Tour guides fear over oil, gas exploration in Jozani National Park

14May 2019
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Tour guides fear over oil, gas exploration in Jozani National Park

IT is around 10am, and the weather is friendly in the Indian Ocean archipelago, when a 42-year-old man Haji Ali Makame carries eight Italian tourists in his taxi towards the Jozani National Park. The park is located 41,4km from the Zanzibar’s stone town.

The tourists are heading to the park to have a glimpse of the undisturbed sanctuary—a home to the Zanzibar red colobus—a species of red colobus monkey endemic to Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago, off the coast of Tanzania

Makame has been doing this job for 12 years now and has been able to 4 bedroom house and pay the tuition fees for his two children at boarding school. But all this could be dashed in the next three to four years if plans to explore for oil in Jozani National Park go ahead.

“We don't know what will happen tomorrow as I’m not sure if will continue to bring more tourists here if oil is discovered,” Makame says.

The Jozani National Park is one of the areas where RAK GAS Company from Ras al Khaimah Government is carrying out oil and gas exploration.

The Park is visited by at least 50,000 tourists a year, who come to see the red colobus monkey, a rare species that is found in Zanzibar alone.

“I come to this park three times a month with tourists to see monkey. My life depends on red colobus,” Haji said.

Haji fears that oil exploration with destroy the environment and endanger the lives of red colobus monkey which are a major tourist attraction to the forest.

Last year, tourists who visited the park to see the red colobus, spent more than 1.06bn/-. The money was used for development, including helping villagers living alongside the forest.

Rajab Omar Khatib (46), who is a Secretary of the Jozani farm owners association (UWEMAJO) shares the same concern.

He says that the extraction of oil and gas will cause huge destruction to the national park.

 “I am among the beneficiaries of the forest. We get money from tourists who are coming to the park to watch red colobus monkey,” he said in an interview.

Out of 559.03m/- collected from July-December 2018, UWEMAJO received 100.6m/-, which is equivalent to 18.8%.

“This money is paid as compensation because monkeys are destroying our crops. It helps us to do other development activities, but we are not sure if it will be available again if no tourist come to see red colobus,” she said.

However, he believes that the government and oil companies will take action to minimize the harm.

“We need oil and gas for our development, but we also have the responsibility to protect the environment,” he insisted.

Awesu Shaaban also expresses his fears, saying that oil extraction will have huge negative impact to the fores, though he believes the industry will change the lives of the people and boost the economy of Zanzibar.

“The forest is important not to monkeys alone but also to the villagers living alongside the forest. I am afraid we will have no food and water if it is destroyed, but the most important thing is our development,” he says.

He says the destruction of forests in oil-producing countries was clearly visible and un-controllable.

“It is difficult to avoid this problem. We have to take precautions to protect our forests especially Jozani which is a major contributor to the tourism industry,” he said.

It is estimated that 65 hectares of Jozani forest were destroyed in three years from 2013-2015 due to agricultural activities and livestock keeping.

“My fear is that if extraction of oil takes place, the damage can increase four times,” he said.

Research titled: ‘Forest fire in Zanzibar; the case of Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, conducted by Fatma Juma in 2016, revealed that the destruction of forests had had an adverse impact on natural resources, including Jozani forest. And she fears that oil exploration will have more effect on Jozani forest.

 “Exploration companies must therefore reduce the impact of environmental destruction,” she says.

Hafidh Maulid Ali, is a member of the Jozani Forest Protection Committee. He said forests are being destroyed all the time despite efforts by the government and civil society.  He was therefore afraid that the impact of oil exploration will be difficult to stop.

RAK GAS Manager in Zanzibar, Moamen Madkour, said his company was committed to minimizing the impact of environmental damage. He, however, acknowledged that it was difficult to rule out damage completely.

“We want to do this without destroying the environment but sometimes it is difficult to prevent this entirely but we will do our best reduce the harm,” he said in an interview with Zanzibar Leo.

Director of department of forestry and non-renewable resources, Soud Mohammed Juma, admitted that the Jozani forest was facing a serious threat of destruction and that destruction could be greater if measures are not taken early.

The Director of Zanzibar Petroleum Regulatory Authority, Omar Zubeir Ismail, says authorities were taking every step necessary to deal with environmental destruction.

“There was no serious damage to the environment during the exploration, we took all measures to make our environment safe,” he said.

 “We will continue to collaborate with stakeholders to ensure that the extraction of oil will not cause major threats to our environment. The tourism industry is still important to our economy,” he says.