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No letup in drive to save DRC national parks from oil exploration

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government announced last month it was considering opening up two of its national parks that are UNESCO World Heritage sites to oil exploration. It said in a statement a committee would establish plans to declassify parts of Virunga and Salonga in a move to increase oil production.  This triggered both local and international outrage and it seems the issue is not going to be wished away soon.

According to latest reports, during the 15th extraordinary Minister's council, Congolese ministers adopted the decisions taken at the 11th Council of Ministers held on June 8, 2018, in which it was decided to set up an inter-ministerial commission to rule on the partial decommissioning of Virunga and Salonga.

The Minister for hydrocarbons Aimé Ngoie Mukena was reported as declaring that, "the government is aware of its international commitments on the conservation and protection of Virunga National Park, and will not exploit oil in this site. However, it cannot be prevented from thinking about its oil wealth.”

This latest statement is seen as a slap in the face of organizations and individuals who have stood up stoically to oppose this encroachment of the national parks for oil exploration.

They have rightly argued that the move could leave thousands of fishermen and farmers who depend on the land struggle to survive.

Conserv Congo has also started a drive to collect million signatures to save the two national parks from oil drilling.

It said in a twitter statement that “Conserv Congo appeals to the President of the Republic to use his authority to save our two world heritage sites from an imminent disappearance by stopping this deadly and vexatious approach that will bring more problems than solutions to the Congolese population.

We also call upon the international community, the United Nations and all media as well as other environmental across the world to put pressure through any means possible to stop this Congolese government's madness.”

Conserv Congo said pending the final decision, environmental civil society and many other conservation partners do not intend to disarm. “They intend to lead lobbies at all levels so that any project going in the direction of any oil exploitation cannot exist, at least not in the protected areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

 

“There are lake-shore communities, especially in Virunga, that are very dependent on fishing and on the park’s integrity,” said Pete Jones of environmental advocacy group Global Witness.

However, Congolese state spokesman Lambert Mende told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the government will study the potential impact of oil drilling on local communities before they proceed.

The government has previously defended its right to authorize drilling anywhere in the country and said it is mindful of environmental considerations, such as protecting animals and plants, in the two national parks.

 The parks, which together cover an area about the size of Switzerland, are among the world’s largest tropical rainforest reserves and home to rare species including forest elephants.

The Virunga Community Programs, in statement said this move should be resisted at all costs saying letting it to be carried on will lead to loss of biodiversity, pollute water and release into the atmosphere huge amounts of carbon dioxide.

“We are against any move that’s intended to harm wildlife and existence of people not only in the DRC but also around the world. As an organization concerned with environmental conservation in the Virunga massif, we cannot sit and watch as part of our national heritage is now being threatened with wanton destruction,” says Virunga Community Programs, a non-profit organization with its headquarters in Goma, DRC

Virunga Community Programs says it believes in responsible tourism and environmental conservation and that man should not interfere with nature since a human can decide not to a mine in this river or drill in that park.



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