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Large dams pile more misery on Murchison Falls landscape

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Added 11th June 2019 11:30 AM

We seem to have forgotten that the much thought industrialisation will come with massive environmental and social costs

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We seem to have forgotten that the much thought industrialisation will come with massive environmental and social costs

By Rajab Yusuf Bwengye

Uganda’s development Agenda is more than before hinged on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) where Industrialization is thought to be the major engine of growth that will propel Uganda to steady and rapid economic transformation. At least, the president has emphasized this for quite some time as a model that will deliver Uganda to middle and even top income status.

With this dream in mind, Murchison Falls National Park which is also the largest game park in Uganda has since 2010 been a hot spot following the oil discovery attracting numerous global oil and gas companies and the government to take advantage of this rich resource whilst the environmentalists were at the forefront saving the parks.

We seem to have forgotten that the much thought industrialisation will come with massive environmental and social costs that once not thought about carefully, can run the country worldwide termed as the Pearl of Africa. Currently, the Murchison falls Landscape is a case in point to stand the test of many development dilemmas. The Landscape’s natural ecosystems are threatened by rapid investment in Agro commodities with Sugar cane plantations spearheaded by Kinyara Sugar Works around Budongo forest and Hoima Sugar Limited around Bugoma forest. There are also plans to expand palm oil investment into this landscape. Worse more, the landscape is massively threatened by close to 22 oil & gas wells that are being operated by TOTAL E&P Uganda.

More misery is added to this landscape by the new revelations that the great Murchison falls –the first class tourism potential and foreign exchange earner for Uganda might be no more with Plans to submerge these falls by Bonang Power Energy Limited, a South African energy firm for the generation and sale of power from a 360MW Power plant to be set up near Murchison Falls in Kiryandongo and Nwoya districts.

Dams come environmental costs including riparian habitat loss, water loss through evaporation and seepage, erosion, and declining water quality. Farther-reaching consequences of dams include changes in groundwater flow and the displacement of human populations.

Quite often, habitats suffer both above and below dams. Valuable ecological zones that support specialized plants, riparian environments, and nearby shallows which provide food and breeding grounds for birds, fish, and many other animals are negatively affected. Upstream of a dam, impounded water drowns riparian communities.  

Because reservoirs can fill hundreds of miles of the river channel, and because many rivers have a long sequence of dams and reservoirs such as River Nile which is targeted in this case, habitat drowning can destroy a great deal of river biodiversity. Downstream, shoreline environments dry up because of water diversions (for irrigation or industrial or urban use) or because of evaporation and seepage losses in the reservoir and with the case of the Nile, this is likely to affect the water levels of Lake Albert a transboundary resource. In addition, dams interrupt the annual floods that occur naturally on nearly all rivers. Seasonal flooding fertilizes and waters flood plains and clears or redistributes debris in river channels. These beneficial effects of flooding cease once a river is dammed.

Therefore, whether the motivation for such a dam at such a fragile and great tourist potential is Energy Needs for the much-anticipated Oil and Gas Industry or any other reason, one wonders whether our country planners see sustainability in such investments.

TOTAL E&P Uganda and its partners are currently undertaking the development of the longest electrically heated pipeline in the world, the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and it will be TOTAL SHAME if we lose nature and the nature-based International Public Goods (IPGs) in the name of promoting dirty energy fossils.

AS the great Archbishop Desmond Tutu once quoted, “The fossil reserves that have already been discovered exceed what can ever be safely used. Yet companies spend half a trillion dollars each year searching for more fuel. They should redirect this money toward developing clean energy solutions”

The writer coordinates the Shared Resources, Joint Solutions (SRJS) country program in Uganda at NAPE/Oil Watch Uganda

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