In 1994, the year of the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda, the massive influx of populations fleeing Rwanda to seek refuge in Virunga National Park (PNVi), has directly impacted the Park with an unprecedented increase in pressure on the natural resources and causing the conditions for the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger. In 1996, the outbreak of the Great Lakes conflict, resulting in the establishment of armed bands and rebel groups within the property and the loss of control by ICCN over a large part of the property would precipitate the increase in poaching, acceleration of deforestation, proliferation of fishing villages and exacerbate the state of conservation of the property. The unsatisfactory state of conservation of the property and the continuing lack of security despite the official halt of the conflict and strong support provided to the property, led the World Heritage Committee to consider a more global approach to the question regarding the deteriorating situation of all the DRC World Heritage properties. In 2007, the reinforced monitoring mechanism, recently adopted by the World Heritage Committee, was applied to the property (31 COM 7A.32).
On 2 February 2009, a report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the State Party. This report contained information on progress achieved in the implementation of the corrective measures.
Since the 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee, security in the PNVi has clearly deteriorated due to the resumption, at the beginning of October 2008, of clashes between Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the rebels of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). The new military offensive has caused a large area of the Park to be occupied by the CNDP, including the Rumangabo Station, that ICCN staff were forced to abandon. Thanks to support from the World Heritage Centre, the Park has benefitted from emergency financial assistance from the Rapid Response Facility (RRF) to provide urgent assistance to the guards and their families following the attack at Rumangabo.
In December 2008, stabilization of the situation allowed ICCN to negotiate the renewal of conservation activities in the south and north sectors of the property with the CNDP. Nevertheless, the situation remains very delicate as regards to security. The attack on the Tshiabirimu Station on 8 January 2009 by a group of Mai Mai rebels, during which a guard was killed, clearly illustrates the situation.
The political and military situation is also evolving very rapidly. At the end of January 2009, the Congolese and Rwandan authorities met to organize a joint operation against the Rwandan Liberation Democratic Forces (FDLR), a Rwandan rebel movement, largely responsible for insecurity in the eastern part of the country. There is strong apprehension that this operation will lead to new clashes in and around the Park. A reconciliation between the two countries brings hope, in the long term, for an improvement in security in North Kivu.
Moreover, the World Heritage Centre was informed of the granting of petrol prospection and exploitation permits in several areas overlapping the property to two companies, Dominion Petroleum and Heritage Oil. However, to become valid, these permits must still be ratified by a Presidential decree. In response to a letter from the World Heritage Centre requesting information concerning the granting of these permits, the DRC Minister of Environment indicated that he had informed his counterpart responsible for Hydrocarbons of the matter, recalling the existence of national legislative provisions forbidding this type of activity in a protected area.
The breakdown in security has delayed the implementation of the corrective measures. Nevertheless, some progress has been noted:
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.
b) Reduce significantly the number of military positions inside the property and ensure a close follow up of illegal activity by military personnel
The Park Direction has carried out lobbying which has resulted in the transfer of the 9th brigade initially based in Rwindi, in the centre of the Park, and more than 99% of its advance positions. However, the resumption of hostilities in the east gives cause for the reinstallation of troops. To avoid further illegal activity, the Direction of the property continues to carry out awareness raising actions targeted at the military authorities of the FARDC 8th military region.
c) Immediate closure and removal of the Nyaleke training and reunification camp, as decided by the Minister of Defence
No progress has been achieved with regard to this issue and the camp is still operational.
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
On the western side of Lake Edward, the initiatives for peaceful and consensual evacuation began with accompanied voluntary return of families to their original villages. To date, 523 families have been evacuated. The resumption of armed conflict in the region in October/December 2008 and the occupation by armed groups of the areas usually designated for return operations have brought a halt to the process. These evacuation operations will resume as soon as the security situation permits. They will further be reinforced thanks to the establishment of a control mechanism involving all the concerned parties (police, customary chiefs, etc.), thus avoiding the return of families already evacuated. These activities have the support of the « DRC Programme ».
With regard to encroachment in the Kirolirwe region, no progress has been noted due to lack of security preventing access to this area.
