Keep Virunga Fossil Fuel Free

The climate crisis is a justice issue. The countries that have emitted the most carbon dioxide since the industrial revolution, such as the USA, China and Russia (UK are 8th) are not the same as the MAPA  (most affected people and areas) that are mainly in the global South and have produced little CO2. Sheffield Extinction Rebellion wanted to discover what it means to live on the front-line of the climate crisis and provide solidarity and assistance to climate activists in these areas, so they have made a partnership with  XR  Université de Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Virunga National Park is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet and is home to one-third of the world’s wild mountain gorillas. It is classified as a World Heritage Site but has been at the crossroads of an intense conflict for oil, involving fossil fuel companies, armed militia groups, and corrupt officials for almost a decade.

Hundreds of thousands of people depend on the Park for their livelihoods. These lives would be ruined if oil exploitation goes ahead. Throughout the world, one million species are at risk of extinction. The links between human health and the health of the planet are clear. For all our sakes, we must protect the biodiversity of Virunga, and the lives of all those defending it.

XR Université de Goma alongside other groups are working day and night to demand the DRC government immediately halt all oil development activities in Virunga. The group also plans to educate and mobilise local communities in order to document the needs of those living around the park and encourage a participatory management policy for Virunga, which benefits local people. 

The Oscar-nominated Netflix film Virunga (2014) tells the true story of the rangers risking their lives to save Africa’s most precious national park and its endangered gorillas. 130 rangers have already lost their lives to poachers and rebel armed groups. The film links the oil companies that want to destroy the park to exploit the oil with these groups. They are alleged to support the poachers because if the gorillas died they believe the fight to conserve the park would diminish.

This week we heard the terribly sad news that one of the gorillas featured in the film has died. The park announced the news alongside a heartbreaking image of Andre cradling Ndakasi, the 14-year-old gorilla as she took her final breaths. The emotional post reads: “It is with heartfelt sadness that Virunga announces the death of beloved orphaned mountain gorilla, Ndakasi, who had been under the care of the Park’s Senkwekwe Centre for more than a decade.”

“On the evening of September 26, following a prolonged illness in which her condition rapidly deteriorated, Ndakasi took her final breath in the loving arms of her caretaker and lifelong friend, Andre Bauma.”

When the film was made it claimed there were  800 Mountain Gorillas left. Census methods are not accurate enough to state confidently, but it is thought they have recovered to about 1000. Covid however has badly damaged the tourism to national parks in DRC and Uganda, so now the conservation efforts to save them are threatened due to lack of funds.

Sheffield activist Karine Nohr wrote to the Daily Express saying “ If the Fossil Fuel companies are allowed to drill for oil, then the Park will be destroyed, it will be the end of the Gorillas,  the water will be contaminated, the fish will die and so the source of drinking water and food for the Rangers and their families will be destroyed. And to cap it all,  the extraction of oil will worsen the Climate Crisis for us all over the world. We need to join up the dots and see that the future of this big animal ecosystem, the safety of the Rangers and their families, the exploration of oil and the ever-increasing Climate Crisis are all part of the same complicated story. Total and other oil companies should not be given permits to drill for oil in the Park.”

Sheffield XR  started a crowdfunder for XR Université de Goma and have so far raised £3000. Pascal Mirundi, a 22-year-old law student in Goma, was one of the founders of the campaign. He says “The effects of pollution can easily reach the ecosystems of Virunga Park and if the waters of the Semliki River become polluted, the whole hydrography of the basin will be affected.

For us, oil exploitation will not only destroy these ecosystems, but it will also affect the communities that depend on them for their survival, especially here in Africa, where oil activities have consistently caused environmental damage, human rights abuses and fuelled conflicts with, among other consequences, extrajudicial killings. Fossil fuels are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. As signatories to the Paris Agreement, our leaders should commit to limiting the activities responsible for these polluting emissions.”

COP starts on October 31st, but many delegates from the Global South can’t go, because they have not had a Covid vaccine. Sheffield XR wants to ensure that the voices of people like Pascal are heard loud and clear at the conference. Keep Virunga Fossil fuel free!

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