Goma: Oil in Virunga National Park, Environmental and Social Challenges at the Heart of the Debate

In Goma, during a social dialogue organized by Congo Nouveau asbl on Thursday, July 4, 2024, Me Jovial Bakulu, a prominent member of ACEDH, captivated the audience by shedding light on the crucial issues surrounding oil exploitation in the graben of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Me Jovial Bakulu underscored the major challenges linked to hydrocarbon exploitation, particularly in local communities and fragile ecosystems. He advocated for an absolute priority to be given to “social and environmental safeguarding” before any decision on oil exploitation. He vehemently expressed his firm opposition to the exploitation of Blocks 4 and 5 of the Albertine Rift, located within Virunga National Park in North Kivu, stating that it would severely compromise the environmental interests of current and future generations in the region.

“We do not agree with oil being exploited in North Kivu because the necessary prerequisites have not been met, notably ensuring the interests of local communities in this process,” he declared. He also criticized the current governance, highlighting that promised benefits from exploited natural resources have not improved the already precarious living conditions of Congolese populations.

Me Bakulu accused the government of violating its own laws by authorizing oil exploitation in protected areas, citing laws on hydrocarbons and nature conservation that clearly prohibit such activities. He warned of disastrous consequences such as forced displacement of local communities, a situation already observed in other regions like the Niger Delta and Hoima district in Uganda.

Despite the earlier withdrawal of the SOCO company in 2013 due to international pressure, the Congolese government recently revived the oil exploitation project in Virunga, sparking strong opposition from local communities and civil society organizations. Me Bakulu’s criticisms echo those of numerous environmental experts who warn of irreversible impacts on biodiversity and local livelihoods. Furthermore, they emphasize that the government risks violating its international commitments to conservation.

This controversy raises profound questions about the priority given to economic development versus environmental preservation and respect for the rights of indigenous communities. As the debate continues to escalate, it is crucial for policymakers and the public to seriously consider the long-term implications of their actions on the future of Congo’s natural heritage and the communities dependent on it.

The Congolese government’s decision regarding Virunga will not only test the DRC’s environmental policy but also reveal its commitments to protecting human rights and biodiversity.

By The Editorial Team

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