BY INNOCENT KIIZA
Nairobi, Kenya – As the Africa Climate Summit kicks off in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday, a coalition of 61 African civil society organizations (CSOs), with a majority hailing from East Africa, has jointly addressed their concerns to the Secretary-General of the Ramsar Secretariat, responsible for overseeing international wetlands of importance.
The CSOs are urgently calling upon the Ramsar Secretariat to take decisive action to safeguard Ramsar Wetlands in Uganda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) currently under threat due to ongoing oil exploration projects led by Total Energies and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).
Of particular concern is the inclusion of the Virunga National Park, a Ramsar-designated site, in the Montreux Record. The Montreux Record serves as a registry for Ramsar Sites where human interference, pollution, or technological developments pose a threat to their ecological character.
Dickens Kamugisha, representing the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) in Uganda, expressed profound worry about the environmental consequences these projects could have on Ramsar wetlands, especially the Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Ramsar site.
He cited evidence that Total Energies is already constructing seven out of ten planned well pads within Murchison Falls National Park, with two located dangerously close to the Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Ramsar site, raising concerns about potential pollution and habitat disruption.
While Total Energies has pledged to mitigate their impact on biodiversity during their oil activities in Ramsar wetlands, past experiences with projects like Tilenga and EACOP have left lingering doubts. These concerns range from compulsory land acquisitions to environmental issues such as flooding, dust, noise, and light pollution in Buliisa district, Uganda.
The CSOs argue that the actions of Total Energies, CNOOC, and the governments of Uganda, Tanzania, and DRC have put at least three Ramsar Wetlands at serious risk. They emphasize the need for rigorous third-party monitoring to ensure the preservation of these wetlands, which play a critical role in conserving biodiversity and stabilizing the climate.
These concerns come at a time when Total Energies, CNOOC, and the Ugandan government are advancing the Tilenga and East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) projects. Additionally, the Tanzanian government is co-developing EACOP alongside the aforementioned parties, with part of the Tilenga project extending into the Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Ramsar Wetland within Murchison Falls National Park.
The EACOP project, a planned 1,443-kilometer pipeline from Uganda’s Tilenga and Kingfisher oil fields to the Tanzanian port of Tanga, poses a threat to over 158 wetland sections in Uganda, including several linked to Ramsar sites. These sites are part of the Sango Bay-Musambwa Island-Kagera (SAMUKA) Ramsar Wetland System, which holds an annual economic value of USD 117 million.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), concerns were raised as exploration licensing in July 2022 included blocks covering Virunga National Park, a Ramsar-designated site.
Concerns from African CSOs:
According to the Environment Governance Institute in Uganda, satellite imaging analysis from July 2023 reveals alarming developments. Total Energies has initiated construction on seven of the ten planned well pads within Murchison Falls National Park, with two perilously close to the Murchison Falls-Albert Delta Ramsar site.
Patience Katusiime of the Environment Governance Institute in Uganda insists that responsible institutions, including the Ugandan government and the Ramsar Secretariat, should reconsider support for Total Energies’ oil ventures within the national park. She advocates for a shift towards renewable energy investments.
Tanzania’s Coastal Ecosystems at Risk:
Richard Sekondo of the Organization for Community Engagement (OCE) in Tanzania highlights the risk posed to two Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs) along the Tanzanian shore: the Pemba-Shimoni-Kisite site and the Tanga Coelacanth site. These areas host Marine Protected Areas, Mangrove Forest Reserves, coral reefs, and the endemic coconut crab, necessitating urgent protection measures.
Virunga National Park Under Threat:
The CSOs stress that the EACOP project sets a dangerous precedent for further oil expansion in critical forests and protected areas, especially Virunga National Park in the DRC, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Ramsar-designated wetland.
Bantu Lukambo of Innovation pour le Développement et la Protection de l’Environnement (IDPE) in the DRC urges international bodies, including the Ramsar Secretariat, to engage with the Ugandan, Tanzanian, and Congolese governments to halt any oil exploitation plans affecting Ramsar sites.
As the Africa Climate Summit unfolds, these African CSOs are sending a powerful message: the preservation of Ramsar wetlands is of paramount importance, and immediate action is needed to shield these crucial ecosystems from the detrimental effects of oil exploration and development projects.
The fate of East Africa’s invaluable natural heritage hangs in the balance.