News / 16 January 2014

Oil, water, justice and environment. The puzzle of Uganda

Thirza and Remi are currently working on the first steps towards a more sustainable future in Uganda after the discovery of oil in 2006. The oil was found on different locations close to Lake Albert. About 6 to 8 million people, mostly fishers and farmers, are dependent on this region to survive and the biodiversity in this region is very rich. For example, 7 of the 10 most important bird species in Uganda brood in this area.


Thirza: “We are here to make plans, together with our Ugandan partners. This is necessary because the discovery of oil creates a lot of new problems. Some traders have used smart tricks to buy land for a very cheap price from individuals, although a lot of the ground is community land and cannot be sold by owned by individual persons. The government ordered some villagers to leave their homes within 2 or 3 months, without offering them any compensation. Often, no one even explains to the villagers why they have to leave.

Remi: “Of course oil exploitation requires new constructions: roads, dams and pipelines that suddenly appear in the landscape. We also notice that the government turns a blind eye to companies that drill in very fragile ecosystems such as national parks, although this is prohibited by law. The oil is not found in a few large fields, but in a lot of small lots scattered in the enormous region between South Sudan and Lake Edward, bordering Rwanda. We are talking about thousands of sources when all the wells are in use.



Thirza: “the oil that is being extracted is very viscous. Before it’s ready for transport it needs to be heated and treated. Drilling and processing oil require huge levels of water and chemicals. The poisoned effluent is often pumped right back into nature.



Remi: “Since 2010 I’ve been working in Uganda to create awareness among the local communities about their rights. Together with IUCN, Wetlands International and the Ugandan organizations AFIEGO, NAPE and UWA we work on water supply, on documenting the existing land rights and on organising meetings between all the stakeholders using the available water.


Water for all stake holders

With the oil exploitation on its way we should definitely look at sustainable water use. How much does the local community that depends on a certain source of water, actually need? How much does the ecosystem use to maintain itself? How much is needed to produce crops? And do we pay enough attention to the whole balance of water (ground water, mineral water, rivers and rain)? In one, short word, this is what we call ‘Waterstewardship.’

Remi: “it’s time to start a dialogue with the oil companies and the authorities about their responsibilities, about environmental measures, about the restriction of discharging poisonous effluent and about the involvement of the communities living in the area. The oil will be exploited anyway, but the enormous impact can be reduced. The Ugandan law supports it, but now we need to live up to it.



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