Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Ecosystems and beneficiaries
The Virunga National Park lies in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on the border with Uganda and Rwanda. It covers an area of 790,000 ha and includes a wide range of habitats from savannahs and swamps to lava plains, tropical rainforest and snowfields (UNESCO, 2014). The wide diversity of habitats produces exceptional biodiversity. Some of the largest wild animal concentrations in Africa occur along the rivers of the park (UNESCO, 2014), but it is most famous for its mountain gorilla population.
The local economy
The area has seen over two decades of armed conflict, which (in addition to the loss of countless lives) has caused the collapse of public infrastructure and the economy, so that it is now one of the poorest areas on the planet (AfDB/OECD, 2008). Tourism disappears each time there is a break-down in stability due to a return of violence to the area. Plans were recently announced for oil and gas exploration in the park, which although it might bring some employment opportunities, could have an overall detrimental impact on the local population (WWF/Dalberg, 2013).
Type of economic analysis undertaken
The study for WWF (WWF/Dalberg, 2013) identified all ecosystem services to be included in each value category and a valuation technique for each factor (Table 8).
Table 8. List of ecosystem services and their value technique in the WWF study. Source: WWF/Dalberg, 2013
This is largely a desk-based approach, with very limited collation of data in the field. The study notes the limited time (12 weeks) available for the review of key documents and interviews with stakeholders. Data availability limited the ability to include an economic value for all factors (e.g. use of Non-Timber Forest Products and absorption of pollution by the lake were not included). In addition to estimating current values the study also attempts to estimate the potential values if current challenges (such as security) are addressed.
Main findings from the study
The current total value of the ecosystem services and benefits provided by the park (or at least of those where values were able to be calculated) is estimated to be almost US$ 49 million a year (see Table 9). This is more than the foreign aid that DRC receives each year from the UK, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland combined (USAID, 2014). The majority of this value is associated with food production (fisheries). These are all use values and there is potential to increase these almost ten-fold, mainly through development of tourism. The assumptions behind this implicitly suppose significant long-term investment in tourism infrastructure. It is also argued that non-use values (i.e. the value that people in other countries place on knowing that the mountain gorillas still exist) could increase (though they would not be realised in the DRC economy). The values are calculated based on a previous study (Hatfield & Malleret-King, 2007).
Table 9. Current and potential value of ecosystem services and benefits in Virunga National Park. Source: WWF/Dalberg, 2013
General conclusions from the case study
The approach uses a number of different techniques to value a range of ecosystem services. This involves undertaking some limited data collection to enable the calculations to be performed. Such data collection can be time-consuming depending on the local circumstances. The study could be further improved by undertaking an additional study of household use of Non-Timber Forest Products as these can be important for local livelihoods (though this would involve significant extra field work). In addition, where potential values under future scenarios are estimated, sensitivity analysis should be carried out to test the significance of key assumptions on the outcome (e.g. visitor numbers, carbon prices, fish-stock recovery rates).