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
A consortium bringing together the ICCN Management Authority and its partners in the field of conservation (WWF, Wildlife Conservation Society, Gorilla Organization, Zoological Society of London), political and administrative authorities at the provincial and territorial levels, customary authorities, humanitarian NGOs, representatives of civil society, the army and local police, was established in November 2006. The planning of all conservation activities of the property is carried out jointly, through the Coordination Committee of the Site (CoCoSi). The PNVi Direction has, further, developed a « Virunga National Park Annual Plan» together with an operational plan for each of the sectors of the property.
f) Develop a strategy to share any profits, such as from tourism related to gorillas, with the local communities in order to improve relations
A preliminary study on the sharing of income with local communities was carried out. Based on this study, a diagnostic in terms of SWOP analysis of the different reconveyance mechanisms implemented by the Park was made. The next step will be the definition, in a participatory manner with local communities, of more efficacious income-sharing mechanisms in terms of funding development projects for the benefit of the communities. It should be noted that the principle of income-sharing is already practised with ICCN whereby the texts foresee a reconveyance of 30% of tourism income to local communities.
g) Strengthen law enforcement in the property concentrating on priority areas
Actions to strengthen the application of the law within the property have principally been aimed at awareness raising of the populations through diverse media, at national and provincial levels. Themes regularly discussed at the national level generally concern the legal status of the property, the statement of its boundaries, its type of management, the impact of carbonisation on the protection of the southern sector (Mikeno and Nyamulagira) as well as activities of community interest involving the adhesion by adjacent communities to the laws relating to conservation in the PNVi.
Surveillance activities are always very difficult due to security problems. The poaching of large mammals remains a serious issue. Nevertheless, since the 32nd session, no new case of the slaughter of gorilla has been reported.
h) Create a trust fund for the rehabilitation of the World Heritage properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Pilot Committee for the Trust Fund for the protected areas of the DRC was created by Ministerial Decree on 11 February 2009. The members of the Pilot Committee (17) were nominated by the Ministerial Decree of 15 February 2009. The Pilot Committee, chaired by the Minister of Environment, met for the first time on 26 February 2009 in Kinshasa. The Belgian Government announced a second contribution of 1 million Euros for the Fund. Other donors, like France, Germany and United Kingdom also expressed their interest.
i) Halt all charcoal production within the property and promote alternative sources of energy
The management authorities of the property have begun a programme for the production of biomass briquettes with the aim of encouraging this technology as an alternative energy to charcoal from the property. This programme also aspires to creating employment thanks to the construction and availability to the local communities of carpentry workshops to produce these briquettes. Furthermore, WWF has reinforced reforestry activities around the property. However, deforestation for the production of charcoal remains one of the greatest threats to the integrity of the property.
j) Strengthen the role of the (MONUC) to establish security in the property and its periphery
Since the May 2008 joint mission of the World Heritage Centre and the MONUC focal point on issues relating to conservation, MONUC’s role in the improvement of security in the property and its periphery has become more significant. Mixed ICCN-MONUC patrols were regularly organised, allowing ICCN to gain access, prior to the resumption of the October/December 2008 clashes, to areas previously inaccessible due to insecurity.
k) Strengthen communication and awareness raising activities targeted at the competent authorities and local populations
A « Forum on the problematic of the management and enhancement of Virunga National Park, World Heritage site » was held, under the auspices of the Governor of North Kivu, on 13 and 14 August 2008. More than 80 participants attended among whom can be cited the principal Mwami (customary chiefs), provincial parliamentarians, ICCN partners, representatives of the private sector, etc.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN remain very concerned regarding the situation of this property. Due to the deterioration of security since the 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee, it is difficult to initiate a verifiable « ecological restoration of the property ». The emphasis continues to be placed on damage limitation and safeguarding of the ecological capital. However, recent political and military developments provide hope of an improvement in security over the long term in eastern DRC.
Since the 31st session, reinforced monitoring mechanism at the property is in force and the World Heritage Centre ensures the continued monitoring of the state of conservation of the property through its « DRC Programme». In view of the current situation at the property, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend the continued application of the reinforced monitoring mechanism.