Over 60 environmental and tourism groups today 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 oil licence, for which the Ugandan government is currently inviting bids, could have a devastating impact on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is home to some of Africa’s most iconic and endangered species including some of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. Next month the Ugandan government will receive bids on six new oil licences, all of which include protected areas and one of which shares a lake with Virunga National Park. Lake Edward is at the heart of Virunga’s precious ecosystem, but lies across the Congolese and Ugandan border.
“Drilling for oil in Lake Edward may have a devastating impact on both Virunga and the local people and wildlife in Uganda” said George Boden, a Senior Campaigner at Global Witness and a spokesperson for the group.
“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.”
The groups are also calling attention to the potential damage to Uganda’s growing tourism sector. Queen Elizabeth National Park, which also forms part of the oil block in question, is responsible for a third of all visits to Uganda’s national parks. Tourism currently accounts for 8% of Uganda’s GDP.
“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.
In 2014 British oil company Soco International carried out seismic testing for oil on the Congolese side of Lake Edward, in Virunga, prompting widespread local opposition and an international outcry. The struggle over their oil licence was recorded in the Oscar nominated documentary Virunga, which was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. Following the outcry Soco 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.
For further information please contact George Boden [email protected], +44 (0)7808 767 134, Jean-Luc Blakey [email protected] +44 (0) 752 527 7460 or Onesmus Mugyenyi [email protected] or +256 772 423 449.
Notes to editor:
1. Further information on Global Witness’ campaign to prevent drilling in Virunga can be found
2. According to the Ugandan Petroleum Authority the deadline of submission of bids by oil companies to the government of Uganda is the 26th of February. 16 companies have been shortlisted. The Ugandan government is issuing six new oil licences all of which include protected areas. The Ngaji block includes the Uganda side of Lake Edward and parts of Queen Elizabeth National Park. More information can be found here.
3. For a map of the areas being allocated in the Ugandan oil licencing round see here.
4. UNESCO wrote to the government of Uganda in August 2015 stating that oil exploration is incompatible with World Heritage Status and reminding them of their obligation to protect sites outside their own jurisdiction. At the time of writing UNESCO had not received a response.
5. In December 2015, the EU Parliament passed a resolution calling for the protection of Virunga from oil activities and noting the significant threat posed by the Ugandan licencing. For more information see here.
6. Global Witness published the report ‘Drillers in the Mist’ in September 2014, which laid out evidence that British oil company Soco International and its contractors had made illicit payments, appeared to have paid off armed rebels and benefited from fear and violence fostered by government security forces in eastern Congo, as they sought access to Virunga for oil exploration.
7. In June 2015 Global Witness also published cheques showing that Soco International paid tens of thousands of dollars to a Congolese military officer accused of bribery and of brutally silencing opponents of oil exploration in the park.
8. Soco’s controversial quest to explore for oil in eastern Congo was the subject of the Oscarnominated documentary ‘Virunga’, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.
9. The groups who have signed the joint statement are:
Action des Chrétiens Activistes des Droits de l'Homme à Shabunda (ACADHOSHA ) DRC
Descartes Mponge Malasi
Action Coalition for Climate Change
Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE)
Dr. Arthur Bainomugisha
Advocates for Natural Resource Governance and Development (ANARDE)
Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)
African Wildlife Foundation
Kaddu Sebunya - President
Association pour le développement des Initiatives paysannes (ASSODIP) - RDC
Babra Adoso Vanhelleputte
Australian Rainforest Conservation Society
Dr Aila Keto. AO - President
Dr. Matthias Hammer - Executive Director
Bob Brown Foundation
Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO)
Paolyel MP Onencan
Civic Response On Environment & Development (CRED)
Bashir Twesigye - Executive Director
Community Development and Conservation Agency (CODECA)
Conservation Action Trust
Francis Garrard - Director
Ecological Christian Organisation (ECO Uganda)
Bill Butcher- Director
Marlene McCay - Founder and Chairperson
Jean Marie Mangaya
Fauna & Flora International
Mark Rose - Chief Executive Officer
Global Rights Alert
Patrick Alley - Founder
Victorine Sirri Che Thöner
Jeunesse du Monde République Démocratique du Congo
Mr Tibère Kajemba Dunia
Lake Albert Biodiversity Conservation Alert (LABCA)
Willem Johannes Kok - Managing director
Mid-western region Centre for Democracy & human rights (MICOUD)
Mutanda Lake Resort
Willem Johannes Kok - Managing director
New Eden Christian Foundation
New Progressive Alliance
Pro-Biodiversity Conservationists in Uganda (PROBICOU)
Publish What You Pay – Uganda (PWYP-U)
Noreen Nampewo - National Coordinator
Rainforest Action Network
Lindsey Allen - Executive Director
Rainforest Foundation Norway
Lars Løvold - Director
Rainforest Foundation UK
Simon Counsell - Executive Director
Kisuba Muliro Rousseau
Real Agency for Community Development(RACD)
Kriton Arsenis - Founder
Save the Elephants
Iain Douglas-Hamilton - Founder & CEO
Save Virunga Team
South Western Institute for Policy & Advocacy (SOWIPA)
Mme Masika Tulinabo
Laura Miller – CEO
The Wild Foundation
Vance G. Martin
Transparency International Uganda
Union D'etude Pour La Conservation De La Nature (UECN)
Jonas Pandasi - Executive Director
Voluntary Initiative Support Organisation (VISO)
Water Governance Institute
Henry M Bazira
World Heritage International
Tony Sadownichik - Chair of Board of Directors
Zevin Asset Management
Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
Jonathan Baillie - Conservation Programmes Director