Virunga under threat
Although Virunga National Park’s pristine wilderness has been granted protections under Congolese and international law, companies from Europe and elsewhere are pursing plans for oil extraction in and around the park.
Oil exploration in Virunga is illegal
As a signatory to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, Democratic Republic of the Congo has agreed to respect the treaty’s requirements for the protection World Heritage Sites.
Oil and mineral extraction have been found by UNESCO to be incompatible with the spirit of the convention. Alarmed by the allocation of oil concessions within Virunga National Park, UNESCO’s Director General has called for the Congolese government to “abandon all plans for oil extraction.” Similarly, the World Heritage Committee has urged that all oil permits be canceled.
Sustainable livelihoods at risk
Additionally, revenue generated by mountain gorilla ecotourism programmes has provided funding for conservation work and for community development projects in the area. In one nearby village, citizens conducted a public rally to voice their concerns over the proposed oil exploration.
It is feared that the area could suffer from socio-economic tensions, crime and insecurity if development were to proceed, as witnessed in the Niger Delta.
Rich in plant and animal biodiversity
The areas of Virunga National Park allocated as oil concessions cover around 85 per cent of its land, and the habitats of endangered chimpanzees, hippos, and forest elephants.
Oil development could also put at risk hundreds of lesser-known fragile species such as the okapi, which is found in no other country in the world. Over 200 species of mammals live in Virunga National Park, including 22 types of primates. The park is also home to over 700 kinds of birds.
A refuge for gorillas
Allowing illegal activities, such as oil operations, to be conducted in the park fundamentally undermines the authority of park managers, and will make it difficult for them to guard against intrusion by others seeking to exploit its land, trees and animals.
Assessing environmental impacts
Furthermore, WWF echos the World Heritage Committee's that all authorizations for companies to undertake exploration activities within park boundaries be revoked.
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“Any oil exploitation inside the property would seriously affect its integrity,” UNESCO said.