As the World Wetlands Day was celebrated on Wednesday, February 2, 2022 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 prioritise 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 350Africa.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.”