The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has created the first-ever interactive map viewer for the Forest Atlas. Launched this year, the Atlas was made available by the World Resources Institute (WRI); the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation, and Tourism (MECN-T); and supported by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The goal of the Forest Atlas is to promote transparency within resource management and make forest monitoring activities public.
The interactive map viewer is a simpler version of the Interactive Forest Atlas of the Democratic Republic of Congo 1.0, released in 2006. The latest Forest Atlas has three goals: Information sharing across governmental and non-governmental sectors, providing accurate and complete forest information, and improving communication across management in forestry. To maintain updated data, MECN-T and WRI use new satellite images to monitor deforestation.
The latest Forest Atlas uses Geographic Information System (GIS) data to track information on ÛÏroads, logging and mining concessions, protected areas and detailed forest change,Û according to the World Resources Institute. Using the interactive map viewer, the public also can access the data organized by forest zoning, timber production, mining and forest cover change.
Diverse and rich forests cover two-thirds of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and forest activities contribute to 10 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. Serving as a carbon sink and featuring beautiful scenery, the DRC is known for its export of lumber that supplies jobs for tens of millions of citizens. But the lumber trade has been limited due to high transport costs and warfare.
Recently, an era of peace and political stability for the DRC has led to an increased interest in forestry as a source of wealth. Coupled with better infrastructure projects, the demand for wood products from the DRC has skyrocketed, especially from Asian markets. This has led to severe deforestation through building roads in the forests, depleting the forest canopy, higher charcoal demand, and a growing subsistence agrarian population.
To battle this deforestation, the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997 began to issue forest-logging permits, the first of the Congo Basin countries to do so. Currently, 75 percent of the logging sites have permits issued by the Ministry of Water, Forests, Hunting, and Fishing (MEFCP).
Later, the Democratic Republic of Congo partnered with the international community in 2002 to create the Forest Code. This code ÛÏmandated a broad list of environmental, management, and social requirements that would now apply to all logging operation titles in the DRC,Û according to the World Resources Institute. ÛÏIn 2005, the DRC launched a multi-stakeholder forest title conversion process, or legal review, designed to evaluate the compliance of existing logging titles (allocated under the previous regulatory framework), in view of converting those Û÷compliant’ titles into new forest concessions, in line with the new Forest Code.Û This legal review cancelled 91 of 156 such forest titles.
Even with this progress, however, the Democratic Republic of Congo still needed forest management to improve through day-to-day monitoring of logging, mining, and agriculture as well as having transparent and easily accessible information. In 2006, MECN-T joined the WRI to create the first interactive Forest Atlas of the DRC. The World Resources Institute calls it a ÛÏone stop shopÛ on logging activities, logging operator information, concession boundaries, and protected areas. The Atlas is designed to serve as a vehicle to help all stakeholders ÛÒ from government ministries and private operators to non-governmental organizations and local communities ÛÒ enforce regulations and defend their rights.
The World Resources Institute, with the help of U.S. Agency for International Development’s Central African Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE), also has created Atlases in Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic, and Republic of Congo.