From June 24th till July 6th, the World Heritage Committee and State Parties will be gathering in St Petersburg for the 36th session of the World Heritage Committee. The conservation status of our most precious places on earth will be discussed and decisions will be made to safeguard those places for future generations.
In a joint position paper of 7 NGOs we urge the DRC Government to ensure that the provisions of the World Heritage Convention are upheld, and to explore alternative development models for Virunga area which do not rely on oil exploration and development inside the current boundaries of Virunga National Park.
FZS absolutely opposes any oil exploration activities within the boundaries of Virunga. We hereby call upon the oil companies involved along with the British, French and South African governments, to uphold your legal, moral and ethical obligations by complying with national and international laws and to recognise your shared responsibilities for any social and environmental impacts exploration activities may have.
SOCO and Ophir have both published that they have exploration plans for inside the boundaries of Virunga, and to date, of all the other companies, Total alone have stated publicly that they will refrain from operating within the park.
Established in 1925, Virunga National Park is the oldest park in Africa and is unrivalled in its biological and geological diversity. The region is extremely species-rich, harbouring more endemics than any other park in Africa and it has the greatest landscape diversity between 3,000 and 16,000 feet anywhere in the world. In 1979 it was designated a UNESCO world heritage site for its exceptional levels of biodiversity, considered of global importance and furthermore, Virunga’s ecosystems support millions of people on both a local and international scale.
Consumptive use of resources from a national park in the DRC is illegal, deemed so by the DRC government and additionally for Virunga, by its World Heritage status. Currently 85% of Virunga has been designated into three different oil block concessions. Block III and block V, together containing 4865km2 (62.36%) of the park, have already been sold to various international oil and gas exploration companies including Total S.A. (France), SOCO International (UK), Ophir (UK), SacOil (South Africa) and DIG (South Africa), with the DRC Government retaining a certain percentage. SOCO and Ophir have both published that they have exploration plans for inside the boundaries of Virunga, and to date, none of the other companies have stated publicly that they will refrain from operating within the park.
Oil exploration and development practices will have both primary and secondary impacts on the Virunga environment. Primary impacts such as forest fragmentation and breaks in the continuous canopy, caused by roads, pipelines or other developments, have been shown to correlate with loss of landscape and ecological connectivity, loss of habitat, loss of species, and structural and functional ecosystem changes that have implications even outside of the immediately disturbed areas.
Secondary impacts which are the result of other people’s decisions and activities triggered by the project’s presence most commonly include habitat conversion; degradation and fragmentation; wildlife disturbance and loss of species; air, water and soil pollution; deforestation; soil erosion and sedimentation of waterways; soil compaction; contamination from improper waste disposal; and loss of productive capacity and degradation of ecosystem functions.
These secondary impacts are commonly the direct result of large influxes of people who relocate in expectation of receiving benefits from new industry. Based on past experiences, in Virunga we can expect to see an immediate increase in natural resource use including deforestation for illegal land use change and charcoal production, bushmeat hunting and illegal fishing in Lake Edward. The potential contamination of Lake Edward would destroy a vital source of fresh water and protein for local human populations, and as a source of the great Nile River, would have a huge impact on water security for millions of people.
A further significant and recognized impact of oil exploration includes the introduction of alien invasive species, considered by IUCN as one of the greatest threats facing biodiversity globally and according to UNDP, is the greatest threat facing Africa’s wildlife. Furthermore, the Energy and Biodiversity Initiative recognizes introduction of non-native species as a major threat posed by industry to the environment. Intact, extensive ecosystems have a greater chance of resisting the incursion of alien invasive species. Since one of the characteristics of alien invasive species is their ability to adapt to disturbed environments, even minor disturbances can provide an opportunity for invading species.
Virunga National Park is home to exceptional biodiversity including much of central Africa’s mega-fauna, and containing more bird, mammal and reptile species than any other protected area on the African continent. It is also already one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The proposed development of oil exploration and the potential exploitation that will follow are not only illegal, but grossly negligible to both the conservation of the park and its species, and the welfare of the people who live there.
This Position Paper is a joined publication of: