WWF calls on SOCO to get out of Virunga National Park
“SOCO must stop its plans to drill in Africa’s first ever World Heritage Site or it could lead to a catastrophic impact on local livelihoods and the environment. Virunga is too important and too vulnerable to be put at risk by the oil industry,” said Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Conservation for WWF.
“We have learned the hard way in the Gulf of Mexico about the environmental and financial costs of oil exploration in sensitive areas”, continued Gustavsson.
SOCO has announced plans to explore for oil in and around Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Virunga is the first national park established on the continent and is home to one of only two populations of mountain gorillas in the world. Additionally, SOCO has said its exploration activities will include a portion of Lake Edward, where 30,000 local fishermen make their livelihoods.
Recently the British Government joined a growing list of NGOs and civil society groups calling on SOCO to stop the illegal exploitation of resources and respect the rule of law. With the British foreign office stating that "the UK opposes oil exploration within Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site listed by UNESCO as being 'in danger.' We have informed SOCO and urge the government of DR Congo to fully respect the international conventions to which it is a signatory.”
Congolese law prohibits any extractive industries within its national parks and oil exploration within Virunga National Park could constitute a violation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. As a member of the OECD, the United Kingdom has made a binding commitment to implement OECD guidelines, which apply to all global operations of UK-based enterprises.
“Many people in the area have incomes and live thanks to the fish from Lake Edward and we fear that petrol will bring pollution and more conflict in our region,” said community leader Bantu Lukambo during a June protest against SOCO’s relentless push into the park.
Community activists opposing SOCO’s activities in Virunga National Park have reported receiving death threats; the company has denied any involvement.
“As the DRC continues to suffer from war and strife, WWF firmly believes that SOCOS’s exploitation of its resources will only fuel conflict while also jeopardising the lives of rangers as well as the livelihoods of the communities that prosper off the sustainable use of the park,” says Mr. Gustavsson.
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. The park is also home to a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas, of which only 786 individuals remain. The gorillas are a major source of eco-tourism income in the region.