Proposed change of Selous Game Reserve boundaries to pave way for extraction of strategic uranium mineral shall be discussed by the world heritage committee, a branch of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) which commences its annual meeting in St Petersburg today.
Selous Game Reserve is one among numerous inscribed world heritage sites, which imposes obligations on a country with such a site to consult with the committee before making any chances on construction or boundaries that impinge on its heritage site status.
The committee meets once in a year and Tanzania’s application to make changes in the game reserve boundaries is among key issues to be deliberated upon at the northern Russian city up to July 6.
Government delegation to Russia is headed by the Deputy Minister for Natural Resousces and Tourism, Lazaro Nyalandu, who left for St. Petersburg on Friday.
Tanzania originally applied in February 2011 to the world heritage committee for a change of Selous game reserve boundaries but response was deferred as the applicant was directed among other things to conduct a fresh assessment on environmental and social impact of the proposed change and submit the scientific report as a precondition for the committee to prepare its position.
When reached over the phone a day before he flew to St. Petersburg, Deputy Minister Nyalandu told The Guardian on Sunday that Tanzania rejected the directive to re-submit the application, citing it as a change of boundaries.
“The government objected to the demand then appealed to the chairman and we resubmitted our application as a minor change of boundaries by reducing the size of the entire Selous game reserve by only 0.8 percent of the land needed for the uranium project which can not affect the value of the universal character of the heritage site,” affirmed Nyalandu. Selous game reserve covers 54,600 square kilometres and the government wants to remove 345 square kilometres for mining purposes.
He added: “The committee had asked for fresh environmental and social impact assessment with an acknowledged international firm to meet set benchmarks. This was properly done and the report was sent.”
The world heritage committee demanded a comprehensive report to be submitted on how Tanzania would mitigate effects resulting from the uranium mining project.
“They wanted a report on the rehabilitation of the area in post mining era. Now the submitted report shows clearly how the rehabilitation will be done, including planting of trees as the project will last for a period of 15 to 20 years,” he stated.
Apart from the Selous game reserve, Tanzania has other six listed world heritage sites namely Kilimanjaro Nattional Park, the Stone Town in Zanzibar, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Serengeti National Park, Kondoa Rock Art Sites, Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara. They were inscribed on the UNESCO heritage sites list in 1982.
Government efforts to slightly alter the boundaries of Selous Game Reserve to pave the way for the mining of the precious but risky uranium oxide has its fair share of adversaries locally and abroad.
Unesco and local activist groups have consistently opposed moves to mine uranium along Mkuju River in the southern region of Ruvuma.
Activists express the worry that since uranium is a toxic mineral, its being mined along Mkuju area could heavily devastate Selous as well as the nearby communities if not well managed.
Officials at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism told this paper that the government has been staging a vigorous campaign and high level lobbying at national and international level so as to have its application approved by the world heritage committee.
The chairman of Parliamentary Committee on Lands, Natural Resources and Environment, James Lembeli told The Guardian on Sunday a few weeks ago that Tanzania is supposed to treat the matter carefully to get international approval otherwise it may end up the loser.
“Suppose the world heritage committee remains reluctant to approve the application and Tanzania decides to carry on with its plan to alter the Selous boundaries and eventually give a nod to uranium mining the committee (world heritage) might decide to delete the Game Reserve from the inscribed sites. This may substantially affect the number of tourists and also deny the country several benefits including research services and funds on conservation,” the MP indicated.
Heritage Committee scope
The committee is responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and allocates financial assistance upon requests from State Parties.
It has the final say on whether a property is inscribed on the World Heritage List. The committee can also defer its decision and request further information on properties from the State Parties.
The committee examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed properties and asks State Parties to take action when properties are not being properly managed. It also decides on the inscription or deletion of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger.