By Cyrus Kabaale
As we mourn the outbreak of global crisis COVID 19, thousands of people have been displaced by rising water in Lake Victoria, Lake Kyoga and swept away from their homes by riotous floods.
The government claims it warned the residents earlier in time to vacate the shores of the lakes in anticipation of the disaster. This claim is flawed because it would have made sense if the government had championed re-settlement of people to another site without waiting for the disaster to occur and start lamenting.
With such disasters, nature is claiming for its space. People in oil-rich regions with exploration and development activities happening should keep their eyes wide open and keep the government and oil companies on pressure to adopt the best practices possible.
Because of irresponsibility and negligence by the oil investors, communities in oil-rich countries have suffered worse disasters. The best example is that of Royal Dutch Shell and their reckless activities in the River State of Nigeria, West Africa.
Most oil disasters in this country have occurred because of obsolete equipment such as pipes and oil well heads that have rotten underground for close to 50 years without being replaced or serviced thus triggering oil spills and oil pipeline fires that have so far claimed more than 10,000 poor Nigerian.
On March 28 and 29, 2020, oil explosions in which drilling mud and crude oil are said to have spilled occurred. The drilling mud and crude oil like substances flowed into Lake Albert. The Royal Techno Industries Ltd was contracted by the Ministry of Energy to explore for geothermal energy near the Kibiro Hot Springs at Lake Albert.
This tragedy could have been avoided if the responsible oil companies and government agency and ministries had responded quickly to the warnings by communities about the leaking oils.
If such a disaster was to happen in Uganda’s network of rivers, swamps and forests, well-known world over as a rich biodiversity spot with 39% of Africa’s mammal species, 51% of African bird species, 19% of African Amphibian species, 14% of Africa’s plant and reptile species including 79 threatened terrestrial vertebrates according to IUCN red data book listening, then that would be a heavy blow to the much-anticipated oil revenues that the good oil investors and government are preaching now and again to be the one to uplift the country and its people from the biting poverty.
As we celebrate the never-ending new oil discoveries, let us keep in mind that unless best practices in the industry are emphasized, then the anticipated oil revenues might not solve the escalating poverty and community suffering.
The bucket and spade practice of cleaning oil spills, digging of a hole in the middle of a spill site, the burial of oil spills and wastes in the ground as Heritage Oil did in Amuru District in 2009, the burning of affected items together leaving mud pits wide open thus exposing the surrounding communities and the environment to toxic gas and wastes are all part of what the oil companies and government must safeguard and take precaution against.
Unfortunately, in Uganda, the government seems to be totally blind to what might befall the oil region. The oil companies are busy drilling in the absence of oil legislation. The absence of legislation such as Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) regulations, Land Acquisition Act which can determine what is fair, adequate and prompt to regulate their activities will cause more harm than good. It will most likely result in land grabbing by the oil companies and massive environmental mess.
What must be kept in mind by every Ugandan is that oil companies are purely profit-making corporations. Without any legislation to guide their operations, they will resort to using foreign oil experts as a route to overstate the costs of their investments, depots their profit money in foreign accounts and since Uganda has no proven institutional capacity to monitor accounts of the oil investors, it will eventually incur more losses than gains at the time of repaying the investment cost incurred by the oil companies.
It is, therefore, important to emphasize the adoption of the best practices right from the start of exploitation process so that Uganda does not loose on both fronts such as earning oil revenues and conserving the incredible biodiversity in the oil region.
Otherwise, if the oil companies continue claiming that the adaption of best practices is too expensive to guarantee them profits from their oil investments, then let us conserve our environment than oil and continue surviving on tourism money that has sustained the Ugandan economy for decades.
Cyrus Kabaale, Extractives Programme’s Officer, Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)