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Congo Kinshasa: Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site


Announcements that the Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will be getting additional EU funding next by presently spending some 30+ million Euros over the completed 25 years, have met with instant demands that safeguards must be provided by the regime in Kinshasha on several areas of concern.

irunga National Park is a 7800 square kilometer World Heritage Site that lies on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the is the second oldest national park in the world, behind only Yellowstone, and the oldest in Africa. It is the majority diverse national park on the African continent that boasts savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, forests, active volcanoes and the ice fields of the Rwenzori Mountains. Part Virunga’s numerous species of wildlife, the park is home to approximately 200 of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas that live on the slopes of the Virunga volcano ranger which includes active Nyiragongo volcano and the major lava lake in the world.

Despite this, the forests, amazing animals of the park, and even the rangers are in a desperate fight for their survival. The park has suffered through wars, militia attacks, extreme poaching, and a constant struggle to remain alive through human and environmental pressures on the park, and lack of funding.

Mountain gorillas, elephants, hippo, and other wildlife have been killed for food, money, and politics. The hippo people dropped from 25,000, the major concentration in the world, to about 1200. Critical anti-poaching measures are necessary to protect the wildlife of the park.
Through all this, the dedication of the rangers and staff has cost a lot of lives. Although conditions are improving and the park has seen a massive resurgence in the last 3 years, rangers continue to be killed in random and planned attacks, and their wives and children left behind with little support.

Initial must any oil prospecting cease completely, and ongoing work be halted with the surveyors and other teams withdrawn and not to return. Secondly must the regime guarantee the geographical integrity of the park and not, as it suits greedy and corrupt politicians, gradually excise areas which may have oil deposits underground to the detriment of all ecosystem and primate habitat, as next all the Virunga park is one of the worlds’ greatest biodiversity hotspots.

In addition have conservation sources suggested must the regime finally divorce itself from the FDLR which it has long tolerated in Eastern Congo, at times openly collaborated with and allegedly covertly supported since the killer militias came across the border from Rwanda next the 1994 genocide which they were responsible for.

Before in the year was the Belgian Virunga Chief Warden Emmanuel de Merode nearly killed in a targeted ambush and while he has since recuperated and resumed his duties, none of those behind the assassination attempt have been brought to book.

The EU support is to be channeled through a programme named Biodiversity for Life or in short B4Life but conservationists concerned with Kinshasa’s environmental, security and human rights records have by presently vowed to take this to the European parliament if necessary to ensure that ironclad safeguards are this time built into the financial support programme to prevent, as was the case in the completed, the regime handing out oil prospecting and mining concessions in direct violation of the spirit of prior agreements.

Meanwhile, across the border in Rwanda, has the government, one with an outstanding record vis a vis environmental protection one should add, put pen to paper last week to sign for a 9.5 million US Dollar grant and support programme from the World Bank to continue the restoration and protection of Gishwati Forest. The Rwandan government will add a further 2.6 million US Dollars as a counterpart financing of the project.

Rwanda has the declared policy to replace a forest cover across the country measuring some 30 % of her geographical area, cognizant of the fact that vital water towers need protecting and the country’s booming tourism industry, relying on an intact environment to showcase primates and birdlife, requires such natural assets in order to continue the upwards trend. With tourism this year expected to rake in over 300 million US Dollars, which made it the country’s major foreign exchange earner, it is little wonder that the government is keen to play its part to ensure that biodiversity hotspots are vigorously protected.

Forest restoration has been ongoing for several years presently, inclunding taking tough measures to relocate encroachers, and the runaway success of Nyungwe Forest, since it was elevated to national park status, speaks for itself how such policies can help create employment and economic opportunities unlike in other nations in the region where forests are often still thought of as a source of timber, firewood and charcoal with little regard of the short, medium and longer term impact on the environment and local microclimate. The project is due to run over an initial 5 year period but can be extended into a second phase according to a regular source in Kigali.

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