News / Africa

Uganda’s Oil Threatens One of Africa’s Most Biodiverse Zones

A fisherman paddles his boat on the shores of Lake Albert, a lifeline providing food and income, October 2007. (file photo)
A fisherman paddles his boat on the shores of Lake Albert, a lifeline providing food and income, October 2007. (file photo)

Plans are underway to develop commercial oil reserves found in Uganda’s lush Albertine Rift, home of the rare Mountain Gorilla. Environmentalists are worried that oil fever and inadequate legal protections could jeopardize the area’s rich biodiversity.

The Albertine Rift is a paradisiacal place, a lush expanse of deep brush, forested mountains and spectacular, roaring waterfalls that runs through the heart of Central Africa. The Rift extends from Uganda’s Lake Albert to the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika. It is the only place on Earth where highly endangered Mountain Gorillas still roam. Along with gorillas, the Ugandan stretch is home to elephants, buffalo, nine national parks and four wildlife reserves. But in 2006, geologists discovered that the Albertine Rift was home to something else, as well. Oil.

A silverback mountain gorilla is seen during a census inside Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, about 550 kilometrs west of Uganda's capital Kampala, October 14, 2011.
A silverback mountain gorilla is seen during a census inside Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, about 550 kilometrs west of Uganda's capital Kampala, October 14, 2011.

With 2.5 billion barrels already confirmed, the oil in the Rift is expected to fuel an economic boom for Uganda, boosting revenues by as much as 30 percent and allowing the country to invest in things like transport, health and education. But environmentalists are concerned that in the rush to make money off oil, the Rift’s bountiful wildlife could suffer irreparable damage.

Crucial conservation region

Robert Ddamulira, an oil specialist at the World Wildlife Federation, describes the Albertine Rift as the most important conservation area on continental Africa. With 80 percent of the Rift already divided up into exploration blocks, he warns that nearly the entire area will be affected by the discovery of oil.

“Oil is a big boom business. In other words, even [with] activities taking place in the neighborhood, areas around will feel the impact in terms of increased human traffic, in terms of resource demand on the surrounding areas. So you can justifiably say that about 90 percent of the Albertine Rift will be affected either directly or indirectly,” said Ddamulira.

Land clearing, road construction, noise pollution from heavy machinery, and toxic chemicals seeping into the groundwater could damage the Rift's plant and animal life. He said that one of the biggest risks in Uganda, however, is that the oil production will begin before a structural framework is in place to protect the area’s delicate ecosystem.

“What we should be afraid of is that there are inadequate institutions, inadequate laws, and therefore you are running a business that is guided by profit only. If that’s the case that happens, then the big loser in all this will be the environment and the people that depend on it,” said Ddamulira.

Safeguarding nature amid oil extraction

He said the Albertine Rift also is home to some of the poorest communities in Uganda, many of whom subsist on fishing and hunting.

“Their livelihoods are intrinsically tied to the national resource conditions of the Rift. If oil poses a threat to those natural resources, it’s posing a direct threat to the sustainability, and to life as we know it for the local communities there,” he said.

But Naomi Karekaho, of Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority, said the government is taking steps to protect the Albertine Rift - also known as the Albertine Grabin. She said more legislation is being considered.

“Of course there’s no way you can have a refinery or oil exploration and production without constructing roads or putting pipeline for transporting it, but it’s going to be done in such a way that sensitive areas are avoided. One of the mitigations measures that have been put in place is to develop a sensitivity atlas that outlines the very sensitive areas within the Grabin that, no matter what, you should take care to avoid,” said Karekaho.

She admitted, though, that it would be difficult for oil production to bypass these sensitive areas.

“Some of it will be happening in those areas, but in the production areas it’s very little. It’s a very little head that’s put up, and it will not cause any problems to your wildlife or any other natural activities going on,” said Karekaho.

Ensuring smart, safe oil production

Although Uganda’s oil will make it one of the biggest petroleum producers on the continent, the reserves are expected to run out within 30 years. Most economists argue that to benefit in the long run, the country needs to invest in what is sustainable. This includes the national parks of the Albertine Rift, which bring in hundreds of millions of tourism dollars every year.

Ibrahim Kasiita, a business writer and oil expert, cautions against focusing on oil at the expense of the environment.

“You cannot measure the cost of the environment, so because of that, this oil should really be carefully exploited to ensure that the environment is well protected, because the environment is sustainable. Whereas this oil, as we say, 25 to 30 years - it’s nothing,” said  Kasiita.

Ddamulira said that although Western-style environmentalism may not have taken off among ordinary Ugandans, that does not mean that people here do not care about the environment. For communities living in the Rift itself, he said, the environmental hazards of oil production could become a major concern in the next few years.

“Of course, the local person on the ground is more concerned about the day-to-day living, so he would like clean water, he would like productive land, he would like peace and harmony. They may not care about the environment as we know it, but they care about it because their livelihoods are intertwined with it. It’s their source of survival,” said Ddamulira.

Uganda hopes to begin commercial production of oil as early as next year. By that time, environmentalists hope, there will be enough regulations in place to protect the unique biodiversity of the Albertine Rift, as well as the people living there.


You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid