On 8 February 2010, a report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the State Party. This report contained some information on progress achieved in the implementation of the corrective measures. On the sidelines of a mission to Goma in February 2009, a World Heritage Centre staff member visited the park, held discussions with park staff and made a flight over different sectors of the park.
Since the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee, the security situation around the park has improved. Following the joint military operation of the Congolese army (FARDC – Forces Armées de la RDC) and the Rwandan army (RDF – Rwandan Defense Force) in January 2009, militia of Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group opposing the Rwanda Government, were pushed out of many of their strategic positions in and around the park. A major camp of the Congolese rebel group Mai-Mai on the southern shore of Lake Edward was also dismantled. As an immediate result, park guards were able to regain control over all park stations and are currently operating in most parts of the park. Park staff was able to secure the strategic gorilla sector around Mikeno, and numbers of gorillas in the habituated families have increased from 71 to 81 in the last 16 months. Gorilla tourism is slowly starting again. In 2009, 600 tourism visits were registered. Efforts are underway to rehabilitate key park infrastructure with support from various donors. Park staff also organized several large operations in the southern sector to combat deforestation and charcoal production. As a result, the eastern side of the Nyaragongo volcano is now secure, but FDLR are still active and engaged in deforestation and charcoal production on its western side and towards the Nyamulagira volcano. Pockets of FDLR and Mai-Mai also remain on the eastern shore of Lake Edward, and around the Kasali hills. The report also mentions that three guards were killed while on service since the last session.
In January a new eruption of the Nyamulagira volcano occurred from a new volcanic cone and the lava stream destroyed several hectares of forest on its southern flanks. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that this is not only a natural phenomena, but also that the active volcanism in the Virungas is one of the main justifications of the inscription of the property under criterion (viii).
The following progress can be noted in the implementation of the corrective measures:
a) Create a «Committee to Save Virunga » (CSV) to help address the threats to the property
As indicated in the previous report, the CSV has been operational since 2007, following the killings of gorilla. Apparently, it is no longer active at the moment, though the park direction has regular contact with the politico-administrative and military authorities to discuss issues related to the conservation of the property.
b) Reduce significantly the number of military positions inside the property and ensure a close follow up of illegal activity by military personnel
As a result of the fighting in and around the park in 2008, there are again many military positions active inside the park. While the State Party report notes that the numbers of military stationed in the park is again diminishing recently, an important military presence was noted during the flight over the park in February. Especially in the Rwindi sector, many large military camps are present, some occupying formal rebel positions like the Mai-mai camp on the southern shore of Lake Edward. There are also reports of the growing involvement of the military personnel based at these camps in illegal resource exploitation, such as new illegal fisheries on Lake Edward, poaching and charcoal making. The World Heritage Centre received a report from the protected area authority mentioning the involvement of the military in charcoal activities in the southern, central and eastern sectors of the park as well as the killing of two elephants by the military in Tonga in March 2010. A further report was received from a local NGO, in which the implication of military of the 18th and 15th brigade, both based in the park, is documented. For February 2010, the report documents the killing of seven hippopotamus, four elephants, two chimpanzees and four baboons on the southern shores of Lake Edward. This is a clear indication of the seriousness of this problem, as surely not all cases were documented. The problem has been confirmed to the World Heritage Centre by the management authority ICCN.
c) Immediate closure and removal of the Nyaleke training and reunification camp, as decided by the Minister of Defense
No progress has been achieved with regard to this issue and the camp is still operational. However, the State Party report mentions that the number of military personnel present in the camp has diminished.
d) Continue the efforts to evacuate in a peaceful and integrated manner all illegal occupants in the property, accompanied by appropriate measures to assist the reintegration of the populations in their region of origin
The State Party report mentions that efforts to evacuate the Lubiliya sector are underway. This is a 200 ha encroachment in the Kasindi area which has been occupied progressively since 2002. A 150 ha re-settlement area has been identified. These efforts are supported through the UNESCO DRC programme with the support of the Government of Belgium.
Unfortunately, no progress was made in the evacuation of the Kirolirwe region and the western shore of Lake Edward. In the Lake Edward region, 500 families were relocated in 2008, but unfortunately the evacuation process had to be interrupted as a result of the renewed armed conflict in the region in October 2008. So far, the security and political situation has not yet allowed resuming the process. The area was over flown during the February visit which showed that the entire shoreline is now under agricultural use, with large illegal settlements. People who originally moved into the area to set up illegal fishing camps on the shores are apparently progressively turning to agriculture as a result of dwindling fish stocks. The agricultural front is steadily progressing to the south and currently forest areas to the south of the shoreline corridor are being decimated. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN believe that urgent action is needed to halt this progression. FARDC military are said to be involved in both the charcoal and fisheries business. Several new fishing camps were also noticed on the southern shores and it can be feared that if no action is undertaken to halt this, a similar process as on the western shore could happen. A recent report from the management authority mentions a large scale patrol in March 2010 in this area by the park guards together with the military to address this issue.
e) Strengthen cooperation between the managing body of the Park (ICCN) and its partners by developing a joint plan for all the interventions within the Park, with clear responsibilities and an implementation plan
The Park Direction, which has been re-established at the Rumangabo station on the edge of the park, is ensuring the coordination of all park activities. All park stations now have mobile phone coverage and are in regular contact with the Direction. The PNVi Direction has, further, developed a « VirungaNational Park Annual Plan» together with an operational plan for each of the sectors of the property. The planning of all conservation activities of the property continues to be carried out jointly, through the Coordination Committee of the Site (CoCoSi).
The State Party report also mentions that a new management plan is under preparation and should be finalized this year.
f) Develop a strategy to share any profits, such as from tourism related to gorillas, with the local communities in order to improve relations
Thirty percent of the income received through gorilla tourism is re-distributed to the local communities to fund social projects such as school construction and to cover running costs of the health centers. A new school and health centre were created at the park headquarters in Rumangabo, partly with donor assistance, but also using some of the tourism receipt. The facilities are accessible to both park staff and the local communities. This initiatve generated a strong support from the local communities.
g) Strengthen law enforcement in the property concentrating on priority areas and remotivate Park staff
With the improvement of the security situation, important efforts were made to restart park surveillance activities. An external security advisor was recruited who is advising the park management on security issues and law enforcement operations. First priority was given to the gorilla (Mikeno) sector, which is now under control of park staff. Currently efforts are undertaken to regain control over the Nyaragongo volcano, targeting the illegal charcoal production. Some large patrols were also undertaken on the southern shore of Lake Edward. While these actions are very encouraging, serious challenges remain. A particular challenge is the important presence of military in the park, which are engaging in illegal activities, directly or indirectly by providing “authorizations” to people engaged in these activities.
Another important step to strengthen law enforcement is the on-going overall assessment of park staff as part of the institutional reform process. Through this process, it will be possible to retire old staff and at the same time recruit new staff, improve staff training as well as their social conditions.
h) Create a trust fund for the rehabilitation of the World Heritage properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
See the report on Kahuzi-BiegaNational Park (Document WHC-10/34.COM/7A)
i) Halt all charcoal production within the property and promote alternative sources of energy
Significant efforts were undertaken to curb the illegal charcoal production. Charcoal production was halted in the gorilla sector and on the eastern slopes of the Nyaragongo volcano. In 2009, more than 750 patrols were organized in these areas and a total of 840 charcoal ovens destroyed. Nevertheless, deforestation for charcoal production remains one of the serious threats to the integrity of the site. During the fly over in February, a lot of camps of charcoal producers were spotted between Nyaragongo and Nyamulagira volcanoes. Some camps seemed semi-permanent with small shelters with iron roofs.
The park management continues its programme for the production of biomass briquettes with the aim of encouraging this technology as an alternative energy to charcoal from the property. So far 550 small enterprises have been created around the park producing briquettes made of non-woody biomass. A publicity campaign is underway in the city of Goma to sensitize people to replace charcoal with this alternative fuel. This initiative has received support from the World Heritage Centre, with funding from the French speaking Community of Belgium. WWF is also continuing reforestation activities around the property.
j) Strengthen the role of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Congo (MONUC) to establish security in the property and its periphery
The UN Mission to DRC, MONUC, has been facilitating aerial surveillance of the site through regular reconnaissance flights by helicopter. In addition, mixed ICCN-MONUC patrols were sporadically organized. MONUC also intervened to ensure the security at the Rumangabo station and to provide some training to park guards in weapons maintenance.
The park management authority also started an initiative to collect arms in the villages around the property in exchange for iron roofing. So far five weapons were collected. An arms collection project is also being implemented by a local NGO. In addition, the park is trying to motivate some of the remaining Mai-Mai rebels to re-integrate into the regular army, with the help of a traditional chief.
k) Strengthen communication and awareness raising activities targeted at the competent authorities and local populations
The park is providing support to social infrastructure, and the implementation of the briquette programme, which has led to job creation around the park. As a result, support for the park amongst local communities is increasing.
Unfortunately, relations with the military and provincial authorities have recently become more challenging. In spite of the different meetings held with the commander of the military region, there is continued involvement of the FARDC, including several commanders, in the different illegal resource activities. Recently, the provincial government also “legalized” some of the illegal fisheries on Lake Edward and announced the degazettement of the hunting area of Rutshuru, a buffer zone to the park. These decisions are in clear violation of the national legislation governing the protected areas..
The State Party report did not provide further information on the issue of the oil prospecting projects overlapping with the property. An ICCN senior staff confirmed to the World Heritage Centre that so far the exploration permit which was granted by the Minister for Energy had not yet been ratified by the President. The website of Dominion Oil, one of the two companies involved, notes that the contract was already approved by the Parliament and that the Presidential ratification is pending. It also mentions the “challenging operational environment, with the ongoing regional instability and the status of the area as UNESCO World Heritage site”. It needs to be noted that the same company also holds an exploration permit situated largely within the Selous Game Reserve and World Heritage property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN reiterate that oil exploration or exploitation activities are incompatible with the World Heritage status, in line with previous Decisions of the Committee.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note the important efforts that have been undertaken by the park management authority since the last session, in particular to restart park surveillance activities, re-habilitate and re-occupy the different park stations and address the illegal charcoal production. Nevertheless, the conservation of the property continues to face important challenges. In particular the involvement of elements of the Congolese military FARDC in illegal resource exploitation activities and the recent actions taken by the provincial authorities are extremely worrying. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also remain very concerned by the issue of the potential oil exploration. It seems clear that in order to make further progress on the restoration of the values and integrity of the property, it is important for the State Party to ensure a clear political commitment to the conservation of the property, both at national and at provincial level. The high-level meeting requested by the Committee at its 31 session (Christchurch, 2007) therefore remains very relevant and important. In view of the current situation at the property, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend the continued application of the reinforced monitoring mechanism and to maintain the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.