HomeHealthPeat from the Congo, often known as the "lungs of humanity," is...

Peat from the Congo, often known as the “lungs of humanity,” is in danger.

Andrew Harding, a journalist for BBC Africa, says that an enormous slab of carbon-rich peat was recently uncovered in central Africa. This slab poses a serious risk for future climate change and is already in danger as a result of unregulated growth.

After travelling for ten hours by automobile, another ten hours by river in a dugout boat, three hours of chopping a way with machetes through thick tropical undergrowth, and then two more hours of wading and climbing through a steamy forest swamp, the researchers were finally able to begin their work.

They started by clearing the area of muck and mosquitoes before assembling a long metal apparatus that resembled a corkscrew and driving it deep into a stretch of shady, water-logged ground.

“Push. Again,” remarked Greta Dargie, the British scientist who was leading the expedition, as she and two Congolese colleagues twisted and pushed the rod further into the earth, and then drew out a half-meter cylindrical piece of peat that was shiny and black.

Jodrhy Matoko, a PhD student at Marien N’Gouabi University in Congo-Brazzaville, had this to say about the institution: “Not awful at all.”

Over the course of the past ten years, the close-knit team has spent months at a time camping in the remote swamps that border the giant Congo river, keeping an eye out for crocodiles, snakes, and lowland gorillas – and mapping the contours of a giant slab of carbon-rich peat, which they now believe could cover an area significantly larger than England.


“We really want to complete the map by filling in the blanks.” It’s not an easy task. However, there is never a dull moment. “I’ve been doing this for ten years, so I guess I must enjoy it,” said Dr. Dargie, a quietly determined peat expert working at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Matoko was more ebullient when he said, “I am a forest man. The atmosphere here is quite soothing. There is no need to be anxious here.”

After using a GPS monitor to track each location, the scientists took photographs of the peat cores and then vacuum-sealed them in plastic before sending them to Leeds University for additional study.

Regarding the topic of climate change, this peat is of the utmost significance. Carbon is stored in this area in very enormous quantities; the total is somewhere about 30 billion tonnes. And if it is discharged into the atmosphere, it is going to speed up global change,” said Suspense Ifo, the main specialist on the peatlands in Congo-Brazzaville, who was visiting the team.

“That equals around 20 years’ worth of emissions from fossil fuels in the United States. At the global level, I don’t believe that the value of these ecosystems has reached where it should be just yet. According to Dr. Dargie, “[The government of Congo-Brazzaville] needs the international community to support them financially so that they can ensure that these peatlands continue to be protected.”

The enormous peatlands that peatlands are found in are home to significantly more carbon than the woods that surround them. If the peat is allowed to dry out, however, it can be destroyed in a matter of weeks, despite the fact that its foundation was laid over the course of thousands of years.

The primary dangers come from longer dry seasons, which are linked to climate change, as well as from man-made actions such as unsustainable farming practises. This poses a significant obstacle for Congo-Brazzaville and its neighbours as they work to develop their economies and adjust to growing populations.

Recent events have brought to light a new source of concern: the prospect of major oil reserves being discovered and developed in close proximity to peatlands.

Although there is some ambiguity regarding the magnitude and significance of the oil reserves, the government of Congo-Brazzaville has already started parcelling out sections of land and hunting for potential investors.

You can’t expect us to keep the existence of our natural resources a secret. Arlette Soudan-Nonault, the minister of the environment in Congo-Brazzaville, dismissed concerns about corruption and poor management by stating that the country will exploit natural resources “if we need to exploit them, and if we do, we will exploit them in a sustainable manner and in accordance with environmental rules.”

You can’t keep saying things like, ‘These Africans mismanage funds,’ and expect people to take you seriously. It is about time that we came to the realisation that protecting [the peatlands] is in all of our best interests. Because if [the West] doesn’t help support our conservation work, we shall be forced to use our own natural resources because we need money to simply exist,” she continued. “Because of this,” she said.

Image caption,

The Nile is the longest river in Africa, and the Congo river is the second longest.

On the other side of the river, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there have already been steps taken to begin extracting the minerals that are buried beneath the peatlands.

Didier Budimbu, the country’s Minister of Hydrocarbons, just recently made an announcement on an upcoming auction of land that will be used for the production of oil. According to the findings of scientists, several of the locations that have been allocated overlap the peatlands.

Mr. Budimbu advised his colleagues at a recent cabinet meeting that “national oil output must exit the modest zone of 25,000 barrels per day.”

The hydrocarbons ministry has been mentioning the French oil company Total in its tweets regarding the auction that will take place on the 28th and 29th of July in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; however, neither the firm nor the minister has responded to the BBC’s requests for comment.


Irene Wabiwa Betoko, a representative for Greenpeace Africa, stated that “if this scheme is not stopped, it will have devastating implications.”

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the government of the DR Congo and the donors make an attempt to stop the oil blocks and begin talking about alternative forms of energy.

In order to go back across the Congo river, Jordan Elenga navigates his flimsy and unstable dugout through a swamp that is packed with palm trees.

“Gently, gently,” he repeats several times.

Before moving on to the next tree, he climbed up onto the roots of the first tree, used a machete to cut a deep hole in the side of the tree, and then attached a plastic container to the tree using strands of bark. This was done in order to catch the palm wine.

My primary means of financial support comes from my wine collection. Mr. Elenga explains, “It is how I provide for my family by feeding my wife and my children.”

Professor Suspense Ifo let out a deep sigh of annoyance as he watched him and sighed out loud.

“This causes the trees to perish. The ecosystem of peatlands is under serious danger as a result of this. It is possible that in the long term it will damage it.

The professor explained that as the trees die, they leave the fragile peat exposed to the damaging effects of sunlight. “The problems here are linked to population growth, and if poverty is not addressed then everyone will come to this ecosystem to make money,” he added.

Alphonse Essabe, the local administrator, was sitting in a government palace that was only half finished when he conceded that there was a “public information vacuum” regarding the peatlands. The town of Ntokou was located on a wide branch of the Congo river and was in a state of disrepair.

“Fishing and hunting are our main sources of income here. However, in order for us to be able to coexist peacefully with our peatlands, the major polluters and powers of the globe will need to contribute financially to our cause, he explained.

However, despite a number of international accords regarding the necessity to protect the peatlands of the Congo Basin, there is a growing sense of dissatisfaction in the region. Ministers like Ms. Soudan-Nonault are accusing the West of hypocrisy in this regard.

“The rest of the planet wouldn’t be able to breathe if it weren’t for the Congo Basin. We people of Africa provide an ecologically important function for the rest of the world. It is reasonable to assume that such a service would cost money.

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