Environmentalist Caution Uganda’s Licensing of Exploration in Virunga National Park

Over 60 environmental and tourism groups called for UNESCO and the governments of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to reach a deal to stop new oil drilling licences from being awarded in Virunga National Park and the surrounding area.

Groups, including Global Witness, Greenpeace and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), are warning that a new 1st licensing roundoil licence, for which the Ugandan government is currently inviting six bids, could have a devastating impact on the UNESCO World Heritage Site including endangering species of some of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas.

“Drilling for oil in Lake Edward may have a devastating impact on both Virunga and the local people and wildlife in Uganda, Oil activity in one part of the lake will affect all of it – the wildlife who call the lake home aren’t aware of these national borders. There are also over 200,000 people who are dependent on Lake Edward for food. UNESCO and the governments of Uganda and Congo need to act urgently to stop oil exploration in the entire lake for good,” said George Boden, a Senior Campaigner at Global Witness and a spokesperson for the group.

The groups are also calling attention to the potential damage to Uganda’s growing tourism sector with exploration in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, which forms part of the oil block in question and which is responsible for a third of all visits to Uganda’s national parks.

“Drilling in this area is bad for the environment and bad for business. It may cause irreparable damage to one of Uganda’s key tourist attractions and to Uganda’s growing tourism sector. Given the global downturn in oil prices Uganda should protect other growing areas of our economy. Lake Edward could be worth a lot more to both countries as an area of outstanding natural beauty,” said Onesmus Mugyenyi, the Deputy Executive Director at ACODE (Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment) Uganda.

Exploration on and in the environs of the Virunga National Park has been a bond of contention with Soco International’s seismic testing for oil on the Congolese side of Lake Edward prompting widespread local opposition and an international outcry.

Soco has since committed to no further involvement in its oil block in Virunga and announced in November 2015 that it no longer owns the block’s licence.

The Congolese government has not commented publicly on the future of oil block 5, which covers Virunga National Park, since Soco’s announcement.

“Global Witness and other NGOs are concerned that the Congolese government may seek to re-draw the boundaries of the World Heritage Site in Virunga in order to allow for drilling in this oil block,” the environmentalist organisations said in a statement.

Among groups against the exploration include: Action des Chrétiens Activistes des Droits de l’Homme à Shabunda (ACADHOSHA ) DRC, Action Coalition for Climate Change, Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), Advocates for Natural Resource Governance and Development (ANARDE), Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), African Wildlife Foundation, Association pour le développement des Initiatives paysannes (ASSODIP) – RDC, Australian Rainforest Conservation Society, Biosphere Expeditions, Bob Brown Foundation, Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO), Civic Response On Environment & Development (CRED), CJDH-RDC, Community Development and Conservation Agency (CODECA), Conservation Action Trust, CREDDHO, Earthworks, Ecological Christian Organisation  (ECO Uganda), eCountability, Elephants Alive, EST, Fauna & Flora International, FECOPEILE, Gaia Foundation, Global Rights Alert, Global Witness, Greenpeace, Greenwatch, IDPE, Jeunesse du Monde République Démocratique du Congo, Lake Albert Biodiversity Conservation Alert  (LABCA) , Matoke Tours, Mid-western region Centre for Democracy & human rights (MICOUD), Mutanda Lake Resort, Nature Uganda, New Eden Christian Foundation, New Progressive Alliance, Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU), Publish What You Pay – Uganda (PWYP-U),Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Foundation Norway, Rainforest Foundation UK, RCGW, Real Agency for Community Development(RACD), Road Free, Save the Elephants, Save Virunga, Save Virunga Team,SEA DRC, SORADEC, South Western Institute for Policy & Advocacy (SOWIPA), SVAN, Synchronicity Earth, The Wild Foundation, Transparency International Uganda, Union D’etude Pour La Conservation De La Nature (UECN), UFAREP, Voluntary Initiative Support Organisation (VISO), Water Governance Institute, World Heritage International and Zevin Asset Management.

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