The decision by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to allow drilling of oil in the Virunga and Salonga National Parks has attracted condemnation by ecologists, who claim that the venture will negatively impact the flora and fauna.
Declared World Heritage Sites in 1979 and 1984 by UNESCO, the Virunga and Salonga National Parks are said to be home to some of the planet’s last mountain gorillas who roam the forests there.
Salonga National Park, for example, is a key habitat for the bonobo, an endangered great ape. The park is home to around 40 percent of the remaining population, it was gathered.
Reinhard Behrend of the Rainforest Rescue, a German conservation advocacy group, says: “What’s the point of having protected areas if politicians can simply hand them over to the fossil fuel industry?
“For wildlife lovers, the name Virunga has a magical ring. The national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a refuge for some of the planet’s last mountain gorillas, guarded by rangers who risk their lives to protect the great apes. Salonga National Park is a key habitat for bonobos, home to around 40 percent of the remaining population.
“It’s not surprising that UNESCO declared the areas World Heritage Sites in 1979 and 1984.
“Now, Congolese President Kabila wants to delist thousands of square kilometers of the parks. The government feels that it has a right to exploit mineral wealth anywhere within its borders – and it is not about to let a World Heritage Site or two stand in its way. If the plan is realised, it would make a mockery of the whole concept of protected areas.”
“The threat to the environment that this would entail is alarming,” he stressed, adding that exploring and drilling would:
- destroy the habitat of bonobos and gorillas, as well as many other species
- trash forests that are crucial to protecting our climate
- endanger nesting sites of migratory birds
- pollute the Congo and Nile river systems
“In May, a total of 19 environmental organisations from the province of North Kivu published an open letter (in French) to warn of the impact of shrinking the national parks. They now want to mobilise the people of the region to step up the pressure on the government in Kinshasa. Their goal is to collect 100,000 signatures on a national petition,” said Behrend, adding that Rainforest Rescue has also launched a parallel, worldwide campaign to protect Virunga and Salonga.
Members of the Climate Change Network of the Democratic Republic of Congo (RCCRDC) are expressing disapproval over the project.
“We take the option of disavowing this project, whose ins and outs are not under the control of the Congolese people, especially during this period. where all our thoughts are turned to the choice of leaders to overcome national selfishness by integrating the notions of international community and humanity,” said Appolinaire Zag Abe Kamanyula, executive director of the RCCRDC.
Kamanyula adds: “The wrath of this coalition lies in the fact that these two reserves, moreover, heritage of UNESCO, are strategic areas and real shields against global warming. The RCCRDC is protesting against this mining operation as it could lead to the expropriation of arable land in many local communities and have negative economic impacts on the activities of fishermen on Lake Edward. The region generates approximately $90 million annually. The value of the deposit is estimated at $6.758 billion barrels against $1 billion that the operator proposes to exploit the area.”