Virunga Park is at a stake due to oil exploration plans

Virunga National Park

Africa’s oldest world heritage park is valued up to $1.1 billion U.S dollars annually if developed sustainably, rather than handing in the UNESCO site for oil extraction purpose which could resulted to a detrimental effect according to the WWF Report.

The Virunga park has a potential in providing up to 40, 000 permanent job opportunities via investments in hydropower, the fishery industry and ecotourism, according to analysis conducted by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, an independent consulting firm.

According to The Economic Value of Virunga National Park, the allocated oil which is planned to be extracted consists of 85% of the Virunga park which could possibly affect the environment as well the locals’ wellbeing.

The report added that allowing the exploration of oil in one of the most rich in biodiversity parks available in Africa is a huge risk. “Virunga represents a valuable asset to Democratic Republic of the Congo and contributes to Africa’s heritage as the oldest and most biodiverse park on the continent,”

In June, the UNESCO have appealed to both concession holders Total SA and Soco International PLC for oil exploration in one of the most  valuable assets of Africa. While Total SA displayed a respectful response by acknowledging  the potential risk of oil exploration in Virunga, this leaves the British based oil company SOCO which has yet to back down from its agenda.

“Virunga’s rich natural resources are for the benefit of the Congolese people, not for foreign oil prospectors to drain away,” said Raymond Lumbuenamo, Country Director for WWF-Democratic Republic of the Congo. The park is  the source of economic development as well as the livelihoods of 50 000 people. The oil exploration  will only impose feasible risks  such as water pollution which will affect those who are dependent on it.

Oil spills, pipeline leaks and gas flaring could contaminate the air, water and soil in the area with toxins, according to the report. It says studies of other oil producing regions have found that oil can cause health problems and fuel conflict.

The oil exploration will affect the biodiversity of the park including endangered species such as the mountain gorillas that are living there.

At the moment there are oil companies eyeing to get their hands on Virunga park and this is where the line is drawn. “Virunga has snow fields and lava fields, but it should not have oil fields,” added  Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of WWF International.

Today WWF is launching a campaign aimed at protecting Virunga National Park from oil extraction. The organization is calling on Soco to abandon its plans to explore for oil in Virunga and all other World Heritage Sites.

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