Virunga National Park – Under Threat Part I
Virunga National Park, Africa’s first natural wildlife park is once again under threat from SOCO plc a British Oil Company that is threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of species of mammal and fauna and indigenous tribes that depend on the parks surroundings to survive.
The problem doesn’t just stop there, M23 rebels and “oil” don’t mix especially when the cease fire there over a year old now is still bubbling, frustrations are mounting, conservationists are coming under attack. Tensions are high and the only hope for this park and its inhabitants now is us and you pushing SOCO out. Preserving the park for years to come. Failure is simply not an option.
Brief History Thus Far;
International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa came under cyber-attack on the 1st and 2nd of June 2014 some days after exposing the details of SOCO’s new exploratory maps, home addresses of the Directors and for speaking out against the corrupt regime within the Democratic Republic of Congo. Our Africans site was hacked into, our articles removed, our communications site shut down for no more than 3-4 hours until it was assessed what was going on.
Who were the attackers? We believe the opportunist that got lucky was of Asian origin that was able to locate sites not advertised by us, and information and the know-how of how to navigate complex admin panels. The individual[s] bypassed every important door that would have terminated all sites, every panel that would have hemorrhaged funds from our banks.
Only after well published and shared Virunga articles the perpetrators we believe are the same individuals that have recently been waging cyber-warfare on critics that have spoken out about the current drilling within Africa’s oldest National Park.
Laws as set out in the Democratic Republic of Congo clearly state that oil drilling is “an illegal activity” within the Virunga of which has seen many speak out against the drilling. Those that are speaking out are now being threatened by local thugs, rebels, and cyber warriors.
According to the laws of Democratic Republic of the Congo, activities harmful to the environment are prohibited in all protected areas, including national parks.
Major oil exploitation could involve disruptive seismic tests, forest clearing, deep underground drilling, or the laying of vulnerable oil pipelines. The additional human presence required for these activities could also be damaging to the park’s ecosystems.
As a signatory to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, Democratic Republic of the Congo has agreed to respect the treaty’s requirements for the protection World Heritage Sites.
Oil and mineral extraction have been found by UNESCO to be incompatible with the spirit of the convention. Alarmed by the allocation of oil concessions within Virunga National Park, UNESCO’s Director General has called for the Congolese government to “abandon all plans for oil extraction.” Similarly, the World Heritage Committee has urged that all oil permits be cancelled. International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa has called on SOCO to pull out of Virunga and for the British Government to now intervene before we see damage and loss occur.
SOCO back in April 2014 released this statement below with regards to its “seismic surveys” that are ongoing in large blocks within the Virunga National Park established in 1925.
SOCO’s April 2014 statement can be read below;
Tuesday 29 April 2014
SOCO International plc (“SOCO” or “the Company”)
SOCO Comments on Unfounded Allegations and Inaccuracies on the Company’s Current Activities in Virunga National Park SOCO is aware of the inaccuracies concerning its activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo currently being circulated in the media by the Company’s detractors.
SOCO would like to make clear, as consistent with previous statements, that the only commitment at this point in time is to conduct seismic survey on Lake Edward, alongside environmental and social studies and social investment programmes. No drilling has been planned or is even warranted at this stage.
This is the preliminary block evaluation phase of the work programme agreed with the DRC Government, and is the only phase to which SOCO has committed.
A seismic survey is a scientific study to gather data about subsurface rock formations. SOCO commissioned a seismic survey on Lake Edward in DRC waters, which has a surface area of approx. 1,630 sq km. This survey, beginning late April, is not the first seismic survey on Lake Edward: a seismic survey was previously carried out on the same lake in Ugandan waters (which covers a surface area of approx. 695 sq km).
The seismic survey will take approx. 6 weeks to complete and will progress across the lake, one area at a time. SOCO is using the same specialist contractors that carried out a similar survey on Lake Albert, another of the East Africa Great Lakes, this time using an even more environmentally sensitive technique. Moreover, although the survey technique is harmless to aquatic flora and fauna, as an extra precautionary measure the delicate fish spawning areas of the lake will be excluded.
The seismic survey involves placing a line of hydrophones, extremely sensitive sound equipment, onto the lake floor to record sound waves produced from releases of compressed air. The survey will take place in daylight and will utilise approximately 1% of the lake, on the DRC side, at any one time (approx. 16 sq km).
LICENCE AND PERMITS
The Government of the DRC awarded the Block V licence to SOCO in June 2006 and ratified this by Presidential Decree in 2010. In 2011, the DRC Environment Ministry approved SOCO’s environmental and social impact assessment (often referred to as the ‘PAR’) and in 2011 and 2013 issued Environmental Acceptability Certificates authorising respective aerial and seismic surveys. The aerial survey was not carried out due to the security status in the region; the seismic survey is described above.
Within Block V, SOCO’s specific area of interest is Lake Edward (approx 1,630 km2) and the adjacent lowland savannah, which are both within the Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The park wardens’ organisation, ICCN, which manages the Virunga National Park, is a DRC Government body. In May 2011, ICCN and SOCO made an agreement, which was signed by ICCN’s Chairman of the Board and its Director General. Under the terms of this agreement, ICCN permits SOCO to enter the Virunga National Park for the purposes of carrying out scientific studies, and SOCO pays ICCN a fee for access to the Park and for monitoring SOCO’s activities whilst inside the Park.
The lines of working relationship and accountability to ICCN were strengthened further in September 2011 when an Environmental Monitoring Committee was established to monitor SOCO’s activities whilst in the Park. ICCN has two representatives on this committee and ICCN’s Director General holds the position of Committee Chairman. SOCO’s agreement with ICCN was renewed in 2013.
