State of Conservation (SOC)
Virunga National Park
Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger
UNESCO Extra-Budgetary Funds
International Assistance granted to the property
Requests Approved: 0
Total Amount Ap proved: 238,560USD
|2000||Emergency assistance to World Natural Heritage of the democratic ...||26,400 USD|
|1999||Support to Resident Staff of Garamba, Virunga, Kahuzi Biega ...||35,000 USD|
|1996||Request for Technical Assistance for Virunga National Park, World ...||0 USD|
|1994||Financial contribution for the protection of Kahuzi-Biega ...||25,000 USD|
|1993||Financial contribution for the purchase of equipment for Virunga ...||20,000 USD|
|1992||Review of the state of conservation of World Heritage sites in ...||3,750 USD|
|1991||Purchase of a motor boat and of spare parts for motor boats for ...||40,000 USD|
|1990||Training of 2 specialists each from Salonga and Virunga National ...||4,750 USD|
|1988||Equipment to improve protective measures in Virunga National Park||40,000 USD|
|1980||Assistance for Virunga National Park (equipment and consultant ...||43,660 USD|
April 1996: WHC/IUCN/WWF mission; November-December 2001: World Heritage Centre mission
Factors* affecting the property identified in previous reports
- Political uncertainties,
- New settlements in the Park,
- Gold mining,
- Livestock grazing,
- Destruction of vegetation,
- Agricultural encroachment,
- Over-exploitation of fish populations,
- Lack of financial resources
Current conservation issues
Armed conflict and rise in supply of arms and ammunition leading to illegal occupation and hunting and threats to staff security and operations. Lack of basic financial and material support to staff to carry out day-to-day operations.
In response to the Committee’s recommendations made at several of its previous sessions since 1997, the Director General of UNESCO, following wide-ranging consultations with partner organizations, has decided to lead a mission to Kinshasa (DRC), Kigali (Rwanda) and Kampala (Uganda). The mission is tentatively scheduled for the last week of March 2002. During that mission the Director- General will inform the heads of the three countries of UNESCO's efforts, being undertaken in co-operation with the UN Foundation and several international NGO partners, to conserve the five World Heritage sites of DRC. He will discuss ways and means for co-operation between the three countries for World Heritage conservation. The Director General’s Office is soon expected to write to the Secretary General of UN seeking his co-operation in informing the countries implicated in the war in eastern DRC of the efforts of UNESCO and its partners to assess damage caused to the World Heritage sites in the DRC and to plan measures to rehabilitate the sites.
The Director of the Centre is expected to lead a mission between 23 November to 3 December 2001 to the DRC, partly in order to prepare the Director-General’s mission referred to above, and to obtain up-to-date knowledge of the evolving political and security climate in the DRC. The mission team expects to visit some parts of eastern DRC, and depending on security conditions may attempt brief excursions into one or more of the World Heritage sites. A meeting with representatives of the staff from the five sites will be organized as part of the mission. The results and outcome of the mission will be reported to the Committee at the time of its session in Finland.
Since the conclusion of the twenty-fifth session of the Bureau in June 2001, the state of conservation of the five sites (see paragraphs V.12 – 15 and V.18 of the Rapporteur’s Report included as working document WHC-01/CONF.208/3) has not significantly changed. IUCN has reported that personnel of Virunga are now being paid monthly support payments and performance related bonuses under the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project with the help of WWF. Staff morale has improved considerably. WWF has identified staff needs such as equipment and assistance for the families of more than 100 guards killed during anti-poaching campaigns and established facilities for the production of more than 500,000 seedlings in 58 nurseries to help revegetate impacted areas and provide livelihood opportunities for local communities.
Military activities in Virunga continue; the southern sectors are high risk areas, but poaching and other illegal activities there are minimal and threats to conservation moderate-to-low. On the contrary, severe threats to the integrity of the Park prevail in the central and northern sectors. The corridor between the latter two sectors has also been impacted.
IUCN has suggested that consideration be given to assist Virunga staff and WWF to hold a meeting of stakeholders with a view to improving relations between the Park staff and local residents. Such a meeting is expected to be organized as part of the activities of the 4-year, UNESCO-Belgium Co-operation Project to support community-based activities to conserve the five sites. Virunga staff will play an important role in preparatory meetings to design site specific activities to enhance staff-local community co-operation for World Heritage protection in and around all of the five DRC sites. The meetings will include staff representing all five sites.
