Fifteen civil society organizations from Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) working together to promote cross-border conservation of natural resources in the Great Lakes region have written to President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Joseph Kabila of DRC to stop oil activities in greater Virunga landscape.
Early this year DRC moved to reclassify two UNESCO-protected World Heritage Sites –Salonga and Virunga National Parks – to allow oil exploration to take place. This move was condemned by regional Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) who believe such actions would be devastating for their unique ecosystems.
Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), a CSO from Uganda, said destabilizing Virunga ‘could cause a high spread of diseases since animals that have been affected by oil activities in Congo, could cross and affect the ones in Uganda.’
This, AFIEGO said, will affect tourism in Uganda and ‘furthermore the livelihoods of Ugandans that have been benefiting from this lake could be shattered because of the pollution that could take place on the other side of Lake Edward in Congo.’
In the communiqué to the two presidents the CSOs expressed their disapproval of oil activities in eco-sensitive areas and rallied the leaders and international oil companies to avoid such activities in both countries.
Previous attempts to have ecologically sensitive area explored for oil have been swatted by CSOs through outcries and engaging government officials, oil companies and two presidents.
As a result Ngaji oil block in the eco-sensitive transboundary Greater Virunga landscape was saved from being licensed out for exploration in Uganda and British oil company, SOCO International PLC, was talked out of conducting oil exploration activities in Virunga National Park.
And with renewed interest in Virunga by DRC, the CSOs are ‘calling on both Uganda and the DRC to officially commit, through a statement by Your Excellencies, never to conduct any oil activities in or around protected areas in accordance with international commitments.’
They say it is ‘disheartening to see that the government of DRC has set in motion plans to redraw the boundaries of UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites, Salonga and Virunga national parks. These efforts by the DRC are targeted at allowing oil exploration activities in the parks.’
“Your Excelliencies, it will be recalled that the Greater Virunga landscape, of which Virunga National Park is a part, is a biodiversity hotspot harboring some of the planet’s endangered species. Other biodiverse protected areas so critical to humanity that they are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage and Ramsar Sites in the landscape include Bwindi Impenetrable and Rwenzori Mountains national parks (World Heritage Sites), Queen Elizabeth National Park (Man and Bisophere Reserve), and Lake Edward (Ramsar site).
The fifteen CSOs recommended that the presidents cancel indefinitely plans by DRC to redraw boundaries of the Salonga and Virunga national parks to allow oil activities in the parks and indefinitely cancel all plans by the Ugandan government to licence out Ngaji oil block located in Lake Edward and Queen Elizabeth National Park for oil activities.
They also recommend that both governments increase investment in renewable energy as both countries have enormous renewable energy potential in solar, promote tourism over oil to diversify the economic base and increase investments in social infrastructure such as health services, education, roads and others.
They said they are willing to work with both governments to ensure that the sensitive ecosystems in Greater Virunga landscape are protected amidst the oil development threats.
The communiqué released in Uganda’s capital Kampala was signed by), Innovation pour le Développement et la Protection de l’Environnement, CPSC- NK/FPJDD, MAIDENI Asbl, Federation of fishermen of Lake Edward (FECOPEILE), SORADEC/SEPD DR Congo and MERV/SEPD from DR Congo.
Others are Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), Guild Presidents’ Forum on Oil Governance (GPFOG), World Voices Uganda (WVU) and South Western Institute for Policy and Advocacy (SOWIPA) from Uganda.
Other Ugandan CSOs include Kasese Consortium on Climate Change Adaptation and Biodiversity Conservation (CABIC), Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), Green Organisation Africa (GOA) and Oil Refinery Residents Association (RRA).