Virunga's Hydroelectric Promise

Brent Stirton

Having undergone continuous conflict since 1994, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most difficult and dangerous places in the world to practice conservation. The park is controlled by dedicated park rangers who face powerful rebel groups, armed militias, hundreds of thousands of conflict-displaced people as well as the Congolese army. All of these groups seek to exploit Virunga, the home of the mountain gorilla besides other rare and exotic fauna and flora.


Illegal charcoal, sourced from hardwood that is only found inside vulnerable habitats within the park, is used as cooking fuel in the region. The rangers are constantly trying to hold back a powerful charcoal lobby that generates more than $50 million a year from charcoal sales, with devastating effects on the park habitats. On top of that, an oil lobby is also seeking to annul Virunga’s World Heritage status to begin drilling operations, and ivory poaching is another everyday problem for the rangers.


In order to combat all of these issues, the park’s leaders have combined with experts from the European Union and created sustainable, clean hydropower schemes. Two power stations are currently up and running. This electricity was first channelled to local hospitals, which now have power for surgery and electric lighting 24 hours a day.


Virunga’s hydroelectric power schemes can change the face of the region and offer opportunities to its communities, while at the same time reminding them why Virunga should be protected and conserved. The electricity generated will be used to change the face of industry in the region and improve the daily lives of the local population. The new opportunities this will provide for employment are also expected to be a game-changer for peace in this extremely impoverished region.

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