The DRC Environment Ministry addressed the legal position concerning oil exploration in the Virunga National Park in its letter to UNESCO, announced on 8 August 2012 and available on its website (also available on SOCO’s website). The DRC Environment Ministry has recently stated its continued commitment to promoting the country’s research, exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in full compliance with its national and international commitments to nature and the environment. The DRC Environment Ministry noted that despite some concerns, it was determined to combine sound economic management with sustainable management of natural resources whilst ensuring environmental protection.
HELP FOR THE PARK
The Virunga National Park was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger by the World Heritage Committee twenty years ago in 1994 in the wake of war and an influx of refugees which led to widescale deforestation and poaching at the site. The human population in the fishing village near Lake Edward has increased several fold, posing a serious threat to the integrity of the Park.
Responsible commercial investment has the potential to transform a region. We are committed to support conservation by ensuring that our operations are managed responsibly and sustainably. Responsibly conducted commercial activities can provide important measures of stability to a region. Enhancement of local and regional economies can help raise living standards for local communities and thus alleviate the pressure and negative impacts on the protected area. We are committed to continuing the dialogue with all stakeholders who have an interest in our operations in Virunga in order to better understand their concerns, correct inaccuracies and reassure local communities.
During 2013, SOCO committed over US $0.9 million towards social projects for local communities around Lake Edward, including:
The rehabilitation of a dilapidated road between Nyakakoma and Ishasha,
The installation of a communications mast at Nyakakoma
The provision of medical aid programmes (including a mobile hospital and a disease mapping campaign to combat neglected tropical diseases).
SOCO is extremely sensitive to the environmental significance of the Virunga National Park. This is reflected in the strict step-wise process that is uniquely characteristic of the Block V project. Unlike standard oil exploration licence projects, the approval of the DRC authorities is required for each phase of the project and emphasis is placed on environmental monitoring studies and social investment during the early phases.
Engaging with the local community to hear and understand their needs, along with carefully managed social investment is an important part of responsible management. SOCO’s social investment is starting to have a positive impact that we believe will be long-term.
It is emphasised that SOCO operates under a strict Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, which it takes extremely seriously. Any reported breach will always be investigated to the furthest extent possible.
SOCO fully appreciates and supports a public debate on the compatibility of conservation and economic development. However, the benefit of such debate becomes limited when one side of the debate presents false allegations, and when there has been little or no opportunity for balance to be included by allowing SOCO to put across its side of the story with facts concerning its location and activities in Block V.
SOCO’s approach continues to be one of openness and transparency, and SOCO welcomes dialogue with all its stakeholders.
End of statement;
Lake Edward featured within the heavily criticised film “Virunga” is the main area of interest that SOCO are currently focusing on, strangely SOCO also state that they were given “permission” to conduct (seismic surveys) and not (drilling as yet) by Virunga’s rangers, Democratic Republic of Congo Government and local communities. From our own experiences and knowing to well whom are located around the area of Lake Edward and within the Virunga itself we personally believe rangers and local communities have been threatened by “unforeseen forces” most likely M23 rebels that have since a year ago issued a cease fire within the park.
SOCO stresses that all of the Company’s activities within the Virunga National Park, taking place between 2012 and 2014 to date, have been authorised by ICCN – the Virunga Park rangers /warden’s organisation which manages the Virunga National Park. The park authorities are authorised under national Congolese law to perm it certain activities, including a seismic survey. Copies of the permits are provided on www.socointernational.com
Are seismic surveys detrimental to the environment?
The direct impacts of seismic activities are not extensive because they are generally confined to the width of the seismic lines (usually 4–5 m) and should not extend into the surrounding landscape. As the seismic activities are not laterally extensive, they have very minor potential for significant cumulative and hence ecological effects.
However, some issues such as 3D seismic surveys, which may directly impact up to 2% of the survey area, are being studied for significance in terms of ecological impact. In addition, all seismic lines have the potential to facilitate access to areas by third parties and exotic species.
The actual impacts on wildlife within SOCO’s exploratory seismic zones are more visual rather than ecological – however it must be noted that conducting such research within aquatic areas being that Lake Edward can if not monitored cause loss of aquatic life or force species to move on.
What are seismic surveys?
Firstly let us just REMIND you that SOCO is only conducting seismic surveys of which we know will only lead to one thing should the surveys prove positive. SOCO know there is oil within this region and stand to lose quite a lot of money if they pull out now. We must also stress that tensions are currently high within the area. Knowing what is at stake and knowing too that we and other environmental organisations want no drilling of its kind in the park could potentially start another conflict especially within one of Africa’s poorest countries. Money speaks volumes within the Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Drilling for oil is an expensive gamble: With project costs rising every year, an oil company can stand to lose an incredible amount of money exploring or developing a property that fails to yield hydrocarbons in commercial rates. When faced with these risks, company’s do all they can to hedge their bets, to be as sure as possible that their investment has a good chance of making money. Companies want to know as much as possible about the potential profitability of a property before they begin developing it, and seismic surveys are one of the primary ways they learn about a prospect’s production potential.
In essence, seismic surveys are a way to probe beneath the surface to “see” underlying features that make up the underground structure of a prospect. Such features can give companies a more astute indication if a prospect contains hydrocarbons.
“In addition to delineating subsurface structures, seismic data can be computer processed for ‘attributes’ such as Amplitude Versus Offset, or AVO, which can serve as a Direct Hydrocarbon Indicator (DHI). AVO shows the lithology and fluid content variations in rocks, allowing geologists to model other fluid contents. “Such DHIs are as close to directly identifying oil or gas in the subsurface as geophysicists can get.”
