Congo Basin's forests face the chop

Posted: 3 February 2005

Two-thirds of the Congo Basin's forests could be lost within fifty years if illegal logging, poaching and smuggling of wildlife, and the illicit bushmeat trade continue, warns a leading conservation agency.

The Congo Basin's forests are provide food, materials, and shelter to some 20 million people. Photo: WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
The Congo Basin's forests are provide food, materials, and shelter to some 20 million people. Photo: WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
The Congo Basin's forests are provide food, materials, and shelter to some 20 million people. © WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey
Generous pledges made at the first Central African Heads of State Forest summit, in March 1999, resulted in millions of hectares of new forest protected areas, and cross-border co-operation to protect endangered wildlife.

But more needs to be done. Each year the Congo Basin loses around 1.5 million hectares of forest. Representatives from the governments of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Democratic Republic of Congo will be attending the latest summit to be held in Brazzaville (4-5 February 2005).

WWF, the conservation organisation, is calling for better border controls, sound management of protected areas, improved governance and participation of civil society, and responsible forestry to save the Congo Basin forests, the second largest area of tropical forest in the world after the Amazon.

Congo Basin map. Image: WWF
Congo Basin map. Image: WWF
"It is now almost six years since Central African leaders created history by getting together and taking action to save the Congo Basin forests," said Dr Claude Martin, Director General of WWF International. "Now, we are urging them to reconfirm their willingness, and to reinforce their efforts to protect this globally important natural heritage. This will involve improving governance and civil society participation"

Biodiversity storehouse

The richest ecosystems in Africa, the Congo Basin's forests are home to more than half of the continent's animal species - including most of the forest elephants left in Africa and the entire world's population of lowland gorillas. They also provide food, materials and shelter to some 20 million people.

Conservationists hope that Central African leaders will sign the first ever regional conservation treaty in Africa, and establish funding to carry the pledges through on the ground. The Congo Basin Forest Partnership has been set up, with US funding, to help conserve 29 protected areas, promote sustainable forestry, and conservation in 11 priority areas spanning the Congo Basin.

"As we celebrate the achievements, we must also acknowledge the challenges facing us," added Dr Martin. "Attempts to save the forests of the Congo Basin will only succeed if adequate funding is secured to back up strong political decisions."

The first summit culminated in the signing of the Yaoundé Declaration, a 12-point action plan. At the second summit, leaders will review progress made on conservation in the Congo Basin. They will also welcome two more Central African nations, Angola and Sao Tome e Principe, to the process.

Related link:

WWF International