WASHINGTON, July 31, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Africa's oldest national park could be worth US $1.1 billion per year if developed sustainably, rather than being given over to potentially-damaging oil extraction, an analysis released by WWF today has found.
Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has the potential to generate over 45,000 permanent jobs through investments in ecotourism, fisheries, and hydropower, according to the assessment conducted by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, an independent consulting firm.
The Economic Value of Virunga National Park finds that exploitation of oil concessions, which have been allocated by the DRC government across 85 percent of the World Heritage site, could bring pollution, cause instability and cost people their jobs.
Recognized as one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, Virunga is also a vital resource for local residents. Despite decades of unrest, the park generates US $48.9 million annually for local communities. More than 27,000 people fish in Lake Edward and it provides drinking water to 50,000 people, but thousands more benefit from locally sourced fish, renewable energy and other park related activities.
About one quarter of the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas live in Virunga, alongside countless other species, including hippos, okapi, elephants and several primates. Many of Virunga's species are found nowhere else.
Oil exploration would only rob the region of those existing resources and cause further economic insecurity.
"Virunga represents a valuable asset to DRC and contributes to Africa's heritage as the oldest and most biodiverse park on the continent," the report says. "Plans to explore for oil and exploit oil reserves put Virunga's value at risk."
In June, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee called for the cancellation of all Virunga oil permits and appealed to concession holders Total SA and Soco International PLC not to undertake exploration in World Heritage Sites. Total has committed to respecting Virunga's current boundary, leaving UK-based Soco as the only oil company with current plans to explore inside the park.
"Virunga National Park is the tip of the iceberg. If we cannot stop drilling in Virunga, other protected areas will be next," said Allard Blom, WWF's Managing Director of the Congo Basin. "The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo needs to uphold its law that prohibits environmentally harmful activities, such as oil exploration in national parks, and Soco International must publicly commit to stopping permanently all plans for oil exploration and exploitation in all World Heritage Sites."
Oil spills, pipeline leaks and gas flaring could contaminate the air, water and soil in the area with toxins, according to the report. It says studies of other oil producing regions have found that oil can cause health problems and fuel conflict.
"Virunga's rich natural resources are for the benefit of the Congolese people, not for foreign oil prospectors to drain away," said Raymond Lumbuenamo, Country Director for WWF-Democratic Republic of the Congo. "Our country's future depends on sustainable economic development, and the livelihoods of over 50,000 people depend on this park. Oil extraction here could have devastating consequences for local communities that rely on Virunga for fish, drinking water and their other needs."
Today WWF is launching a campaign aimed at protecting Virunga oil extraction. The organization is calling on Soco to abandon its plans to explore for oil in the park and all other World Heritage Sites.
• Report, key findings document & Infographic available here: http://bit.ly/19k7btv
• Photos for media use are available here: http://bit.ly/12Jv8l9
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Source:World Wildlife Fund