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

Benchmarks have yet to be set; discussions are underway with the State Party.

Corrective measures identified

a) Establish a “Committee to Save Virunga” (CSV) to address the threats to the property;

b) Reduce significantly the number of military positions inside the property, and ensure a close follow-up on cases of illegal activity by military personnel;

c) Immediate closure and removal of the Nyaleke army reunification and training camp, as decided by the Minister of Defence;

d) Continue the efforts to evacuate in a peaceful and integrated way all illegal occupants in the property, accompanied by appropriate measures to assist the reintegration of the populations in their regions of origin;

e) Strengthen cooperation between the Park authority (ICCN) and its partners by developing a joint plan for all interventions in the Park, with clear responsibilities and an implementation plan;

f) Develop a strategy to share any profits, such as from tourism related to gorillas, with the local communities, in order to improve relations;

g) Strengthen law enforcement in the property, concentrating on priority areas. At the same time, it is also important to reinvigorate Park staff and improve their efficiency through specialized training;

h) Establish a trust fund for the rehabilitation of the DRC World Heritage properties;

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: First phase of the UNF and Belgium funded programme for the Conservation of the DRC World Heritage properties (“DRC programme”). (2001–2005): approximately USD 900,000 for staff allowances, equipment, community conservation, monitoring and training activities. Current phase (2005-2008): USD 300,000 for the implementation of the emergency action plan.In January 2007, support from the Rapid Response Facility (USD 30,000) to re-build the capacity of ICCN to conduct anti-poaching patrols in the Mikeno sector of the Park.

Previous monitoring missions

UNESCO monitoring missions in 1996 and 2006. Several UNESCO missions in the framework of the project. 

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Armed conflict, insecurity and political instability;

b) Poaching by military and armed groups;

c) Encroachment;

d) Expansion of illegal fisheries;

e) Deforestation and cattle grazing.

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

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2007

On 12 February 2007, a brief report on the state of conservation of the five DRC World Heritage properties was submitted by the State Party. The report provides a short overview of on-going park management activities, but unfortunately does not provide detailed information on the implementation of the corrective measures.

During the 2006 monitoring mission, an emergency action plan was developed by ICCN and its conservation partners to support the implementation of certain recommendations of the mission. A 3 year budget of USD 300,000 is made available through the second phase of DRC programme. Main components are the reinforcement of the cooperation between the park authority, its partners, the DRC army, the provincial government and the United Nations Organization Mission in DRC (MONUC), the continuation of efforts to evacuate the encroached parts of the property in a consensual manner, strengthening law enforcement and surveillance of the property through the materialisation of park limits, guard training and equipment and sensitisation of local communities, political and military authorities.

The main obstacle for the implementation of the corrective measures and the emergency action plan remains the prevailing insecurity in the region. The security situation around the park degraded significantly in the run up to the presidential and provincial elections. In July 2006, the dissident General Nkunda started a new rebellion, installing his operational base in the park in the Kirolirwe region. Following clashes with the DRC army and MONUC forces in November, Nkunda forces fled through the park and installed a new base close to the Mikeno sector of the park, where an important part of the gorilla population lives. In August 2006, Mai-mai fighters also invaded the central sector of the park, establishing camps on the shores of Lake Edward.

The implementation of the corrective measures has been hampered further by the first multiparty presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections which dominated the public agenda since the 30th session (Vilnius, 2006). As many corrective measures require political decisions and commitments, little progress was made so far. New Provincial Governors and the new Government were appointed in February 2007. 

The increased insecurity seriously hampered the implementation of some of the corrective measures but also led to increased poaching and deforestation. The population of hippo around Lake Edward has been further decimated and it is now estimated that less than 300 survive (down from 20,000 at the time of inscription of the property and from an estimated 900 in 2005). In early January, 2 solitary silverback gorillas were killed by soldiers belonging to Nkunda. Until the writing of this report, 4 more gorillas are still unaccounted for. Both the World Heritage Centre and the DRC office of IUCN wrote to the Special Representative of the UN in DRC to request support from MONUC to evict these rebel troops from the park, but MONUC seems hesitant to engage in these operations without a clear responsibility for environmental protection in their mandate. Deforestation activities in the Mikeno area for charcoal production also increased significantly, with support from elements of the regular army.