As the name suggests, seismic examines surface-induced seismic pulses to image subsurface formations. Basically, a seismic wave is generated underneath the earth’s surface, and then picked up by sensors called “geophones” as the waves bounce off subsurface formations – that is, layers of rock beneath the surface. There are two primary means of generating these waves: with dynamite and with a process called vibroseis.
Dynamite is the simpler and generally preferred source, but for several reason it is limited to open areas, such as fieldsand farmlands. Dynamite is also the only practical energy source in swampy areas, such as much of Southern Louisiana. Quite simply, dynamite is buried and then set off. The resulting explosions generate the requisite underground reverberation, which is then relayed via geophones to a special recording truck.
The other common method, more frequently seen in populous areas or places in which dynamite is impractical, is vibroseis. Vibroseis uses large, purpose-built trucks as the source of the seismic waves. Five or six trucks are commonly used to create enough energy for the procedure. Simultaneously, these trucks then begin to generate energy of increasing frequency over the period of several seconds. Like with the dynamite method, the resulting reverberations are measured by geophones, with the data being sent to a recording truck.
The rough signal is then filtered and processed to edit out background noise and produce a clean, sharp final signal.
Land seismic surveys are not really a “danger” to wildlife however as explained when conducting such surveys in aquatic areas of high ecological interest they can be detrimental to aquatic fauna. SOCO have stated (areas) of Lake Edward that host vast spawning grounds have been “excluded” from oil research. So there is evidence that seismic surveys can be “dangerous” to aquatic life which brings us to our next and most worrying concern. Drilling for oil in Africa’s most pristine and oldest Natural Park.
SOCO for the time being have clearly stated that drilling is not “part of their activities” within the park. Please read below.
Block V encompasses an area of the Virunga National Park, a World Heritage Site, which includes part of Lake Edward. SOCO’s area of interest is the lowland savannah area around Lake Edward and the lake itself.
It is emphasised that Block V is not located within the mountainous Mikeno Sector, home to the famous Mountain Gorillas. This has been subject to much inaccurate media speculation. Furthermore, SOCO has stated it will never seek to have operations in the Mountain Gorilla habitat, the Virunga Volcanoes or the Virunga equatorial rainforest.
The only planned activity continues to be the scientific studies involving a seismic survey of Lake Edward, environmental baseline studies and social investment projects. No drilling has been planned or is warranted at this stage.
Oil drilling in Virunga could be potentially catastrophic for mammal life, fauna and birds right down to local indigenous tribes that depend on the parks surroundings for their survival. Lake Edward, Rutanzige or Edward Nyanza is the smallest of the African Great Lakes. It is located in the Albertine Rift, the western branch of the East African Rift, on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, with its northern shore a few kilometres south of the Equator. So, what drilling that may occur would most likely if seismic surveys prove positive be within the lake itself of which poses a “significantly high threat” to aquatic, avian and land mammals.
Lake Edward lies at an elevation of 920 metres, is 77 km long by 40 km wide at its maximum points, and covers a total surface area of 2,325 km2 (898 sq mi), making it the 15th-largest on the continent. The lake is fed by the Nyamugasani River, the Ishasha River, the Rutshuru River, the Ntungwe River and the Rwindi River. It empties to the north via the Semliki River into Lake Albert. Lake George to the northeast empties into Lake Edward via the Kazinga Channel.
The western escarpment of the Great Rift Valley towers up to 2000 m above the western shore of the lake. The southern and eastern shores are flat lava plains. The Ruwenzori Mountains lie 20 km north of the lake. Should a pipe burst within this region (if drilling is give the go ahead) would not only be disastrous to the lake but also to the Nyamugasani River, the Ishasha River, the Rutshuru River, the Ntungwe River and the Rwindi River. Least forgetting, Semliki River into Lake Albert, Lake George to the northeast empties into Lake Edward via the Kazinga Channel. Due to the area being very remote too clean-up operations would prove difficult, time consuming and potentially dangerous to human life should the civil war begin again.
Lake Edward lies completely within the Virunga National Park (Congo) and the Queen Elizabeth National Park (Uganda) and does not have extensive human habitation on its shores, except at Ishango (DRC) in the north, home to a park ranger training facility. About two-thirds of its waters are in the DR Congo and one third in Uganda. Apart from Ishango, the main Congolese settlement in the south is Vitshumbi, while the Ugandan settlements are Mweya and Katwe in the north-east, near the crater lake of that name, which is the chief producer of salt for Uganda. The Mweya Safari Lodge is the main tourist facility, serving both Lake Edward and Lake Katwe. The nearest cities are Kasese in Uganda to the north-east and Butembo in DR Congo, to the north-west, which are respectively about 50 km and 150 km distant by road.
Although communities within the area are sparsely dotted all around Lake Edward oil drilling and a potential pipe line rupture would harm the already poor and unhealthy surrounding communities that depend on the lake for its abundance of food, land mammals and flora surrounding Lake Edward too. Can we really take this risk of which should not have been authorised by the government or allegedly rangers and wildlife wardens.
Lake Edward is home to many species of fish, including populations of Bagrus docmac, Sarotherodon niloticus, Sarotherodon leucostictus, and over 50 species of Haplochromis and other haplochromine species, of which only 25 are formally described. Fishing is an important activity among local residents. Fauna living on the banks of the lake – including chimpanzees, elephants, crocodiles, and lions – are protected by the national parks. The area is also home to many perennial and migratory bird species.
