alarming situation, the World Heritage Centre wrote, on 24 August 2015, a letter to the Permanent Delegation of Uganda to UNESCO, recalling that Lake Edward is mentioned several times in the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property. Consequently, the decision to open the Ngaji block to petroleum exploration is likely to impact on its OUV and could have negative impacts on the hydraulic system of the Lake. On 26 February 2016, the Director-General of UNESCO also addressed a letter to the President of the Republic of Uganda, informing of her concern regarding the attribution of this petroleum block. On 25 May 2016, the State Party of Uganda responded to the second letter, recognizing the environmental sensitivity of the Lake Edward Basin and noting six actions that have been implemented by the State Party to ensure that oil and gas activities in the region do not have a negative impact on the environment. Among the listed actions it is noted that a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for oil and gas operations in the entire Albertine Graben was undertaken, the recommendations of which guide decision-making in the petroleum sector. It is recommended that the Committee request the State Party of Uganda to submit the report of this SEA to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN.
However, on 1 March 2016, the MEMD published a press statement indicating that of the seven societies that had submitted offers for the different blocks to be attributed, none had shown an interest in Ngaji.
It is recommended that the Committee express its deep concern regarding the possible attribution of the Ngaji block and that it reminds the State Party of Uganda of Article 6.3 of the Convention. It is also recommended that the Committee urgently request the two States Parties concerned to strongly commit not to authorize any petroleum exploration or exploitation at Lake Edward.
Improvement of the encroached areas and the increase of the populations of key species (gorillas, hippopotamus, elephants) is encouraged. However, some actions of the invaders, that encourage encroachment, are worrying as they could compromise the result achieved in the community conservation framework. It is therefore recommended that the Committee reiterate its request to the State Party to implement the commitments undertaken in the Kinshasa Declaration of January 2011, in particular the peaceful evacuation of the illegal occupants in the property. It is recommended that the Committee encourage all the initiatives of the “Virunga Alliance” and that it warmly welcomes this innovative initiative which aims to support economic development based on ecosystem services. The European Commission, in the framework of its support programme of 11th EDF (European Development Fund), will provide substantial support amounting to several tens of thousands of Euros to the park over the period 2016-2020.
Insecurity is a continuing problem and the efforts of the State Party to demobilize the rebels and integrate them into the FARDC are commendable. It is recommended that the Committee warmly welcomes the fact that the patrols were able to maintain a 75% surveillance of the park, and that the military operations against the armed groups continue, and it conveys its sincere condolences to the families of the guards and the military killed during operations to protect the property.
It is finally recommended that the Reinforced Monitoring Mechanism continue to be applied.
42. General Decision on the properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
- Current conservation issues
On 5 February 2016, the State Party submitted a report on the state of implementation of the General Decision that is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/280/documents/ and provides the following updates:
- On 15 June 2015, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) published decree No. 15/012 on the establishment of a Corps established to strengthen security in the DRC National Parks (CorPPN) and related nature reserves. This decision falls within the framework of the implementation of the Kinshasa Declaration. The institution is placed under the authority of the Ministry of National Defense, Environment and Tourism and coordinated by the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN). CorPPN staff members will be recruited from the national army, police, specialized security services, conservators and ICCN guards;
- Collaboration between ICCN and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) has improved. Military contingents are deployed in all the sites where joint patrols are working to strengthen security;
- The Hydrocarbons Code was promulgated in August 2015 by the President of the Republic;
- Two inter-ministerial meetings were held in October and December 2015 to try to resolve the issue of mining concessions overlapping protected areas. These meetings have not yielded significant results;
- No oil exploration activity was observed in 2015 in Virunga National Park. However, the report notes that the State Party "retains the option to formally contact the World Heritage Centre to solicit a mission of the Advisory Bodies to discuss the oil issue in the property" (see report on Virunga National Park in WHC/16/40.COM/7A);
- Substantial resources have been mobilized for the sustainable financing of the properties. These contributions from the European Commission, the World Bank and the German Development Bank (KfW - Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau) are allocated either to the Okapi Trust Fund for Nature Conservation, or invested directly in the conservation of the properties concerned. For example, the support programme of the 11th EDF (European Development Fund) will support the Virunga, Garamba and Salonga National Parks.