Fortunately, the security situation has improved recently. On 18 January 2007, an agreement was brokered between the Government and General Nkunda, under which his troops are to be integrated in the army, and this process is currently underway. The DRC army is also undertaking some operations against Mai-mai and Rwandan rebels in the park. On 22 February 2007, two main camps of the Mai-mai on the shores of Lake Edward were attacked by the army, and 300 fighters surrendered after the attack.

This difficult situation has again resulted in a heavy toll on park staff. In the various attacks, several guards were killed or wounded. In early November, the head of the Rumangabo station was tortured by the Commander of the army camp in Rutshuru, probably to discourage his efforts to control the charcoal production which involves individual members of the military. Following international protest, the Minister of Defence ordered an investigation into this tragic event. In the wake of the Nkunda troop movements in December, guards from 3 patrol posts had to flee their homes with their families (totalling more than 100 people), leaving their belongings behind. Through the Rapid Response Facility grant, they have been receiving humanitarian aid (shelter, medicines and food). On 16 February, 2 of the abandoned patrol posts were re-occupied by the park staff.

The deterioration of the security situation together with elections has so far prevented much progress being achieved with the implementation of the corrective measures:

a) Establish a “Committee to Save Virunga” (CSV) to address the threats to the property;

Due to the situation, this committee has not yet been set up but discussions are underway with the local military autorities and local MONUC commanders.

b) Reduce significantly the number of military positions inside the property, and ensure a close follow up on cases of illegal activity by military personnel;

Following the decision to integrate the Nkunda troops in the army, many of them have left the park. However, after being re-integrated in the army (by mixing them with regular troops), some of these units have been again assigned positions in the park. After the recent operations by the army, there has also been a reduction of Mai-mai and Rwandan fighters in the park. A workshop is planned in April between ICCN and its partners and the army to discuss the role of the army in the conservation of the park and possible troop reductions in the park.In the mean time information leaflets on the importance of the park have also been distributed in the different military positions in the park.

c) Immediate closure and removal of the Nyaleke army reunification and training camp, as decided by the Minister of Defence;

In spite of promises by the Minister of Defence to close down the camp in April 2006, this has still not happened. On 12 February 2007, a joint mission of ICCN and the army to the site concluded that USD 316,318 would be needed to relocate the camp. Early April, a new training cycle for troops will start and moving the camp before that does not seem feasible anymore. Moreover, during the mission, army officials pointed out that after the reunification training process will be finalised, the training camps will continue to be be used as permanent training facilities. There seems to be a real risk that the Nyaleke camp will become a permanent facility.

d) Continue the efforts to evacuate in a peaceful and integrated way all illegal occupants in the property, accompanied by appropriate measures to assist the reintegration of the populations in their regions of origin;

Little progress could be made as a result of the prevailing situation, in particular in the main encroached areas of Kirolirwe and the shores of Lake Edward. With the recent improvement of security in the Kirolorwi area, a census of the illegal occupants and a sensitisation campaign, involving provincial parliamentarians has started. For the western part of the park, 28 communication agents have been recruited from amongst the communities to sensitise the occupants. A survey of possible sites to re-install the migrants is also underway.

e) Strengthen cooperation between ICCN and its partners by developing a joint plan for all interventions in the Park, with clear responsibilities and an implementation plan;

For the southern sector of the parks; a joint strategic plan was developed by ICCN and its partners. The plan was sent for approval to the ICCN headquarters.

f) Develop a strategy to share any profits, such as from tourism related to gorillas, with the local communities, in order to improve relations;

Tourism remains low in the park, as a result of the insecurity. The development of the strategy will need to involve the new authorities, which are currently being put in place following the elections. ICCN is also undergoing a restructuring process.

g) Strengthen law enforcement in the property, concentrating on priority areas. At the same time, it is also important to reinvigorate Park staff and improve their efficiency through specialized training;

The advance ranger force is now fully operational. A truck was supplied in the framework of the emergency plan. Whilst the advance force was unable to control the fierce poaching by armed groups during the election period, recently they have been quite effective in securing the Mikeno sector and the Ishango area on the shores of Lake Edward, home to one of the last remaining hippo groups. Several mixed patrols were also organised recently with the army around the fishing village of Vitshumbi.

h) Establish a trust fund for the rehabilitation of the DRC World Heritage properties;

It is hoped that the new government will honour this commitment made at the 2004 Paris conference. UNESCO and WWF are discussing with the Belgium Government on funding to allow the preliminary studies to set up such a fund.

