Keen observers who have been into Murchison Falls National Park over the course of the last month or two will have probably noticed a couple of unusual activities going on. Firstly, on the main road to Paraa ferry crossing from Masindi, several 4wd pickups with survey crews have been working their way northwards through the south bank forest with their theodolites and total stations, surveying what is mooted to be one of the major new “oil roads”. On north bank a very small, light tripod drilling rig has been working adjacent to the ferry landing site for some weeks, taking core samples of the bank presumably to test the competency of the earth for the proposed new trans-Nile bridge foundations. In the last few weeks that rig has been transferred onto the deck of a marine vessel on the river and the same is now being done beneath the Nile.
These are minor and intrusively insignificant work. No proper work should begin until the environmental impact assessment on oil work in Murchison has been reviewed by the National Environment Management Authority (where said document currently resides) and thereafter, at a series of public forums involving all stakeholders and the public.
This should be an enlightening document when it is made public and we are especially interested in understanding the mitigating measures proposed to be put in place to offset the inevitable environmental effects that will result, and the support that will be offered to Uganda Wildlife Authority to help adjust their business model in Murchison to allow for these disruptive activities. Plus, perhaps most importantly, the legacy component (leaving the site better than it was found and Uganda Wildlife Authority in a better place than they currently are) needs to be very clearly demonstrated for when oil production ceases in 30 to 40 years time and reinstatement works are subsequently completed.
Change is coming to Murchison, that much seems inevitable, and change in our modern world needs to be accepted and embraced, but not at any price and not in a manner that single-mindedly displaces one form of national revenue for another, rather than complimenting it. Tourism is Uganda’s number one foreign exchange generator at the moment and Murchison is an apex contributor to that figure. It would be a crying shame indeed if all the recent hard work and the attendant recovery in the park was needlessly undone.