Toxic wastes from oil exploration and increased human presence at Murchison Falls National Park are killing animals experts told Parliament yesterday.
A Senior Uganda Wildlife Authority Planning and Environment Impact Assessment Coordinator, Mr Edgar Buhanga, told MPs yesterday that “If the country has to benefit from both resources (oil and wildlife), the two have to sustainably co-exist. Most of the petroleum prospective areas lie in protected areas which are also a major source of income for the country through tourism.”
UWA officials led by Director for ConservationSam Mwandha, were before the parliamentary committee on trade and tourism to lobby for political support in defence of the ecosystem in the Oil Albertaine region.
Although he did not give figures of dead animals, Mr Buhanga said: “Our reports show that several small animals have died and we have lost four big ones due to road kills and there could be more.” The Albertine region has five national parks (Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Kibale, Semuliki and Rwenzori Mountain) eight wildlife reserves and forest reserves.
The five parks are home to buffalos, giraffes, hippos, Uganda kobs, elephants, warthogs, waterbucks and hartebeests, among other animal species. Murchison Falls is also a world heritage site for its many species of rare birds, plants and other ecological units.
UWA also demanded that oil camps for exploration companies be moved out of protected areas and workers only come in during the day. The wildlife experts also accused UPDF soldiers, guarding oil wells, of allegedly scaring away tourists, arguing that the military presence in Murchison Falls National Park portrays a “bad image” to foreign tourists who think the area is insecure.
Mr Mwandha demanded that urgent measures be taken to stop the military from interfering with the tourism activities. “This oil production will last a limited time, but the biodiversity in the reserve will remain and we should protect it,” he said, adding, “tourism is one of the biggest foreign exchange. earner We get more than $6million (Shs1.2 billion) annually and issues of environment should be taken seriously when analyzing the Oil Bill.”
But Energy Minister Hillary Onek disputed reports that oil exploration had affected wildlife. “These are wild accusations; the toxic wastes are always treated and buried and they have been managing waste very well,” Mr Onek said. However, the MPs led by Akbar Godi [Arua Municipality] said efforts should be made to protect wildlife.
UWA officials advised that actual oil drilling be phased (one at a time) instead of drilling all the 32 wells at once–a move which will lead to depletion of the country’s ecosystem.