More needed to save Congo’s natural heritage

14 January 2011 | News story

A rescue plan for the five Democratic Republic of Congo sites inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger will be the focus of today’s high-level meeting organized by the Congolese authorities and UNESCO.

IUCN, which is the independent advisory body to the World Heritage Committee on natural sites, urges not only the DRC government and the international community, but also the extractive industries to combine efforts to stop the ongoing deterioration of these exceptional sites.

DR Congo is the only country in Africa with five natural sites on the World Heritage List. One by one, these sites were put on the Danger List at the request of the DRC, starting in the mid 90s due to civil war, widespread poaching and deforestation.

Virunga, Garamba, Kahuzi-Biega, Salonga National Parks and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, are home to a unique range of flora and fauna including the Mountain Gorilla, the Okapi  - a forest giraffe only found in DRC - and the near-extinct Northern White Rhino. The Congo basin forests are also the second largest forest block in the world after the Amazon.

“The world’s most precious natural sites are often the most vulnerable,” says Aimé Nianogo, Director of IUCN’s Central and West Africa Programme. “Now we have a chance to make a difference and we should grasp it, otherwise we risk losing not only emblematic species, but entire forest ecosystems, which provide the products and services necessary for the survival of 30 million people in Central Africa.”

IUCN, which is responsible for the evaluation and monitoring of these sites since the inscription of Virunga in 1979, has noted that while the situation in some of the sites, such as Okapi,has improved, other sites, such as Virunga, home of the Mountain Gorilla, are facing new threats like the ones from oil and gas exploration.

“The five World Heritage sites in DRC are of global importance, and need a global response to their critical situation - a stronger political committment by the government of DRC and the international community is crucial if we are to save these exceptional sites on which so many people depend,” says Nianogo.
 

Spokespeople:

• Aimé Nianogo, Director of IUCN’s Central and West Africa Programme, e. aime.nianogo@iucn.org
• Mariam Kenza Ali, World Heritage Conservation Officer, m. + 41 00 41 78 944 64 19, e. mariam.ali@iucn.org

For more information, and to set up interviews, please contact:

Borjana Pervan, Media Relations Officer, IUCN, m +41 79 8574072, e borjana.pervan@iucn.org

About IUCN

IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization, with more than 1,000 government and NGO members and almost 11,000 volunteer experts in some 160 countries. IUCN’s work is supported by over 1,000 staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NG and private sectors around the world. IUCN is the independent advisory body to the World Heritage Committee on natural heritage
www.iucn.org