Fast Facts on animal species and environment within the Virunga National Park;
1. A single 100-acre block of forest in the Ituri National Park was found to contain 700 species of trees and liana vines.
2. Bonobos (along with the common chimpanzee) are the primate most closely related to humans, yet are the least well known of the African great apes. Discovered in 1935 and found only in DR Congo, some populations remain relatively isolated within the low-lying forests south of the Congo River.
3. Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest, having been established in 1925, and includes landscapes ranging from glaciers to lowland forests and active volcanoes.
4. Virunga harbors more types of birds (706) and mammals (196) species than any other national park in Africa. It also contains 109 reptile, 78 amphibian, and more than 2,000 plant species.
5. The rare okapi, known as the “rainforest giraffe” because of its long neck, the shape of its ears, and its long tongue, is native to the Ituri Forest of DR Congo.
History of oil pipe line accidents within Africa!
Back in 2004 Lagos saw one colossal pipe line burst of which since 1990 to present the Africans country, Nigeria has been in the spotlight regarding numerous oil pipe line bursts.
Press reports stated;
Lagos – A pipeline carrying crude oil across the unruly Niger delta region to Nigeria’s main export terminal has burst and is on fire, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell and a local leader said on Tuesday The Trans-Niger pipeline carrying crude from wells in southern Nigeria to Shell’s Bonny oil export terminal was reported to be leaking on Monday, company officials said.
Shell said that it had already moved in to control the fire and the leak. But a local ethnic leader insisted that the firm’s engineers had not yet arrived, but simply flown over the area in a helicopter.
“We sent a team of experts to cap the leak but were prevented by youths in the community,” a Shell spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Community leaders intervened but, before we could access the area, some unknown persons had set fire on the leak, causing a spill into a nearby fish pond,” he continued. “Our men are there right now, working. We have contained the fire and the leak will be capped today. We have also launched an inquiry into the incident.” The village where the fire broke out is in the traditional homeland of the Ogoni people, who have a long-standing dispute with Shell. The firm halted oil production in Ogoniland, a minority enclave north of the oil city of Port Harcourt, in 1993 after protests and bad international publicity over the environmental damage its operations were causing.
But important pipelines still run through Ogoni territory and community leaders still accuse the oil giant of polluting and exploiting their land without being prepared to pay for community development. “The villagers say that the fire started early yesterday, after the spill had been seen the night before,” said Ledum Mitee, president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (Mosop. “Up until the time I am speaking to you nothing has been done about it. Containment measures have not been taken,” he said, denying there had been any local protest to prevent Shell gaining access to the site.
Mitee said that oil from the burst pipeline was leaking into a tidal creek and threatening a large stretch of farmland. “The leak is barely an hour’s drive from Port Harcourt, I can’t see why they don’t come,” he added. The latest incident came as concerns over the security of world oil supplies mounted and the price of a barrel of crude on the London market passed $54 (about R350) for the first time.
Nigeria is in the second day of a four-day general strike and, despite an admission by unions that they do not plan to disrupt exports, oil traders are anxiously monitoring the country’s daily supply of around 2,5 million barrels.
Back in 2011 some 100 people died when an oil well ruptured.
Scores dead in Kenyan pipeline inferno;
As many as 100 people are feared dead in a fire caused by a leaking fuel pipeline in a densely populated area of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, according to police. The explosion took place on Monday in the Lunga Lunga industrial area, which is surrounded by a sprawling urban slum.
Flames leapt out from the pipeline in a radius of some 300 meters, setting shacks ablaze and incinerating scores of people, the Associated Press reported. Reporters later saw clusters of charred bodies and blackened bones at the site. Some burned bodies floated in a nearby river filled with sewage, according to the AP. Homes had been built right up to the pipeline, the residents said.
“We are putting the number of dead at over 100, we are waiting for body bags to put the victims into,” said Thomas Atuti, a local police commander. “There had been a leak in the fuel pipeline earlier, and people were going to collect the fuel that was coming out,” said Joseph Mwego, a resident.
“Then there was a loud bang, a big explosion, and smoke and fire burst up high.” Francis Muendo, another resident, told the AFP news agency: “I have never seen this in my life. I have seen women and children burnt like firewood. The very worst was a woman burned with her baby on her back.” Local television channels aired images of smouldering skeletons as the fire raged through the slum covering an area police said was about one acre.
Children in school uniform ran in all directions, crying. Badly burnt slum dwellers staggered in a daze, skin peeling off their faces and arms, according to the Reuters news agency. Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister visited the scene of the inferno and promised help for the victims. “The government will do everything possible to ensure the injured will be treated and the families who have lost their loved ones will be compensated,” said Odinga, who spoke through the sun-roof of his 4×4 vehicle at the scene of the fire.
Mwai Kibaki, the Kenyan president, also visited patients with severe burns at the country’s largest public hospital. “People were trying to scoop fuel from the pipeline,” a Red Cross official told AFP by telephone, adding that the organisation had sent a team to the scene. Firefighters sprayed chemical foam to try to contain the fire, while both police and soldiers roped off the area and pushed people back from the area.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow, reporting from Nairobi, said it is common for poor Kenyans to rush to burst pipelines and fuel tankers invloved in road accidents to collect fuel. In 2009, at least 50 people were killed when a fire erupted while they were drawing fuel from an overturned tanker in western Kenya.
Could history repeat itself with regards to the 2010 Democratic Republic of Congo’s fuel blast that killed a staggering 220 people and damaged vast swathes of environment?
