For a region that has been without tarmacked roads, the discovery of oil has been a blessing for the Albertine rift. The western arm of the rift valley has become the biggest priority when it comes to the construction of roads countrywide. But the construction of roads and electric power lines is likely to work against the environment.
During the recently concluded State visit by John Pombe Magufuli in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni said oil roads will be ready in two years.
“We are going to build roads along the pipeline route in the shortest time possible, adding that services such as electricity and water will be extended to people,” Museveni said.
According to William Nsimire, the environment officer for Masindi district, the roads and power lines are good, but they also have negative implications on the environment.
“The roads will improve social economic development,” said Nsimire, adding that the tourists may increase because of the improved services.
However, he also noted that some of the roads that are going to be constructed or upgraded to tarmac were sitting in protected areas including wildlife reserves and Murchison Falls National Park.
The roads and power lines will also affect forests such as Budongo and Bugungu, which are rich in biological diversity and house the biggest population of chimpanzees countrywide. The population of chimps is estimated at about 5,000.
“The roads are going to be widened meaning that the habitats of wildlife and the rich biological diversity will have to be destroyed,” he said, adding that one of the roads will have to cross Budongo as well as Murchison Falls National Park.
Civil society speaks out
Onesimus Mugyenyi, the deputy executive director of ACODE said the construction of infrastructure including oil pipeline, roads and power lines should avoid protected areas.
He also said mitigation measures after understanding the environmental implications should be undertaken in case the infrastructure runs across the protected areas.
ACODE has been working with environmental NGOs to engage Government to ensure that oil exploration and development take place without causing adverse impacts to the environment.
In recent years, according to Stuart Maniraguha, Range Manager at National Forestry Authority (NFA), a strip to pave way for powerline connecting Kisalu to kyagwali was constructed through Budongo.
Another power line from Hoima-Nkenda was contructed through three forest reserves namely Bujawe in Hoima, Bugoma in Hoima and Mubuku in Kasese.
Maniraguha said an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies were conducted and NFA was compensated for the loss of trees and biological diversity. “We engaged in negotiations and we got compensation.”