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Oil Permits Auctioned in Congo’s Virunga Park, Endangering Endangered Gorillas

By Saskya Vandoorne and Tina Burnside, CNN

Despite growing calls from climate change activists, the Democratic Republic of Congo says it is moving forward with its plans to auction off a large majority of oil and gas drilling blocks located in the rainforest and the country peatlands.

In a statement, the Ministry of Hydrocarbons said 27 blocks of oil and 3 blocks of gas would be auctioned, an increase from the 16 blocks the country initially committed to in May.

The blocks include areas that reach into Virunga National Park, a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas in eastern Congo.

Didier Budimbu, the country’s Minister of Hydrocarbons, said on Tuesday that oil exploitation would benefit the Congolese people.

“The president, Felix Tshisekedi, has a vision and he wants to lift his people out of poverty,” Budimbu told a news conference.

A petition signed by more than 100,000 people calls on President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo to end the development of new oil and gas fields in the country, according to a press release from Greenpeace USA.

“Just six months after signing a $500 million forest protection agreement at COP26, the Congolese government is declaring war on our planet over oil and gas. The immediate price will be paid by Congolese communities, who are unaware of the auction, have not been consulted or informed of the risks to their health and livelihoods. Many of them will rise up against this – and we will stand with them,” said Irene Wabiwa Betoko, International Project Manager for the Congo Basin Forest, Greenpeace Africa.

Budimbu pushed back against auction critics by saying non-governmental organizations cannot dictate how a sovereign country is run.

“The option we have taken is to give people from the poorest backgrounds the opportunity to try to improve their lives through their economy, so 100,000 signatures is good, but there are Congolese who need to eat,” Budimbu said.

The DRC has more than 27 million people, including more than 3 million children, who do not have enough food to feed themselves – a third of the country’s population – and more than 5 million internally displaced people. within their own country, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Virunga National Park is found on the forest-covered volcanoes of central Africa and is home to more than half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas.

A Unesco World Heritage since 1979 it has been Africa’s oldest national park and largest tropical rainforest reserve, covering 7,800 km² (3,000 sq mi) with a varied landscape of active volcanoes, savannas, mountains, lakes and forests.

The auction will take place on July 28 and 29.

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