Staff in all other four sites continue to do their best to ensure maximum protection of the sites. But presence of armed groups continue to pose major threats to staff security and site integrity, particularly in Kahuzi Biega and Okapi. While prospects for peace in the DRC over the medium-to-long term have improved and UN Peace Keeping Units have moved into the country, illegal occupation by armed groups and dispersed coltan mining activities in and around Okapi and Kahuzi Biega continue to pose significant threats to site integrity. Further, a marked increase in poaching has occurred with the influx of miners, and is posing an additional threat to the site.
The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) of the United States of America has applauded the dedication of the World Heritage site staff of the DRC. The Director General of ICCN accepted a merit award from SCB on behalf of the staff and a cash donation from SCB members for an amount of approximately US$ 5,000. UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project Co-ordination Office located in Nairobi, Kenya will facilitate the use of this fund to assist families of staff who lost their lives in the line of duty.
Staff morale has improved in all sites as monthly support and allowance payments made available under the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project are reaching the sites at periodic intervals via the services of conservation NGOs: namely WWF (Virunga); Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS; Kahuzi Biega); International Rhino Foundation (IRF; Garamba); Gilman International Conservation (GIC; Okapi); and the Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM; Salonga). IUCN has commended the vital role that these NGO partners are playing in delivering payments to the sites and assisting staff.
In Garamba however, one of the conservators who was transferred to Kinshasa has refused to leave and has been preventing IRF from delivering funds to other staff. He appears to have militant factions in the area and has heightened the sense of insecurity and is preventing IRF to fully meet its commitments under the UNESCO/DRC/UNF-UNFIP Project to deliver payments to Garamba staff. His transfer was decided as part of the co-ordination among DRC-wide ICCN units and as agreed upon at a meeting of the ICCN authorities facilitated by the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project in October 2000. The Centre, IRF and other partners are investigating all possible ways of effecting the transfer decision of ICCN as quickly as possible in order to remove the negative impacts that this dissident individual is having on the execution of the project in Garamba.
In accordance with the request of the twenty-fifth session of the Bureau, a detailed report on the progress of the UNESCO/DRC/UNF-UNFIP Project is included as document WHC-01/CONF.208/INF.4.
The Centre, based on a suggestion from the Deputy Director General of UNESCO, has proposed a study of gorilla habitats as a pilot activity for the UNESCO-ESA (European Space Agency) Initiative to demonstrate the use of satellite images and other space-borne technologies in monitoring the state of conservation of sites. This initiative will generate state-of-the-art information on land-use changes in and around the two sites of significance as Gorilla habitats; i.e. Virunga for the mountain gorilla and Kahuzi Biega for the lowland gorilla. Similar studies on habitats of other apes such as the chimpanzees and the bonobos, are also foreseen as part of UNESCO contributions to the Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP) recently launched by UNEP. Great ape habitat surveys in and outside of protected areas, including World Heritage sites, could result in important boundary modifications in Kahuzi Biega, Virunga and Salonga. Some scientists who are advising the GRASP Project are advocating the development of a "World Heritage Species“ concept that could be used to better protect the total range of apes in Africa under the World Heritage Convention and also strengthen the protection afforded to the species in habitats outside of protected areas.
The Centre contacted the Tantalum-Niobium International Study Centre (T.I.C) and transmitted the recommendations of the twenty-fifth session of the Bureau on the need to halt illegal coltan mining in Kahuzi Biega and Okapi. The Secretary General of the T.I.C. committed to transmitting the Bureau’s recommendations to its 66 members at an annual meeting due to be convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from 7 to 12 October 2001. The outcome of T.I.C‘s discussions with its membership on the Bureau’s recommendations will be reported at the time of the Committee session in Finland. The intensity of coltan mining in Okapi and Kahuzi Biega has somewhat declined as market prices for coltan have dropped sharply as the high-technology sector took a downturn due to recent adverse trends in the global economy. However, there are still concerns related to impacts associated with the influx of miners to the site.
Analysis and Conclusion
Link to the decision
VIII.12 The Committee was updated on the state of conservation of each of the five sites and the outcome of a mission led by the Director of the Centre to DRC from 24 November to 3 December 2001.
