afrol.com, 19 March - The World Conservation Union IUCN today appealed to the international community to stop buying coltan (colombo tantalite) which is being mined in contravention of restrictions in protected areas in Congo Kinshasa (DRC). IUCN is particularly concerned about the damaging impacts of this mining on the natural values of two universally important World Heritage sites: Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Okapi Wildlife Reserve located in the eastern part of the DRC.
It has been reported to IUCN that coltan mining is taking place in both World Heritage sites, which have been recognised by the UNESCO World Heritage Convention as being of 'Outstanding Universal Value'. It has been reported that over 10,000 miners have moved into the Parks and are largely relying on meat from wild animals (bushmeat) for food. Kahuzi-Biega National Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve are two of the most important sites in what is the richest part of Africa for wild species (biodiversity).
Says David Sheppard, IUCN's Head of Programme on Protected Areas: "Mining, together with the presence of so many people looking for food, is severely impacting on the ecology of these sites, and is in flagrant violation of World Heritage principles. Streams and forests are being degraded, the livelihoods of the indigenous people, the Mbuti, in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve are threatened, and wildlife is being destroyed at an alarming rate".
Sheppard also emphasises that species, such as elephants and the endangered eastern lowland gorillas, are currently being hunted. "It is feared that a large proportion of the elephant population in Kahuzi-Biega National Park has been killed as well as a significant number of gorillas, leaving the population at a dangerously low level", says Sheppard.
IUCN is also concerned that new and more appropriate forms of livelihood are found for the miners that have moved into these two sites. IUCN considers that those people have a right to expect a standard of living that is both sustainable in the long term and legal.
Coltan obtained from these sites is transported by air and sold to large multinational companies based in North America, Europe and Russia. Coltan is a precious hardening agent for metal used in a range of High Tech industries.
IUCN believes that such companies have an obligation to help find a satisfactory solution to the crisis. The organisation today launched three appeals: Firstly, it calls on buyers of coltan to ensure that the product they purchase does not come from these World Heritage sites in the DRC.
Secondly, while supporting the current efforts to remove miners from the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, IUCN called on the DRC authorities, and the neighbouring States of Rwanda and Uganda, to help enforce an immediate removal of miners from within the boundaries of both the affected World Heritage sites.
Thirdly, IUCN called on the buyers of coltan and the governmental authorities in DRC, Rwanda and Uganda to do everything in their power to find acceptable alternative livelihoods for all miners removed from the two World Heritage sites.
IUCN is making urgent representations at the highest level to underline its concerns and emphasises the need for immediate action. It will also be making recommendations in relation to this issue to the next World Heritage Bureau and Committee sessions in June and December 2001.
Under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, IUCN is the official advisor on the Natural Heritage to the World Heritage Committee. Each year, IUCN reports to the World Heritage Bureau and Committee on the State of Conservation of natural and mixed World Heritage sites. IUCN also makes recommendations to the Committee on how to mitigate or minimise threats to the natural values of World Heritage sites.
Source: Based on IUCN