Since the 1990’s, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been a victim of a succession of armed conflicts on its eastern border, the first regional war in Africa that has involved at least six other countries. These wars have negatively impacted the DRC socially, economically and environmentally, creating a dramatic humanitarian crisis where more than 6 million Congolese have died since 1998, followed by the continued, systematic sexual violence and human rights abuses.
These foreign armies have “officially” been withdrawn from the DRC but have, in reality, left behind numerous militia groups that continue to plunder eastern DRC for economic reasons–exploiting the rich natural resources that both bless and curse this nation, namely in the form of minerals that are highly sought after for the manufacture of electronics (cell phones, laptops, etc.). These militarized groups are actively mining and terrorizing local communities throughout eastern DRC and the areas in and around the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, where Strong Roots works.
Why this area is important…
The Congo Basin forest (the largest part of which is located in the DRC) is the world’s second largest expanse of forest after the Amazon. It accounts for 26% of the world’s remaining tropical rain forest. There is high human pressure on this forest, which is currently disappearing at a rate of 0.6% per year. The total annual deforestation rate in the region is estimated to be around 934,000 hectares (roughly 2.3 million acres). It is here, in the eastern part of DRC, that the endangered and endemic Eastern Lowland Gorilla, and many other species of animals, make their natural home. Estimated to number around 17,000 at the end of the twentieth century, the Eastern Lowland Gorilla population is perhaps as low as 1,000 today. The main reasons for this staggering plummet in numbers are the 15 years of continued military and mining operations in the area and the extreme poverty of the surrounding communities which increase pressure for “bush meat”, poaching, exploiting the National Park for fuel and other resources for subsistence.
In this decade, mining activities, bush meat trades and human poverty, including the threats of climate change, have markedly increased in and around the park, putting the Eastern Lowland Gorillas in a high risk of extinction.