Virunga National Park Offers Economic Boost to Eastern Congo
Virunga’s Hydroelectric Team.
The Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, announced it has a 10-year plan to re-invigorate the local economy and create tens of thousands of new jobs.
Readers of this blog will be aware of just how impressive the team at Virunga National Park are. Governance in the eastern DR Congo is joke with one exception and that is the management of Virunga National Park it is not only the exception it is also exceptional.
The plan, called "The Virunga Alliance," is a partnership with other groups including the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. It's providing early technical and financial support for the project, including a network of off-grid hydro-electric plants along the banks of the Rutshuru River.
I blogged about this back in August when the hydroelectric plant was commissioned it was a fairly short blog full of photos the single sentence was:
" I have said it before the guys at Virunga are the real heros of the Eastern DR Congo "
Once again they have proved my assertion.
Emmanuel de Merode, director of Virunga National Park, emphasized the importance of providing sustainable development in North Kivu province which has seen over 20 years of armed conflict.
Emmanuel is one of my heros. He would make a bloody good Kiwi, I rate him right up there with Sir Ed, but he is where he is needed, it is funny how good people know where they are needed. Something that is not much known about Emmanuel is that he doesn't need to do this dangerous difficult job.
" Merode was born at Carthage, the second son of Charles Guillaume, Prince de Merode, and of his wife Princess Hedwige de Ligne (sister of Charles-Antoine, Prince de Ligne de La Trémoïlle). His parents belong to two of Belgium's historically most ancient and influential families. Emmanuel de Merode does not use his hereditary title in professional contexts, however he is legally a prince in Belgium's nobility, the title having been conferred upon the family in 1929."
That said, he does it. And he does it bloody well. If only all Belgians had conducted themselves in the manner of Emmanuel how different things might be today.
"It's an area that has been affected by a very violent civil war, a war that is considered to have caused the death of over five million people. Because of that, the infrastructure and the economy have collapsed [and] ... we are now in a cycle of violence," explained de Merode. He said what's needed is peace, which can only be built once the economy is again developed.
Exactly. But not only peace, the eastern DR Congo needs Virunga National Park and the team who work there. I have no doubt that the people of Virunga National park will be critical when it comes to the recovery and rebuilding of this troubled corner of the world.
"What we're trying to do is draw on Virunga National Park as a resource in order to boost the economy, create jobs, and enable the local community to improve their livelihood," said de Merode.
The national park director said investing in a network of off-grid hydro-electric power plants generates electricity to power rural industry.
"If you look at many of the studies that have been done in extremely poor communities around the world, nearly all of them point towards rural electrification as the highest return on investment if what you are trying to do is alleviate poverty," de Merode explained.
Just imagine the future potential of the eastern DR Congo if the sustainable development dream of the Virunga team was realised. The tourism potential of Virunga National Park alone is huge as we know from history, but this is one of the richest areas in the world from a resource perspective. Leadership is in short supply but, and it is not a big but, it is there.
The electrification effort began three years ago as a pilot project. It included a power plant at the base of the foothills of the 17,000 foot high snow-capped Ruwenzori Mountains in the northern part of the park.
"That small hydro-plant [is] only half a megawatt, and that's the equivalent of about 40,000 light bulbs. [It's] now responsible ... for the creation of two small industries. One is the creation of a soap factory, and the other is a substance called papaya enzyme. It's an organic substance produced in North Kivu. And both of those products can only be produced if there's electricity. It's only thanks to the national park that there is electricity," said de Merode.
Actually it is not only thanks to the National Park. It is thanks to your people Emmanuel.
Another aspect of the park is that it is home to mountain gorillas, an endangered species with only 820 remaining in the world. De Merode said it has been an overwhelming struggle trying to protect the park and the communities surrounding it. He pointed out that over 130 park rangers have been killed since the beginning of civil war in the D-R-C.
I follow the Virunga blog and three times I have read about rangers who have been killed doing their job. I don't agree that it is a civil war though. Even more worrying is the huge build up of Rwandan troops on the border between two nations. Once again the forces of destruction are poised at the door of the eastern DR Congo. Emmanuel has a far better idea, maybe just once sanity will prevail.
The conservationist director emphasized that the future of the park and the gorillas will not be ensured until the fundamental issues of conflict and poverty are addressed.
Photo: Virunga National Park
How true. Thank you Emmanuel and your team. The world is a far better place because of the effort you all make. Go read the Virunga blog.