OIL IS DEATH: GOVERNMENT MUST AVOID OIL ACTIVITIES IN LAKE EDWARD, QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK

Between November 18 and 19, 2019, CSO’s working to protect community livelihoods and environmental conservation against oil and gas threats in partnership with women and youth clean energy champion clubs from Queen Elizabeth landscape organised an exchange learning visit to Murchison fall National park.

The exchange learning visit was organised to help local communities in the above landscape to document and discuss the impacts of oil and gas activities on Murchison fall National Park.

The visit was after the Minister of Energy statement on inviting companies to bid for the five (5) oil blocks including Ngaji in the ongoing second licensing round which was announced in May 2019.

The statement was made on November 8, 2019 during Africa Oil Week in Cape Town, South Africa. The deadline for responding the Request for Qualification for the Second Licensing Round is on 31st December 2019.

During the exchange learning visit, Participants raised concern of why the Ministry of Energy is insisting on licensing out the Ngaji oil block for oil exploration. The block covers the Uganda side of Lake Edward and parts of Queen Elizabeth National Park that borders directly with the Virunga National Park in DR Congo, recognized as world heritage site and forms part of the same continuous ecosystem.

They also noted that allowing oil exploration would put local communities at a risk especially those that depend on Lake Edward and Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is estimated that over 200,000 fishermen and local communities such as Rwenshama, Katwe, Kisenyi, Kayanja depend on the resources.

Majority of the people in the Queen Elizabeth landscape are dependent on fishing and subsistence farming in case of any oil spill will definitely have a greater impact on their livelihoods. They will not ultimately earn the required income to meet their basic needs. This in turn infringes on their fundamental human rights. Apart from health ailments directly caused by the pollution, they will not meet the required nutritional values that are a prerequisite for normal life style. This will lead to the disintegration of the normal household values and ties.

The youth and women clean energy group noted that oil and gas also has serious consequences for our wild lands and communities. They noted with concern that for example oil infrastructure projects in Murchison Fall National Park operate around the clock, disrupting wildlife, water sources human health, recreation and other aspects of the public lands that were set aside and held in trust for the Ugandan people. This is another source of worry especially communities which dependent on Lake Edward and Queen Elizabeth for fishing and tourism. They further noted that communities living along Lake and river in this case would suffer a massive blow if the oil activities pollute the fishing bodies in the region.

These oil developments will also affect the tourism sector which is one of the leading foreign exchange earners for the country. They noted that the Queen Elizabeth National Park is understandably one of the most popular in Uganda with diverse ecosystems, which include sprawling savanna, shady, humid forests, sparkling lakes and fertile wetlands. The national park is one of the natural resources which highly contribute to tourism sector earnings which totaled to over USD 1.6 bilion in the 2018/2019 financial year.

They further noted that to date, Queen Elizabeth National Park remains one of the most visited parks in Uganda. The park has 612 bird species, 95 animal species and 57 plant species. The park also has unique animals such as the Isasha climbing lions, toppi and others. Other animals in the park include elephants, hippos, leopards, civet cats, chimpanzees, monkeys and others. 

The participants were worried that with oil activities resulting in habitat loss, destruction of breeding grounds, disruption of animal migrations, population influx, noise and others, the animal and vegetation population in Queen Elizabeth National Park will suffer. Consequently, tourism will be affected leading to loss of revenues. 

Therefore, they called upon Ministry of Energy to stops plans to licence out Ngaji oil block, which covers eco sensitive areas such as Lake Edward and Queen Elizabeth National Park for oil exploration activities. Failure to do so will see Uganda blacklisted under UNESCO, in addition to destroying livelihoods of local fishing villages, cultivators, cattle keepers and others in the region. 

They also recommended that Ministry of Water and Environment urgently works with NEMA to ensure that the Environmental Sensitivity Atlas that was put in place in 2010 is operationalised. Decisions on whether to carry out oil activities in certain eco-sensitive areas or not should be based on the 2010 Environmental Sensitivity Atlas. This will enable Uganda to balance its oil development plans and environmental conservation.

Cyrus Kabaale, Community Livelihood Expert