UNEP to Engage in Environmental Work in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Kinshasa/ Nairobi, 17 September 2007 - A United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) high level facts finding mission arrives in Kinshasa today for a visit focusing on conservation efforts in protected areas, institutional capacity building, pollution control, mitigating impact of human activities on environment and natural resources especially in fragile ecosystems of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and ways of improving collaboration with the UN system in this country.

This scoping mission is meant to enhance UNEP's knowledge and understanding of the current environmental situation in the DRC with special reference to understand the needs for post conflict assessment and intervention; appraise available support/assistance in the DRC in order to elaborate an improved collaborative programme with the DRC.

The UNEP mission will be in the DRC from 17 to 22 September 2007 during which they will hold meetings with the relevant authorities and some stakeholders, such as heads of the major institutions within government, the public and private sectors as well as the NGOs.

This team is a second UNEP technical operation being fielded by the Executive Director, Achim Steiner in the Democratic Republic of Congo following the recent call of Mr. Didace Pembe Bokiaga, the Minister of the Environment of the DRC to UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi. The aim is to further UNEP participation in the development of activities that will assist the Congolese partners in better understanding the environmental challenges facing them; developing programmes that will increasingly benefit their people as well as nature within and even beyond their borders.

UNEP has taken concrete steps to address the environmental situation in the DRC. A joint mission was organised with UNESCO to the Virunga National Park in August 2007, with the view to investigate the escalating situation in the Virunga National Park, which resulted recently in the death of a park ranger and injuries to others, as well as the death of a number of mountain gorillas, the rarest of the great apes. The mission also aimed to identify possible platforms for collaboration between UNEP and other United Nations bodies and relevant organisations and partners, to assist the government in ensuring best management practices in Protected Areas.

The current exploratory operation comes as a result of some specific recommendations made after the joint UNESCO-UNEP mission in the Virunga. Key issues to explore therefore include improving the current involvement of UNEP in environmental activities in the DRC and the UN system operations, enhancing partnership in tackling some of the major environmental challenges facing DRC; mitigating impact of (conflicts and post conflicts, development, humanitarian, social) activities on environment and natural resources management; the review of the conservation situation in the Virunga National Park as well as ways to prevent the loss of valuable biodiversity in the future with support from the UN and the international community.

The UNEP mission will also explore ways to assist the DRC in developing a strategy for Sanitation and Pollution and in assessing the impact of mining on the environment in the mining areas in the 2 Kasais and the Katanga regions, and setting clear measures to be followed by mining companies.

Note to editors

The Virunga National Park is home to 50% of the mountain gorilla population and to numerous other endemic and endangered species.

Environmental degradation in the Great Lakes Region has become a major issue of concern among the countries in the region, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as well as to the international community and to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This was heightened by the recent killings of gorillas in the Virunga National Park. The Park is occupied by the Congolese Army, dissident members of the army, Rwandan refugees, Nkunda forces and various Mai Mai rebel groups. The resources of the park are being used for the sustenance and source of livelihood for some of the various groups in the Park and communities in the vicinity of the Park. The complex issues at the Virunga National Park, home of a rich and abundant biological diversity of fauna and flora, have been further complicated by the unrest in the eastern part of the Congo.

There is need for continued technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of the countries of the African region to harness and access knowledge to support the management of their natural resources especially in the Great Lakes Region and the Congo Basin which comprise the second largest world forest ecosystems after the Amazons, with more than 60% of the biological diversity of the continent.

For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: +254 20 762 3084; Mobile: +254 733 632 755, E-mail: Nick.Nuttall@unep.org ; or Angele Luh-Sy, Regional Information Officer, on Tel: 254 20 762 4292, Mobile: 254 722 429 770, E-mail: Angele.Luh@unep.org

UNEP News Release 2007/..


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