Africa–On Monday, UNESCO announced that The Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger. The World Heritage Committee cited improvements in the state of conservation of the park, as the reason for the decision.
This new development is a big win for environmentalists and conservationists in DRC and around the world, who have worked tirelessly to stop oil exploration in Salonga National Park. However, more needs to be done to protect ecologically-diverse protected areas such as Virunga National Park that still faces the challenge of oil exploration.
Christian Hounkannou, 350Africa.org Regional Organizer said:
“We are happy to learn of the move to remove the Salonga National park from the list of World Heritage in Danger. We hope this move will go a long way in ensuring the conservation of these protected and fragile ecosystems. We must however note that yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Virunga National Park, is under threat due to the issuance of licences of oil exploration in the park. We appeal to the DRC government to cancel all oil exploration licenses in Virunga National Park in order to save Africa’s oldest national park.”
Justin Mutabesha, based in Goma and working with AJVDC said:
“As local activists living in the area, we welcome this decision and call for an immediate halt to the process for granting oil exploration licences in Virunga Park, which is still in danger with consequences on the lives and rights of the people. We want our government to respect the laws of the Republic and international conventions on protecting the environment, promoting and protecting human rights. The government should prioritise investments in renewable energy to promote the sustainable development of local economies within protected areas.”
According to the World Heritage Committee, the DRC national authorities have clarified that the oil concessions overlapping with the Salonga National Park property are now null and void and that these blocs will be excluded from future auctioning. It also observed an improvement in the management of the park, notably with regard to the strengthening of anti-poaching measures.
The Salonga National Park, which is Africa’s largest tropical rainforest reserve, was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1984. The park plays a fundamental role in climate regulation and the sequestration of carbon. The park is also home to numerous endemic endangered species such as the pygmy chimpanzee (or bonobo), the forest elephant, the African slender-snouted crocodile and the Congo peacock. Salonga had been inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1999, due to pressures such as poaching, deforestation and poor management. In addition, the government of DRC later on issued oil drilling licences that encroached on the protected area, posing a threat to the wildlife-rich site.
Activists recently launched the Fossil Free Virunga short film highlighting the threat of oil exploration activities in the Virunga National Park. They also launched a petition to call for a halt to the issuance of oil exploration licences in such sensitive ecosystems.