VIII.13 Virunga National Park has been considerably affected by the war in eastern DRC and its impacts. More than 20,000 families are resident in the central and northern sectors of the Park, most of them undertaking fishing and livestock herding activities. Renegade militia groups are hiding in the forests in the northern and central sectors of the Park and subsist by poaching on wild animals. It is believed that several keystone species in the area, including elephants and hippos, are being hunted regularly and fishing intensity in the Lakes of the Virunga National Park is on the increase. Forests are being cleared for agriculture and settlements. In the northern sector, ICCN staff from Beni are beginning to increase patrolling operations as guards have started receiving payments that are being made available under the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project. State of conservation in the central sector is of serious concern as staff are unable to enter the area for regular patrols and surveillance. The southern sector of Virunga is relatively stable and regularly patrolled; mountain gorilla population in the latter sector is stable and has increased from 325 to 355 over the last decade. Staff belonging to protected areas in southern Virunga co-operate with their counterparts in Uganda and Rwanda under the aegis of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP). The northern and central sectors, and the southern sectors are under the authority of two separate rebel Governments. ICCN staff in the two territories are gradually increasing contacts and collaboration with one another to implement activities under the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project.
VIII.14 Guards in Garamba National Park have been prevented from receiving their monthly payments provided under the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project because of misunderstandings between the Conservator of Garamba and the co-operating NGO, i.e. the International Rhino Foundation (IRF). These differences were discussed by the two parties in the presence of other ICCN personnel from Kinshasa and the rebel-held region of Beni/Bunia during a meeting in Nairobi immediately preceding the mission led by the Director of the Centre. It is expected that the payments to Garamba staff can now be delivered without any hindrance. Despite these difficulties in the execution of the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project, guards continue to carry out their patrol and surveillance duties regularly. The population of the northern white rhinos in this site continues to be stable around 30 individuals.
VIII.15 Kahuzi-Biega National Park is perhaps the most threatened of the five sites despite the continuing presence of the the GTZ (Germany) financed project staff who pay the conservators and other senior staff. The guards and labourers are receiving payments under the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project. Only 10% of the area is accessible to staff; most of the lowland sector (90% of the total area of the Park) is inaccessible due to the presence of armed groups and renegade militias. Coltan mining was rampant in this site at the time of the twenty-fifth session of the Bureau in June 2001 but has been reduced since then due to the sharp decline in the price of coltan. But miners who were camped in the Park have remained, resorting to poaching and gold mining. Park staff and GTZ Project personnel have made some contacts with armed groups along the borders of the inaccessible sector and have been able to enter into informal negotiations with them to seek support for protecting wildlife. Their task has been made difficult because site staff are not armed. The leaders of the rebel Government in Goma have agreed to address the possibility of providing arms and ammunition to the staff and progress in this regard will be monitored over the next few months.
VIII.16 In the Okapi Wildlife Reserve the guards and labourers have received payments under the UNESCO/DRC/UNF project dating back to October 2000 and the NGO partner assisting the Project to deliver payments to the site, i.e. Gilman International Conservation (GIC), has continued paying other supervisory staff, such as the conservators. Hence, the staff morale is rather high. A third of the area still remains inaccessible to staff, an improvement compared to last year when more than half the surface area of the Reserve was not accessible to the staff. Co-operation between staff and military authorities is improving and the mission team met with the Governor responsible for the area who committed to visit the area and dialogue with military groups and local communities to bring about further improvements to the conservation of the site. The Conservator of the Reserve informed the mission that after a long period of time, no known cases of elephant poaching have been reported in the month of October 2001. In the short-to-medium term this site has the best potential among the five sites of DRC for recovery subject to the continuation of the current trend recovery.
VIII.17 The 36,000-square kilometer Salonga National Park is the only site under the direct responsibility of ICCN, Kinshasa; although about 20% of the area in the southeastern sector is controlled by the rebel authorities in Goma. The partner NGO, namely Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM), has hired local staff who brave long distances and insecure access conditions to pay guards, labourers and other staff from support made available under the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project. Poaching in the site continues; the number of staff working in the Park is totally inadequate for the huge area where access is extremely difficult. The ability of ICCN, Kinshasa, to better manage this and other protected areas under its authority may improve when a GTZ project, that was temporarily suspended in June 2001, re-starts operations in January 2002. This GTZ project may recommence payments to several ICCN-Kinshasa staff and provide other basic needs such as vehicles and travel allowances that would enable ICCN to better protect Salonga and other protected areas under its direct supervision.
