UNESCO wants Virunga Oil Exploration Permits Cancelled

UNESCO has called for the cancellation of permits for Oil exploration activities in Virunga National Park. It follows reports that the governments of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo have issued permits for oil exploration inside the National Park. The UK-based Soco International PLC and French oil giant Total hold permits for exploring oil in Virunga National Park. The park is one of Africas’ oldest and largest wildlife sanctuaries. It is located in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo,  stretches to Western Rwanda and enjoins Mghinga National park in Uganda.

It was recognized in 1979 for its extraordinary landscape because of its rare mountain gorillas and declared a World Heritage site. The  World Heritage Committee, a rotating group of countries that manages the UNESCO World Heritage sites has expressed concerns that Virunga National park could be de-gazatted and laws changed so that oil concessions that cover 85% of the park territory get exploited. UNESCO warns that oil exploration activities could make the national park to lose its world heritage status, which could have far reaching implications on the local communities, the rare mountain gorillas as well as the bird species. Rene Ngongo, an advisor in mining and extractives policy for the World Wildlife Fund in DRC says Virunga National park is one of the few remaining places with rare species of wildlife.

He says there is no reason that should prompt the Congolese government and other countries sharing the National park to start issuing oil exploration permits to companies, which he says will not put wildlife into consideration. Ngongo insists that the communities around the park and the animals should be given serious consideration. Frankfurt Christof, the executive director of the Zoological society in Germany, who is currently on a visit in DRC says the decision to allow oil companies to operate in the park, which hosts the World’s most endangered species will be the worst blunder that the governments sharing the park will have ever done. Christof advises that all the permits that have been issued should be revoked immediately.

In May 2013, Total, which is already working in DRC promised to stay out of Virunga National Park. SOCO international is yet to pronounce itself on the matter.

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