On 7th October Synchronicity Earth organised a screening of ‘Virunga’ at the Electric Cinema in London in conjunction with Global Witness.
Virunga, in the Democratic Republic Congo (DRC), is Africa’s oldest and most biodiverse national park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is home to Mountain Gorillas, Grauers Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Okapi and Elephants, supporting a wealth of cultural diversity, while providing homes and livelihoods for thousands of people in the region. Yet Virunga’s inhabitants are under threat from activities believed to be associated with oil exploration in and around its borders. Despite laws that prevent extractive industry operations within national parks and World Heritage Sites, the Congolese government has allowed SOCO International – a London stock-exchange listed company – to begin exploration in the region.
The film is based on a collaborative investigation between park rangers, civil society representatives, independent researchers and filmmakers. It exposes the bad practice believed to be associated with oil exploration in the region in a bid to safeguard this unique ecosystem both now and in the future.
Following the film, Simon Counsell, Director of Rainforest Foundation UK, chaired a panel discussion with:
- Mélanie Gouby, independent researcher, who alongside Rodrigue Katembo Mugaruka from ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature: the body responsible for managing state protected areas in the DRC), collected a huge amount of information, at great personal risk, to build a case up of what is happening in Virunga.
- Alphonse Muhindo Valivambene, Director, Reseau CREF, a network of around 30 civil society organisations working with local communities to improve forest governance in eastern DRC.
- Daniel Balint-Kurti, Campaign Leader, DRC, Global Witness, who along with colleague Nat Dyer (who translated on the night) helped analyse and collate important information on SOCO International in the report: Drillers in the Mist.
WWF and SOCO International issued a joint statement in June 2014 in which the oil company committed:
“not to undertake or commission any exploratory or other drilling within Virunga National Park unless UNESCO and the DRC government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage status.”
Nonetheless, activities are believed to be ongoing and it is therefore vital that efforts to continue to:
- Ensure national and international laws that protect Virunga National Park and the communities living around it are strengthened and implemented;
- Raise public awareness of and expose bad practice internationally, particularly amongst the investor and donor communities;
- Provide much needed support and protection for civil society groups on the ground facing immediate threats to their homes, forests, freshwater, livelihoods and security.
- Support an alternative future for Virunga National Park and its surrounding communities, through tourism, sustainable fisheries, energy generation and agriculture and community forestry.
- Virunga National Park official website
- Save Virunga: news and blog posts about what’s happening in Virunga