Published September 17, 2004 12:42 PM

Can Congo's Endangered Species and National Parks Be Protected During Times of War?

Paris, September 16, 2004--The United Nations Foundation (UN Foundation) has announced that it is renewing its commitment to support the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) efforts to protect biodiversity in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In 2000, UNESCO confronted a difficult challenge regarding DRC national parks that also were listed as endangered World Heritage Sites: Can biodiversity be protected in a region ravaged by war?

The response was a programme, the first of its kind, called the "Biodiversity Conservation in Regions of Armed Conflict: Conserving World Heritage Sites in the DRC," and initiated in cooperation with the UN Foundation and with the government of the DRC. One of the programme's key elements was ensuring that the guards, the "pillars" of the parks' system, would continue to be able to do their work in a time of turmoil.

On September 16 and 17, UNESCO, the Belgian government, the UN Foundation and its partners will host "Congo: Heritage in Danger," the first major event in support of these endangered sanctuaries. The event, an international donors' conference in Paris, aims to raise at least $5 million to pursue the program to conserve this environmentally rich area.

"Conserving biodiversity and habitat is one of the major objectives of the UN Foundation. UNESCO's World Heritage Convention has provided the diplomatic umbrella necessary to protect the five World Heritage parks of the Congo, which are teeming with the most extraordinary wildlife in Africa," said Timothy E. Wirth, president of the UN Foundation. "More than ever, it is vital to continue to preserve these sites, which are part of the exceptional oxygen-providing Congo Basin, second only to the Amazonian forest. We encourage other donors, institutions and corporations worldwide to join us in this project."

The five endangered Congolese World Heritage Sites?the National Parks of Virunga, Garamba, Kahuzi-Biega and Salonga, and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve?abound in endangered species such as bonobo chimpanzees, wild okapis, most of the surviving mountain gorillas, and the last surviving northern white rhinoceros.

Situated primarily in the northeast of the country, on the border with Rwanda, Uganda and Sudan, the parks have been devastated by armed conflict. They also have been threatened by poverty, mining, poaching and refugees who have moved into park territory, killing endangered animals and destroying their habitat. Guards must often risk their lives in the struggle to maintain the Congo's heritage.

At the conference, the UN Foundation will pledge an additional $1.2 million to the conservation programme in core and matching funds. This new commitment brings the total funds awarded to this program by the UN Foundation to more than $4.2 million. Over the past five years, the UN Foundation has awarded more than $47 million in core and partner funds to support World Heritage sites.

A one-day workshop will take place the day prior to the conference to foster partnerships among the government of the DRC, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and international financial institutions such as the World Bank, to mobilize further support to preserve biodiversity in the country.

Other sessions will address the European Space Agency's monitoring of biodiversity by satellites as well as the Great Apes Survival Program (GRASP).

Complete conference program and photos available.

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The United Nations Foundation (UN Foundation) was created in 1998 with businessman and philanthropist Ted Turner's historic gift to support UN causes. The UN Foundation promotes a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world through its support of the United Nations and its Charter. Through grantmaking and by building new and innovative public-private partnerships, the United Nations Foundation acts to meet the most pressing health, humanitarian, socioeconomic, and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

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