Residents living near Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Virunga National Park last week expressed their renewed concern over the prospect of oil exploration in the area. Many community members rely on fishing in the park’s biggest lake for their food and income, but parts of the lake have been granted to European oil companies for possible development.
Civil society leaders issued a communiqué opposing any oil exploration within the boundaries of the national park and requesting participation in decisions over developments outside the park. Residents are particularly troubled by the possibility of water pollution in the lake harming fish, and other pollution tainting their drinking water or damaging their crops.
Community members called on the country’s government to respect international commitments that prohibit environmentally damaging activities in protected areas. Virunga National Park is a World Heritage Site and UNESCO holds that oil exploration is incompatible with the spirit of the World Heritage Convention.
Residents also requested that oil companies respect international environmental standards and take into consideration the needs of local communities. They are asking that a comprehensive environmental and social impact study be conducted with their involvement before activities move ahead.
The Congolese government suspended all oil exploration activities within Virunga National Park last year, but residents say oil company workers are continuing with their preparations in the area. Community members have previously expressed their support for the suspension at a public rally.