 

As mentioned in the report on Kahuzi-Biega, a recent map published by the mapping office of the ministry of mines showed that several exploitation permits were granted inside the reserve. Following an intervention by ICCN with the Minister, this issue is currently being studied by a working group set up between ICCN and the ministry.

So far no benchmarks or timeframe have been established. The World Heritage Centre, in cooperation with IUCN is currently discussing with ICCN the development of benchmarks. It is currently proposed that the benchmarks will be developed at a workshop in the site at the end of 2007, when the evaluation of the emergency action plan will be undertaken. In preparation for this discussion, a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value was developed for the park and submitted to the Committee for approval.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

N/A

Decision Adopted: 31 COM 7A.32

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having evaluated the state of conservation reports of the properties of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) presented in Documents WHC-07/31.COM/7A and WHC-07/31.COM/7A.Add,

2. Calls upon the Director-General of UNESCO and the Chairperson of the World Heritage Committee to convene a meeting with the DRC authorities, together with representatives of the African Union and appropriate sub-regional organizations and the President of IUCN, to discuss progress in addressing the deteriorating state of conservation of the DRC World Heritage properties with the assistance of the World Heritage Fund. In this context, the future role of the UN for preserving the natural and cultural World Heritage properties and Biosphere Reserves of the DRC will be reviewed , including the future role of UNESCO in the "One UN" exercise in the DRC;

3. Requests that a comprehensive approach for all the DRC properties in Danger be adopted by the State Party to take the necessary corrective measures, supported by a phased programme, with the active assistance of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN;

4. Calls upon the international community to support the above mentioned initiative;

5. Decides to recommend the application of the reinforced monitoring mechanism subject to the procedures in Document WHC-07/31.COM/5.2 and Decision 31 COM 5.2 in monitoring the state of conservation of the 5 properties in DRC to assist the State Party in achieving these goals.

Decision Adopted: 31 COM 7A.4

  The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC-07/31.COM/7A,
  2. Recalling Decision 30 COM 7A.7, adopted at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006),
  3. Expresses its sincerest condolences to the families of guards who were killed during operations related to the protection of the property;
  4. Regrets that the continued insecurity in and around the property continues to hamper conservation activities, leading to limited progress on the implementation of the corrective measures set by the Committee at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006);
  5. Urges the State Party in cooperation with the United Nations Organization Mission in DRC (MONUC), in view of the extremely negative consequences of the presence of armed groups in and around the park, to urgently take measures to disarm and evacuate the armed groups and to reduce significantly the number of military positions inside the property ;
  6. Also urges the State Party and the protected area agency ICCN to implement as soon as possible the corrective measures set by the Committee at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006);
  7. Strongly regrets that in spite of promises by the Minister of Defence, the Nyaleke army reunification and training camp inside the property was not closed down and reiterates its request for an immediate closure and removal of the camp from the property;
  8. Expresses its concern about the map produced by the Ministry of Mines, showing that exploratory concessions were granted inside the property, calls on the holders of any concessions to respect international standards with respect to mining in World Heritage properties, as outlined in the International Council on Mining and Metals Position Statement on Mining and Protected Areas (2003), and further urges the State Party to immediately revoke any concessions that might have been granted, as mining operations are incompatible with the World Heritage status of the property;
  9. Requests the State Party, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, to develop a draft Statement of Outstanding Universal Value for the property, including the conditions of integrity, for examination by the Committee at its 32nd session in 2008;
  10. Also requests the State Party, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and IUCN, to develop a draft statement of the desired state of conservation for the property based on its Outstanding Universal Value;
  11. Further requests the State Party to provide the World Heritage Centre with an updated report by 1 February 2008 on the state of conservation of the property and on progress with the implementation of the corrective measures set by the Committee at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006) for examination by the Committee at its 32nd session in 2008;
  12. Decides to retain Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo) on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Decision Adopted: 31 COM 8B.74

