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Virunga: a battle won…?

 

As WWF’s Country Director for the Democratic Republic of Congo, Raymond Lumbuenamo is closer than many to the events playing out in Virunga – Africa’s oldest national park.  At a crucial time for the park’s future and the people who rely on it, Raymond is bringing his message of hope for Virunga’s future to the UK. Here’s what he had to say to us…

“It’s official – SOCO International, the London-based oil company which has being exploring for oil in Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park, have today made a commitment to withdraw from the park. What’s more, they have also committed to not undertake operations in any other World Heritage Site.  This is a momentous day for Virunga, including the species which inhabit this unique wilderness, and the people who rely on it for their livelihoods.”

Children playing in Vitshumbi fishing village, Virunga National Park. Copyright: Brent Stirton / Reportage for Getty Images / WWF-CanonChildren playing in Vitshumbi fishing village, Virunga National Park. Copyright: Brent Stirton / Reportage for Getty Images / WWF-Canon

“I am delighted by this news, and grateful to the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who have stood with the people of North Kivu to call for an alternative, sustainable future for Virunga. But this is a battle won in the war to protect Virunga in the long term.  Following SOCO’s announcement, we have removed the most immediate threat to the park.  But with over 85 percent of the park still under oil concessions defined by the DRC government, the threat of oil remains.”

“Now is the time for the DRC government to reaffirm its conviction that Virunga has outstanding universal value for all humanity by cancelling all oil concessions overlapping the park as requested by UNESCO.”

Sunrise over Mount Mikeno, Virunga National Park. Copyright: @naturepl.com / Christophe Courteau / WWF-CanonSunrise over Mount Mikeno, Virunga National Park. Copyright: @naturepl.com / Christophe Courteau / WWF-Canon

“If kept free from potentially-damaging oil exploitation, Virunga could develop into a leading economic driver for communities in the eastern DRC by developing ecotourism, sustainable fisheries and hydropower.  The Dalberg report (PDF) published by us when the Virunga campaign launched last year found that – with sustainable development – the park could grow in value to US$400 million per year.”

“Through responsible investment and continued protection, World Heritage Sites can become powerful engines for sustainable economic development and long-term prosperity in their regions. Virunga’s fisheries, hydropower plants and ecotourism industry have the potential to generate 45,000 permanent jobs for nearby residents.”

A baby gorilla, Virunga National Park. Copyright: Brent Stirton / Reportage for Getty Images / WWF-Canon A baby gorilla, Virunga National Park. Copyright: Brent Stirton / Reportage for Getty Images / WWF-Canon

“To realise this, the international community also has a role to play in supporting the DRC in building a positive, oil-free, future for Virunga, by supporting efforts to bring lasting stability and prosperity to the eastern DRC.”

“UNESCO has maintained since 2003 – and restated as recently as February this year – that oil and gas extraction in World Heritage Sites violates the spirit of the World Heritage Convention. There is a growing recognition among governments and industry leaders that places – like Virunga – with undeniable universal value are too precious to be exploited.  For it is only when we truly value something for its inherent value that we are willing to come together to protect it.”

Raymond Lumbuenamo is WWF’s Country Director for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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