Press Release: 2 February 2022
Virunga, DRC: As we celebrate World Wetlands Day under the theme “People and Nature”, local communities and civil society in the Democratic Republic of Congo are calling upon the Congolese government to protect the Virunga National park by halting oil exploration activities within the park. The park, a UNESCO world heritage site, is home to unique flora and fauna including large colonies of hippos and around 200 of the critically endangered mountain gorillas. They want the government to prioritize investments in renewable energy sources to promote the sustainable development of the local economy.
In a petition calling on President Felix Tshisekedi to immediately halt all oil development activities in Virunga, the local communities and civil society are advocating for a fossil-free Virunga, in a bid to avert the adverse effects on the communities and the environment.
Christian Hounkannou of 350.org said,
“We are asking the government of DRC to put people and nature first. Virunga national park is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world. Oil exploration activities in the park and its surrounding areas could permanently damage the rich ecosystems and biodiversity of the area, and negatively impact hundreds of thousands of community members whose livelihoods depend on the park’s resources and activities.
Pascal Mirindi of Extinction Rebellion said,
“The Virunga national park, if protected, would drive economic growth in the area and uplift local communities. The government should thus act in the interest of its citizens by protecting them and creating opportunities that safeguard the communities’ livelihoods and preserve the natural resources in the region. Access to clean energy is an integral part of sustainable development and commitments to mitigate climate change should be driving efforts to develop sources of renewable energy.”
Notes for Editors
About Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park is the oldest protected area in Africa, having been established in 1925. Located in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the park was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and Ramsar wetland in 1996 due to its outstanding biodiversity. Despite its status as a protected area, the fragile ecosystem of this park has been facing repeated threats for oil exploration permitted by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Between 2005 – 2010, despite the ordinance Law of August 22, 1969 on nature conservation and international conventions ratified by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the government through the Ministry of Hydrocarbons approved licenses for oil concessions to SOCO International (Block V), Total (Block III) and Efora Energy (Block III) to search for oil, without restrictions regarding the sanctuary. After intense mobilisations from the frontline activists, Total and SOCO announced that they would stop all their operations within the Park’s borders. However, the danger remains because of the changes in the 2015 Congolese Oil Law that authorizes the President to grant oil exploration in the National Parks according to the Minister of Hydrocarbons. As a result, in 2017, the Congolese minister of hydrocarbons launched the operations of declassifying around 1,720.75 km2 of the Virunga Park (representing 21.5% of its total surface) to allow oil exploration in these protected areas.
For interviews and additional information contact: