The Beginning, The End: 10 Years Save Virunga

This week we celebrate our 10 year Anniversary. All started in April 2012, when the risk of oil exploration in Virunga National Park was just beginning to surface. Communities were not prepared, no one really was, or knew what to expect, but one thing certain was that we were not going to give up on Virunga without a fight. 

What to Say after 10 Years Save Virunga? 

Difficult… is it the beginning, is it the end? Did we achieve anything? 

Virunga is still here. No oil exploration is taking place within its boundaries. SOCO left; Total (that calls itself nowadays TotalEnergies, even if they continue doing their ‘dirty’ oil business across the border) left. Virunga survived. 

The Oil Threat

Is the oil threat totally gone? Certainly not. TotalEnergies is eager to start oil exploitation in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, yes another protect area… (France look / wake up!) and is pushing for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline. The EACOP is a proposed 1,445-kilometer pipeline from Hoima, Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania. The construction of the pipeline not only threatens Murchison Falls and many other protected areas and reserves in its route but it will also enable the re-opening of critical ecosystems including Virunga and Lake Edward to oil extraction. 

This is why banks, investors and governments need to be made aware of the risks of this climate and biodiversity catastrophe before it is too late: StopEacop! Read the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)! 

This is another fight that is been admirably led by the StopEACOP Alliance with over 260 civil society organisations.

Back to Virunga: A New Hope

In the past 10 years the park management has been able to prove to itself and to the whole world that with true determination and commitment anything is possible, even in one of the deadliest places on Earth for conservation. 

We should never forget that in the last decade around 100 rangers have lost their lives protecting the irreplaceable. In total over 200 rangers have been killed in the line of duty. Against all odds, Virunga has become a model for the rest of the conservation community and a motor of sustainable development for the region, with a goal of creating 100,000 jobs for local people. 

After 10 years of Save Virunga, we can only say that we are proud to be a small part of this extraordinary story. We contributed as much as we could to what we felt was right and needed during this period in time. Virunga taught us so many life lessons. But probably the most important one has been that no fight like this one, or any other for that matter, can be fought or won alone. It can only be the work of a collective. Each one of us has a part to play within the bigger picture, we just need to be present and act. 

As the recent IPCC report said, ‘Collective action as part of social or lifestyle movements underpins system change. Collective action and social organising are crucial to shift the possibility space of public policy on climate change mitigation.’ So yes it might not be comfortable, it might feel threatening, but activism plays an important role in raising awareness and challenging the status quo (1).

The Survival of Protected Areas

Today, Virunga has become the symbol of so many protected areas that need our protection, from Murchison Falls National Park threaten by oil giant TotalEnergies to Upemba National Park by Kipay, and so many others protected areas that too often don’t reach the headlines …. All these new names tell us the same old story about the systematic attack against the integrity of protected areas in the world, which are some of our last biodiversity reservoirs and carbon sinks on earth. This is what happens when greed takes over, when we forget that we are all connected and we think that money trumps Mother Earth. Look up! 

However, something that Virunga has and many other protected areas don’t, is a UNESCO World Heritage Status. One could assume that UNESCO World Heritage status or not, when a protected area is protected by national law it is sufficient to stop these predatory interests?

In theory yes, in practice this has shown to be much more difficult. The international community seems to be reluctant to take on these new fights. They hide behind the sovereignty of the host country, forgetting that in our current world it is our collective responsibility to protect nature and fight against climate change. We don’t have much time left. Luckily we still have courageous people and local civil society actors that are not afraid to raise their voice and take on this fight. Some people do it silently within their own institutions, others stand on the barricades, but at the end we are all UNITED in our fight to save our last remaining protected areas, for the future of our children. 

Is this the End, Is this the Beginning?

Save Virunga will never die. It might change from shape, name, country; our strategies might adapt to the new realities; it might even dissolve for a while but the reason why we started Save Virunga will always remain as long as we have protected areas that need our collective action. 

Mother Earth, You can count on us


(1) Ali Sheridan