By Doris Atwijukire
Tanzanian President Joseph Magufuli and with his counterpart President Yoweri Museveni last week laid a foundation stone for the construction of the East African crude oil pipeline (EACOP) in Kabaale, Hoima district.
This follows a similar launch of the project in Tanzania in August this year. The $3.55b venture is of great political and economic importance to regional governments and extractive industry companies – as well as the citizens of Tanzania and Uganda. The resource, if managed well has the potential to trigger the countries’ economic growth, alleviate poverty and address inequality.
According to Uganda’s oil and gas commercialisation plan, it requires significant infrastructure developments such as the oil refinery, central processing facilities, feeder pipelines, access roads and the EACOP to ensure the realisation of first oil by 2020. However, these developments will vastly affect the local citizens inhabiting these areas.
With the ongoing oil pipelines developments, there is need to adequately prepare the host communities to help them recognise the importance of the project. Most communities are not aware of their rights and entitlements to participate in development and conservation process in the oil sector.
According to the EACOP project brief, the 1,445km electrically heated pipeline will transport crude oil from Kabaale in Hoima district via Kiboga, Mubende, Ssembabule, Masaka, Kyotera and Rakai districts up to Tanga Port in Tanzania. 20% of the pipeline, 296km, will cross eight districts and 24 sub-counties in Uganda; while 80% of the pipeline, 1149km, will cross eight regions and 24 districts in Tanzania and will be the longest electrically heated pipeline in the world.
The pipeline will need a 30 meters right of way, 10 metres of which will be needed permanently for the pipeline, the other 20 metres will be returned for restoration, like agriculture. The pipeline will be two metres deep. No trees are to be farmed within the 10 metre wide right of way and no structures can be built therein, but farming practices can still continue.
The Government of Uganda has committed to fast tracking oil infrastructure development. But based on previous oil land acquisition processes such as the refinery in Kabaale, Hoima, this still raises serious concerns on meaningful community consultation, adequate compensation and proper resettlement.
Land was compulsorily acquired in 2012, and it was not until four years later that resettlement was effected, with no social services such as schools and access roads provided. And as of now, out of 96 families, only six households have relocated to Kyakaboga resettlement area because of this.
Oil as a natural resource is good for economic development and based on experiences from other oil rich countries as well as experiences within Uganda so far, citizens can ensure the maximisation of the benefits of oil while mitigating the negative impacts. This, however, can only be achieved with effective consultation and meaningful participation of the project affected people.
A new study conducted in Nigeria’s Niger Delta has revealed a link between oil spills and child mortality rates. The report led by Roland Hodler, an economics professor from the University of St Gallen in Switzerland, shows that, oil spills occurring within 10km of a mother’s place of residence but also five years before conception doubled neonatal mortality rates and impaired the health of her surviving children.
This poses high risk to the oil pipeline host communities, women and children in particular. Such reports should be our eye opener on how prepared the pipeline communities are. They should appreciate the possible dangers of oil including loss of agricultural land, burial and cultural grounds, disruption of social fabric, oil spills, oil fires, water and soil pollution among others.
At Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED)’s recent engagements with the officials from Ssembabule, Masaka, Kyotera and Rakai districts, the district officials expressed concerns over the limited involvement of the leaders in the pipeline processes and whether locals will be able to benefit from the project.
The officials indicated that they had not had engagements with the Government and companies on the EACOP unlike few that have been facilitated by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). This raises a question of when such key stakeholders will be engaged to fully understand and support the EACOP, opportunities and the likely challenges.
To avoid rising public expectations and uncertainties for the pipeline project, all information related to the project in terms of timelines, associated social and environmental assessments, risks and impacts should be publicly available in a timely, accessible and user-friendly manner not only to the project people but all Ugandans.
The Government and companies should ensure that pipeline project decision-making processes and procedures are inclusive. This will ensure transparency, increase citizens’ acceptability and support of the project for the benefit of our country.
Writer works at the Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED)