Home Environment World Wetlands Day: activists want Virunga National Park protected from oil exploitation

World Wetlands Day: activists want Virunga National Park protected from oil exploitation

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Virunga National Park, which also plays host to the endangered mountain gorillas, faces imminent threats from extractive activities
Virunga National Park, which also plays host to the endangered mountain gorillas, faces imminent threats from extractive activities

As the world celebrates World Wetlands Day today, climate activists in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are urging the Congolese government to safeguard Virunga National Park by canceling any active licenses for oil exploration in Africa’s oldest national park.

Virunga, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979 and a Ramsar site since 1996, is feted for its significant wetland areas and diverse biodiversity.

The park, which also plays host to the endangered mountain gorillas, faces imminent threats from extractive activities following the issuance of licenses by the government for oil exploration in blocks located in the park.

“This year, we remain committed to mobilizing grassroots communities against the destructive project threatening Virunga National Park. The park is a lifeline for thousands of communities, and we are resolute in our efforts to thwart this perilous venture,” said Justin Mutabesha, a climate activist from Fossil Free Virunga.

Virunga, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979 and a Ramsar site since 1996, is feted for its significant wetland areas and diverse biodiversity.

In addition, activists have raised concern with the Congolese government’s plan to auction 30 oil and gas blocks, nine of which are within Cuvette Centrale in the Congo basin, which puts the sensitive ecosystem and the well-being of local communities in jeopardy.

In response to the project’s launch in July 2022, environmental activists and civil society actors have persistently protested, calling on authorities to protect the sensitive ecosystems in line with conservation laws and international conventions.

But despite calls from national and international environmental organisations, the Congolese government has yet to provide a favourable response regarding the cancellation of the auction of 30 oil and gas blocks.

“In the face of ecological urgency, we stand as guardians, urging the world to echo the plea: Preserve Virunga, today, on World Wetlands Day,” said Christian Hounkannou, Regional Organiser at 350Africa.org.

Hounkannou went on: “The Democratic Republic of Congo grapples with a pivotal moment, as the unsettling news of oil and gas block sales carry on. We, the climate organizers of Africa, declare: Our wetlands are not for sale, our legacy is not for compromise. Together, we rise against the tides of short-sighted gains, championing a sustainable future.”

As the global climate crisis intensifies, the activists emphasize the urgency of exploring sustainable pathways built on readily available renewable energy sources, thereby mitigating the adverse effects of fossil fuel exploration

“World Wetlands Day serves as a platform to shed light on the important role wetlands plays in mitigating the impacts of climate change. We urge the government to take the necessary measures to alleviate the threats to these critical ecosystems by canceling active oil exploration licenses in Virunga National Park and the sale of oil and gas blocks within the Congo basin,” said Johnnyta Roy, a climate activist from the Youth Movement for Environmental Protection (MJPE-RDC).

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