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World Water Day fears for gorilla conservation
20 March 2008

Rebels occupying a patrol post in DR Congo’s Virunga National Park are preventing local people from accessing their specially-constructed fresh water supply, and jeopardising an innovative community-focused conservation success story.

Two community water cisterns at the Bukima patrol post, funded by the Gorilla Organization, had removed the need for more than 1,000 local people to go into the forest for their water, and prevented ongoing damage to the valuable gorilla habitat.

On World Water Day (22 March 2008), the Gorilla Organization warns that rebels who seized control of the patrol post and the community water cisterns last September could have grave consequences on the gorillas’ long-term survival - with locals once more forced into the forest to get water.

Traditionally, communities living around the national park had no alternative but to make the journey in to the forest to collect water. To prevent inevitable destruction to gorilla habitat and the risk of disease transmission between humans and gorillas, the Gorilla Organization provides local communities with water cisterns outside the national park. Rebels now control the patrol post in the southern sector of the Virunga National Park, and, while it is believed that their presence does not pose a direct threat to the gorilla population, the animals’ habitat has once more come under pressure.

Jillian Miller, the Gorilla Organization’s director says: “As we commemorate World Water Day, we fear that this lack of fresh water for the local people living around Bukima could devastate the gorilla habitat, and in turn the gorillas”. “Providing communities with an alternative source of fresh water is a key element of gorilla conservation, as it is one of the main reasons that local people enter the national park”, she explained.

With more than 40 cisterns are funded by the Gorilla Organization and the concept has already proved a life-saver. The Rutshuru population recently found themselves on the front line between the rebels and the army. To support the communities displaced as a result of the fighting, the Gorilla Organization built a water cistern in the village of Soko ya Mboga, just off the main Goma to Rushuru road in the heart of a conflict zone. During this period, when many people had no other access to water, this new cistern undoubtedly saved lives.

The water cistern programme has also delivered important educational benefits elsewhere. With one system attached to a primary school, pupils have been able to devote at least an hour normally spent gathering water to attend extra lessons – boosting their own academic achievements and the school performance overall.

Jillian Miller continues, “we have always understood the importance of linking gorilla conservation with the welfare of the local people … if the local people are suffering, the gorillas will be suffering too”. Building water cisterns in local communities to improve the health and well-being of the people and reduce the destruction of the gorilla habitat is just one of the Gorilla Organization’s community conservation projects.

Since 1996 the Gorilla Organization has been working with local African NGO’s to provide communities around the national park with sustainable and reliable alternatives to the resources provided by the gorilla habitat. These projects include the provision of firewood-saving stoves, organic farmer training, tree planting, beekeeping and microfinance loans.
for further information or photographs contact:

David Hewitt, Communications Manager
The Gorilla Organization, 110 Gloucester Avenue, London, Nw1 8HX
Tel: 020 7916 4974
Mobile: 07801 971123
david@gorillas.org
www.gorillas.org