Sustainable Future for DRC's Nature-Based Resources Aim of New UNEP Project

Specific Plans to Boost Conservation of Gorillas in Virunga National Park

Paris/Nairobi, 26 October 2007 - Conservation of gorillas and sustainable livelihoods in the Virungas are among the objectives of a new initiative to assist the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) better manage its economically-important nature-based assets.

The initiative, being undertaken by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and announced today at the close of the Paris Meetings on Primates and their Habitats, will assist the government in drafting and developing national environmental laws, regulations and guidelines.

Legal safeguards are urgently needed at a time of rapidly rising multi-billion dollar international investments in the country's forest, mining and agricultural sectors, the government there believes.

The wide-ranging strategy also includes a provision for a post-conflict environmental assessment to be undertaken when the security situation improves in the eastern part of the country.

It will mirror similar assessments undertaken by UNEP in the Balkans; Afghanistan; the Occupied Palestinian Territories; Iraq; Liberia, Lebanon and the Sudan aimed at assisting countries to set priorities during reconstruction and rehabilitation phases.

The strategy also calls for the posting of a UNEP expert in the country to provide environmental support to the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) and UN Country Team including environmental impact assessments for proposed development and investment projects.

Specific actions in the Virungas, home to some of the world's last gorilla populations and a site at the centre of current tensions and conflicts include

? Support to staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs such as WWF and CARE International on providing sustainable energy sources for internally displaced people?currently most refugees are forced to over exploit local forests for fuel.

? The establishment of forum, involving local people and the humanitarian, security and environmental actors in the area, aimed at delivering sustainable livelihoods around one of Africa's most famous and important national parks.

? A commitment from the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) to carry out joint patrols with park rangers of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature when the current security situation improves.

? UNEP will also assess the possibilities for boosting cooperation between the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda to stem illegal flows of natural resources such as charcoal and transboundary exploitation of oil and methane gas.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said:" This new initiative follows a UNEP mission to the DRC in September. The catalyst for that mission was a request for assistance from the minister of the environment amid mounting national and international alarm over the slaughter of gorillas and damage to one of Africa's most famous national parks".

"But it soon became clear from field visits and discussions with a wide-range of experts and officials that the challenges and opportunities confronting the DRC go beyond the current tensions in the east off the country," he added.

"The DRC's abundant natural and nature-based resources have been a source of tensions and conflict, but they also represent a major opportunity to fight poverty, fuel economic growth and build peace over the coming years and decades- if intelligently and sustainably managed," said Mr Steiner.

He said now was the right time to assist the government in balancing its economic, development and environmental aims.

"Major international investments are starting to be made in the DRC with $2.7 billion already contracted and another five billion dollars announced. The government of the DRC recognizes that there is a unique opportunity over the next few months to influence the course of this investment and to ensure environmental safeguards," said Mr Steiner.

He said crucial to the success of the new initiative would be cooperation with existing national and international organizations operating in the DRC.

Mr Steiner said UNEP looked forward to working closely with ministries; fellow UN agencies; representatives of humanitarian, development and environmental organizations and the private sector in realizing the government and the country's sustainability goals.

UNEP is providing funding of $300,000 to kick start the new programme. Up to $3 million will be needed to fully complete the initial more than two year strategy and donors are being urged to back the initiative.

Other Key Recommendations and Observations

Information Sharing on Illegal Activities

MONUC has agreed to share information of security matters and illegal activities such as the killing of gorillas and illegal timber extraction with organizations including the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization who are responsible for World Heritage Sites and a joint founder with UNEP of the Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP).

Sharing of information will also happen with relevant NGOs including IUCN-the World Conservation Union; the Frankfurt Zoological Society; WWF; IGCP; Gorilla Organization; the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund; London Zoological Society, WCS and WildlifeDirect)

MONUC's mandate includes monitoring use of natural resources but has not been put into practice or enforced. The UNEP report suggests this is reviewed during the review of MONUC's mandate in December.

Improved Coordination

The September mission found a wide range of actors involved in activities including community conservation projects; revenue sharing; the provision of technical support to the ICCN and its rangers; the formulation of a draft environmental framework law for the country. The International Gorilla Conservation Programme has assisted in dialogue between the transboundary countries which led to the Goma Declaration.

Nevertheless, there remain gaps in the current assistance programme which can be strengthened through the convening of a forum involving all actors in the area.

The Specific Challenge of Wood for Fuel

The mission learnt that the four camps for internally displaced people are heavily dependent on resources in the Virunga National Park for fuelwood and charcoal with UNHCR and the World Food Programme providing humanitarian assistance and food but not energy.

WWF, which along with the CARE International are providing some fuelwood calculates that four IDP camps together currently, requires 600 tons of firewood a week.

UNEP would like to bring its experience and expertise acquired in Liberia to mitigate damage to the fragile park resources and ecosystems as a result of this high local demand for wood.


 

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