Wednesday, 3 May 2017

UGANDA: Humans And Animals Encroaching On Each Others Habitat, Pressure Makes SOCO Drop Oil Exploration

Kisoro is a banana eating District.Residents love eating bananas as their staple food.

Currently no banana plants grow there, even though several locals owned plantations of them in the past. Nor are there any plans to grow them again in the future.

It is not advisable to plant any for consumption.

Elephants and gorillas from Bwindi National Park eat them before they are ready for the farmers to consume them.

The conflict between people has led to poverty, deforestation and climatic change which factors have led to conflict between people and the wild life therein.

Rushaga is a gateway to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, it is heavily visited by tourists who go to track the endangered mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei).

The park is home to 400 of the last 880 mountain gorillas on Earth. The Rushaga sector hosts 64 of these animals including the Nshongi Group and Mishaya Group, one of Uganda’s biggest gorilla families habituated to tourists.

Wild life moving from the park to invade gardens in neighbouring communities has increased in the past decade.This is parlty because of encroachment on the natural animal habitat.

Global warming has helped destroy biodiversity and resources within the animal and human habitat,” he says. This has caused animals to go out beyond their natural habitat to look for food in the human habitat, as well as humans encroaching on the animal habitat in search of food.

The region experiences an increase in temperatures over the years

Research by the African Wildlife Foundation, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme, and EcoAdapt on the Implications of Global Climate Change for Mountain Gorilla Conservation notes that most projections of future climate suggest temperature and rainfall will greatly increase in the 21st century across the Albertine Rift region where mountain gorillas live.

And according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the region’s mean annual temperature — which was 26 degrees Celsius in 1990 — could rise to 27 degrees by 2030; 28.1 degrees by 2060 and 29.7 degrees by 2090.

Rise in temperatures has affected patterns of plant flowering, affecting the habitats and diets of wild animals. Whereas mountain gorillas used to live in a cool micro-climate, the apes now find trouble from changing weather patterns, which affect the plants they eat.

Climate change may not directly force gorillas to leave the national park in search of food.

Human and wildlife conflicts may have increased, but not necessarily due to climate change.

Animals in some parks move to community areas to look for mainly water and food in the human habitats.
Forests which were animal and bird habitats have been encroached on by humans, thus causing conflict

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015, Uganda lost 107,000 hectares of forest per year between 1990 and 2015, an average loss of 3.3% per year. The annual deforestation rate accelerated over that period, from 2% between 1990 and 2000 to 5.5% between 2010 and 2015.

With forests shrinking and the climate changing humans are increasingly entering protected areas to access resources such as handcraft materials, water, poles and firewood for sale and for local use.

This surely is a threat to the animals and birds.

Scabies outbreaks in the mountain gorillas have been found to people living around the park. More infectious diseases are likely to cause more disease outbreaks like ebola.

The Statue of Liberty, Uganda's gorilla forest, Stonehenge and Venice,the United Nations listed 31 protected sites threatened by sea level rise, drought and other climate change effects.

Climate change is becoming one of the most significant risks for World Heritage sites,says a statement from the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) thinktank and two UN bodies.

Researchers reviewed existing data and reports to measure the climate-specific threat to 31 sites in 29 countries, ranging from coral reefs and tropical forests to deserts and archaeological icons.

And they found that every site in the report is already experiencing some impacts of climate change.

Representatives of 195 nations agreed in Paris last December to limit average global warming to "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, and 1.5 C if possible.

The solution is ensuring deep cuts in fossil fuel use coal, oil and gas which releases planet-warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when burnt.

But scientists say that even a 2 C increase will mean a land-gobbling sea level rise, longer and more frequent droughts, dramatically-altered storm and rainfall patterns, and increasingly acute water shortages.

Beyond the 2 C threshold, the projected impacts worsen exponentially.

Achieving the Paris Agreement's goal is so important to protecting our world heritage for current and future generations.

Along with the UCS thinktank, the report was compiled by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The archaeological site of Skara Brae in Scotland and some of the statues on Easter Island are in real danger of being lost to the sea as a result of coastal erosion worsened by climate, storms and sea level rise in the near future.

The Yellowstone National Park may be transformed in just a few decades by more frequent wildfires and ever-less snow due to warmer and shorter winters.

Venice is likely to eventually succumb to rising water levels.

Coral reefs like those in New Caledonia and Palau are already being damaged by stronger and more frequent El Ninos.

Most of the sites face multiple threats, from damage caused by tourists to mining, poaching and human encroachment, Markham explained.

