On 12 February 2007, a succinct report of 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. The objective is to extend the management and surveillance of the property towards the low altitude sector and the corridor between lowland and highland. Main activities are sensitisation of local communities in the target areas, political and military authorities, an inventory of large mammals and flagship species, efforts to strengthen law enforcement and surveillance through the materialisation of park limits, guard training and equipment and developing a collaboration with the local communities through the establishment of local conservation committees and the development of micro-projects.
The main obstacle for the implementation of the corrective measures and the emergency action plan remains the prevailing insecurity in the region. Rwandese militias, Mai-mai rebels and uncontrolled units of the Congolese army (FARDC) continue to be present in the park and the adjacent villages. In 2006, both the lowland stations of Nzovu and Itebero and the Madirhiri patrol post in the highland have been attacked by Rwandese militiamen and dissident factions of the FARDC, resulting in several casualties and one guard killed.
As explained in the Virunga report, the implementation of the corrective measures has been hampered by the organisation of the first multiparty elections in DRC. So far, following progress could be noted:
a) Develop a strategy to evacuate all armed groups from the property
The development of such a strategy will need to involve both political and military authorities. With the new government at national and provincial level only in place recently, no systematic strategy could be developed as yet. An important element will be how the new government decides to deal with the continued presence of Rwandese militia in the region. Their evacuation seems an important condition to restore security in the region and secure the park. In the mean time, some progress was made in controlling some of the dissident FARDC factions. However the presence of armed groups remains the major obstacle for the management of the park.
b) Substantially strengthen the presence of ICCN Park guards in the lowland sector of the Park. Strengthen the law enforcement in the property, thereby gradually increasing the amount of the Park that is covered by guard patrols.
All three park stations in the lowland sector (Itebero, Nzovu and Lulingu) are now manned by ICCN guards, and mixed patrols are being organised, in cooperation with the FARDC and in some cases even with Rwandese militia. Whilst the (re-)opening of the park stations is extremely positive, the possibilities of the stationed guards to patrol the areas remains limited as result of the insecurity. It will also be important to accompany the reinstallation of park staff in these areas with the development of community conservation committees and accompanying measures to install a climate of trust with the local people.
c) Reclaim the farms occupying the corridor and materialise the limits of the corridor.
To achieve this, strong support from the political authorities, in particular at provincial level will be needed. It will be extremely important for ICCN and its partners to sensitise the new provincial government for this issue. So far, ICCN already organised several patrols in the corridor and started sensitising the local communities and developing some community conservation activities. The development of a strong cooperation with the local communities is a prerequisite to successfully deal with this difficult question.
d) Strengthen the cooperation between ICCN and its partners by developing a joint planning for all interventions in the Park, with clear responsibilities and benchmarks;
Through the local Site Coordination Committees (CoCoSi), ICCN and its conservation partners are establishing joint operational plans for all activities in the park. MOUs to define the role of each partner are also being developed.
e) Conduct as soon as the security situation allows a survey of flagship species present in the lowland sector of the Park, in particular gorilla and other primates;
In the framework of the DRC programme, a survey is currently implemented by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). A preliminary and cursory exploration of the lowland was completed in December 2006. The presence of gorillas and chimpanzees was confirmed in the two areas visited, but no signs of elephants were seen. Despite the persistent pockets of insecurity, it is hoped that a full survey can be completed during the coming months.
f) Establish a trust fund for the rehabilitation of the DRC World Heritage properties.
See report Virunga National Park.
So far no benchmarks or timeframe were established. UNESCO in cooperation with IUCN is currently discussing with ICCN the development of benchmarks. It is currently proposed that benchmarks will be developed at a workshop at the park by the end of 2007, at the time of the evaluation of the emergency action plan.
In addition two other major developments with potentially important impacts on the park need to be mentioned here.
A UNESCO mission in October 2006 was informed that the service of the Ministry of Mines responsible for the mapping of mining concessions published a new map of attributed exploration and exploitation concessions. The maps showed several concessions inside the protected areas, including exploitation concessions in Kahuzi-Biega (PNKB) and Okapi Wildlife Reserve and a prospecting concession in Virunga National Park. After consultations with UNESCO, ICCN sent a letter in protest to the Minister of Mines on 6 November 2006 with a detailed file of explanations prepared with the assistance of the DRC programme. On 1 December, the Minister of Mines instructed the mapping office to verify the information presented by ICCN and amend the maps if necessary. A mixed technical working group was set up which is currently studying the issue.
The mission was also informed that the European Union in the framework of a multi-donor road rehabilitation programme, was planning the rehabilitation of the RN3 Kisangani-Bukavu. This road is crossing the highland sector of the park. It needs to be recalled that already in 1990, the rehabilitation of the road was underway with support from the German development bank (KfW) and that the planned rehabilitation of the stretch going through the park led to major discussions. An Environmental Impact study done by IUCN at the time recommended that the road be re-routed around the northern boundaries of the park. This issue was discussed by the World Heritage Committee at its 15th session (Carthage, 1991). However, with the start of the war, the road rehabilitation was never completed. For the current project, the EU contracted GTZ for a technical and socio-economical and environmental impact study, which was conducted in February/March 2007. As soon as the report of this study is available, it will be transmitted to UNESCO and IUCN.
In relation to the mobilisation of funding, Germany is planning to support conservation activities in PNKB through a five year support programme for ICCN funded by the German development bank (KfW). The PNKB component has a budget of 3 Million Euros.