In an open letter sent to five conservation organizations – including IGCP’s coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature – the Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism in the Democratic Republic of Congo suspends oil exploration in Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to some of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas.
In his letter, Mr. José E.B. Endundo states that his Ministry has taken “…specific steps, which have led to the suspension of the given oil exploration activities. We have rejected the recommendations of an environmental impact assessment conducted by the oil company, Soco, which we consider premature, superficial and which does not conform to the standards which we would expect.”
The Minister has also confirmed that the senior management for Soco Oil had assured him that they “…will not attempt any prospection work in the park unless a positive consensus is achieved in their favour.”
The Ministry has also initiated a “a comprehensive, transparent and inclusive Strategic Environment Assessment, SEA, to analyse the best options available to the Congolese People. The SEA will provide the necessary recommendations, frequently required by the ministry, to decide which of the social and economic benefits will ensure true development for the region and its people.”
IGCP’s coalition members are encouraged by this turn of events and will continue to engage the Congolese government on this issue. “This is extremely welcome news and AWF is exceedingly pleased that oil exploration will not go forward in Virunga National Park at this time,” says AWF President Helen Gichohi. “We commend the government on this wise action, and urge it to take additional measures to make sure that the world’s appetite for oil does not in any way harm Africa’s oldest wildlife park.”