The Power Plants That May Save a Park, and Aid a Country

Another hydroelectric plant — funded largely by Howard Buffett, a son of the billionaire businessman Warren Buffett — began operating nearly two years ago on the southern edge of Virunga, and four more are planned near the park. But most basic services and infrastructure in eastern Congo are crude or nonexistent. Only 3 percent of the region has electricity. Across the entire country, which is the second-largest in Africa and the size of Western Europe, there is scarcely 15 percent electrification for a population of 80 million.

This is a problem across the continent. Low electrification rates “hamper Africa’s development,” the United States Agency for International Development said in a report last year.

Mr. de Merode, who is a Belgian national (and a Belgian prince), became the director of Virunga in 2008, the first non-Congolese to hold such a position. He was born in Africa and has spent most of his life here.

Work conditions are treacherous. In 2014, he was ambushed near Virunga and shot in the stomach and legs. The attackers were never found, and their motive was unclear, although many groups oppose Mr. de Merode’s conservation efforts, which disrupt the status quo.

The assassination attempt didn’t deter him. “People who wear a uniform get injured all the time,” Mr. de Merode said. “This is part of my job. I would regret it terribly if I gave up.”


Emmanuel de Merode, the director of Virunga National Park. Economic development is “the only way of overcoming conflict,” he said.

Uriel Sinai for The New York Times

Volcanoes, Hippos, Wars

There’s much at stake in Virunga and eastern Congo. The park itself is a Unesco world heritage site covering an area roughly double the size of the state of Rhode Island and Africa’s most biodiverse national park. A third of the world’s…

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