VIII.18 The mission led by the Director of the Centre visited Kinshasa, as well as Goma, Beni and Bunia, which now serve as seats of rebel Government authorities in the eastern parts of DRC. The mission met with ICCN staff in all destinations as well as senior decision-makers, including Heads of the rebel administration in Goma, Beni and Bunia. The Director and his team met with representatives of staff from all five World Heritage sites and visited a guard post at the southwestern border of Virunga. The mission's flight in the eastern parts of DRC traced a south-north route along the western boundary of the Virunga National Park providing an overview of the site's state of conservation.
VIII.19 The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) of the United States of America has applauded the dedication of the guards of protected areas of the DRC. The Director General of ICCN (Kinshasa) accepted an award on behalf of the guards of the protected areas of DRC at a ceremony in Hawaii in June 2001. The financial contribution of approximately US$5,000 provided by members of SCB were used to provide medals to all the guards and labourers (approximately 1,000 individuals) of the five World Heritage sites; the Director of the Centre handed over medals to individual representatives of each site in simple ceremonies held during the mission. A part of the US$5,000 collected will be used to provide small sums of cash compensation to widows of guards who lost their lives in the line of duty.
VIII.20 In accordance with the request of the twenty-fifth session of the Bureau, a detailed report (English and French) on the progress of the UNESCO/DRC/UNF-UNFIP Project is included as document WHC-01/CONF.208/INF.4. The Minister of Environment of DRC in Kinshasa described the project to the Director of the Centre as a "project of hope" since it arrived at a time when no other donor was willing to provide support to staff of the five World Heritage sites. In the absence of monthly support payments to guards, training and monitoring and equipment and other amenities provided under the project, many of the staff might have deserted the Park.
VIII.21 The ICCN authorities in Kinshasa and in the rebel regions of Goma, Beni and Bunia also welcomed the Belgium Government-financed project to support local communities to work with staff to conserve the World Heritage sites. This aspect of the conservation agenda was not adequately financed under the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project. Hence, the Belgium contribution of 300,000 Euros over the 4-year period overlapping with that of the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project is seen as a critically important contribution for the success of the overall effort to sustain the conservation status of the five sites. The first planning workshop to identify site specific community support activities to be implemented under the UNESCO/Belgium Government Project has been scheduled for mid-February 2002 and will be held in Beni, at the boundary of the northern sector of the Virunga National Park. The workshop will be organized by a local NGO working in and around Virunga that has been established and supported by the WWF Regional Programme for Eastern Africa.
VIII.22 The Committee was informed of the important logistical and other support provided by the UN Organization Mission in the Congo (MONUC) both for travel of the mission team and in assisting partners such as ZSM to deliver UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project payments to staff in Salonga National Park. MONUC has staff in Kinshasa, Goma, Beni and Bunia and in several other parts of DRC and operates regular flights between these destinations that are open (at no cost) to other UN staff and their collaborating NGOs and DRC counterparts. MONUC, other UN agencies, bi and multilateral donors and a growing number of conservation NGOs who are entering the country as the peace process under the Lusaka Agreement slowly takes root, are likely to play a major role in reviving the conservation status of World Heritage sites in the DRC.
VIII.23 In the long-term, the return of peace and stability are essential to conservation of World Heritage sites and other protected areas and habitats in the DRC. The Centre will attempt to match resources provided by the UNF, the Government of Belgium and with other donors to expand sustainable development options in areas surrounding the five sites with a view to minimising pressure on resources within the sites. While demilitarzing the Parks and unarming renegade militias hiding in protected areas, including the World Heritage sites, is likely to be a difficult task, representatives of several aid organziations and the DRC and rebel military forces believe many such armed groups comprise deserters and youth who would accept a return to civilan life if alternative livelihood options are offered to them.
VIII.24 The Committee was pleased to note that the Director-General of UNESCO, in accordance with the wish of the Committee expressed at several of its previous sessions, has agreed to lead a mission to Kinshasa (DRC), Kampala (Uganda) and Kigali (Rwanda) in late March 2002. The mission led by the Director of the Centre informed all important personalities met, including authorities of MONUC and other UN bodies in the DRC, of the Director-General's mission. Several persons met expressed the hope that the visit of the Director-General to the three capitals could establish a basis for co-operation amongst the three countries for biodiversity conservation, including important endangered species such as the mountain and the eastern lowland gorillas. As the Lusaka Peace Agreement's execution progresses, opportunities for formal collaboration between the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda for the conservation of mountain and lowland gorillas in the ecosystems shared by the three countries are likely to become available.
