Every year, June 5 celebrates the World Environment Day. This is the opportunity to assess progresses and achievements. In this area, DR Congo sustains huge efforts, in particular regarding forest conservation.
Almost as big as the European Union with 2 345 410 sq. km, DRC has the second largest rainforest in the world, afterAmazonia. With an equatorial climate and a large tropic zone, this country presents an exceptional ecosystems diversity and a unique biodiversity on the continent. DRC hosts several endangered groups such as white rhinos or mountain gorillas and endemic species such as bonobos or okapi.
DRC has now 8 national parks, 25 reserves and 30 protected areas. Created in 1925, the Virunga Park is the oldest in Africa and it is listed by the UNESCO. The Salonga Park is the largest forest reserve in the world.
The Congolese government sustains a reforestation strategy with wood species providing high ecological value such as eucalyptus, acacias and pines. During the UN Conference ofNagoyaorganized in 2010, DRC stated the commitment to turn 17% of the territory into protected areas ─this is 440 000 sq. km, a surface exceeding the size of Germany.
DRC doesn’t face the same deforestation issue thanBrazil. There are no road projects impacting the balance of ecosystems, no massive deforestation caused by agribusiness, and no extensive overexploitation. Actually, the daily human activity is the main impacting factor.
7 years of war between 1996 and 2002 have indeed causes massive displacements of population, uncontrolled resettlements and a predation to survive in the forest regions.
Therefore, the Congolese forest suffers from micro activities extremely difficult to circumvent. This is the case in particular for illegal logging of timber, slash-and-burn farming, or illicit charcoal-burning. Today, some 40 million people are living in the forest areas and this reality cannot be ignored.
The Congolese government is aware that such a nature heritage is an opportunity but also a huge responsibility. The 1969 Law on nature conservation has been complemented with a series of decrees. The 2002 Forestry Code classifies forests into 3 main categories: conservation, exploitation and reconversion.
However, now protected with greater vigilance, the Congolese forest should not be “sanctuarized” at the expense of the population living there. Human and economic developments require a balanced and disciplined management of natural resources. Conservation and exploitation are fully compatible when they are properly regulated and rigorously controlled.
Without doubt, there is a better environmental awareness in DRC. This is a huge progress considering that the concept of public asset is a recent idea. The government strives to get the local authorities more involved, in particular through the community management of forests. Incentive programs are also developed to get the adhesion of locals in support to the long term benefits of a preserved environment. Alternative activities and solutions are proposed.
Making Virunga a model
In this regard, the Virunga Park receives a specific attention. The perspective of possible oil exploitation comes with unprecedented safeguard measures. They are enforced both to the benefit of environment and to the benefit of local populations.
First, the government is conducting a strategic environmental evaluation of the exploitation activities in the Albertin Rift. This is the first ever assessment of this kind for an onshore oil project on the continent.
Second, any economic projects that doesn’t meet the environmental specifications is rejected. This was the case for the first plan of the SOCO DRC, the main operator. Currently, exploration evaluations are conducted without physical incursions in the region.
Therefore, resolutely committed to a strategy for sustainable development, DRC strives to balance the equation between man and nature ■