Residents rally against Virunga oil exploration



Posted on 24 May 2011  | 
A group of Congolese citizens have held a march in support of the government’s decision to halt oil development in Virunga National Park. The supporters praised the Environment Ministry of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for suspending oil exploration activities being conducted by SOCO, a London-based oil and gas multinational.

The march and rally was held in the fishing village of Vitshumbi, located within Virunga National Park. Residents voiced their desire to be more involved in decisions about development in the park and called on the government to respect local laws and international environmental commitments. According to Congolese regulations it is illegal to explore for oil within the country’s national parks.

A large portion of Vitshumbi’s population depends on fishing in Lake Edward, which is partially within the park and where a major part of the petroleum concession lies.

"This petrol exploration has been imposed on us without any former consultation,” says Bantu Lukambo, president of the local organization Innovation for Development and Environmental Protection. “Many people in the area have incomes and live thanks the fish from Lake Edward and we fear that petrol will bring pollution and more conflict in our region."

Marchers encouraged the government to consider both the short and long term consequences of oil development and urged the rejection of a proposal by the minister of hydrocarbons that would allow SOCO’s exploration to go forward.

Virunga National Park is a World Heritage Site and home to endangered mountain gorillas. The DRC government has suspended SOCO’s development pending a comprehensive strategic environmental assessment.

WWF also commends the Environment Ministry’s decision to conduct a full strategic environmental assessment, and to suspend all oil exploration whilst this important assessment is underway. WWF calls on all oil companies to respect the DRC government’s decision, and leave the area until the assessment is complete. The organization's hopes for a rigorous assessment process that engages the participation of a  broad scope of stakeholders, including members of the communities located in and around the park.

Residents rally to protect Virunga National Park from oil exploration.
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