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The ecosystems in the park could support hydropower generation, fishing and ecotourism (worth $350 million per year) and play an important role in providing secure water supplies, regulating climate (by storing carbon) and preventing soil erosion (worth a further $64 million per year). In all, the park could support in the region of 45,000 permanent jobs. In addition, people around the world could derive an immense value from simply knowing that the park is well managed and is safe for future generations (estimated in the report at $700 million per year).

The Economic Value of Virunga National Park says exploitation of oil concessions, which have been allocated across 85 per cent of the World Heritage site, could bring pollution and environmental damage, cause instability and cost people their jobs.

Virunga represents a valuable asset to Democratic Republic of the Congo and contributes to Africa's heritage as the oldest and most biodiverse park on the continent," the report says. "Plans to explore for oil and exploit oil reserves put Virunga's potential value at risk."

In June, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee called for the cancelation of all Virunga oil permits and appealed to concession holders Total SA and SOCO International Plc not to undertake exploration in World Heritage Sites. Total has committed to respecting Virunga's current boundary, leaving UK-based SOCO as the only oil company with plans to explore inside the park.

Last year, the UK government also expressed concerns about the prospect of oil exploration within Virunga National Park. The Foreign and Commonwealth office said, "The UK opposes oil exploration within Virunga National Park, a World Heritage site listed by UNESCO as being 'in danger'. We urge any company involved, and the Government of DR Congo to respect the international conventions to which it is a signatory." [1]

"Virunga's rich natural resources are for the benefit of the Congolese people, not for foreign oil prospectors to drain away," said Raymond Lumbuenamo, Country Director for WWF-Democratic Republic of the Congo. "Our country's future depends on sustainable economic development, and the livelihoods of over 50,000 people depend on this park. Oil extraction here could have devastating consequences for local communities that rely on Virunga for fish, drinking water and their other needs."

Any oil spills, pipeline leaks and gas flaring could contaminate the air, water and soil in the area with toxins, according to the report. It says studies of other oil producing regions have found that oil can cause health problems and fuel conflict.

Environmental impacts from oil extraction could threaten Virunga's freshwater ecosystems, rich forests and rare wildlife, the study found. The park is home to over 3,000 different kinds of animals, including critically endangered mountain gorillas.

"This is where we draw the line. Oil companies are standing on the doorstep of one of the world's most precious and fragile places, but we will not rest until Virunga is safe from this potential environmental disaster," said Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of WWF International. "Virunga has snow fields and lava fields, but it should not have oil fields."

Today WWF is launching a campaign aimed at protecting Virunga National Park from oil extraction. The organisation is calling on SOCO to abandon its plans to explore for oil in Virunga and all other World Heritage Sites and asking the public to add their name in support of the campaign: wwf.org.uk/virunga #SOSVirunga

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NOTES TO EDITORS

[1] http://www.wwf.org.uk/news_feed.cfm?6223/UK-government-opposes-Virunga-oil-exploration--SOCO-must-take-note

CONTACT

For media requests - mediarelations@wwf.org.uk / 01483 412 383.

PHOTOS

Photos for media use are available here: https://photos.panda.org/gpn/external?albumId=4445

ABOUT WWF

WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption..

Visit wwf.org.uk/virunga for additional information and follow the Twitter hashtag #SOSVirunga for latest updates.
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