Providing support for heritage conservation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is renowned for the diversity of its natural habitats and their incredibly varied wildlife. Nature conservation and the sustainability of natural resources are of the utmost importance in the DRC.
Its World Heritage sites host a great range of biodiversity. Unfortunately the consequences of domestic difficulties and successive wars damaged these sites to such an extent that they are currently inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The sites are very large, often hard to reach and in some cases inaccessible. The total lack of cartography for DRC World Heritage sites proved a great obstacle for their conservation. Lack of data impeded planning and implementation efforts and it was extremely difficult for park rangers and the Congolese Nature Conservation Institute (ICCN) to manage these large areas. The frequent use of GPS by the park rangers, for example, was hindered by their inability to match GPS points captured in the terrain to an accurate map.
In such circumstances, using satellite imagery proved to be an ideal way to monitor the sites, assess changes and derive accurate cartography. The generous support of the Government of Belgium and its Office for Federal Science Policy has enabled UNESCO to work in partnership with Belgian universities and derive accurate cartography of the Salonga, Okapi and Garamba World Heritage Sites using satellite imagery.
Through this Open Initiative project and a second project focusing on gorilla conservation in Central Africa, UNESCO was able to create the first and only set of accurate cartography of the five DRC World Heritage sites. Accurate, basic cartographic products were derived from satellite imagery for all DRC World Heritage sites.
With the assistance of the Belgian universities, capacity-building activities were undertaken to familiarize park rangers with the use of a simple integrated cartographic management system. Non-governmental organizations that work closely with ICCN provided significant assistance and complementary data for this UNESCO project, which also benefited from a generous contribution from the UN Foundation. Most of the ground activities were covered by joint UNESCO and UN Foundation projects, implemented by the World Heritage Centre.
The collective outputs of the project were the source of an information management system known as SYGIAP (Integrated Management System for the Protected Areas). SYGIAP is a Geographical Information System that now constitutes the basis for conservation planning at ICCN headquarters and by local authorities for each of the five DRC World Heritage sites.