DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (formerly ZAIRE)
Total forest area: 133,610,000 ha
% of land area: 58.9%
Primary forest cover: n/a
% of land area: n/a
% total forest area: n/a
Annual change in forest cover: -319,400 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -0.2%
Change in rate 90-00 vs 00-05: -37.6%
Annual loss of primary forests: n/a
Annual deforestation rate: n/a
Change in rate 90-00 vs 00-05: n/a
Social services: n/a
Multiple purpose: n/a
None or unknown: n/a
Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 133,610,000 ha
Modified natural: n/a
Production plantation: n/a
Production plantation: n/a
Plantations, 2005: n/a
% of total forest cover: n/a
Annual change rate (00-05): n/a
37,376 M t
Below-ground biomass: 8,970 M t
Area annually affected by
Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 870
Critically endangered: 0
Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 4,1991000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 78,7951000 m3 o.b.
Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: n/a
Wood fuel: n/a
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: n/a
More forest statistics for Congo DR
Despite this richness, over the past ten years DR Congo's forests have been the site of terrible violence and immense human suffering, which spilled over from Rwanda and neighboring African countries.
The Second Congo War was a conflict that began in 1998 and still flares up on occasion today, although it officially ended in 2002. The war involved nine African nations and resulted in the deaths of about 3.8 million people, mostly from starvation and disease. The war is considered the deadliest conflict since World War II and has displaced millions from their homes as well as having a major impact on the environment and native wildlife of Congo DR
During the war, fighting and the movement of millions of refugees through forest regions decimated wildlife and took a heavy toll on protected areas. Virunga National Park suffered extensive damage by armed bands of soldiers and refugees from neighboring camps, who harvested some 36 million trees from the park and hunted gorillas and other animals. Garamba National Park, near Sudan, experienced raids from Sudanese soldiers who hunted endangered wildlife using automatic weapons, while Okapi Faunal Reserve, home to the Ituri Forest and more species of monkeys (13) than anywhere else in the world, was ravaged by refugee migrations and marauding bands of militias, who looted and stole conservation equipment and killed park staff. One staff member of Okapi Faunal Reserve—Corneille Ewango of the Wildlife Conservation Society—was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2005 for his efforts to protect the reserve. Now that most of the fighting has died down, groups are assessing the damage. A 2005 survey by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund found higher-than-expected numbers of eastern lowland gorillas.
While DR Congo's protected areas have faced a number of challenges in recent years, the country has a long history of national parks including being the first country in Africa to create a national park (Virunga National Park for mountain gorillas in 1925). Already more than 8 percent of DR Congo is protected in reserves, and the government has announced it aims to expand these conservation areas to 10-15 percent of the country. Traditionally, parks in DR Congo have been well-managed compared to protected areas in surrounding countries. Before the war, parks were largely funded by fees collected from tourists, so there is hope that returning tourists—encouraged by wildlife and the reconstruction of park facilities—will boost conservation in the country. Still, tourists will not return unless they can be assured that the country is once again safe for foreigners. In the immediate future, Congo's parks will need to overcome a number of challenges including corruption, continued incursions by armed militias, weak law enforcement, and lack of funds.
DR Congo's government has lately taken a strong interest in protecting the country's forests. In 2002, the government imposed a ban on the allocation of new logging concessions. While the moratorium was widely ignored, in 2005 the government received a $90-million grant from the World Bank to help it police existing forestry concessions, control new concessions, and develop sustainable management plans for its forests. The government also joined the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, a group of tropical developing nations that sought—and won—money from industrial countries for rainforest protection at the November 2005 climate conference in Montreal.
In coming years the government of DR Congo will be in the unenviable position of having to balance the need to conserve its forests with the needs of its increasingly destitute population—all the while trying to promote stability and economic growth, while servicing its debt. There will be considerable pressure to turn towards forests—at least 60 percent of which are suitable for logging—as a source of income. The economy of DR Congo has long been highly dependent on natural resource extraction—especially timber harvesting and mining—and this is unlikely to change in the near future.
On the horizon, the greatest threats to DR Congo's forests look to be subsistence and plantation agriculture; fuelwood collection; poaching, already widespread; increased logging; mining, and hydroelectric projects. DR Congo has 13 percent of the world's hydroelectric potential. Infrastructure investments could rapidly drive new development, which has been stymied over the past 30 years by impassable roads, failing electricity grids, and crumbling transportation systems.
With vast forests, exceedingly high biodiversity, extraordinary hydroelectric potential, and substantial endowments of cobalt (28 percent of the world's supply), copper (6 percent), and industrial diamonds (18 percent), DR Congo should be a relatively rich country. Instead, years of widespread crippling corruption and mismanagement have left it one of the world's poorest countries. But there's still hope that smarter, more accountable use of resources, combined with sustainable development initiatives and conservation efforts, can bring a brighter future to the people of DR Congo.
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Suggested reading - Books
- In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo
- The Congo: From Leopold to Kabila: A People's History
Unless otherwise specified, this article was written by Rhett A. Butler [Bibliographic citation for this page]
Contact me if you have suggestions on other rainforest-related environmental sites and resources for this country.
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Last updated: 4 Feb 2006