Biodiversity Conservation in Regions of Armed Conflict: Protecting World Heritage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
In 2000, UNESCO and the United Nation's Foundation (UNF), launched an innovating project "Biodiversity Conservation in Regions of Armed Conflict: Conserving World Heritage sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo". This pilot project of conservation of natural heritage during conflict was launched for the initial period of four years.
UNESCO, ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature), and international NGOs as well as the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) jointly executed the project with a budget of some 3 million USD. The project, approved in November 1999 when most donors had to pull out from the country because of conflicts - turned out to be of critical importance to UNESCO World Heritage Centre, NGOs and ICCN in order to fight against the destruction of biodiversity and obliteration of protected areas. The Government of Belgium was the first to join forces with the project, providing 300,000 EUR for community-support activities for conservation in and around the five World Heritage sites.
The success of the implementation of the phase I (2000 - 2004) of the project convinced new partners such as the Government of Italy (with a financial support amounting US$ 600,000). The Government of Germany, the European Union and the World Bank (through the Global Environment Fund) are also contributing to the implementation of the phase II of the project (2004-2008).
The second phase of the project mainly focuses on the implementation of Emergency Action Plans for World Heritage Properties with outstanding universal value in the DRC as well as on the setting up of an information management system for the benefit of protected areas. This particular component of the programme is financed through a UNF grant (600,000 $US). The partnership for conservation in the DRC between UNESCO, ICCN and partners NGO foreseen in the project has now become a reality. Other UN agencies or programmes (i.e. UNDP, UNEP) as well as the United Nations Mission to DRC (MONUC) are now closely collaborating with the World Heritage Centre to address issues relating to the safeguarding of World Heritage properties in the DRC.
The goal of the project is ensure the conservation of World Heritage Sites in the DRC both during periods of civil unrest and the long term, by mobilizing financial, logistical, technical and diplomatic support at the regional and international levels, to strengthen the conservation of the sites and ICCN (Institut Congolais de la Conservation de la Nature) as a whole. The project will also function as a learning process to inform efforts and develop mechanisms to conserve similar sites in conflict regions elsewhere in the world.
Specifically the project aims to
- Bring direct field reinforcement, particularly through salary substitute support to site's staff and provision of key field equipment.
- Through diplomatic interventions to convince leaders and others authorities in all concerned States of the need to ensure the security of the working environment and for the conservation personnel and equipment ;
- To build personnel capacity through training and to establish collaborative programmes of long term training, surveillance and monitoring ;
- To survey post-war status and establish long term harmonised monitoring of the biodiversity in the sites (related projects SYGIAP http://geoweb.ugent.be/and BEGo http://dup.esrin.esa.it/projects/summaryp55.asp)
- To supply timely communications to facilitate national and international response to address the urgent needs of the protection of the World Heritage Sites and the broader needs of biodiversity conservation in the DRC ;
- To promote programmes of collaboration with indigenous communities improving resource conservation ;
- To establish sustainable financing mechanisms to support the sites in the long term.
With an area of 2 345 409 km2, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the second largest country in sub-Saharan Africa. An equatorial climate and low population density has allowed the DRC to preserve the largest tropical forest in the world - the basis of life for many threatened species such as the bonobo, gorillas, okapis - and a large savannah inhabited by giraffes, lions and rhinos. In 1974, the Democratic Republic of Congo was one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Five years later, the Virunga National Park - the first African national park - was inscribed on the World Heritage List (1979). Garamba, Kahuzu-Biega (1980) and Salonga National Park (1984) followed soon after. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve, became a World Heritage site in 1996. During times of peace as well as war, DRC has always been a keen adherent to the World Heritage Convention's principles. Unfortunately, since 1994, the country got entangled in the Great Lakes conflict. This lead in 1996 to the start of an outright war in the country, driven both by internal conflicts as well as outside interference.
As a result of these conflicts, all five sites were progressively put back on the List of World Heritage in Danger (Virunga National Park in 1994, Garamba National Park in 1996, Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Okapi Faunal Reserve in 1997 and Salonga National Park in 1999) and remain there.