Climate change impacts are a new and additional stress that makes the combination of all the others worse and brings new direct threats.

In many cases, loss or damage to the sites would make a significant dent in tourism income and livelihoods such as in Thailand, Macau and Guam

Of these, nearly half are threatened by industrial activities such as mining, oil exploration and illegal logging, according to a report released in April by conservation group WWF.

Climate bureaucrats tasked with drawing up a roadmap for executing the Paris agreement close a 10-day session in Bonn,the first official negotiating round since the historic pact was concluded.

The landscape where the mountain gorillas stay in Uganda and DR Congo is sitting on oil,therefore, should the gorillas be dispersed in order to extract the oil?

There is neither gold nor diamonds, but gorillas. These earn Uganda and DR Congo good and steady tourism revenue. Uganda earns somewhere about $10m (sh34b) annually, can can triple if Gorillas are well cared for.

Gorilla tourism three decades ago, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was a worthless project. But, Bwindi has turned into a lifeline for the local communities, as well as the endangered mountain gorillas estimated at about 800 in number globally.

The Government stopped illegal mining of gold, logging and encroachment that were pushing Bwindi to her knees. Today, the money from gorilla tourism is making up for the revenue from the destructive use of Bwindi.

The Government took a step in favour of conservation, the discovery of oil in parts of Lake Edward and Queen Elizabeth, is beginning to bite the environment.

The area, referred to as Ngaji, is part of the Greater Virunga that covers parts of Bwindi, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda and Rwanda as well as DR Congo.

The part in Queen Elizabeth National Park is part of the only remaining migratory corridor between Uganda and DR Congo. Lake Edward is at the heart of a chain of lakes, including Lake George and Albert.

The three lakes are connected by Kazinga Channel between Lake George and Edward and River Semliki links Edward to Albert. This is part of the catchment for River Nile that flows through Lake Albert on its way from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean Sea.

This is, sadly, the area where oil exploration is now being proposed. Exploitation is set to beat conservation. And environmentalists are sad.

The risk of an oil spill alone is enough danger to the water in the Nile, which will be contaminated to cause destruction of habitats for many migratory species, including fish and birds.

The wildlife based tourism in the Albertine rift, which is one of the most important ecological regions globally will be no more.

As the Government puts final touches to license companies for exploring oil around parts of Queen Elizabeth and Lake Edward, there is likely to be a confrontation with environmental and animal activists as was in Tanzania when government wanted to construct a tarmack road through Serengeti National Park and mining in the Animal Parks in DR Congo.

Activists in DR Congo and Uganda, have petitioned the governments sharing the Virunga not to mine oil in the animal habitats search as game reserves and parks.

However, government officials argue that this is not the first time that oil exploration is taking place in an ecologically sensitive area. They insist that restoration done in Murchison Falls National Park shows that mining of oil could co-exist with wildlife.

Kabagambe Kaliisa, the out-going permanent secretary in the of the energy ministry, insists that oil activities can be done in a sustainable manner.

As long as we ensure that oil activities do not pollute the environment,he says. The entire Albertine Graben is an area of high environmental concern, with Murchison Falls National Park, Kabwoya wildlife reserves and others. Those organisations should stop politicking and understand that exploration work can go on without damaging the environment.

Do you agree with him? I believe there will definately be a spill, let alone human and vehicle movements near the animals which will make them unconfortable.

A decade ago, Uganda discovered commercial quantities of oil. With only 40% of the Albertine rift, which is the western arm of the rift valley, Uganda’s oil assets are estimated at 6.5 billion barrels and is likely to increase with further licensing for exploration.

Meanwhile, across the border, DR Congo has opted to leave the oil and preserve the Virunga landscape. The activists, together with the international community, have fought to keep Virunga intact.

Consequently, a British company, known as SOCO, has withdrawn interest in undertaking exploration activities in the part of Virunga in DR Congo.

The same pressure could be mounting on the Ugandan government. In the recently concluded round of licencing by the Ugandan Government, private companies declined to take interest in oil exploration activities in the Ngaji block, which is located in the park.

The Virunga is a complex ecological system with chains of tropical rainforests punctuated with lakes, such as Edward; savanna plains and it is also a transboundary park. This means that the impacts in DR Congo are likely to spill over in Uganda and the reverse is true.

Uganda will have to ensure that the impacts do not spill over to DR Congo, Mugyenyi said, advising that Uganda and DR Congo should get a common stand on oil.

In 1925, the Virunga landscape in DR Congo was declared a national park and is currently Africa’s oldest park. In 2008, Virunga became a UNESCO World heritage site.

