VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK DRC
Virunga National Park, Africa’s most biodiverse protected area, exists to protect 1/3 of the world’s wild mountain gorillas, over one thousand species of mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian, and provide a brighter future to more than four million people affected by conflict.
Security Remains Volatile
The Park is located in a region best described as a low intensity conflict zone. Rangers are deployed throughout its territory, with the exception of its northern extremities, currently in the hands of the ADF-NALU militias, and the region of Masisi in the extreme South – a territory with a lower ecological value. The number of armed groups’ members is estimated at 1,500 and 3,000 individuals in and around the Park. These groups engage in criminal activities including trafficking of charcoal, illegal fishing, illegal agriculture, poaching for ivory and bush meat, kidnapping, and extortion (barriers and taxes).
Civilians are the first victims of armed groups, including through kidnappings and attacks. In a recent report, the Kivu Security Tracker estimates that 3,000 incidents claimed the lives of over 6,000 people between 2017 and 2019 in both South and North Kivu. Hundreds of kidnapping cases are also recorded each year. Human Right Watch published an in-depth investigation for the period 2017-2020 in the Rutshuru area specifically.
Armed groups are responsible for numerous violent deaths among civilians and the Park’s rangers. Over 200 rangers have been killed in the line of duty in the past 25 years.
The region has one of the highest population densities in Africa with around 300 inhabitants/km2. Five million people live within a day’s walk of the Park boundaries, one of the highest rural population densities in Africa.
The socio-economic conditions for the Park’s adjacent populations are extremely precarious. Outside the cities, residents live mainly off subsistence agriculture, livestock and fishing. Land in the region is fertile but yields remain low because of land tenure problems, lack of access to credit, insecurity and poor agricultural practices. The transformation industry for agricultural produce is largely absent, and there are few jobs outside smallholder farming. The poor state of the roads further adds to the challenges.
In North Kivu, more than 90% of the population survive below the extreme poverty threshold defined by the World Bank at 1.9 USD per day per person. Destitution is such that many of the poorest are entirely excluded from the monetary economy and daily work is often paid for in food or agricultural products.