People who live on the shores of Lake George in Uganda earn a living from fishing and the communities also benefit from the profits from eco-tourism in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Wild herds of buffalo, antelope and elephants are big attractions and lodges and gift shops dotted around the park have created jobs for local people.
This is something that could be replicated over the border in Virunga National Park and – according to a report we’ve commissioned – would be worth over $1.1 billion a year. $400 million of that would be direct sources of revenue and jobs provided by nature, the other $700 million is non-use value, or what the park is worth if left alone. It could also create 45,000 jobs a year across fishing, hydropower and ecotourism.
Swalleh, 33, has been fishing on the lake for 20 years, and his income helps pay for the education of his three children and he recently extended his house.
He said: “We get everything from the lake. I catch enough fish to sell to local traders in the area and also over in the DRC, as do most of the people in my village. Selling fish pays the school fees for my three children whom I want to grow up and become teachers or lawyers. Without a healthy lake I simply couldn’t survive.”
Swalleh normally goes out on his boat at 10pm, catching fish in nets before returning at 7am. On a good night he can net 100-200 fish including mud and cat fish and tilapia. Hippos can often be seen just offshore feeding.
The village also benefits from the tourist trade. Annually they are one of a number of villages that receive about £5,000 in grants from the government from income generated by the tourist trade. This is used to repair and rebuild homes for elderly members of the community who can no longer look after themselves. Money has also gone towards the cost of building a school, health centre and water collection unit.
Oil exploration and extraction could have devastating consequences for people like Swalleh which is just one of the reasons why it’s so important that we keep oil exploration out of Virunga National Park.