Will oil pipeline affect biodiversity in Tanzania, Uganda?

THE East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) from Hoima in Uganda to Tanga Port in Tanzania is, perhaps, among the most important infrastructure projects for the two countries which are members of the East African Community (EAC).

Whereas Tanzania stands to benefit from tariffs to be charged on crude oil to be conveyed through its territory as well as creation of direct and indirect jobs during its construction and operationalization, Uganda highly depends on the pipeline to export its oil.

This is because without a pipeline to the Indian Ocean coast, no oil will be evacuated from the ground as there would be no feasible way to transport it to the international markets and Uganda refinery capacity would be limited.

The construction budget for the 1,445 kilometres pipeline is US $3.5 billion (about 8.05trl/-) which is planned to have a capacity of 216,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

Uganda will pay Tanzania US$12.20 for every barrel flowing through the pipeline. Already, Total E&P, which is taking the lead in the pipeline project, has conceded that the 2020 timeline set for first oil export is unachievable as this important infrastructure can only be ready 36 months after the final investment decision (FID).

The FID on the pipeline was expected to be taken by the end of 2018.

As both Uganda and Tanzania await the FID on the export pipeline, a team of two journalists from Tanzania and Uganda take a look at what kind of impact the construction of the project could have on biodiversity and nature in the two countries.

The journalists as well tried to find out if the communities along the proposed route have been sensitised enough and likely negative impact.

In Uganda, the proposed pipeline will pass through biodiversity and nature sensitive areas such as the Lake Victoria basin.

Across the border in Tanzania, the pipeline will pass through the delicate Biharamulo National Park and Wembere Steppe Overlap.

The probability of a pipeline oil spill is high, given that about a third of the pipeline is located in the Lake Victoria watershed, an active seismic area, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

With three quarters of the pipeline, and more biodiversity hotspots in East Africa’s largest country by landmass, Biharamulo Game Reserve and Wembere Steppe Overlap could be affected by any issues arising from the pipeline.

The livelihoods in these areas could be affected.

As a result, officials from Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism dispatched a team of conservationists to assess environment issues within Biharamulo Game Reserve.

“The ministry has already dispatched a team of experts to assess the impact of the pipeline and the work is still ongoing,” Biharamulo District Commissioner (DC), Ms Saada Malunde, explained during an interview on the proposed project.

Until recently, the Biharamulo National Park was manned by the Tanzania Wildlife Authority (TAWA) but it was later placed under the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) after it was elevated from a game reserve to a national park, Ms Malunde explained.

According to the DC, district authorities in Biharamulo are engaging residents along the proposed route of the pipeline to work closely with responsible state organs and investors to ensure that the project brings no harm to the environment.

An official with the National Environment Management Council (NEMC), also allays the pollution fears saying a team of experts from the ministry is working closely with other stakeholders in conducting an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

“NEMC is closely monitoring the project right from its preparation and this will continue into other stages of construction and when it starts operations,” the official states.

Apart from the envisaged Hoima-Tanga pipeline, Tanzania has had an experience of such mega projects, notably the 542-kilometre gas pipeline from Mnazi Bay in the southern region of Mtwara to the country’s commercial capital of Dar-es-Salaam.

“Given the experience we got from the gas pipeline, the public should be rest assured that issues of the environment will be taken care of with precision,” an official with the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) said.

The official noted further that the Hoima-Tanga pipeline will be of international standards, and as such environmental issues will be closely monitored to ensure that its execution does not cause degradation.

Mr Jovin Rweyemamu, a resident of Kimisi village, called for fair compensation from executors of the project since the pipeline will pass through their land and as result destroy their crops such as banana and coffee trees.

TANAPA’s board of trustees has approved a budget of 3.9bn/- to strengthen conservation, promote tourism and construct infrastructure in five game reserves which have been elevated into national parks.

The five national parks are Biharamulo, Burigi, Kimisi, Ibanda and Rumanyika. TANAPA’s chief conservation officer Damian Saru said some of the approved funds will be used to strengthen security and demarcation of the parks.

These activities will be done in collaboration with surrounding communities, he said. Biharamulo, Burigi and Kimisi were established in 1963, and they stretch across six districts in Kagera and Geita regions.

In Uganda, residents of Rakai and Kyotera districts in the Lake Victoria basin are largely ignorant of the pipeline project, let alone how the project could affect their livelihoods.

When journalists explained the potential disaster that could unfold on the lake in case of a spill, Mr Ivan Kayiira, a fisherman in Rakai, was visibly concerned.

Mr Kayiira is already concerned about the deteriorating quality of water on Africa’s largest fresh water lake.

He says the situation is made worse by the lack of toilets and other sanitation related facilities at the landing sites, which renders the water quality not safe for human consumption.

Beyond the lake, spills could also affect rivers such as Bukola and Kasasa wetland, which are also used as water sources.

Mr Bruce Nzaboninta, a resident of Lwengo, is one of the few people along the Lake Victoria basin with scanty knowledge on oil infrastructure such as pipelines.

“We have limited knowledge about the safety of the oil pipeline.

We cannot easily tell whether such leakages can occur, but it is possible,” he said.

Mr Andrew Mugonza from Kyotera said he cannot tell whether a pipeline is leaking because he has not been sensitised.

He says the damage would be bigger by the time an ignorant resident detects it. “No one has come to us to tell us anything about the pipeline.

The only thing I know is that oil is dangerous when it gets into water bodies,” he says.

The Community Transformation Foundation Network (COTFONE) was contracted to carry out awareness and sensitisation programmes on the oil pipeline for the greater Masaka region.

Mr Yisito Kayinga, the chief executive officer of COTFONE, says stakeholders should make a concerted effort towards sensitising people along the pipeline route about hazards such as oil spills so that any incidents are reported immediately.

“We still have a big population of the targeted areas who are not well-informed about the oil pipeline and other technical issues.

We have trained leaders who have not passed on the information to the grassroots,” he says.

Rakai District Chairperson, Mr Benon Mugabi, said beyond polluting the lake, oil spills could be detrimental to agriculture prospects in the Lake Victoria basin.

This cross-border story was funded by a grant from the Uganda-based African Centre for Media Excellence.

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