Uganda: keep the oil in the ground – save Murchison Falls!

Elephants Murchison-Falls-Nationalpark, Uganda Elephants in Uganda (© istockphoto.com)

Uganda sits on vast oil resources, and three companies are ready to drill – in of all places, Murchison Falls National Park. A Chinese construction company is already expanding a road that cuts through the protected area. Speak out against this disaster in the making!

Call to action

To: the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni; the management of TOTAL, CNOOC, CCCC, Exim Bank of China

Oil drilling and infrastructure projects are a huge threat to Murchison Falls National Park and Lake Albert. Put a stop to this disaster in the making.

Read letter

Murchison Falls National Park is one of Africa’s jewels. Every year, thousands of nature lovers come from all over the world to enjoy the spectacle of the Victoria Nile thundering down the cliffs of a narrow gorge.

The Albertine Graben region is home to wildlife such as lions, elephants and hippos, and at least 500 further animal species. It is listed as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) and a Ramsar site because of its exceptional wetlands.

This could soon be history if France's TOTAL, UK-based Tullow Oil and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) were to drill 419 wells in the region and extract 200,000 barrels a day. They would also build a refinery, an industrial zone and a 1,445-kilometer pipeline to the harbor of Tanga in Tanzania.

In early 2019, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) started expanding a dirt track through Murchison Falls National Park used mainly by safari tourists, widening and paving it for heavy vehicles. The road expansion will fragment the national park and cut off wildlife corridors. Environmental activists are convinced that the only possible purpose for the road is to serve the oil industry.

CCCC is one of the biggest construction companies globally. Its projects are textbook examples of how China initiates, finances and realizes major undertakings that run roughshod over the local environment in numerous countries.

Resistance is growing in Uganda: environmentalists and civil society are calling on the government to protect the environment and the livelihoods of ordinary Ugandans from the fossil-fuel industry.

International pressure can be successful, as the cancelation of a hydroelectric dam project close to Murchison Falls has shown. Now our aim is clear: Save the Murchison Falls region – tell Uganda to keep the oil in the ground!

Back­ground

Uganda: keep the oil in the ground – save Murchison Falls!

Murchison Falls National Park was established in 1952 and covers an area of 3,878 square kilometers. Scientists have counted 144 mammal, 51 reptile and 755 plant species in the region’s savanna ecosystems, which also includes the Budongo, Bugoma and Wambabya protected areas.

Oil in Murchison Falls National Park – the companies involved

The oil reserves are estimated at 6.5 billion barrels. Between 2011 and 2012, TOTAL and CNOOC each acquired a 33-percent share from the stakeholder, UK-based Tullow Oil.

A number of nature conservation and human rights organizations are already fighting against TOTAL, complaining of land grabbing, the loss of the livelihood of many local people and impoverishment. Les Amis de la Terre France and others are filing a lawsuit against the oil company in Paris, referring to a law on corporate responsibility that also applies to foreign subsidiaries.

Tullow Oil, based in London, which bills itself as “Africa's leading independent oil company”, is active in 15 countries in Africa, South America and off Jamaica. Its main business activity is the exploration of new oil and gas fields on land and offshore.

China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) is the third largest oil company in the People’s Republic of China. It mainly operates in Africa, Iran and more recently in Europe and North America. The company is 70 percent state-owned.

China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) is one of the largest construction groups in the world. In Uganda, it built the 40-kilometer expressway between Entebbe Airport and the capital city, Kampala.

The Export Import Bank of China is involved in the destruction of the Murchison Falls National Park as a financier. The cost for the construction of three “national oil roads” has been estimated at around €485 million, of which 85 percent (€410 million) will be covered by a loan. In addition to CCCC, two other Chinese companies are involved.

According to environmentalists, the start of construction by CCCC is illegal. For example, it is unclear whether an environmental impact assessment has been carried out. During two public hearings on the Tilenga project, it became apparent that numerous regulations had been violated.

Protected areas without protection

In many countries, governments are opening protected areas to resource exploitation, dams and infrastructure projects: In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Virunga and Salonga National Parks are threatened by oil drilling, while the Canadian company Banro wants to mine gold in Itombwe Nature Reserve. In Guinea, the Chinese Sinohydro Group is planning a dam in the new Moyen-Bafing National Park; in Tanzania, the Unesco World Heritage site Selous is also threatened by a dam.

Roads open “Pandora’s box”

Environmentalists compare the construction of roads to opening a Pandora’s box of environmental evils and draw parallels to the spread of cancer cells. Satellite images show how, after a road is opened between population centers, numerous side roads soon branch off into the countryside in a herringbone pattern. These are both official and unofficial roads, some of which are built by logging companies.

Roads open previously inaccessible areas to agriculture (farms, plantations, cattle feedlots), logging, mining, poaching and settlement. Many of the threats to rainforests are associated with the construction of roads. In the tropics, 95 percent of all deforestation takes place within five kilometers of the nearest road.

Letter

To: the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni; the management of TOTAL, CNOOC, CCCC, Exim Bank of China

President Museveni,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Murchison Falls landscape is one of Africa's jewels. The variegated ecosystems of the Albertine Graben are home to iconic species such as lions, elephants, and hippos, as well as at least 500 further animal species. Every year, thousands of tourists from around the world visit Murchison Falls and generate a substantial income for local people and Uganda itself.

The unique ecosystems of the region and the livelihoods of the people would be endangered by the Tilenga oil exploitation project and related infrastructure measures. Uganda’s tourism sector and its reputation as a nation caring for environmental protection and the climate would suffer profoundly.

First damages are already visible, as work on the extension of a road cutting through Murchison Falls National Park has begun.

We respectfully ask you to:

- Stop the Tilenga project. Keep the oil in the ground.
- Stop all projects connected to oil exploitation such as road works.

Yours faithfully,

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