UNESCO warns against Virunga oil exploration



Posted on 19 May 2014  | 
A Soco helicopter lands in Virunga National Park.
© UECNEnlarge
19 May 2014 – The United Nations agency that oversees World Heritage Sites has issued an urgent appeal for the end of oil exploration in Virunga National Park. After a field mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) property, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported “extreme concern” over the prospect of petroleum extraction in the park, which is home to the greatest variety of plants and animals in Africa. “Any oil exploitation inside the property would seriously affect its integrity,” UNESCO said.

London-based oil company Soco International PLC began seismic testing in the park’s Lake Edward last month despite repeated objections from the UK government. UNESCO urged Soco to withdraw from Virunga and pledge that the company will stay out of all natural World Heritage Sites. According to the agency, oil exploration and exploitation are incompatible with World Heritage status.

“Soco is putting in jeopardy the future of 50,000 families that depend on Virunga’s Lake Edward for their jobs, food and fresh water. Drilling could destroy forever this extraordinary place that has survived so much,” said Zach Abraham of WWF International. “The world should not stand by and allow Africa’s oldest national park to become its newest oil field.”

TAKE ACTION NOW! TELL SOCO TO LEAVE VIRUNGA!

Virunga was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1979 as one of the first properties recognized in Africa as having outstanding universal natural value that should be preserved for future generations. It is best known for its population of critically endangered mountain gorillas and for its active volcanoes. WWF has worked on forest, freshwater and wildlife conservation in Virunga for 40 years and supports its heroic rangers, of which more than 140 have died in the line of duty. Last month Chief Warden Emmanuel de Merode narrowly survived being shot four times in an ambush.

The threats to the park, including oil, will be discussed at the World Heritage Committee meeting next month in Doha, Qatar. At the meeting, the committee will take into consideration recommendations from its expert bodies and issue a decision. Last year the group called for the cancelation of Virunga’s petroleum exploration permits. A draft committee decision for this year repeats that call and urges state parties to the World Heritage convention “to do their utmost to ensure that the mining or petroleum companies established on their territories do not damage World Heritage properties.”

“Virunga is protected by national laws and international treaties, which both DRC and the UK have an obligation to uphold,” Abraham said. “Soco should abandon its plans to explore for oil in Virunga and come into compliance with corporate social responsibility standards before the issue goes before the World Heritage Committee.”

A Soco helicopter lands in Virunga National Park.
© UECN Enlarge
There are fewer than 900 mountain gorillas living in DRC, Uganda and Rwanda.
© naturepl / Andy Rouse / WWF-Canon Enlarge
UNESCO and the UK government object to Soco's presence in the World Heritage Site.
© WWF / Coalition Soc. Civil North Kivu Enlarge

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