2010 DRC fuel explosion;
At least 220 people are reported to have been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after a lorry loaded with oil exploded, setting fire to a village in the east of the country.
Marcellin Cisamvo, the governor of South Kivu province, where the accident took place late on Friday, said children were among those killed. “Some people were killed trying to steal the fuel, but most of the dead were people who were indoors watching the [World Cup] match,” Cisamvo said on Saturday.
Vincent Kabanga, a spokesperson for the South Kivu provincial government, said the tanker, which was coming from Tanzania, overturned in the village of Sange. “There was a crush [of people] and a petrol leak, [then] there was an explosion of fuel oil which spread throughout the village,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from the scene of the tragedy in Sange, said: “It is a large area of devastation. A [cinema] was crammed with people watching a World Cup match. The whole thing is now completely destroyed. “Behind it, another cinema and a couple of houses have been completely burnt to ashes.
“I am now two kilometres up the road from the scene where the UN and local Red Cross brought a lot of the bodies and are now burying them in mass graves. “There are two large holes and then about three or four houses.
“It was a big fuel tank with a very large amount of fuel.
“People were apparently trying to get some of the fuel. Fuel is a valuable commodity here.
“This is one of the poorest parts [of the DRC], so people scrambled to try and get some. And then, 20 minutes or so after the truck tipped over, something triggered the explosion.
“By that point petrol had flown into both cinemas and to the houses behind.”
‘Trap already laid’
Earlier, Katrina Manson, a journalist with the Reuters news agency in the DRC, told Al Jazeera that once the fuel started leaking “it ran absolutely everywhere. Once it caught fire, the trap was already set”. Dozens of homes, mostly constructed with earth and straw, were engulfed in the blaze.
A police officer based in Bukavu, the provincial capital, said the accident had been caused by the lorry’s “excessive speed”. Leonard Zigade, an official of the local Red Cross, said that the organisation had people on the spot and the search for victims was continuing.
The UN, for its part, made three helicopters available to evacuate residents and alerted hospitals at Bukavu and Uvira, a source said. Madnodge Mounoubai, a spokesperson for the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (Monusco), told Al Jazeera that about 35 people had been air-lifted to Bukavu for treatment.
Survivors “in the village need water, food and maybe psychological assistance”, he said. “We have one helicopter on the ground ferrying the most injured people to Kivu. We also have a couple of ambulances transporting the injured to nearby hospitals.
“Bukavu is about 100 kilometres from Sange while Uvira is about 33 kilometres. “But in either place we don’t have any special hospital to treat the injured. “We are trying to get the best possible medical care that we can, but unfortunately there is no special unit for burned people.” Monusco initially said that five peacekeepers were killed in the blaze, but later said there were no deaths.
Noise Pollution and its Damaging Effects to Wildlife Species;
Noise pollution may not seem like a big deal when compared to land clearing or climate change, but birds rely heavily on singing to communicate. Birdsong is used to attract mates, defend territory from rivals, and even warn for predators. This means that a bird’s ability to be heard plays a direct role in its reproductive interactions and survival. Birdsong is particularly noticeable in the early hours of the morning, a phenomenon known as the “dawn chorus.” Scientists aren’t precisely sure why birds select this time of day for their vocal exertions, but it may have something to do with the quiet, calm surroundings – sound travels well when there’s little wind and excess racket.
It’s the excess racket part that humans are contributing to, prompting some species to sing at different times and in different ways. In Mexico, researchers found that house finches raised the pitch of their lowest song notes in response to road noise, and also held them for longer. A study published in Current Biology examined song changes in the great tit across ten European cities – including Paris, London, and Amsterdam – finding that in each location the birds omitted the low-frequency portion of their call. (source) For the great tit, this makes plenty of adaptive sense, since most urban noise is low-frequency. Why expend the energy to belt out your alto if no one else can hear it?
Several studies have shown that urban and non-urban noise can have adverse effects on bird populations, causing them to change their songs and otherwise alter their behavior.
Wildlife have different reactions to noise exposure, and African species are no different. The wildlife has varying degrees of sensitivity to disturbance [Vanthomme et al. 2013]. Some species, such as the white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) and the African elephant (Loxodonta africana), will avoid areas of high human disturbance such as roads and highways [Buk & Knight 2012]. Animals with a greater tolerance to disturbance, such as the lion (Panthera leo) and cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), may become habituated to roads and use them to their advantage in order to move from point A to point B in an effective manner [Coffin 2007] .
Picture Below – Endangered Okapi could be wiped out!
All four species rely heavily on their hearing in order to survive, either for hunting or to avoid danger. As development continues to expand throughout Africa, and especially South Africa, wildlife in small, protected areas are becoming surrounded by roads, and these roads are becoming more frequently used. Animals with less space to utilize within the reserve are having constant, forced exposure to chronic noise from commuting vehicles. Imagine relying on your hearing in order to find your food, but you are constantly listening to honking horns and the hustle and bustle outside of your house. It’s going to make it harder to find that food, don’t you think? Other wildlife populations exposed to noise pollution have had such effects such as hearing loss, hypertension and elevated stress hormone levels.
Conservationists Come Under Attack for Speaking Out against SOCO;
Several rangers and activists have been arbitrarily detained by the authorities and threatened or assaulted by unidentified people after criticizing plans for oil exploration in Virunga, a UNESCO world heritage site that is home to many of the last surviving mountain gorillas. On April 15, 2014, armed men shot and seriously wounded the park’s director, Emmanuel de Mérode, a Belgian national. Congolese military justice officials and police have opened an investigation into the attack.
