The Committee and the Bureau have expressed serious concerns with regard to the state of conservation of these four sites at their annual sessions as the eastern parts of the country have become increasingly engulfed in war since 1994. Hopes for peace in the latter half of 1998 were short-lived as renewed fighting spread to all parts of eastern DRC.
The Bureau recalled that the Committee, at its last session (Kyoto, 1998), had requested the Centre and IUCN to consult with ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) and international conservation NGOs to estimate the cost of paying "motivational allowances" to staff at Virunga as an interim measure and submit a proposal for emergency assistance for the consideration of the twenty-third session of the Bureau. IUCN had informed the Committee that most of the eastern DRC is controlled by rebel forces. The Committee had suggested that the Centre and IUCN transmit its concerns on the state of conservation of the four sites to international and national NGOs and urge them to disseminate information regarding the Committee’s concerns among the general public as well as specific target groups like the military.
The Bureau was informed that a representative of the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) had visited Garamba from 27 February to 5 March 1999 and found that resident guards appear to have forged a working relationship with rebel forces controlling the area. Significant poaching threats prevail in the region. Despite shortages in fuel supplies, vehicles, communications equipment and ammunition and the high-risk security situation, resident guards are patrolling the area to the extent possible.
The Bureau learned of the outcome of a seminar, held in Naivasha, Kenya, from 12 to 16 April 1999, which brought together ICCN, concerned international conservation NGOs (e.g. IRF, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund for Europe, Gilman International Conservation and WWF), GTZ (German Technical Co-operation), UNESCO and representatives of staff from all four sites to discuss future steps that could be taken for the conservation of the four sites. The seminar reached the following principal conclusions:
(i) populations of all flagship species, including the gorilla, elephant, northern white rhinoceros and okapi are endangered;
(ii) Kahuzi Biega and Virunga have suffered significant deforestation;
(iii) field equipment has been looted and available equipment is either inadequate or in poor condition;
(iv) Okapi and Kahuzi Biega are facing threats due to illegal mineral exploitation;
(v) lack of respect for conservation laws is widespread and is threatening the integrity of all four sites as well as the life of staff who have chosen to continue carrying on their duties; and
(vi) a two-pronged approach focusing on diplomatic and political actions at one level and direct support to encourage performance of conservation actions by staff resident in the sites at the other, is critical to ensure the survival of the sites until peace and security conditions become normalized in eastern parts of the DRC. The report of the Naivasha Seminar includes estimates of financial support necessary for providing salaries and allowances and equipment to resident staff in all four sites.
The Seminar resulted in the establishment of a Task Force comprising the consortium of NGOs, ICCN and GTZ. The Task Force members are in the process of approaching various donors to raise the necessary funds for paying salaries and allowances to staff and provide basic equipment for staff to carry out their day-to-day functions. A project concept is being developed by this Task Force.
The Director General of ICCN addressed the Bureau on behalf of the Task Force and called upon the assistance of the Bureau and Committee for the conservation of the four sites. He informed the Bureau that in affirming its commitment to the Convention, his Government has decided to pay its dues for the years 1996, 1997 and 1998 to the World Heritage Fund despite the difficult economic and political conditions prevailing in his country.
The Bureau called upon the Centre and IUCN to:
- support the process started by the Task Force to build support for the conservation of the World Heritage sites of the DRC;
- co-operate with relevant international organizations, e.g. UN Resident Co-ordinator System, important donor countries etc., and call upon leading personalities including the Chairperson of the Committee and the Director- General of UNESCO, to intervene in the diplomatic and political arena at the international, regional, national and local levels in order to draw attention to the need to respect the World Heritage status of the four sites and create an environment in which ICCN and its staff resident in the four sites could carry out necessary conservation actions;
- co-operate with the Task Force with a view to approaching private foundations, bi- and multilateral donors and organizations in order to develop a package of international assistance targeted directly to meet livelihood, equipment and other essential needs of the resident staff to enable staff to carry out their duties and responsibilities in an effective manner; and
- work together with the Task Force members attending the session of the Bureau, to prepare a package of emergency and technical assistance to provide support to the staff of the four sites from the World Heritage Fund which the Bureau could consider under the agenda item on international assistance (Item 7 of the provisional agenda item of the twenty-third session of the Bureau).
The Bureau agreed with the view expressed by IUCN that special efforts are needed to ensure the conservation of the four sites located in a zone of intense armed conflict. In addition, the Bureau endorsed IUCN's position that successful interventions to protect these four sites could provide important lessons that may be applicable elsewhere in the world for the protection World Heritage sites in times of armed conflict. The Bureau recommended that the Committee retain all of the four sites in the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The Bureau also recalled that the two four-wheel drive vehicles purchased in 1998 for Kahuzi Biega and Garamba are still stored in Kenya since the two vehicles could not be delivered to the sites due to the on-going war in the eastern parts of the DRC. The Bureau was informed that a neighbouring State Party to the Convention (i.e. United Republic of Tanzania) has requested financial assistance for the purchase of two vehicles to strengthen protection of two of its World Heritage sites. The Bureau recommended that the Centre and IUCN discuss this matter with ICCN and Task Force representatives with a view to transferring the two vehicles currently stored in Kenya to the Tanzanian sites, and submit a proposal to effect this transfer for the consideration of the Bureau under the agenda item dealing with international assistance.