Opening Oil Blocks in Protected Areas: A Reaction from Environmental Civil Society in the Great African Lakes Region
5 August 2015
Open Letter from Environmental civil society in the Great African Lakes Region, addressed to the Head of States of DR Congo and Uganda
Alert around the oil exploitation in Lake Edward in DR-Congo and Uganda and risk of destruction of ecosystems of the Great African lakes, and UNESCO World Heritage Site Virunga National Park.
Excellences, Heads of Governments (DR. Congo and Uganda)
The Organizations of environmental civil society in the region of the Great Africans Lakes working for the protection of Human Rights and the Environment wish to express their deep concern in connection with the decision of the two governments (DR-Congo and Uganda) to exploit oil in Lake Edward; they are worried by the decision taken by the Ugandan government to reallocate oil blocks in Lake Edward, the NGAJI bloc, that shares its boundaries with Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Excellences, Heads of Governments, the organizations remind the two governments that they are governed by a legal assortment at national and international laws like the RAMSAR Convention and the UNESCO Convention. Furthermore, the 1971 UNESCO Convention which was ratified by the DRC in 1974 and Uganda in 1987 calls for the proper conservation of World Heritage sites located in its territory and to this end, States Parties signatories to this Convention undertake “not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage referred to in Articles l and 2 situated on the territory of other States Parties to this Convention.”
Indeed, the Congolese State as the Ugandan Sate cannot grant oil concessions in Lake Edward; which could cause damage to the outstanding universal values of Virunga National Park, a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.
It is in this context, Excellences, Heads of Governments, that both countries should fulfill their commitments made freely and protect transboundary sites such Virunga National Park (Site UNESCO World Heritage) and Queen Elizabeth National Park including Lake Edward, a RAMSAR and UNESCO World Heritage site, of the risks of oil exploitation activities, namely:
Ecological Threats: it is a very fragile and vulnerable ecosystem, which requires special responsiveness, facing all forms of pollution especially by hydrocarbons and whose effects are known by all, namely:
1. The destruction of biodiversity in general, through the destruction of the food chain;
2. Water pollution of the Nile Basin causing a potential source of international conflict between the countries that share this basin as far as the Mediterranean Sea, itself already very polluted;
3. This is a nesting area for migratory birds from around the world and home to rare species like the Mountain Gorilla;
4. This is a strategic area that works as a shield against global warming now universally decried;
Socio-Economic Threats: Traditional Fishing activities on Lake Edward from the Ugandan as the Congolese side are the guarantee for sustainable development aspired by local communities;
Excellences, Heads of Governments, the experience in other countries, especially in developing countries, have shown that oil exploitation essentially benefits the multinationals. Thus, poverty, water pollution, the expropriation of land reserved for agriculture and livestock often force people to wander, with destabilizing migrations, as is the case of flows of illegal migrants and Africans, Asians seeking a better life in Europe and which the majority comes from oil producing countries.
Worse, Excellences, Heads of Governments, the two governments signed contracts with the oil companies in violation with the upright and indispensable principle of free consultation and prior consent of local communities; the latter being potential victims of this extractive activity.
Excellences, Heads of Governments, continuing to violate the principle of community consent (commonly called FPIC – Free Prior Informed Consent), key decision makers – like you – are creating unnecessary tensions and which are especially dangerous in a post-conflict region like ours. To undertake oil operations in Lake Edward, whichever way it is, is simply a time bomb not only for both countries but also for all humanity, especially as pollution does not have borders and could damage irreversibly Virunga National Park, iconic UNESCO World Heritage site.
While supporting you in finding more active means / resources for the sustainable development of our countries, we encourage you to think about it in terms of the three pillars of sustainability that any development project should adopt, namely respect for healthy environment, economic growth and social-community wellness. It is with this legacy that you will be able to leave your successors and citizens viable countries.
In view of the above, the organizations of environmental civil society in the region of the Great Africans Lakes recommend Ugandans and Congolese Governments to:
- Respect the legal texts with regard to environmental nature protection, contained in their constitutions as well as those of international character which they have freely ratified, as it is the case of the UNESCO Convention of 1971 and RAMSAR convention of 1996.
- Respect their commitments not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the World Heritage sites situated on their territory or in the territory of other States Parties to this Convention (UNESCO).
- Consult local communities and reflect on the principle of free, prior and informed consent that remains non-negotiable for all projects that may affect the rights of local communities including the right to a healthy environment.
- To collaborate and harmonize ecosystem management of Lake Edward, a common heritage of both countries in order to avoid the destruction of this transboundary vital ecosystem but also to diminish the tensions that could create misunderstanding and conflicts among communities, countries or both.
- Not to accept economic partnerships with companies that do not respect regulatory legal frameworks and that with their activities could affect the outstanding universal values of World Heritage sites.
Finally, we would draw your attention to your responsibility before history and your respective Nations. As citizens of these countries, we have just fulfilled our duty to alert you; so it remains to you to act with full responsibility for the present and future of your country.
Done at Goma on the 5th of August 2015
For Environmental Civil Society of the Great African Lakes