Application of the Reinforced monitoring mechanism at the property since 2007 (31 COM 7A.32).
On 1 February 2008, a concise report on the state of conservation of the five DRC World Heritage properties was submitted by the State Party. The report gives a brief overview of the ongoing management operations but little information on the implementation of the corrective measures.
In December 2007, the World Heritage Centre received from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) the final version of its report on preliminary work for the inventory of flagship species of the lowland sector of the Park. This sector has been inaccessible because of insecurity for most of the time since the beginning of hostilities in 1996. The lowlands alone contain the most important population of flagship species of the property. A survey carried out in 1994, just before the beginning of the conflict, estimated the number of Grauer gorilla at 6 670 individuals, e.g. 75% of the total population of that sub-species endemic to the DRC.
The WCS report analyses the data gathered between 2004 and 2007 in 20% of the lowland area. At the outset, work was planned to cover the whole sector but due to problems of insecurity, this was not possible. Although partial, these results provide an initial idea of the situation in this sector since the beginning of the conflict in 1996. The report contains a first estimate of the size of the populations of large fauna and analyses the impact of human activities, in particular hunting and mining. The main results of this work are summarized here below:
· The sector still provides shelter for important populations of gorilla and chimpanzee. The gorilla population in the Itebero and Nzovu Sectors has decreased by 25% since the beginning of the conflict. The analyses are less clear as regards the chimpanzee population.
· No sign of elephants was found the last signs observed in Nzovu date back to 2004. With a population before hostilities estimated at several thousand animals, it appears today that the elephant has almost disappeared.
· The presence of cephalopoda, buffalo, sitatunga, bongo, wild pig and six species of primate was confirmed.
· Signs of hunting activities were observed throughout the area inventoried.
· The presence of seven villages in the sectors visited in the Park was documented. The Rwanda rebels (FDLR) have also established their Headquarters in the Park, but visits to these areas were not possible.
· Indications of artisanal mining were observed in all the inventoried sectors. The presence of mining sites is often associated with increased poaching activities. The report also indicates that among the mining sites evacuated by the Park authorities in 2005 at Itebero, most are newly occupied.
The results of the study remain partial and it is impossible to present to conclude that they are representative for the whole lowland sector, as the areas occupied by numerous armed bands could not be visited. Nevertheless, the study appears to confirm the catastrophic impact of the war on the elephant population. However, other species still seem to be present, although their numbers have been seriously reduced.
The World Heritage Centre was also informed of a field mission by the Environment Minister, from 8 to 11 March 2008. During this mission, the Minister was able to discuss the illegal exploitation of mining resources in the property as well as the illegal occupation of the ecological corridor between the highland and the lowland sectors with the different politico-administrative and military authorities of the Province. The Minister also raised the question of insecurity at the property and the problems of the exploitation of certain natural resources by the armed Forces.
The main obstacle to the implementation of the corrective measures adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006) remains the insecurity in the region that renders a large part of the property practically inaccessible to the Park guards. To date, the following progress has been noted :
a) Establish a strategy to evacuate all armed groups from the property
The issue of the presence of armed bands remains the key problem for the conservation of the property. A slight improvement of the situation is to be noted with the reintegration into the army of two rebel military groups that were operating inside the property. To date, no progress has been made with regard to the issue of disarmament of the Rwanda rebel army that operates inside the Park. However, the « Act of Engagement » signed on 23 January 2008 at the end of the Goma Peace and Development Conference in the two Kivu (see also the report on Virunga National Park) foresees the disarmament of national and foreign armed groups remaining inthe region.
b) Substantially strengthen the presence of ICCN guards in the lowland sector. Strengthen law enforcement in the Park, thereby gradually increasing the area covered by guard patrols inside the Park.
The reopening in 2007 of the Itebero and Nzovu stations in the lowland sector of the Park is beginning to have an impact in the field. The slow return of security in these areas of the Park has allowed the organization of mixed patrols (guards, military and MONUC). From 10% in 2005, the area covered by the patrols in certain parts of the Park has increased to more than 30% in 2007.
c) Reclaim possession of the farms occupying the corridor and determine its boundaries.
The question of the corridor still remains unsolved. Lobbying activities to raise awareness of the political and administrative authorities in the Province, as well as the population regarding this issue continue. The field visit of the Environment Minister also provided the opportunity to raise the problem in the presence of the Minister for Land Affairs and the Senior Officer of the Auditorat during meetings with the political and administrative authorities of South Kivu.
d) Strengthen cooperation between ICCN and its partners in the development of a joint plan for all interventions in the Park, with clearly established responsibilities and benchmarks.
The preparation of an operational plan by the local Coordination Committee of the property was finalised. It is regularly updated in accordance with the situation at site. The development of a management plan has begun.
e) Conduct, as soon as security conditions allow, a study of flagship species in the lowland sector of the Park, in particular the gorilla and other primates;
As mentioned above, the report on the partial inventory of the sector in the areas of Nzovu and Itebero is available. Nevertheless, it remains urgent to complete this essential work for the remainder of the lowland sector, as soon as security conditions permit.
f) Establish a trust fund for the rehabilitation of the DRC World Heritage properties.
A trust fund for the DRC protected areas is being established and will be presented in the general report on the state of conservation of the DRC properties (Document WHC-08/32.COM/7A, item 31).
The issue of mining concessions attributed by the Ministry of Mines is not yet solved.
Developments with regard to the refurbishing of the RN3 Kisangani – Bukavu road that crosses the highland sector of the Park are to be noted. At the 31st session of the World Heritage Committee (Christchurch, 2007), the World Heritage Centre presented additional information on the Environmental Impact Study carried out by the German Cooperation (GTZ) at the request of the European Union (EU) and submitted on 11 June 2007. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN considered that this study did not dispel the concerns relating to the potential impact of the refurbishing project on the integrity of the property, in particular increased deforestation and mining and wild meat traffic. Moreover, an important increase in traffic on the part that crosses the property also crosses the habitat of gorilla populations and could affect their behaviour. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN had considered that the measures proposed to lessen the impact of the road in the Park were insufficient and the World Heritage Committee had requested the State Party to include in the final report clear proposals on the mitigation measures envisaged to reduce the direct and indirect impacts. The World Heritage Centre was informed that the EU and GTZ had accepted to review the study and consult experts of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. This additional study is underway.