“The attack on the national park’s director was a painful and shocking reminder that people working to protect Africa’s oldest park – its habitat, wildlife, and local communities – do so at enormous risk,” said Ida Sawyer, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Congolese authorities need to make sure that those responsible for this attack and others are arrested and prosecuted.”
The Belgian federal prosecutor should also consider opening an investigation into the attack on the basis that de Mérode is a Belgian national. The Belgian and Congolese judicial authorities could join efforts to strengthen the investigation.
De Mérode and other park rangers, activists, and local community members have long criticized proposed oil exploration and drilling in the park, which they contend will have a negative impact on the park, its wildlife, and local communities. SOCO International signed a production-sharing contract with the Congolese government in 2006 to explore for oil within and near Virunga Park. In
October 2011, SOCO received a permit to explore for oil in Block V, a vast area in eastern Congo, of which 52 percent lies within Virunga Park, next to the endangered gorilla habitat.
De Mérode and other rangers have asserted that SOCO’s activities in the park violate Congolese and international law, which, as government officials, the rangers say they have a duty to uphold. Other Congolese government officials in Kinshasa and eastern Congo support SOCO’s plans, given the potentially large financial gains oil would bring. SOCO has denied any role in threats, violence, or bribery, but has said it will look into allegations of bribery, and condemned the use of violence and intimidation.
In the week following the attack on de Mérode, at least three human rights and environmental activists received threatening text messages from unidentified numbers, Human Rights Watch said. One message said:
“You are playing with fire [name of activist], you are going to burn your second leg, it’s useless to change your car because we know all the cars and we’re everywhere you go with your team. Don’t believe that just because we failed to get your director that we are going to fail to get you”
Another message said: “You think that by writing you’re going to prevent us from extracting oil. You are going to die for nothing like de Mérode.”
On May 3, 2014, an environmental activist in Goma received three calls from an unknown number. The caller threatened the activist, saying that they “wanted the head” of a staff member of the organization who, the caller said, had bad-mouthed their interests. The caller said: “We failed to get de Mérode, but we won’t fail to get [name of staff].” They told the employee that if he told anyone about the calls, he would be “dealt with.”
“Park rangers and activists should be able to oppose oil exploration in Virunga Park without risking their lives,” Sawyer said. “Congolese authorities need to take steps immediately to make sure that people are safe when they try to uphold the law, protect the park, and peacefully express their views.”
Victims of abuses and witnesses to these incidents allege that Congolese government, military, and intelligence officials who support oil exploration in the park were responsible for previous threats and acts of violence against activists and park staff.
Activists and park rangers alleged that SOCO representatives and security contractors attempted to bribe them to gain their support or to discourage them from speaking out against oil exploration in the park and to facilitate the company’s activities in the park. One environmental activist alleged that SOCO representatives offered him US$20,000 and told him he would be able to hire five people to work for him if he accepted the money.
An investigation by park authorities found that a SOCO representative paid a senior park official several thousand dollars over several months to support SOCO’s activities. The official participated in meetings with park rangers at which they were told that they would be fired if they did not support SOCO. Findings from this investigation, which lasted over three years, were submitted to a Congolese prosecutor in Goma on April 15, hours before the attack on de Mérode.
In a meeting with Human Rights Watch on May 23, North Kivu Governor Julien Paluku acknowledged that certain government and security officials seem to have been “manipulated.” He said that he did not know who was manipulating them, but that it appeared they had been paid and “instrumentalized” to support oil exploration. He said there had been numerous allegations about threats and assaults against activists and park rangers opposed to oil exploration, and that he had asked the police and military justice officials to investigate.
In a May 30 response to a letter from Human Rights Watch regarding allegations that SOCO representatives were involved in bribery, SOCO’s Deputy Chief Executive Roger Cagle wrote:
There have been a substantial number of false and inaccurate allegations levelled against SOCO International plc in recent years and particularly in the last month. Sadly, a number of these allegations have arisen as a result of inaccurate, false, distorted and/or exaggerated accounts of our activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the ‘DRC’). It also increasingly seems to be the case that anyone engaging in alleged questionable and unethical conduct are immediately branded ‘SOCO representatives’ and ‘SOCO supporters’ even when they simply are not and have nothing to do with our company. …
We operate on a strict Code of Business Conduct and Ethics (our “Code”). …We are fully committed to conducting our business in an honest and ethical manner and we expect and require that our contractors, suppliers and agents will conduct themselves in the same manner. Moreover, the Company operates in accordance with the UK Bribery Act 2010 and as part of our required Bribery Risk Governance, we have a formal process to mitigate risks of corruption.
Regarding the specific allegations of bribery raised by Human Rights Watch, Cagle wrote that company officials “have no information as to whether or not the incidents actually took place, and if so, what happened. However, based on the information available, we have instigated the procedures in our code.”
SOCO should act in accordance with the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, international guidelines that place responsibilities on companies to take specific steps to safeguard rights whenever they rely on public or private security forces to guard their operations, Human Rights Watch said. In addition, the company should adhere to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which call on all companies to identify any possible human rights risks in their operations and address any problems that might occur.
Human Rights Watch urged the British government to investigate SOCO’s activities in eastern Congo under the United Kingdom’s Bribery Act. Any inquiry should examine alleged acts of corruption or bribery that may have led to attacks and threats against park rangers and activists at Virunga Park.
“The allegations that SOCO representatives offered bribes in the volatile climate in Virunga Park should be taken seriously,” Sawyer said. “SOCO should investigate their representatives, agents, and contractors and make sure that none are involved in harassment of activists and park personnel.”
