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Artists, activists raise awareness on dangers of oil exploration in Virunga National Park

Artists, musicians, poets, community members and climate activists on Thursday, December 8, 2022, in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), joined forces to raise awareness on the dangers of oil exploration in Virunga National Park.

Virunga National Park
Virunga National Park. Photo credit: World Heritage Sites/Peter Howard

The group hosted a creative arts space aimed at highlighting the Fossil Free Virunga campaign, which faults the government for issuing licenses for oil exploration in the park, which is Africa’s oldest national park, and calls for a halt to oil development activities in the area.

The event featured song, dance, music and art to highlight the risks posed by oil exploration activities to the environment, endangered species of wildlife, and the livelihoods of local communities.

Climate activists have also opposed plans by the government to auction off new oil and gas blocks, some of which are located in the Congo basin – the second biggest rainforest worldwide and one of the world’s largest carbon sinks.

Landry Ninteretse, Regional Director of 350Africa.org, said: “The protection and conservation of sensitive ecosystems is crucial to averting climate catastrophe. It is thus regrettable that the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo opened up the Virunga National Park, an area composed of unique ecosystems and home to a rich biodiversity, to oil exploration activities by issuing licenses to fossil fuel companies. In addition, the government plans to auction off new oil and gas blocks, some in the sensitive ecosystem of the Congo Basin. Inviting big oil into the Congo Basin is a historic mistake that contradicts the government’s ambition of becoming a ‘solution’ country in relation to climate change.

“Oil exploitation would be the origin of massive pollution that would affect all the elements of the Virunga ecosystems, causing premature death and severe injustices and health problems for local populations. We urge the government of DRC to protect the Congo Basin rainforest and millions of people around it by stopping the issuance of licenses for these harmful oil exploration activities and charting a path to a sustainable energy future for its people.”

Bonaventure Bondo, Climate activist in Kinshasa, DRC, said: “As communities on the frontline of climate change, we know all too well the impacts of fossil fuels to our vulnerable continent. We urge our government to halt fossil fuel exploration activities, especially in our protected areas, as they are destroying our environment, affecting wildlife, neighbouring communities and the global climate.

“We urge the government to act in our best interests as citizens by protecting our environment and creating opportunities that benefit 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 alternative and renewable energy.”

Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest national park and a UNESCO World heritage site, located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is also one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world and home to the endangered mountain gorillas.

Between 2005 and 2010, the Government of DRC, through its Ministry of Hydrocarbons, approved licenses for oil concessions to foreign fossil fuel companies like Efora, Total, Socco, Dominion Petroleum to explore and operate seismic tests. This move was in violation of Ordinance-Law 69-041 of August 22, 1969, on nature conservation and international conventions ratified by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 

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