- Analysis and conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN
The establishment of a Corps to strengthen security in the National Parks (CorPPN), which reaffirms the government's commitment to implement the Kinshasa Declaration, should be welcomed.
The State Party's efforts to secure the sites are commendable, however insecurity in and around the properties remains a persistent problem. The ICCN staff sustained heavy casualties and many wounded in the last twelve months: since April 2015, nine ICCN guards and three FARDC soldiers were killed in the line of duty in Garamba National Park. In March 2016, a guard was killed in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, two guards killed in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and two more in the Virunga National Park. It is recommended that the Committee expresses its condolences to the families of guards and soldiers killed in protection operations for the property.
It is regrettable that although the Hydrocarbons Code was adopted in August 2015, Article 155 of the new Code (formerly Article 160), which provides for the possibility of declassifying protected areas including World Heritage properties in order to conduct oil exploration activities, has been maintained despite the requests of the World Heritage Committee. In addition, the State Party indicates that it may also solicit an advisory mission to study the possibility of amending the boundaries of Virunga National Park. It is recommended that the Committee expresses its deep concern about Article 155 of the new Hydrocarbons Code and reiterates its request to the State Party to cancel the oil exploration concessions in the properties of the National Parks of Virunga and Salonga. It is also recommended that the Committee reiterates its position that oil exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status. It is regrettable that despite several inter-ministerial meetings, no progress was noted on the issue of mining concessions overlapping protected areas. It is recommended that the Committee requests the State Party to take the necessary measures for the cancellation of all licenses granted for mining activities that encroach on the territories of the properties in accordance with the law in force.
The efforts made towards the census of large mammals are welcomed, however, the preliminary analysis of the first sectors in Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) indicate that the populations of Grauer gorillas and chimpanzees might be considered critically endangered according to the criteria of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Mining is one of the major threats to their habitats (see the report on the KBNP in Document WHC/16/40.COM/7A).
In several properties inventories have shown that the biological indicators of populations of iconic species such as the northern white rhino, Kordofan giraffe, gorilla, chimpanzee and elephant, have decreased considerably. Decisive action is needed to reverse these trends. Notably, the pressure on populations of elephants and giraffes in Garamba National Park remains very strong. It is recommended that the Committee recalls the importance of intensifying anti-poaching efforts and expresses its deep concern about the biological trends in the decline of some key species.
The UN Security Council, during renewal of the MONUSCO Mandate (Mission of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) in March 2016, included a paragraph in the preamble to its Resolution 2277 (2016): "Expressing concern at the illegal exploitation and trafficking of natural resources by armed groups, and the negative impact of armed conflict on protected natural areas, which undermines lasting peace and development in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and encouraging the Government of the DRC to continue efforts to safeguard those areas”. In addition, the Security Council authorizes MONUSCO "to encourage the consolidation of an effective national civilian structure that controls key mining activities and manages in an equitable manner the extraction, transport and trade of natural resources in eastern DRC”.
The efforts made to mobilize funding for the properties of the DRC are considerable, in particular for the Virunga, Salonga and Garamba National Parks which will receive funding under the 11th European Development Fund, with a budget of 120 million Euros for the DRC. Other important financial support from Germany and the World Bank is also available to implement corrective actions and community conservation programmes.
Decision Adopted: 40 COM 7A.41
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Document WHC/16/40.COM/7A,
- Recalling Decisions 39 COM 7A.4 and 39 COM 7A.9, adopted at its 39th session (Bonn, 2015),
- Addresses its most sincere condolences to the families of the guards and the military killed during operations for the protection of the property;
- Regrets that the State Party has not confirmed its commitment not to authorize new petroleum exploration and exploitation within the boundaries of the property, as was established at the time of inscription on the World Heritage List in 1979, and reiterates its request to the State Party to cancel the petroleum concessions granted inside the property;
- Reiterates its position that oil and gas exploration or exploitation is incompatible with World Heritage status, which is supported by the commitments made by industry leaders such as Shell and Total not to undertake such activities within World Heritage properties;
- Expresses its utmost concern as regards the decision of the State Party of Uganda to include the Ngaji block in the calls for tender for the future petroleum exploration projects, this block being located in the Ugandan part of Lake Edward bordering the property, and recalls its obligations contained in Article 6.3 of the Convention, stating that “Each State Party to this Convention undertakes not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage referred to in Articles 1 and 2 situated on the territory of other States Parties to this Convention”;
- Recalling that the importance of Lake Edward is mentioned several times in the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, considers that any activity linked to petroleum on Lake Edward is highly likely to damage the OUV of the property as well as its integrity, including by negative impacts on the transboundary waters; and urgently requests the State Party of Uganda to refrain from granting petroleum exploration permits for the Ngaji block;
- Also requests the State Party of Uganda to submit to the World Heritage Centre, for review by IUCN, the report of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) that was undertaken for oil and gas operations in the Albertine Graben;
- Encourges the States Parties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Rwanda to strengthen their cooperation around the “Grand Virunga” complex, including Lake Edward, and eventually consider the preparation of a new proposal for inscription for a transboundary extension of the property to reinforce its values and integrity;
- Also urges the States Parties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda to firmly commit not to authorize any petroleum exploration or exploitation at Lake Edward;
- Notes with satisfaction the progress accomplished by the State Party regarding the combat against encroachment, as well as the encouraging results of the ecological monitoring showing an increase in the mountain gorilla population accustomed to humans, a beginning of restoration of the hippopotamus population and a stabilisation of elephant poaching;
- Notes with concern the invader coalitions and the launching of simultaneous actions of village extensions into the Park, also reiterates its request to the State Party to implement the commitments undertaken in the Kinshasa Declaration of January 2011, in particular the peaceful evacuation of illegal occupants in the properties;
- Congratulates the “Virunga Alliance” initiative for its work towards the sustainable economic development of the property through the enhancement of the ecosystemic services of the park, and welcomes the support provided to local populations and to the provincial and national authorities and thanks the financial donors and the private sector for their support in the implementation of this programme;
- Endorses the State Party’s initiative to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Advisory mission to ascertain the progress and efforts made in the management of the property;
- Further equests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2017, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the corrective measures and the above points, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 41st session in 2017;
- Decides to continue to apply the Reinforced Monitoring Mechanism;
- Also decides to retain Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Decision Adopted: 40 COM 7A.42
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Documents WHC/16/40.COM/7A and WHC/16/40.COM/7A.Add,
- Recalling Decision 39 COM 7A.9, adopted at its 39th session (Bonn, 2015) and reiterating the need to implement the Kinshasa Declaration adopted in 2011,
- Addresses its most sincere condolences to the families of the guards and soldiers killed during operations to protect the properties, and expresses its deep concern about the persistent in secure situation in most of the properties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC);
- Warmly welcomes the creation of the Corps established to strengthen security in the DRC National Parks (CorPPN) which demonstrates the commitment of the State Party to implement the Kinshasa Declaration, and requests the State Party to rapidly provide it with the human and financial resources to enable the deployment of troops in the sites;
- Commends the State Party for its efforts to secure sustainable funding, and warmly thanks the donors for their substantial support to the properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo;
- Notes with satisfaction United Nations Security Council Resolution 2277 of 30 March 2016 adopted during the renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), which commits the DRC Government to continue its actions to preserve the protected natural areas and which allows MONUSCO to encourage the consolidation of an effective national civil structure that controls the main mining activities and manages in an equitable manner the extraction, transportation and trade of natural resources in the eastern DRC;
- Reiterates its utmost concern about the new Hydrocarbons Code which provides the possibility to declassify protected areas, including World Heritage properties, to conduct oil exploration and exploitation activities, and about the intention of the State Party to officially address the World Heritage Centre to request an Advisory Body mission to discuss the oil issue in the property;
- Reiterates with insistence its request to the State Party to ensure the maintenance of the protection status of World Heritage properties and to cancel any such concessions for oil exploration and mining exploration or exploitation encroaching on one of the five properties, and reiterates its position that oil and gas exploration or exploitation is incompatible with World Heritage status, which is supported by the commitments made by industry leaders such as Shell and Total not to undertake such activities within World Heritage properties ;
- Recalls that the modifications to the boundaries of World Heritage properties that are related to the extractive industries must follow the procedure for significant modifications of the boundaries in accordance with paragraph 165 of the Operational Guidelines, taking into account the potential impact of such projects on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV);
- Regrets that, despite several inter-ministerial meetings, no progress has been noted on the issue of mining concessions overlapping protected areas and urges the State Party to take the necessary steps to cancel all licenses granted for mining activities which encroach on the properties, in accordance with the law in force;
- Commends the progress made by the State Party to conduct complete inventories at several sites, also notes with significant concern the results of ecological inventories, notably of Kahuzi-Biega and Garamba National Parks, which show significant decline of flagship species of these properties, and also urges the State Party to continue these efforts to protect the properties, to implement corrective measures and combat heavy poaching of iconic species, which remains the major threat to the OUV of the properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo;
- Also requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2017, a detailed report on the implementation of the Kinshasa Declaration, on the security situation in the properties, on the status of the mining exploration and exploitation concessions encroaching on the World Heritage properties, and on the Hydrocarbons Code, for examination by the Committee at its 41st session in 2017.