UNESCO has written to the Government of Uganda stating that the allocation of Ngaji oil block violates Uganda’s obligations under article six of the World Heritage Convention.

It states that signatories to the convention must not undertake actions that may damage heritage sites either in their own territory or in the territory of other signatories to the convention.

The European Union (EU) parliament passed a resolution which was adopted last year, in December, calling for measures to protect Virunga, the UNESCO world heritage site.

The statement of the resolution said the area has become one of the most dangerous places in the world when it comes to wildlife conservation.

The parliament encouraged DR Congo to develop sustainable energy and economic alternatives to extractive industries.

Sustainable management of Virunga’s land, water and wildlife will have direct and indirect economic benefits for communities that rely heavily on the park’s natural resources, the resolution stated.

According to the 2013 World Wide Fund for Nature report, mountain gorilla tourism alone in the three countries (Uganda, DR Congo and Rwanda) could generate $30m (sh100 trillion) a year and create employment for thousands of people.

The Government has spoken through officials like Kabagambe and the decision is to get oil out of the ground. Should Ugandans settle for both-oil and tourism?

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) want a moratorium on all oil activities in the wider Virunga area and have appealed to the international community to weigh in.

Ugandan government intends to allocate a new oil exploration licence for the Ngaji block.

“We call on UNESCO and the governments of Uganda and the DRC to reach an agreement to prevent any oil exploration, extraction or related activities in the wider Virunga area,” a statement authored by CSOs in Uganda, DRC and international conservation bodies, reads.

The organisations want all existing exploration licences in this area to be cancelled and plans to issue new ones.

The Virunga region includes Virunga and Queen Elizabeth national parks and the whole of Lake Edward.

They say DRC should refrain from granting any new licences, or transfer of licences in Virunga National Park or seeking to re-draw its boundaries to allow oil activities in the area.

Last year, SOCO International carried out seismic testing on Lake Edward in Virunga National Park, but the company has not yet published the results of its exploration.

Following widespread local opposition and a international outcry, SOCO International committed to no further involvement in its oil block in Virunga and has since announced that it no longer owns the licence.

They also state that Virunga National Park, as a UNESCO world heritage site, has an outstanding universal value that includes a wide diversity of habitats as well as exceptional biodiversity, notably endemic species and rare; globally threatened species, such as the mountain gorilla.

An estimated 200,000 fishermen and local people depend on the lake for their livelihoods and a valuable source of protein.

Before companies explore oil, they have to factor in restoration.

As much as oil could turn around the economic fortunes of countries, it poses a serious risk to the environment. The excavations could scare away wildlife and block migratory corridors.

So, is it possible for oil and conservation to co-exist? In the protected areas, such as Murchison Falls National Park and outside protected areas like Buliisa.

Together with other experts, they have been working out a way how oil and tourism can work harmoniously and according to international standards.

Before companies undertake exploration work, they have to factor in restoration,assisting the recovery of the site that has been disturbed.

Oil drilling requires removal of soil. This soil is kept aside and returned to the site after extraction.

The ultimate goal is to return the landscape to its original form,the placement of the soil follows contours.

We ensure that the soil is not eroded or contaminated with the introduction of invasive species. Then we support the sites to regain the vegetative cover. We select indigenous species of trees, grasses and monitor the site..

It also involves monitoring the site for some time.

Elephants and giraffes were grazing on the area that had been maintained to reinstate the connectivity and environmental stability.

The animals have returned and are grazing in the restored areas.

So far, Total has restored 63 sites and has handed 22 oil wells to the Government and the land owners, according to Zziwa. He says Total is working on another 41 areas, which have been restored, but are being monitored.

However, there are some sites where experts from Total and National Environmental Management Authority, Uganda Wildlife Authority and the district officials, noticed soil erosion and pools of water.

We have been monitoring them for one-and-half-years,” he said, adding that the situation has also improved. Reaction from NEMA Naome Karekaho, the head of corporate affairs at NEMA, commended the oil restoration activities.

The oil and gas sector is where we have demonstrated sustainable development that has helped us to have both oil and conservation,” Karekaho said.

It takes discipline and commitment on the part of the companies and the regulators.

She believes that with better technology at Ngaji block, Ugandans could have oil without hurting conservation.

UWA speaks out Edgar Buhanga, the deputy director of UWA said apart from gorillas, Virunga has one of the only wild landscapes where migration of large mammals between Uganda and DR Congo has been left uninterrupted for centuries.

Buhanga says they were taken to the US, where mining is taking place and impacts have been reduced. He believes the same thing could be replicated at Ngaji.