How UNESCO Protects National Parks

The goal of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is to defend and build peace throughout the world. The organisation was formed during a post-war conference of 44 countries with the globally responsible objective to establish the “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind” during a time of major political unrest.

UNESCO coordinates the World Heritage List, which covers the management of some 10 million km2 of natural and/or historic land. To give an idea of the magnitude of the worldwide sites, this amounts to a combined landmass the size of China.

The World Heritage committee makes decisions on which sites should be listed in annual meetings. The organisation currently preserves 1073 heritage sites in 167 countries across the globe – 209 of these are natural land sites, including national parks. Many of them are also identified as ‘in danger’, meaning they require special attention. Lake Turkana National Park in Kenya has been acknowledged as needing precautionary measures this year to prevent threats to livestock and humans.

Protecting Wildlife

UNESCO encourages the World Heritage states governing a national park to contact them if there is a threat to their wildlife. The committee can then assess the threat, officially warn people worldwide that the national park is in danger and set about finding solutions to the problems. Once UNESCO are accepted, their lawyers can work alongside national governments to implement legislation which protects the wildlife and a long-term strategy can be put forward to help resolve potential future issues.

As an example, to illustrate this point, Lake Turkana National Parks currently suffer threats from game animal poachers. Therefore, mitigation measures and strategies are required by UNESCO officials for the sustainable long-term management and the development of an integrated plan. Kenyan Wildlife Services, who co-manage the national parks, can then be alerted of threats to their protected species. This plan would include law enforcement, education and awareness-raising to prevent Kenyan wildlife becoming endangered – which would severely impact tourism to the two national parks.

Protecting Nature

Protecting nature follows a similar procedure. A state gives details of how its national park is protected and UNESCO provides a management plan for its upkeep if the committee decides that extra measures are needed.

Measures are being considered to prevent draughts in Lake Turkana in Kenya. Global Warming may be a main cause for this, which is out of the control of the national parks. However, UNESCO contribute towards scientific research on preventing and mitigating the impacts of global warming on natural land all over the world.

Further threats to nature are water pollution, such as the siltation found in Lake Turkana, where sediment particles have fallen into the river. This is a naturally occurring process but requires managing the river walls and a potential clean-up operation for the river water.

Lastly, Virunga National Park in DR Congo is identified as ‘in danger’ due to mass deforestation. The UNESCO plan to improve management involved strengthening the surveillance of the park boundaries. Investment is low, but a crowdfunding campaign was set up in June 2018 to raise funds, which will be used to protect and preserve the land.

Gorilla gorilla beringei Mountain gorilla Family interaction during midday rest Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo.
IMPORTANT NOTE – WWF VIRUNGA CAMPAIGN 2013: Whilst this image was photographed in Virunga National Park DRC, WWF does not claim the actual animal(s) depicted were photographed in the ‘Block V’ area of Virunga National Park where oil extraction is intended to take place. WWF believes however that the increased human activity and infrastructure needed for oil extraction within Virunga National Park could lead to habitat degradation and place Virunga’s National Park’s gorillas at significantly increased vulnerability to poaching. Evidence suggests that ecotourism in the park, if managed sustainably, has the potential to bring in US$235 million per year. Equitable sharing of tourism revenue means benefits for communities and for the gorillas.