Close to fifty international and civil society organizations want Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo to stop the licensing for oil and gas exploration near the Virunga ecosystem.
In a letter addressed to President Yoweri Museveni and his Congolese counterpart Felix Tshisekedi, the activists said the explorations would impact negatively on communities living near the blocks.
“Allowing oil exploration and exploitation activities in these ecosystems will not only negatively affect the biodiversity, but also the communities who depend on these biodiversity for survival,” reads the letter.
The environmentalists, backed up by their counterparts in Africa’s other oil economies Nigeria and Gabon, are seeking to stop exploration of Ngaji oil block in Uganda and a total of 21 oil blocks in DRC, located in Virunga National Park, Salonga National Park and Lufira River Basin.
Ngaji block covers half of Lake Edward and is part of the protected Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Its also in the same ecosystem as the Virunga National Park —a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Sources familiar with the matter told The EastAfrican that the letter had been delivered and received by the Uganda presidency, and a copy delivered at the Congolese embassy in Kampala.
The EastAfrican could not establish whether the heads of state will heed the activists’ call.
Sensitivity of the area
However, Uganda’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy, Robert Kasande, said that Kampala was conscious about the sensitivity of the area and that its making every effort to ensure that environmental degradation is minimised or avoided during exploration.
“Yes, we have done our homework on this area. We have done strategic environment impact assessment that has informed us of areas which we can work in and areas which we cannot work in. We have also developed environmental sensitivity atlas so we know the areas which we cannot try to drill,” said Mr Kasande.
Uganda made its first commercial oil discovery in 2006 in the Albertine Graben, and to date over 121 wells have been drilled with a success rate of over 88 per cent.
On May 8, Uganda’s Energy Minister Irene Muloni announced that the five blocks on offer include Ngaji, Turaco, Kasuruban, Omuka and Avivi.
The Virunga ecosystem is made up of Rwenzori and Virunga Mountains and straddles Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
The petition leaves Kampala and Kinshasa at crossroads as they have to balance development with conservation – both of which contribute to foreign exchange earnings through tourism, agriculture and fisheries.
World Wide Fund for Nature 2017 estimates show that if Virunga’s National Park is managed sustainably, it has a potential to generate $235 million per year, while Uganda earns similar amounts from gorilla tourism alone.
Uganda and DRC are signatory to World Heritage Convention which makes it obligatory to state parties not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage situated on the territory of other state parties to the convention.