Rescuing the Congo's natural world heritage
A high-level meeting between authorities from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and UNESCO will take place in Kinshasa on 14 January to discuss ways of strengthening protection of the five DRC sites inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The meeting, organized by the Democratic Republic of Congo and UNESCO, will be chaired by the Prime Minister of DRC Adolphe Muzito and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.
The five sites in danger include Virunga, Garamba, Kahuzi-Biega, and Salonga National Parks, and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which are home to a unique range of flora and fauna including the Mountain Gorilla and the Okapi.
All of the sites have suffered from political instability in the Great Lakes region over the past two decades. The continued insecurity due to the presence of armed groups and the proliferation of arms as well as a general break down of law and order have lead to massive poaching. The Northern White Rhino, which had its home in the Garamba National Park is feared to have been hunted into extinction, while numbers of the remarkable Okapi - a forest giraffe only found in DRC - and elephant populations are seriously declining. The population of mountain gorillas in Virunga has remained stable but numbers of Grauer's gorilla in Kahuzi-Biega have plummeted. Deforestation and habitat loss in Virunga because of illegal charcoal production continue to threaten key gorilla habitat. Illegal artisanal mining is already impacting several of the sites and the attribution of new oil and mining concessions could threaten their World Heritage status.
The meeting will examine the state of these natural sites, reinforce the commitment to their restoration and safeguarding by Congolese authorities, redefine support provided by the international community and adopt the main lines of a plan of action. Participants will include government ministers and representatives from other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, including major donors.
A press conference will be held at the Grand Hotel in Kinshasa after the meeting at 2 pm.
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Friday, January 7, 2011