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Oil threat to Virunga National Park

By Colin Ricketts - 14 Oct 2013 7:0:0 GMT
Oil threat to Virunga National Park

Hippos thrive in natural, unpolluted lakes and rivers such as the Rutchuru, in the Virunga National Park. As actresses and others discover, there is much more than gorillas to add glamour to this priceless National ParkHippo image; Credit: © Shutterstock

Of all the national parks in Africa, the Virunga is the oldest and one of the largest. This major reserve possesses all of the large mammals of the Congo and 3000 species in total, many of them endemic. It has a major role in preserving the natural African heritage that we have all found so terrifying and so magnificent.

For example, one recent survey found more than half the earth's mountain gorillas (480 to be exact) living on the Virunga Massif. Living on top of the Great Rift Valley next to the Uganda border, these animals grace one of the world's amazing hotspots of vulcanism, biodiversity and scenic panoramas. After all the war, the politics and the poaching, now comes the worst.

The equatorial jungles of the Congo hold many surprises and many people have found it difficult to exist there. The threat to this natural majesty is the oil company, UK-based Soco plc and others such as DRC's own national company, Congolaises des Hydrocarbones.

However, only Soco is threatening to begin exploration in its allocated Block 5, which is the lower land around the famous lake Edward. Obviously oil exploration could bring work and some prosperity, but never forget we are dealing with the death of fossil fuels and the modern world of great, big, carbon footprints.

Lake Edward presently controls the economy of fishermen (27,000 people rely on fishing the great lake for their livelihood) and agriculturalists, alongside pristine wetland, forest and mountain ecosystems that will thrive, of course, on ecotourism. As a World Heritage Site, naturally it should be protected, but this is Africa.

While the WWF puts forward all the theories of economic benefits for local people in conservation, oil is always likely to win the hearts of the greedy, who think they can line their pockets s well as those of a renegade oil company. To gain access to drilling rights, Soco have persuaded some in the DRC government to throw away their consciences about land degradation. People's lives have long been degraded in African oilfields such as those in Nigeria and in the Congo's own "mess", the pollution of Bas Congo, on the Atlantic coast. In such primitive conditions, it's hard to see how farmers and fishermen could overcome the problems that massive pipelines, illegal settlement and inevitable spillage bring. The "oil curse" is endemic in Africa, whereby a country's currency value climbs, causing exports to drop, as well as destabilising government revenue. We can also never forget the history and likelihood of conflict in the whole region.

Celebrity is involved too, in the form of popular and actress, Anna Friel. Maybe such fame is needed to match the well-known features of the African Rift Valley. She is well qualified indeed to enhance the whole scene of powerful arguments and filmic wild vistas. Her quote is worthy of the "spearhead" she is meant to be, with, " the landscape was the most breath-taking I have ever experienced and the wildlife - gorillas, hippos, elephants, birds - seemed more beautiful than any creatures I had seen before, perhaps because there was such a vulnerability with all the threats facing them."

WWF publicise their campaign against the oil exploration: World Wildlife Fund.