Tour operators want Murchison Falls dam project terminated

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AUTO official speaking to press

The Association of Uganda Tour Operators gathered once again joined by various stakeholders and partners from conservation, civil society, academia, students, local communities and the media has reiterated their condemnation of the idea by the Government of Uganda to sanction a feasibility study for a 360 Megawatts Hydropower Project at Uhuru Falls inside the magnificent Murchison Falls National Park, a park named after the mighty centerpiece that is Murchison Falls, the most powerful point on the world’s longest river, the Nile.

This followed a 3rd December 2019 press statement by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development in which Government of Uganda confirmed having signed a Memorandum of Understanding with M/S Bonang Energy and Power Ltd from the Republic of South Africa with its Norconsult and JSC Institute Hydro project to undertake detailed feasibility studies for a proposed Hydropower Project at Uhuru Falls located adjacent and parallel to the mighty Murchison Falls in Murchison Falls National Park.

While speaking at the press in Murchison Falls National Park, Everest Kayondo the Chairman of Uganda’s tour operators body requested the Government of Uganda to protect both Uhuru and Murchison Falls premised on their environmental, social; direct and indirect economic value to Uganda.

“Murchison Waterfalls from the top all the way to the delta at its confluence with Lake Albert, including Uhuru Falls is a Ramsar site, designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands; an intergovernmental environmental treaty established in 1971 by UNESCO, which Uganda is also signatory to. The top of the falls also holds important cultural and historical regalia of great significance to the host communities from the many districts surrounding the park, who benefit from its existence,” Mr. Kayondo said.

Victoria University

He added that several studies had already been conducted to highlight the critical state of this protected area, including a September 2017 Environmental Sensitivity Atlas for Murchison Falls National Park by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, funded by USAID and the Royal Norwegian Embassy that re-emphasizes the protection of this Ramsar site.

There was therefore no need for another study for a Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) hosting many IUCN red listed species.

Murchison Falls National Park received an increase of 10% over a period of 12 months, commanding up to 31.4% of all Uganda’s park visitations and leading all the 10 national parks in visitor numbers, according to the statistical bulletin of the Ministry of Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities.

With the ongoing heavy developments inside the park as a result of the planned exploration of finite resources like Oil and Gas, there have been many of the obviously anticipated negative impacts on the ecosystem which have disturbed the wildlife congregations and reduced the tourist satisfaction levels; especially the return-visitors. The Uhuru damming would exacerbate this issue by causing a major loss in the aesthetic beauty of the park,” said Pearl Hoareau the Uganda Tourism Association President.

“Popular British travel guidebook, the Rough Guide in November 2019 shared a list of the best 20 places to travel in 2020 on which Murchison Falls National Park had been listed because plans to build a dam had been put on hold and this shows how the international community feels about this project,” Pearl added.

“Although the Press Statement from the Ministry of Energy makes reference to NDP II which reads, focuses on investments in energy infrastructure with a focus on the exploitation of the abundant renewable energy sources including hydropower, the same plan however earmarks the tourism sector by Government of Uganda as one of the five (5) key-growth sectors for the country’s economy. For the same Government to go against its word and destroy this sector which attracts the largest foreign exchange is to act selfishly, and out of interest of Ugandans,” said AUTO’s Chief Executive Officer, Gloria Tumwesigye.

Energy generation and consumption around the world is rapidly transforming into a decentralized, decarbonized, and digitized model due to a number of market forces. The declining costs of solar, bioenergy and other green energy systems, as well as the increasing price of energy from the grid continues to lead to grid parity around the world. It is therefore high time we rethought our strategy towards energy generation and distribution in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.

AUTO had since petitioned various offices including the President of the Republic of Uganda, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda, the Speaker of Parliament, the Parliamentary Committee on Trade and Tourism, the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development.

They had also made a formal objection to the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development.

AUTO’s Prayers:

1. We request H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to publicly pronounce an immediate termination to this damaging project as well as the recently sanctioned feasibility study.

2. We request Government of Uganda to launch a nationwide sensitization on the importance of conservation to the future of Uganda, starting with top officials in the public sector.

3. We request Government of Uganda to dedicate more finances towards to the conservation, sustainable development and promotion of the country’s varied tourist attractions.

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