Tanzania’s world renowned Selous Game Reserve could lose its status as a World Heritage Site following the government’s decision to set up the Stiegler’s Gorge power project in the park, a venture that involves logging and other anti-environment activities.
The EastAfrican has learnt that the issue of the power project inside the game reserve is on the agenda of the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee — the organ that decides on the inscription or deletion of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger — to be held in Manama, Bahrain, later this month.
Richard Lo Giudice, programme specialist at the Unesco World Heritage Centre, told The EastAfrican that the 2,100MW project will be discussed at the forum, and then Unesco will give its verdict.
“This matter will be brought to the attention of the World Heritage Committee during its 42nd session in Manama from June 24 to July 4, when it examines the state of conservation of Selous Game Reserve,” Mr Giudice said in an e-mail response to The EastAfrican.
The government has set aside Tsh700 billion ($308 million), or 41 per cent of the Tsh1.69 trillion ($743.6 million) budget in the 2018/19 fiscal year for the project, which it says is critical for the production of electricity to drive its industrialisation agenda.
Despite the mounting opposition by conservationists over the potential destruction to the reserve, the government is pushing ahead with the project implementation, with tenders for clearing of forests already received by the forestry department.
The World Heritage Committee comprises representatives from 21 State Parties to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage elected by the General Assembly of State Parties to the Convention.
The World Heritage Committee meeting comes as the government through the Tanzania Forest Services reviews bids for large-scale logging of trees with a volume of 3.5 million cubic metres, an area MPs estimate to be the size of Dar es Salaam.
The Tanzania Forests Services had invited bids for clearing of 148,000 hectares of forest land.
The tender document seen by The EastAfrican shows that the department is looking for eligible companies to buy trees distributed into six blocks in Rufiji district. Its chief executive Prof Dos Santos Silayo, confirmed receiving the bids.
Mr Giudice said that on May 9, Unesco learnt from “an outside source” about the publication of the tender document dated April 25, 2018 regarding the sale of standing trees within the boundaries of the Selous Game Reserve World Heritage property.
“To date, we have received no official notice of this tender process from the government of Tanzania,” he said.
Tanzania is among the states represented at the World Heritage Committee and is expected to send an official to Bahrain. Other African states on the committee are Angola, Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
The Committee examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed properties and asks state parties to take action when properties are not being properly managed.
Environmental lobbyist Asukile Kajuni wants the government to conduct a strategic environmental assessment in accordance with the Environmental Management Act of 2004, to determine the possible effect of the project on the environment.
The Environmental Impact Assessment of the Proposed Stiegler’s Gorge Hydropower Project, a 2009 report by Prof Raphael Mwalyosi of the University of Dar es Salaam’s Institute of Resource Assessment, noted that the effect of the hydropower project would be adverse owing to its drastic consequences on the immediate and more distant areas.
Despite agreeing that the project would produce a significant amount of energy, the assessment report in part casts doubt on its socioeconomic viability.