Committee Decisions

CONF 208 VIII.12-28

World Heritage sites of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

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.