The UN office charged with monitoring the health of the earth’s environment has just issued a warning of what is at stake in how Congo’s resources are used in the future. Some of the report’s findings starkly highlight the need for more sustainable use of the country’s vast wealth in natural resources:
1) With 80 million hectares of arable land,the DRC has the potential to be Africa’s granary but only around 3 percent of this land is presently under cultivation, mainly by subsistence farmers. Consequently, the DRC has the highest level of food insecurity in the world, with an undernourishment rate of nearly 70 per cent.
2) The Congo basin has the highest fish diversity of any African river and supports the largest inland fisheries on the continent, with an estimated potential production of 520,000 tonnes per year. While at the national level this resource is under-exploited with imports accounting for around 30 percent of fish consumption, uncontrolled exploitation has led to serious overfishing pressures at the local level.
3) Over half of Africa’s water resources and 13 percent of global hydropower potential flows through the DRC. Yet, only an estimated 26 percent of the DRC’s population has access to safe drinking water, one of the lowest supply rates on the continent. Similarly, access to electrification is estimated at 9 percent in a country with vast energy resources.
4) As the tropical world’s second largest forest carbon sink, the DRC’s forests are a critical global ecosystem service provider. The rate of forest loss estimated at 0.2 percent per annum remains relatively low, but is a growing problem in certain areas.
5) Its considerable untapped mineral reserves are of strategic importanceto the global economy (estimated to be worth USD 24 trillion). Yet the legacy of a century of mining in various parts of the country,and particularly in Katanga, has created considerable environmental liabilities and a new modern approach to mining is required. Currently, the DRC has the largest artisanal mining workforce in the world – around two million people – but a lack of controls have led to land degradation and pollution
6) The DRC has the highest level of biodiversity in Africa, yet 190 species are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. Up to 1.7 million tons of bushmeat (mainly antelope, duiker, monkey and wild boar) are harvested annually from unregulated hunting and poaching, contributing to species depletion.
The UN report also calls attention to the impact on the Congo’s environment of 15 years of occasionally intense fighting in many areas of the country. Most significant in this regard according to the report is the presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) “that still dot the landscape”. The international Mines Advisory Group announced this year that it had cleared 4 mine fields with 41 mines in the Disciples post of Ikela on the Tshuapa River.
With the release of this report, the UN Environmental Program hopes to stimulate a sizable increase in funding of sustainable development practices by international funders and the Congolese government. A doubling of aid is called for, including an increase of $200 million per year in funding for preservation of the environment. The report concludes with a summary call to action:
“The imperative for the DRC to overcome entrenched poverty and recover 20 years of lost development is immense. Long-term support and commitment from the international community to assist the DRC realise its massive potential as one of Africa’s richest countries and key engines for economic growth is essential.
To see the full report of the UN Environmental Program’s “Post Conflict Environmental Assessment of the DRC” go to : www.unep.org/drcongo.