The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO has warned Tanzanian government against plans to mine uranium and undertake oil exploration in the Selous Game Reserve, since the proposed activities constitute a clear case for inscribing the game reserve on the list of World Heritage in Danger.
In February this year, the United Republic of Tanzania submitted a request for a minor modification to the boundaries of the Selous Game Reserve. The 50,000 square kilometers Selous (see map below) is one of the largest remaining wilderness areas in Africa, harbouring the largest remaining elephant population in Africa and has been inscribed on the World Heritage List since 1982.
The request for modification of boundaries concerns the exclusion of an area of 19,793 ha (nearly 200 square kilometers) on the southern boundary of the Selous and has been motivated by plans of Tanzania to mine uranium deposits in the area. The project will be undertaken by an Australian uranium mining firm, Mantra Resources, at a cost of $400 million.
Tony Devlin, country manager of Mantra Resources, told The East African in Dar es Salaam last week that environmental and social baseline studies had been completed and the company had sent an environmental and social impact assessment application to the government.
However various conservationists seriously doubt that a proper environmental impact analysis for the projects in the Selous has been undertaken, as has been the case with other projects with major ecological consequences. These serious concerns were also highlighted by a mission of German parliamentarians, who visited Tanzania in August 2010.
In particular they feared uncontrolled radioactive pollution, produced by the uranium mining, to be released into the wider environment. They criticised the lack of transparency and available information for Tanzanian citizens.
The UNESCO committee identified development projects, that the government had sanctioned to be implemented in the reserve, as Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower dam, Kidunda hydropower dam, and Mukuju River uranium mine and oil exploration.
It has requested Tanzania to submit a report on the state of conservation of the game reserve by the 1st February 2012 for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 36th session in Paris.
This additional time should allow Tanzania to complete the Environmental Impact Assessment process, as well as adequate time for International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the advisory body to UNESCO on natural sites, to complete its evaluation of the proposed boundary modification, which would include sending a mission to the Selous. Mariam Kenza Ali, IUCN’s World Heritage Conservation Officer, stresses:
We are seriously concerned that African Natural World Heritage sites, many of which are already inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, are increasingly threatened by mining and oil/gas projects. Fortunately, these projects are still at planning stage, which means that governments, mining and oil/gas companies, financial backers and other stakeholders have a window of opportunity to make the right decisions for future generations by committing to preserving these outstanding sites and thereby also safeguarding the livelihoods of local people and Africa’s long-term sustainable development.
Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Ezekiel Maige, has been widely quoted across East African & European media following reports that he openly called UNESCO World Heritage Committee an insignificant entity from which we cannot take orders.
Watch this space for further updates……