Speaking at an EACOP Multi-Stakeholder Conference in Dar es Salaam organized by Oxfam Tanzania in collaboration with other partners mid this week, WWF Uganda Country Office Extractives Manager Ivan Amaniga Ruhanga said it was obvious that a significant number biodiversity areas and ecosystems would be affected by the project.
Amaniga said a study conducted by the WWF had confirmed that nearly 2000 square kilometres of protected wildlife habitat (Biharamulo Game Reserve and Wembere Steppe Key Biodiversity Area) will be affected by significant habitat disturbances, fragmentation and increased risk of wildlife poaching due to the EACOP project.
He further said that the study had found that approximately 500 square kilometers of important wildlife corridors for the Eastern Chimpanzee and the African Elephant species were likely to be severely degraded.
“This will add to already existing severe pressure on these species from the illegal wildlife trade and poaching for bush meat and ivory, respectively,” Amaniga said.
The WWF official said the risk of freshwater pollution and degradation was estimated as high, especially in the over 400km of the Lake Victoria basin.
He said the lake basin currently supports the direct livelihoods of more than 30 million people in the region.
As for marine resources, he said two important Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs) - Pemba-Shimoni-Kisite in the north and the Tanga Coelacanth in the south were at high risk in case of an oil spill.
“This is especially so given the huge amount of crude oil (more than 170,000 tonnes per loading) to be transferred offshore at the Tanga port,” Amaniga pointed out.
“If so much biodiversity and ecosystems are threatened, this is not a small matter and it is something we have to worry about,” he pointed out.
The WWF Uganda official made several recommendations to mitigate the situation, including creation of alternative wildlife corridors to minimize habitat fragmentation and manage the visual impacts of the pipeline for co-existence with the flourishing nature tourism sector.
Other recommendations were putting emphasis on the establishment and strict enforcement of an oil spill contingency mechanism.
The meeting, that was held under the theme, ‘EACOP: Securing the rights and livelihoods of people and the integrity of nature,’ focused on facilitating dialogue with EACOP project proponents and learning from oil pipeline experts.
The meeting also focused on sharing lessons with colleagues from Kenya on their work on the Lokichar-Lamu oil pipeline and issues relating to land acquisition, environmental rights, communities’ social and cultural rights.
Delivering a keynote address, head of the interfaith religious leaders organization, Bishop Stephen Munga, called for ensuring that communities living immediately around the pipeline got full benefits of the project because they were affected more by the project.
Bishop Munga cautioned that if those living nearest to the pipeline were not assured of the benefits of the project, those living in the periphery would never get the benefits.
He told participants drawn from Uganda, Kenya, Canada, the USA and Tanzania that when people talked about the crude oil pipeline project they were talking about the development of the people.
“People should be in the centre of the talk about the pipeline. We must ensure that the pipeline project does not become a curse like other big projects that have been implemented elsewhere.” the bishop said.
He emphasized the need for dialogue between the government, communities and the private sector to cultivate a sense of shared responsibility among stakeholders.
He said human beings were incomplete and no single person could do it alone.
“We need others to complement our incompleteness,” he said, stressing the need for dialogue and shared responsibilities.
Speaking at the meeting, Oxfam Country Director Francis Odokorah said the meeting was the second after the August, 2017 meeting in Entebbe, Uganda, emphasizing that it was aimed at reflecting on the progress made towards the development of the pipeline and share work that different organizations are doing and are planning to do on the EACOP since the last convention in 2017.