Attack on Park Director de Mérode
Emmanuel de Mérode was driving alone in the park about 10 kilometers from the Virunga Park headquarters in Rumangabo in an area that is controlled by the Congolese army, when at least three men in military uniform fired at him. He was in a staff vehicle of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, ICCN), a Congolese government institution that oversees national parks. A civilian on a motorcycle later found de Mérode on the road and drove him toward Goma. He was then transferred to two Congolese army vehicles and an ICCN vehicle before reaching the hospital in Goma, where he was treated for bullet wounds to his chest and abdomen.
The Congolese army has a position 500 meters off the main road from where de Mérode was attacked and usually has soldiers posted along the road. The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda, FDLR), a largely Rwandan Hutu armed group, some of whose members participated in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, have also operated in this area in the past. The FDLR are active across eastern Congo and are involved in lucrative, illegal charcoal trading in Virunga Park – a practice that de Mérode and other park rangers have sought to stop.
Arrest and Intimidation of Virunga Park Central Sector Chief
On September 19, 2013, army soldiers and intelligence officials arrested the warden of Virunga Park’s central sector, Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo. He had attempted to stop the construction of a telephone antenna in the park because, he said, the SOCO officials who financed the construction did not have the authorization required by Congolese law to build in the park.
Katembo told Human Rights Watch that on September 3, Dr. Guy Mbayma Atalia, the technical and scientific director for the ICCN and the agency’s focal point with SOCO at the time, had warned him that if he continued to oppose SOCO’s activities in the park, he would be killed. In an interview with Human Rights Watch on April 23, 2014, Mbayma denied this allegation and said he had nothing to do with Katembo’s arrest.
Katembo said that soldiers arrested him in Kanyabayonga, North Kivu, where he had been visiting family, and severely beat him and his younger brother. They told Katembo he was against the government because he did not want SOCO in the park.
“What hurt me the most was how they tortured my young brother in front of me,” Katembo told Human Rights Watch. “I said, ‘What did he do? He’s not even in the ICCN.’ I was crying, and they had tied me up so I couldn’t do anything.”
The soldiers took Katembo to Rwindi, where they further humiliated him, paraded him in front of his home, and burned cigarettes on his head. He was then detained at the provincial headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignements, ANR) in Goma and released on October 7, 2013, after international pressure.
Katembo told Human Rights Watch that officials involved in his arrest and ill-treatment told him that they had been promised money to kill him, rather than arrest him. Katembo said he also learned that intelligence officials had told prisoners that they would pay them if they beat him to death while he was in detention. Officials privately informed Katembo and his family about other plans to ambush or kill him.
After his release, Katembo was told to report to the intelligence agency daily and pay 5,000 Congolese francs (about US$5.50) every day. Several months later, a sympathetic intelligence agent warned him that there were plans to kill him in Goma, and he was advised to leave the city.
The North Kivu provincial director of the intelligence agency at the time, Jean-Marc Banza, told Human Rights Watch on April 17, 2014, that Katembo was “detained legally” because he had insulted the country’s president, Joseph Kabila. Banza denied allegations of mistreatment by the security forces.
Threats Against Activists
In many of the cases Human Rights Watch documented, Congolese government, military, and intelligence officials were implicated in the threats and attacks on human rights and environmental activists and other community leaders. Some had allegedly received money from SOCO.
On January 31, 2014, a local farmers’ cooperative in Rutshuru organized a march of over 300 people opposing SOCO’s activities. The cooperative had informed local authorities about the demonstration in advance, as Congolese law requires. Soon after the march began, policemen went to the cooperative’s office, confiscated a computer and other materials, and tore down a banner that said: “No exploitation of oil in our fields and our lake.” The police detained and beat some of the demonstrators and later released them.
During a public meeting on February 19 in Nyakakoma, a fishing village on Lake Edward in Rutshuru territory, SOCO representatives told residents that exploration work could cause parts of the lake to be closed to fishing for up to three months. The closure could affect 80,000 people whose livelihoods depend on the lake, according to community leaders. A local fisherman and environmental activist voiced his concern at the meeting, questioning how residents would support themselves during this time.
On February 26, the activist received a letter from the National Intelligence Agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignements, ANR), asking him to come to their office in Rutshuru. He told Human Rights Watch that when he went to their office on March 3, “They told me I was behaving badly, and they said it was a matter of the state. I shouldn’t act like a hero, and I risk having my head cut off.” The activist was released after paying the intelligence official $20.
On April 2, another public meeting was held in Nyakakoma, with SOCO representatives, government officials, and residents. After residents protested SOCO’s plans to close parts of the lake during seismic testing, people who were at the meeting later told Human Rights Watch that the Rutshuru territorial administrator, Justin Mukanya, had said that SOCO’s plans for oil exploration would go forward: “The train has already left,” he said. “Whoever wants to try to stop the train will be crushed.”
Several human rights activists who opposed SOCO’s activities in the park told Human Rights Watch that, for the past three years, they had received threatening text messages and phone calls. Following are some examples of these messages, in addition to the more recent cases mentioned above:
On February 26, 2011, two human rights activists received the following text message: “Leave our oil alone. If you continue, you will suffer the same fate as the park.” On the same night, three unidentified men went to the home of one of the activists in Goma; he was not home at the time. Two days later, the activist received the following message: “If you continue to talk about oil, you will see. Watch out.”
On April 24, 2011, three activists received calls from an unidentified person who asked them to come to the executive provincial government office. When they arrived, they were asked to sign a document saying that they had attended a meeting with SOCO on August 13, 2010. The three activists refused to sign. Three days later, one of them received the following message: “You refused to sign. You are arrogant. We’ve already identified your residence.”
On May 7, 2011, another activist received a phone call as he was leaving an Internet café in Goma. The caller, who did not identify himself, said: “You think you are hidden, but we can see you. You just stopped a bus. You thought that we didn’t know you but we’re following you.”
On February 27, 2012, three intelligence agents went to the same activist’s house in Goma and told his wife he was “inciting the population about things the head of state has already decided. If he continues, he will lose his life.” The activist had already been threatened multiple times by phone and had been summoned to court after he sent a letter to government authorities detailing the behavior of a government security agent in Nyakakoma who claimed he was in charge of “security and mobilization for SOCO.”
In December 2013, a fisherman told Human Rights Watch that he had been harassed by the Naval Force after rowing his boat in front of the SOCO office. He was summoned to the office of a major in the Naval Force. There he was accused of spying and taking pictures of the SOCO office. The fisherman asked the major, “On what legal basis are you accusing me of this?” The major allegedly replied: “You come here with your human rights. Here, we don’t do the law. We do the army.” The major seized the fisherman’s camera but did not find any pictures of the SOCO office, and released him after two hours.
After several human rights activists publicly denounced threats and intimidation by agents working on behalf of SOCO, Mbayma, the ICCN’s focal point with SOCO at the time, wrote a letter, seen by Human Rights Watch, to the ICCN director general in early 2014, in which he accused the activists of inciting the population against the government:
From the moment that these structures pride themselves with the freedom to stand up against the sovereign State that is the DRC and to call the peaceful population to civil disobedience, there is good reason for the Director General of the ICCN to take adequate preventative measures. These should take the path of suspending all collaboration, be it direct or indirect, with these NGOs. Otherwise, the ICCN risks being qualified as an accomplice to these NGOs in their proven attempt to break up the authority of the state for the purposes, perhaps, of creating new armed groups.
In a letter to the president of North Kivu’s Provincial Assembly, dated May 13, 2014, and on file at Human Rights Watch, the ICCN director general said that Mbayma had been removed from his position as technical and scientific director, that he was no longer the ICCN focal point with SOCO, and that he no was no longer authorized to speak on behalf of the ICCN.
Allegations Against SOCO International
In December 2010, a Congolese court in Goma authorized park authorities to investigate allegations of illegal activities by SOCO International, including unauthorized entry into the park by vehicle and plane, unauthorized construction in the park, and attempts to bribe and harass park staff and members of the Congolese security forces.
As part of the investigation, a park warden secretly filmed a security officer linked to SOCO and the Congolese army’s liaison officer with SOCO as they offered the warden money. The warden told Human Rights Watch that he refused an offer of “a large stack of cash” to allow SOCO representatives to move freely within the park. Several months later, the same warden said he was offered $50 up front and then $3,000 at the end of every month if he agreed to give SOCO information about the zone where they wanted to enter the park, and to allow them free movement in the park without informing the warden’s supervisor, de Mérode.
Another park warden told Human Rights Watch that Mbayma had instructed him to come to Nyakakoma village with five park guards to work with him at SOCO’s camp. “We were each paid $20 a day for 35 days,” the warden said. “Their objective was for us to go with them to meetings with the population in order to convince the population to support SOCO’s activities and to try to show they had the full support of the ICCN.” The warden said they were paid by Mbayma in the presence of a SOCO agent. He said that Mbayma warned him that if he informed his direct supervisor about what they were doing, “it will fall on your head, and you will be arrested.”
When the warden eventually refused to work with Mbayma and returned to his base, he received at least four threatening calls from Mbayma between November 2013 and February 2014, trying to convince him to work with them again. Mbayma warned him that if he refused to join, he would lose his career with the ICCN and be arrested.
Virunga National Park established in 1925 is Africa’s first and oldest Natural Park which contains more species of bird, aquatic and mammal life than America and Great Britain put together. Gorilla, Bush Elephant, Chimpanzees, Okapi, Lion and rare black Rhino and countless species of bird, aquatic fauna and flora have been under threat since the past decade. Civil war has ravished the entire area. A cease fire is that has been in place for over a year could potentially restart, we “could” see M23 rebels take over an oil depot thus placing the entire park in dire danger from thugs and militia of Joseph Kony’s Army.
SOCO Plc regardless of whether they are only conducting seismic surveys knows too well that oil is within the area. Today we researched on a further oil company within the Virunga Total a French owned company of which reassured its supporters and the public back in 2013 that they will not be drilling within the park. Today and from reliable park sources we are already aware that Total has been drilling within the Virunga. On the 18th May 2013 WWF announced that Total would not look into further oil explorations. However a Mweya insider has informed otherwise. Virunga National Park is now under threat. We have explained above the damages that can occur to our Mama Africa, past oil and petroleum disatsers that have killed hundreds, down to brief evidence of how noise pollution can displace wildlife species leading them into danger.
Should SOCO plc be given the go ahead to drill new roads would need to be opened up that would destroy many scientifically important species of plant and tree, displace monkeys and birds, alter land migration routes of elephant’s and rhinos too.
International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa will NOT stand by and allow another – oil and gas company to ruin our natural heritage. We are prepared to go to prison to defend our natural wildlife rights and will use exhaust every law in the book to protect our flora and fauna.
We have to Act Now and Not Later… Failure is Not an Option. Please contact the British Government Today and demand SOCO are now removed from the Virunga National Park.
WE ARE VIRUNGA
Thank you for reading;
Dr Josa Depre