Locals In the Dark on Congo Oil Blocks

Field teams crossing a bridge in Befale, Tshuapa Province, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. © Greenpeace / Destin

By Green Action Africa

A new report says communities within the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s 11 million hectares of newly-designated oil and gas exploration blocks are unaware of the new status of their land. They are also wary about the potential negative impacts of oil and gas activities on their livelihoods and well-being.

In what adds ammunition to opposition to the July 2022 government’s move to put up 30 blocks on auction, local and international NGOs issued the report after visiting 14 villages within four of the blocks.

Titled “We’ll Keep our Forests, You Keep Your Dollars,” the report is the first that captures views of local communities and Indigenous people within the oil exploration blocs that equal the size of Ghana or the United Kingdom.

The report quotes one of the locals saying: “The government is neglecting its own people. It acts as if these forests were empty, that they’re without villages, without animals, it’s heartbreaking! If this project were for the good of the population, it could have been discussed with us in advance. They shouldn’t put blocks in areas we live in without having notified us beforehand.”

The NGOs do not reveal the identities and number of community members they interviewed for the report to protect them from potential government reprisals.

Conservation groups say that the designated blocks are essential to people’s livelihoods, combating global climate change, and protecting biodiversity.

Three of the oil blocks are in the Cuvette Centrale peatlands, a ‘carbon bomb’ holding an estimated 29 Gigaton of carbon, the equivalent of 3 years’ worth of global fossil fuel emissions. At least 13 of the blocs also overlap with protected areas such as the Virunga National Park, a UN World Heritage Site.

“This report demonstrates how the DRC oil and gas auction not only threatens the global climate and biodiversity, but exposes Congolese people to the disease, conflict, poverty, and corruption that inevitably come with the curse of oil,” said Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Greenpeace Africa’s International Project Lead for the Congo Basin forest.

The report called on the government to cancel the oil and gas auctions, and promote clean and renewable energy to tackle energy poverty. It also recommends securing the land rights of local and Indigenous communities enabling them to control their development.

DRC is home to 60 percent of the planet’s second-largest rainforests and two-thirds of the world’s largest tropical peatlands. Its government positions it as a ‘climate solutions’ country due to its vast carbon stocks but oil exploration may undermine that.

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