BREAKING: Virunga Communities Ask DRC President Kabila to Stop Oil Exploitation in Iconic National Parks

The communities bordering Virunga National Park (North Kivu) presented on Wednesday, September 26, in Kinshasa, a collective petition addressed to President Joseph Kabila to say “no to any initiative to degazette national parks Virunga and Salonga or decommission one of their areas to accommodate oil exploitation to the detriment of humanity and the local communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”.

An order of the Minister of Hydrocarbons allows the exploitation of oil in blocks IV and V of Virunga National Park and blocks I and II of Salonga National Park, both classified as World Heritages by UNESCO.

“You have made the commitment to work for the defense of the environment, the promotion and protection of the rights of peasants, and the sustainable development; you will therefore like to bring back the government in the right line in favor of a choice of sustainable development model respectful of commitments, laws of the Republic and international conventions, the will and participation of citizens and bring it to exercise sovereignty for the people and not against the people, ” it says in the petition.

These communities bordering the park, represented in the consortium “Alliance for Green Livelihoods” claim to have collected 23.062 signatures at the current stage.

The British firm SOCO which planned the oil exploitation in block V of Virunga Park had abandoned the project in 2015 following a mobilization of civil society.

“We have always lived in the forest without abusing it, while thinking about present and future generations, so we have come to plead our political and administrative authorities to help us stop oil exploitation in Virunga and Salonga parks. Our grandparents live in these two parks, their maternity, business, school, and natural medicine are found there. We support this plea against oil exploitation so that our way of life can continue,” said Mokili, a pygmy living in Beni.

In May, 33 Congolese human rights and environmental NGOs had asked the government to abandon the oil project in the Virunga and Salonga National Parks. In Virunga Park, the area targeted for oil exploitation covers the entire Lake Edward, more than 90.000 fishermen’s households and 6 million people living in the province depend on its resources, according to civil society.

Patrick Maki