Image: Oil exploration continues. Source: Euractiv - Photo: 2022

Congo Oil Auction Plans in ‘Last Refuge of Biodiversity’ Shocks Environmentalists

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — As massive floods and endless droughts, unleashed by global climate change, take lives and leave homes a twisted pile of sticks, the Democratic Republic of Congo will take a dangerous step backwards—opening up the Congo Basin to fossil fuel development.

Sections of a renowned tropical forest could soon carry the pounding of oil rigs, including in Virunga National Park, the world’s largest wetland. Created in 1925 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is also a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas and other endangered species.

Environmentalists and climate activists warn that oil drilling can pose significant risks to a continent already inundated by harsh climate effects. Members of the Mbuti and Baka people are also at risk of being evicted or displaced.

Other fragile blocs up for auction include some located on Lake Kivu, Lake Tanganyika, and one in a coastal region alongside the Eastern African Rift Valley system. 

“These are the last refuges of nature biodiversity,” said Ken Mwathe of BirdLife International in Africa. “We must not sacrifice these valuable natural assets for damaging development.”

The planned auction comes a week after the International Union for the Conservation of Nature hosted the inaugural Africa Protected Areas Congress in Kigali, Rwanda. More than 2,400 participants from 53 African and 27 other countries pledged to act with urgency to address the biodiversity, climate change and health crises and to restore one billion hectares of degraded land.  

Their pledge fell on deaf ears. Didier Budimbu, the country’s Hydrocarbons minister, said the oil exploitation would benefit the Congolese population.

“The president, Felix Tshisekedi, has a vision, and he wants to get his population out of poverty,” Budimbu said during a press conference.

The prospect of oil drilling has shocked local and international green groups such as Greenpeace Africa, whose spokesperson, Irene Wabiwa Betoko declared: “Only six months after signing a $500 million forest protection deal at the COP26, the Congolese government is declaring war against our planet with oil and gas…

“The immediate price will be paid by Congolese communities, who are unaware of the auction and have not been consulted or informed of the risks to their health and livelihoods. Many of them will rise against it—and we shall stand with them.”

She called the auction “a mockery of DRC’s posturing as a solution country for the climate crisis—it exposes Congolese people to corruption, violence, and poverty that inevitably come with the curse of oil and more heat waves and fewer rains for all Africans.”

Meanwhile, young activists from the Democratic Republic of the Congo have posted a documentary online that describes the threats posed to Africa’s oldest proclaimed national park. The 10-minute film can be seen on YouTube at [IDN-InDepthNews — 02 August 2022]

Image: Oil exploration continues. Source: Euractiv

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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