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-07/31.COM/8B.Add,

2. Approves the following Statement of Significance for the Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo:

Virunga National Park is notable for its chain of active volcanoes and the greatest diversity of habitats of any park in Africa: from steppes, savannas and lava plains, swamps, lowland and Afromontane forests, to the unique Afroalpine vegetation and icefields of the Ruwenzori mountains, which culminate in peaks above 5000m. The site includes the spectacular Ruwenzori and Virunga Massifs, including Africa's two most active volcanoes. The great diversity of habitats harbors an exceptional biodiversity, including endemic as well as rare and globally endangered species, such as the mountain gorilla.

Criterion (vii): Virunga National Park presents some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in Africa. The rugged Ruwenzori mountains with their snowcapped peaks and steep slopes and valleys and the volcanoes of the Virunga Massif, both with Afroalpine vegetation with giant heathers and Lobelias and densely forested slopes, are areas of exceptional natural beauty. The active volcanoes, which erupt every few years, form the dominant landforms of the exceptional scenery. The park contains several other spectacular landscapes such as the erosion valleys of the Sinda and Ishango areas. The park also contains great concentrations of wildlife, including elephants, buffalo and Uganda kob, and the highest concentration of hippopotamus in Africa, with 20,000 individuals on the shores of Lake Edward and along the Rwindi, Rutshuru and Semliki rivers.

Criterion (viii): Virunga National Park is situated at the heart of the Albertine Rift sector of the Great Rift Valley. In the southern section of the park, tectonic activity resulting from crustal extension of this area gave rise to the Virunga Massif, composed of eight volcanoes, of which seven are situated or partly situated in the park. These include Africa's two most active volcanoes, Nyamuragira and the neighbouring Nyiragongo, which alone account for two-fifths of the historical volcanic eruptions on the African continent. They are especially notable because of their highly fluid alkaline lavas. The activity of Nyiragongo is globally significant for its demonstration of lava lake volcanism, with a quasi-permanent lava lake at the bottom of its crater, periodic draining of which has been catastrophic to the local communities. The northern section of the park includes around 20% of the Rwenzori Massif, the largest glaciated area in Africa and the only truly alpine mountain range on the continent, and adjoins the Rwenzori National Park World Heritage Site in Uganda, with which it shares Mount Margherita, the third highest peak in Africa (5109m).

Criterion (x): Due to its variation in altitude (ranging between 680m and 5109m), rainfall and soils, Virunga National Park contains a very high diversity of plants and habitats, resulting in the highest biological diversity of any national park in Africa. More than 2000 higher plants have been identified, of which 10% are endemic to the Albertine Rift. Approximately 15% of the vegetation are Afromontane forests. The Albertine Rift has also more endemic vertebrate species than any other region of mainland Africa, an important number of which can be found in the park. The park harbors 218 mammal species, 706 bird species, 109 reptile species and 78 amphibian species. The park is home to 22 species of primates, including three great ape species (mountain gorilla Gorilla beringei beringei, eastern lowland gorilla Gorilla beringei graueri and eastern chimpanzee Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi), with one third of the remaining mountain gorilla population in the world. The savanna areas of the park are home to a diverse population of ungulates, with one of the highest biomass densities of wild mammals ever recorded on Earth (314 tonnes/km2). Ungulates include the rare Okapi (Okapi johnstoni), endemic to the DRC, and the Ruwenzori duiker (Cephalophus rubidus), endemic to the Ruwenzori mountains. The park contains significant wetland areas, particularly important as wintering grounds for Palearctic bird species.

Decision Adopted: 31 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-07/31.COM/7A and WHC-07/31.COM/7A.Add, WHC-07/31.COM/7A.Add.2, WHC-07/31.COM/7A.Add.3),

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