A large-scale program to sustainably and efficiently harness Virunga National Park’s huge economic development potential was unveiled to the public in Goma on Saturday, April 5th. The initiative, called the Virunga Alliance (Alliance Virunga, in French) will invest tens of millions of dollars to develop the park’s renewable energy potential by tapping Virunga’s abundant hydrological resources. The renewable energy program aims to install more than 100mW of electricity by the end of the decade in a region that is one of the most densely populated yet least electrified in Africa.
In addition to tapping the park’s clean energy potential, park authorities plan to work with the donor community, private sector, local groups, and the provincial and national government to create a fund that will help stimulate investment in agri-industry, sustainable fisheries, and tourism. Park authorities would like to see 100% of the net profits reinvested in community development programs that improve infrastructure (road, clean water, and sanitation), schools, and health clinics and create jobs for the community. The revenue generated will also help ensure the park’s long term finances.
The Virunga Alliance was unveiled publicly at a heavily attended conference that brought together local and national authorities, major donors, the park administration, representatives from the private sector, and members of the civil society groups.
In a joint press conference on Sunday, the Hon. Julien Paluku, governor of North Kivu Province, Mr. Howard G. Buffett, of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and Mr. Cosma Walingula, the Director General of the National Wildlife Authority (ICCN by its French initials), expressed their endorsement for the Virunga Alliance as the best long-term alternative to the unsustainable extraction of the region’s natural resources. Wildlife poaching and the illegal extractions of minerals and wood from the region are well-known sources of funding for the numerous armed groups that operate in the Kivus.
The biggest project to date for the Virunga Alliance is a 12.6mW hydro-electric plant that will supply 30,000 homes in the Rutshuru with electricity. The Matebe project, named after the river, is being funded by a major a grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. HGBF has also funded several tourism, clean water, and agri-business projects in and around the park.
A smaller 400kW hydro-plant was completed in 2013 and is currently providing electricity to thousands of homes in Mutwanga, a town located in the park’s northern sector. Funding for the 2.5M Euro project was provided by the European Community.