Is Uganda Ready to Risk it all?
Uganda – The Pearl of Africa, is losing its worth. Uganda’s environment is home to wildlife and worth conserving because it supports tourism. The country’s greed for hydroelectric power raises concerns about the exploitation of the Murchison Falls and the surrounding areas.
Murchison Falls is a foreign investment asset, but energy initiatives endanger the wildlife habitat. Along the road towards the Murchison Falls National Park, animals once moved freely. One could see the chimps and the barrels of monkeys roaming the streets. Narrow roads provided the perfect environment for these animals. “These animals didn’t feel alienated,” says tour operator Everest Kayondo.
All that is in the past now. The government has parked red trucks and yellow diggers (excavators), ready to pave a road right through the park’s lush forest. The road construction is forging the way for new power projects.
“On this path, we saw animals like chimpanzees, buffaloes, and even giraffes, but not anymore,” says Kayondo, Uganda Tour Operators Association (AUTO) president. The association represents over 250 tourism companies in Uganda.
Uganda’s largest and most visited park–The Murchison Falls National Park, is home to two significant waterfalls.
These falls are on Unesco’s list – ‘Wetlands of international importance,’ in Uganda – The pearl of Africa.
- – Murchison Falls; is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world.
- – Uhuru Falls; is named after a Swahili word that means freedom. It came into existence after the floods in 1962.
In 2019, Bonang Power and Energy, a South African company, announced it had applied for a license to build a 360MW hydro plant at Uhuru Falls – that is adjacent to Murchison Falls. It was a further blow to the conservationists. They were already reeling from the news that the government approved the energy company Total E&P Uganda to develop six oilfields in the park, to the north of Lake Albert.
The government had assured the public that they would not build the dam. For the next 20 years, the Ugandan government plans to increase the country’s power supply. The demand for power is growing at 10% per year. It has increased the need for the development of renewable energy sources, hydro-power inclusive.
In 2019, the government commissioned the Isimba hydropower plant, which is 4 km downstream of Simba Falls on the Nile. This year, 2020, the government will commission the Karuma plant, which is also along the River Nile.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS ADVOCATE FOR CHANGE
News of the planned Uhuru dam construction has resulted in an uproar from the tourism industry, environmental groups, and the public. A Change.org petition supporting the ‘save Murchison falls‘ social media campaign has received more than 21,000 signatures.
The government said that once they constructed a dam on Uhuru Falls, Murchison Falls will not be affected. Mr. Benedict Ntale, a tour operator and vice-chairman of AUTO, quoted. Given the similarity of the water supply, touching either will impact the other due to the short distance between the two falls.
Ntale added, “it makes less sense to construct the Uhuru dam as it is seasonal and mostly dry outside the wet season”.
Climate Action Uganda‘s Akello Harriet Hope says she has concerns about disruption to the natural environment that a dam would bring. “We call on the government, it should instead invest in other energy sources, like biogas and solar energy,” she says.
For economic and environmental purposes, the advocates intend to convince the government to stop the initiative. Uganda’s largest export industry is tourism. “At least one-third of Ugandan international tourists visit Murchison Falls National Park. The entire tourism value chain takes something home – riders, hotel owners as well as artisan manufacturers,” Kayondo says.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The government claims the road construction close to the falls is for the oil projects that are on the other side of the park. Furthermore, the government has already decided to build the dam, irrespective of the feasibility study.
If the road construction is purely for oil projects, why is there a section that branches up the top of the falls?
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