Decision Adopted: 40 COM 8C.2
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined the state of conservation reports of properties inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger (WHC/16/40.COM/7A, WHC/16/40.COM/7A.Add and WHC/16/40.COM/7A.Add.2),
- Decides to retain the following properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger:
- Afghanistan, Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley (Decision 40 COM 7A.26)
- Afghanistan, Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam (Decision 40 COM 7A.27)
- Belize, Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (Decision 40 COM 7A.32)
- Bolivia (Plurinational State of), City of Potosí (Decision 40 COM 7A.1)
- Central African Republic, Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park (Decision 40 COM 7A.34)
- Chile, Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works (Decision 40 COM 7A.2)
- Côte d'Ivoire, Comoé National Park (Decision 40 COM 7A.35)
- Côte d'Ivoire / Guinea, Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve (Decision 40 COM 7A.36)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Garamba National Park (Decision 40 COM 7A.37)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kahuzi-Biega National Park (Decision 40 COM 7A.38)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Okapi Wildlife Reserve (Decision 40 COM 7A.39)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Salonga National Park (Decision 40 COM 7A.40)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, Virunga National Park (Decision 40 COM 7A.41)
- Egypt, Abu Mena (Decision 40 COM 7A.9)
- Ethiopia, Simien National Park (Decision 40 COM 7A.43)
- Georgia, Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery (Decision 40 COM 7A.28)
- Honduras, Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Decision 40 COM 7A.33)
- Indonesia, Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (Decision 40 COM 7A.48)
- Iraq, Ashur (Qal'at Sherqat) (Decision 40 COM 7A.10)
- Iraq, Hatra (Decision 40 COM 7A.11)
- Iraq, Samarra Archaeological City (Decision 40 COM 7A.12)
- Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls (site proposed by Jordan) (Decision 40 COM 7A.13)
- Madagascar, Rainforests of the Atsinanana (Decision 40 COM 7A.44)
- Mali, Timbuktu (Decision 40 COM 7A.6)
- Mali, Tomb of Askia (Decision 40 COM 7A.7)
- Niger, Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves (Decision 40 COM 7A.45)
- Palestine, Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Decision 40 COM 7A.14)
- Palestine, Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir (Decision 40 COM 7A.15)
- Panama, Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo (Decision 40 COM 7A.3)
- Peru, Chan Chan Archaelogical Zone (Decision 40 COM 7A.4)
- Senegal, Niokolo-Koba National Park (Decision 40 COM 7A.46)
- Serbia, Medieval Monuments in Kosovo (Decision 40 COM 7A. 30)
- Solomon Islands, East Rennell (Decision 40 COM 7A.49)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Aleppo (Decision 40 COM 7A.16)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Bosra (Decision 40 COM 7A.17)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Damascus (Decision 40 COM 7A.18)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (Decision 40 COM 7A.19)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din (Decision 40 COM 7A.20)
- Syrian Arab Republic, Site of Palmyra (Decision 40 COM 7A.21)
- Uganda, Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi (Decision 40 COM 7A.8)
- United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City (Decision 40 COM 7A.31)
- United Republic of Tanzania, Selous Game Reserve (Decision 40 COM 7A.47)
- United States of America, Everglades National Park (Decision 40 COM 7A.50)
- Venezuela, Coro and its Port (Decision 40 COM 7A.5)
- Yemen, Historic Town of Zabid (Decision 40 COM 7A.23)
- Yemen, Old City of Sana’a (Decision 40 COM 7A.24)
- Yemen, Old Walled City of Shibam (Decision 40 COM 7A.25).