VIII.25 The Committee learned that the Centre, encouraged by the Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, has initiated a study of gorilla habitats as a pilot activity for the UNESCO-ESA (European Space Agency) Co-operative Initiative to demonstrate the use of satellite images and other space-borne technologies in monitoring the state of conservation of World Heritage sites. This initiative will generate state-of-the-art information on land-use changes in and around the two sites of significance as gorilla habitats; i.e. Virunga for the mountain gorilla and Kahuzi Biega for the eastern lowland gorilla. Similar studies on habitats of other apes such as the chimpanzees and the bonobos that inhabit Salonga are also foreseen as part of UNESCO collaboration with UNEP under the Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP) recently launched by UNEP.
VIII.26 The Committee noted with satisfaction the outcome of the mission led by the Director of the Centre but expressed its serious concerns over the range of threats to the integrity of the five World Heritage sites in the DRC. Several delegates expressed their appreciation of the mission team's efforts to visit a region of uncertainty and security risks to further the cause of World Heritage conservation. The Committee appealed to the international community to live up to the spirit and ideal of international co-operation promoted by the World Heritage Convention and intervene in all possible ways to assist ICCN, site staff, partner NGOs and others to protect and preserve the World Heritage sites of the DRC. The Committee applauded the Governments of Belgium and Germany and other donors like the UNF and NGO partners of the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project for the crucial support they are already providing for the conservation of the five sites. The Committee welcomed the opportunity for close collaboration with MONUC and other UN bodies in the execution of conservation-support activities and missions.
VIII.27 The Committee urged the Centre to liaise with all concerned units in UNESCO to ensure effective execution of UNF and Belgium-financed projects by minimizing administrative and other delays. The Committee requested the Centre, IUCN and other partners to expand the search for projects and programmes that provide alternative livelihoods for communities inhabiting areas around the World Heritage sites. Such alternative livelihood options may also have a role in attracting individuals belonging to armed groups hiding inside the World Heritage sites and to re-integrate them into civilan life. The Committee emphasized the need to explore the feasibility for building long-term conservation financing mechanisms for the DRC, one of the principal objectives of the UNESCO/DRC/UNF Project. The Committee thanked the Director-General of UNESCO for agreeing to lead a mission to the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda and invited him to consider discussing an agenda of co-operation amongst the three countries for World Heritage conservation as an important component of the implementation of activities under the Lusaka Peace Agreement.
VIII.28 The Committee requested that the Centre and IUCN work together with all concerned partners to prepare a long-term integrated strategy for the conservation of World Heritage in the DRC incorporating economic, social, peace and capacity building and other relevant aspects. The Committee recognized the need to educate youth and other target groups on the importance of World Heritage conservation and use the culture of the people of the DRC, particularly their music and songs, to inculcate and transmit conservation values. The Committee decided to retain all the five sites in the List of World Heritage in Danger. The Committee thanked the Secretariat for their strong commitment in undertaking this mission in difficult conditions.
The Committee, based on new information available at the time of its session, may take appropriate decisions and make recommednations for the consideration of the State Party, the Centre, IUCN and other partners.
Virunga National Park
- Civil unrest
- Financial resources
- Fishing/collecting aquatic resources
- Identity, social cohesion, changes in local population and community
- Illegal activities
- Land conversion
Inscription on the Danger List
Threats to the Site:
Virunga National Park was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger at the 18th Session of the World Heritage Committee (1994) in the wake of the war in neighbouring Rwanda and the subsequent massive influx of refugees from that country which led to massive deforestation and poaching at the site.
Many members of the Park staff had not been remunerated for almost a year.
Poaching of wildlife has continued and the staff lacks the means of patrolling the Park's 650 km long boundary.
The human population in the fishing village near Lake Edward has increased several fold, posing a serious threat to the integrity of the Park.
The fuel wood requirements of almost one million refugees camping inside the Park is estimated at 600 metric tons/day and is leading to widespread depletion of forests in the lowlands.
The threats indicated are listed in alphabetical order; their order does not constitute a classification according to the importance of their impact on the property.
Furthermore, they are presented irrespective of the type of threat faced by the property, i.e. with specific and proven imminent danger (“ascertained danger”) or with threats which could have deleterious effects on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (“potential danger”).