Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park (covering an area of 790,000 ha) comprises an outstanding diversity of habitats, ranging from swamps and steppes to the snowfields of Rwenzori at an altitude of over 5,000 m, and from lava plains to the savannahs on the slopes of volcanoes. Mountain gorillas are found in the park, some 20,000 hippopotamuses live in the rivers and birds from Siberia spend the winter there. © UNESCO
2020 Conservation Outlook
Current state and trend of VALUES
Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT
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Description of values
Aesthetically spectacular afro-montane and alpine landscape of Rwenzori Mountains
Spectacular Virunga volcanoes with frequent volcanic activity
Aesthetically spectacular concentrations of large mammal fauna in the savannah plains
Active and extinct volcanoes as a result of ongoing tectonic movements along the Albertine Rift
Exceptionally high biodiversity resulting from a unique combination of uninterrupted gradient of habitat types from 680m to 5,109m and geographic location within three bio-geographic regions.
Presence of several endangered and emblematic mammal species
Rwenzori Mountains, uplifted from the floor of the Albertine Rift as a result of recent (<3m years) movement of tectonic plates
Lake Edward has a high potential for fish production (estimated at 15,000 – 16,000 tons/year in 1989 (Vakily, 1989)) and is a vital resource for local populations. Fishing rights for local communities, regulated by a cooperative (COOPEVI), were preserved when the park was created (but COOPEVI is no longer functioning) (Draft Plan d’Aménagement et de Gestion du Parc National des Virunga, 2011-2015).
There has recently been an attempt to stem this destruction with the construction of hydro-electric structures outside of the park: Matebe power station (13.2MW) in 2015, Mutwanga II (1.4MW) in 2019, and Luviro (15MW) in 2020. In 2019, electric power was supplied to the city of Goma with a population of two million people (State Party of the DRC, 2020). These activities are carried out under the Virunga Alliance program and are intended to greatly strengthen park management and it's positive role in society. Other developments in sustainable energy, including large scale community tree planting and the adoption of fuel efficient stoves have reduced the people’s consumption of the park's forests for charcoal.
Park guards risk their lives daily, and many have been killed while on duty. This is still ongoing today with over 180 killed since the beginning of the civil war in 1996 (Virunga website, July 2020). This greatly erodes the morale of park staff and the insecurity that this creates undermines the management effectiveness of the park. No-go areas are created and morale is sapped by the frequent attacks on guards. There was an assassination attempt on the park director in April 2014 (UNESCO, IUCN and Ramsar, 2014). It is not known who carried out this attack but, added to the continuous attacks on park guards, this makes effective management of the park very difficult. On 12 May 2018, 7 park rangers and a Virunga Foundation staff member were killed in the Central Sector of the park and on 24 April 2020, 12 park rangers, a Virunga Foundation staff member and 4 civilians were killed at Rumangabo by FDLR militias (Virunga National Park, 2020). However the paramilitary capacities of the park guards are continually strengthened by the park's training programs. Since the establishment of the CorPPN (corps responsible for the security of national parks) command in April 2018, efforts from 2019 onwards will focus on launching the process of transforming anti-poaching units into CorPPN detachments in six priority sites in the DRC, including Virunga (PNKB, PNG, PNS, PNVi, PNL and RFO), training senior officers and maintaining logistics in the six sites (State Party of the DRC, 2020). This could greatly help secure Virunga NP and allow ICCN eco-guards to operate across the whole of the NP which they are unable to do at the moment, since the northern end remains under the control of the ADF and the Masisi area in the south (State Party of the DRC, 2020).
The World Heritage Committee has repeatedly expressed its concern regarding the existance of oil concessions in Virunga National Park and requested the DRC government to not issue any more exploration permits for Virunga NP (UNESCO, 2017; 2018; 2019). In 2020, the government reported that, for the time being, petroleum exploration does not represent a threat to the Outstanding Universal Value of Virunga (and Salonga) National Park since there is no exploration and exploitation activity, and such activities are no longer on the agenda (State Party of the DRC, 2020).
Potential threats from oil exploration remain, including in neighbouring Uganda where in May 2019, the minister of Energy and Mineral Development announced a second licensing open bidding of five oil blocks to further Uganda’s commercial interests in oil production, including the Ngaji block located in Queen Elizabeth NP which borders the DRC along Virunga NP and covers Lake Edward which is jointly split between DRC and Uganda (Save Virunga, 2020). This potential threat remains, with the agreement in April 2016 to construct an oil pipeline from Uganda to the coast of Tanzania. Over 60 DRC, Ugandan and International NGOs, along with UNESCO, signed a joint declaration to the Ugandan and DRC governments to prevent any exploration, extraction or related activities in the wider Virunga area.
With the completion of the Matebe power station (13.2MW) in 2015, Mutwanga II (1.4MW) in 2019, and Luviro (15MW) in 2020, efforts have been made to build relationships with the local populations including employment in tourism (UNESCO, 2017) and local enterprise (about 12,000 jobs are estimated to have been created (VF 2019). Of particular significance is the central role that national park staff played as a member of the Ebola and COVID-19 response committee, providing drinking water to 1.3 million people in the city of Goma by powering the city’s pumping stations free of charge during the crisis, and by managing Ebola points of control along the main roads passing through the park to prevent the spread of the Ebola epidemic into the larger cities and across borders into East Africa (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
In 2016, there was an expulsion of 7,000 cattle and 500 households from Karuruma-Kasaka-Bwino area of the park (State Party of the DRC, 2017), which caused tensions with local people. With the very high population density around the park (average 300 inhabitants/km² - maximum 600), it is inevitable that many stakeholders have little or no direct contact with park management and not all stakeholder needs are addressed. In 2016, a strategy to address some of these concerns was developed. A communication strategy for the dissemination of information on Virunga NP to local and international media has been established. In July 2016, there was a stakeholder meeting held in Beni with public officials, civil society and local development organisations on the illegal occupation of the park and peaceful ways of restoring its integrity (State Party of the DRC, 2017).
Relations with local people in the gorilla sector are generally good because gorilla tourism brings direct benefits (revenue sharing, employment, improved security). Revenue sharing mechanisms are reported to be in place and to fund community development initiatives, however it is unclear whether communities are effectively engaged in these processes (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
In 2019, ICCN signed a 30 year agreement with the fishing cooperative. In 2020, park management intends to work with stakeholders to coordinate the formulation of an improved regulatory framework for fisheries management on Lake Edward. This includes cooperation with Uganda in the development of a regional roadmap under the auspices of the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Tourism in 2019 generated almost USD 3 million, the most that has ever been raised in this sector in DRC. 20% of the tourism revenue returns to the park (the rest being split between local communities and ICCN head office. Tourism came to a standstill in early 2012 and remained so throughout 2013 because of insecurity, but high-end tourists are now staying at Mikeno Lodge, which opened in 2011. Since then, tourism has had to be suspended several times because of civil war, heightened insecurity and health emergencies (Ebola and COVID-19). While the funding situation is the best it has been for over 20 years, it undoubtedly falls short of full requirements but the park is expected to be financially self sufficient in 2022 thanks to tourism revenue and electricity sales, which currently cover 40% of operating costs (IUCN Consultation, 2020).
Eleven schools near the park have been built or rehabilitated by the park, using funds from public and private donors and from tourism revenues, and contribute significantly to awareness building. However, education and interpretation by the park authorities is constantly undermined by an active minority of corrupt local politicians who orchestrate a campaign of disinformation about the park, encourage illegal occupations, and lobby strenuously for degazettement of the park. The overriding daily urgency of dealing with illegal activities and attacks from armed militias means that park management probably has less time than it would like to devote to education and interpretation activities.
Quarterly meetings are held with main actors from civil society, the private sector and local government to address the park's problems and for consultations on its development strategies.
The national and global benefits in terms of nature conservation (biodiversity), recreation (tourism), water supplies and food (fish) are incontestable and of very high importance.
However, given the extraordinarily difficult context of eastern Congo (continuing war, absence of rule of law, extreme poverty, looting of natural resources) the benefits for communities outside the park are probably not appreciated at their real value. At the national level it is also a matter of very serious concern that the national and global benefits of the park appear to be undervalued (as evidenced by the possibility of degazettement as a result of oil exploitation, and the unwillingness/inability to confront the problem of illegal encroachments and the presence of armed militia).
|№||Organization||Brief description of Active Projects||Website|
|1||European Union||Support to improve general management of Virunga National Park||
|2||European Union||Micro-hydroelectric installation for Mutwanga||
|3||RAPAC||Tourism and training||
|4||Frankfurt Zoological Society (GEF funds)||Support to improve general management of Virunga National Park||
|5||UNESCO||Emergency support to central sector||
|6||Belgian Cooperation||Ranger training||
|7||WWF||Projet Ecomakala - alternative for charcoal production and also generating revenue to people living in the vicinity of the Park.||
|8||GVTC/Community||Water supply Rumangabo||
|9||UNHCR||Protection des femmes retournées et déplacées||
|10||Suez Electrabel Foundation||Suez Electrabel Foundation||
|11||PACEBCo||Ranger Training and anti-poaching||
|12||Virunga Alliance||Sustainable energy, sustainable fisheries, agro-industry, tourism|
|13||Water4Virungas||Support to water supply and reduction of human-wildlife conflict. Dutch-funded project, in collaboration with the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC), implemented by MDF Global, Wageningen University & Research, Witteveen + Bos and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme.||
|14||WWF (Sweden International Development Agency via WWF Sweden)||Leading the change (supporting Civil Society organisation and community based organisation interacting with policy makers and decision makers for having good governance on natural resources)|
|15||WWF (DGD, Belgium Government)||Protection of communities, indigenous people and their forest in DRC/North Kivu|
|16||WWF||Implementing agroforestry field to improve the environmental resilience of farmers in North Kivu|
|17||IGCP (Sweden International Development Agency via WWF Sweden)||Leading the change (Supporting Civil Society organization and community-based organization interacting with policy makers and decision makers to ensure good governance on natural resources). For both DRC, Rwanda and Uganda communities protecting gorillas.|
|18||IGCP (WWF-UK )||Support SMART implementation and Transboundary gorilla movement monitoring in ViNP|
|19||IGCP (WWF-Norway via WWF-Sweden)||Support patrols/Cleaning in ViNP|
|20||IGCP (Arcus foundation)||Improved tourism practices to contribute to risks reduction to gorillas|
|21||IGCP (The Netherland Kingdom – W4V project)||Support to Integrated Water resources management, conflict reduction and safe water provision around Mikeno sector|
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