Buffett Foundation Funds Hydro Plan in Congo Gorilla Park

The Howard G. Buffett Foundation will donate $5 million to help develop a hydro power project in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, home to a quarter of the world’s remaining endangered mountain gorillas.

Two hydro plants will generate 15 megawatts of electricity for small-scale agricultural businesses and over a million people around the park, an e-mailed statement dated May 1 from the foundation, which is run by the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, said. Construction will finish by 2015, it said.

“Over time, profits from the sale of electricity will support up to 40 percent of Virunga National Park’s basic operating costs,” it said. The grant is part of a two-year, $50 million commitment by the foundation to support food security, economic development and mitigate conflict in eastern Congo, it said.

Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Over the past two decades, ongoing conflict in Congo’s east has damaged the park and decimated the animal population, which also includes hippopotamuses, lowland gorillas and chimpanzees.

The M23 rebel group, which has fought with Congo’s national army for more than a year in North Kivu province, controls territory that includes parts of Virunga.

Congo is considering opening up parts of the park to oil exploration. Both Soco International Plc and Total SA have licenses that overlap with the park. Total has pledged not to conduct exploration activities inside Virunga.

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