Steps to Take in order to Help Local Communities in Virunga: Take Action

Local communities in Congo are too often left out of decision making and most certainly when it comes to natural resources. This region has a long history of violations of political, social, economic and environmental rights and is one of the most visible examples of the so-called “natural resources curse”, contributing to the destruction of local peoples’ lives and natural habitats and impeding any chances for sustainable development scenarios.

Local people know as no others the impact natural resources exploitation can have on their life, livelihoods and security. Since 2011 they have been asking questions and opposing any oil development (exploration and exploitation) in Virunga National Park.

They fear oil exploration activities in Virunga could bring many forms of pollution that will affect supply of food and other resources they depend on; they are also scared that water pollution of Lake Edward could have destructive consequences for the development of the North Kivu province as well as for the stability of the region.

Oil could bring a whole new set of conflicts and predative interests in a region plagued by mal-practices and weak governance. The communities are aware of the consequences of natural resource exploitation. These resources are at the basis of the fragile government and current conflicts in the eastern DRC.

Communities want the DRC Government to take its responsibility seriously

The communities also ask the DRC Government to uphold its position vis-a-vis the international community in the light of all international agreements and engagements the Goverment has with the international Community (UNESCO/ RAMSAR…).

As well as to look at alternatives based on the sustainable development scenarios, such as tourism, sustainable fisheries and renewable energy.

Bottom line when communities are able to access information, people start asking questions and vindicating their rights. This is a way of improving governance and to hold people to account for their actions. Herebelow are the steps we need to take in order to help local communities abreast of and involved in the decision making process around oil exploration in Virunga.

1. Communities need access to information

Communities need to be aware of what is happening at a local, provincial, national and international level. They need to be aware and prepared of the possible impacts of such economic and oil developments. They have a right to information.

2. Local mobilization and long-term engagement is key for the survival of Virunga

Communities need to be empowered and able to voice their concerns. If this is not done Governments and companies will co-opt their voices. Companies and oil interests can come back after many years of “inactivity”, long-term engagement at local level is Virunga’s first line of defense.

3. Local actors and communities need to be secured when expressing their views

Communities will be always the first frontline defenders, if they fall much is lost.

4.  Government and companies need to respect communities’ right to give or withhold their consent to proposed projects that may affect their livelihoods

Strengthening the FPIC principle is also key when joining forces in community conservation.

5. Support the new economic model for the development of the North Kivu based on the green potential of the park (Virunga Alliance). 

6. Collaboration and cohabitation between national, local and park authorities always need to be at the base of any sustainable development alternative model.

Virunga is one of the few win-win scenarios in Eastern DR-Congo. Local authorities, the national government and international community of DR-Congo have a real choice. They can choose for what is right for the stability of the country and for the Congolese people. Virunga offers a real option to oil; activities such as the development of tourism in the park could generate more resources and guarantees of security and sustainable development for local communities.

Help us spread the word and support the DRC government make the right choice  for the People, for Congo, for Virunga and Peace.