Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Civil Society actors seek to protect Murchison Falls tourism site

Civil Society actors have written to the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) to reject the application by Bonang Power to conduct a feasibility study and other activities leading up to the development of a dam at Murchison Falls.

In the protest letter dated 17th June 2019, the civil society actors protest against plans by ERA to issue a licence to Bonang Power and Energy Ltd to develop a 360MW power plant at Murchison Falls.

The falls and the entire Murchison landscape are already under threat from oil activities as over 70% of the oil under the Tilenga project is found in Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP).

The actors also call on ERA and government to promote the exploitation of clean energy such as off-grid solar as opposed to hydropower dams and oil in protected areas.

The letter raises concerns that Murchison Falls landscape is already under immense pressure from oil activities; no more pressures should be allowed. This is more so the case because tourism remains one of the biggest sources of government revenue; it earned the country over $1.6 billion in the 2018/2019 financial year.

On the other hand, development of hydropower dams has increased Uganda's debt burden amidst a few returns. The country's debt burden stands at $11.5 billion and dams are responsible for over 30% of this debt yet few returns are being experienced from them. For instance, only over 20% of the population has power. Poverty has also increased and the much-touted industries arising from increased power generation have offered insufficient and mostly poor-paying jobs.

Uganda is also producing excess power which citizens and industries cannot afford; this drives the tariff up. Another dam amidst excess power will further drive up the tariff. Moreover, Uganda is already over-reliant on hydropower yet to ensure sustainable energy supply amidst climate change threats, countries need to diversify their energy mix.

The government also faces legal action and international shame should ERA allow a dam to be developed at Murchison Falls. The dam would lead to more degradation of the Murchison Falls landscape, which is against international agreements that Uganda is a signatory to, the letter reads.

The signatories to this letter from the Acholi and Bunyoro sub-regions where the planned dam will be located also demand that :

(i) ERA should not approve the application to undertake studies for the development of a hydropower dam at the Murchison Falls. The Murchison falls ecosystem is important in the survival of species such as the Nile crocodile, fish, and others. Moreover, the falls and MFNP provide employment, foreign exchange and are a source of national pride. The above services cannot be replaced by electricity moreover which Ugandans cannot afford to consume.

(ii) Explore alternative energy sources. Uganda is richly endowed with alternative energy resources such as solar and wind. However, these resources remain largely unexploited mainly because Uganda is concentrating on hydropower. In line with aspirations under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Sustainable Energy for All (SEA4ALL) initiative, Uganda should invest more in other energy sources especially off-grid solar and avoid over-reliance on grid-based hydropower. In addition, in line with aspirations under the Paris Climate Change Agreement that Uganda is a signatory to, the government should promote investment in clean energy over oil and should avoid oil activities in protected and critical biodiversity areas including in MFNP.

(iii) UWA should not issue a permit for a dam at Murchison falls:

(iv) Citizens should say no to ERA and the government’s proposal to destroy Murchison Falls: It is only the citizens of Uganda who have the power under Article 1 of the Constitution that can save the Murchison Falls. Only the citizens can stop the single biggest challenge facing our country today, the dominance of politics over governance institutions. Key institutions such as the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), UWA, National Forestry Authority (NFA), ERA and others that are entrusted with the responsibility of conservation and ensuring that developments benefit citizens without destroying the environment have been pushed on the sidelines by selfish and corrupt politicians. The institutions are being used by politicians to destroy the environment. This is why the country is in an environmental mess characterized by loss of forests, wildlife reserves, wetlands, river banks, lake shores, and others. Citizens must campaign against the destruction of Murchison Falls and all critical biodiversity areas of Uganda. We encourage companies like Bonang Power and Energy to desist from being part of the destruction. Instead, they should invest in other clean energy sources such as off-grid solar.

(v) Civil society: Non-governmental organizations(NGOs)and other civil society groups should work with us to mobilize and empower Ugandans to stop environmental abuses in the country. Only strong civic competence will compel government and institutions such as ERA to know that this country belongs to the people of Uganda and our biodiversity must be used in a manner that meets the needs of the present and future generations.

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