The East African Wild Life Society has received recent news that the Ugandan government intends to proceed with a plan to construct a hydropower dam at the Murchison Falls National Park on River Nile with alarm and consternation. We are joined by a number of conservationists inside and outside the country, in raising the alarm against this project, given the importance of the Falls to Uganda’s tourism and the potential damage to ecosystem that supports a large number of species.
According to media reports, the government has given the green light for a feasibility study to be carried out on the construction of the 360MW power project on Murchison Falls.
It is shocking that authorities in Uganda would be so insensitive as to consider the implementation of a project that would be disastrous to a crucial ecosystem and a key tourist attraction.
Murchison Falls National Park, which has a span of 3,900km2 and extends from the northern end of the western Rift Valley, is Uganda’s oldest and largest conservation area. It was first gazetted as a game reserve in 1926.
The waterfall itself cuts across the park and is considered the crown jewel of the park. It is here where the Victoria Nile plunges some 45 metres over the remnant Rift Valley wall with an 80-kilometre stretch of rapids.
The park is home to important African wildlife species, including an estimated 76 species of mammals, such as buffalo, giraffe, crocodiles, a rising elephant population and 451 varieties of birds.
This biological diversity as well as the park’s unique landscape on the Nile attracts over 100,000 visitors and generates over 15 billion Uganda shillings (US$4.1 million) annually, according to figures from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). Private investors have not only established accommodation facilities for visitors to the park but also pay the relevant taxes and provide jobs to Ugandans.
Damming the river at Murchison Falls will have far-reaching adverse consequences for both the fauna and flora species in the conservation area and greatly undermine the park’s contribution to the Ugandan economy through tourism.
Even before the hydropower project was conceived, the Murchison Falls ecosystem faced challenges. Over the past decade, oil and gas installations have been established. Such energy initiatives also mean the construction of roads through previously undisturbed wildlife habitats.
In their petition to President Yoweri Museveni and the government, Ugandan conservationists have pointed out that Murchison Falls is a designated Ramsar site, meaning that the waterfall is recognised as being of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Uganda is a signatory to the convention and the country’s authorities are therefore obligated to protect and conserve Murchison Falls.
The electricity production project in Murchison Falls once again brings to the fore the question of whether infrastructure projects in developing countries should be implemented even at the expense of irreplaceable natural heritage.
The stance of the East African Wild Life Society is that the protection of a country’s natural heritage takes precedence over development needs.
Conservationists in Uganda are genuinely outraged by the government’s apparently cavalier attitude towards the integrity of one of the country’s most iconic landmarks. The East African Wild Life Society stands with them in opposition to this ill-advised project.
Hydro-power dam projects are some of the main causes of the decline in river water levels. Such reductions can have devastating environmental consequences, including damaging wetlands. They can also engender changes in river ecosystems that have adverse effects on people and the environment.
A dam at Murchison Falls is surely going to change the landscape in a most dramatic way and have far-reaching negative impacts on the ecosystem as we know it. This project must not proceed. The Uganda government must seek alternatives to enhance the country’s power production capacity. Alternatives include other clean energy projects such as solar and bio-energy.
Murchison Falls is a natural resource that is already paying dividends to the people of Uganda mainly through the tourism industry that it supports. It must not be destroyed in the name of development.
Voicing their opposition to the Murchison Falls hydropower project in a letter to the government on 20th June this year, the Honorary Wildlife Officers’ Association of Uganda stated that “Murchison Falls is the most spectacular falls on River Nile and are the biggest tourist attraction in the park. They provide tourists with an amazingly unrivalled experience. They are therefore a must-see iconic feature […] The falls also create a spectacular view that leaves tourists yearning for more and have enhanced the attractiveness of Murchison Falls.”
The government of Uganda must heed the call of its citizens and cancel plans to implement the project.
The East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS) marked the 10th anniversary of it’s Imre Loefler Talks on November 13 with a special edition of the lectures at the Muthaiga Country Club.
In attendance were representatives from the Hungarian Embassy in Kenya, including Ambassador Laszlo Mathe, EAWLS members and stakeholders from the conservation fraternity.
The talks are named after Dr. Imre Loefler, a Hungarian surgeon and nature lover well versed in philosophy, history, ecology, and wildlife conservation, as well as medical education. He lived and practiced medicine in Kenya for decades and was once the chair of EAWLS’ Board of Directors. Following his death in 2007, the Society decided to honour his memory by launching the Imre Loefler talks — a forum for discourse on conservation issues.
At the anniversary edition of the talks, Tamas Marghescu, highlighted ideologies he said were polarizing the conservation fraternity to the point of neutralizing its efforts despite common endeavours to protect wildlife and the environment. “There is no one solution to conservation. It is the sum of all successful activities, no matter what the underlying ideology or approach to conserving our fragile planet and its threatened wild species,” he said.
Ambassador Mathe applauded the efforts of the East African Wild Life Society in leading conservation dialogue in the region and in honouring Dr Loefler. He pledged his and the Hungarian embassy’s support for Society’s efforts on conservation advocacy.
Ali Kaka, the second speaker of the night has had a long-standing relationship with both the EAWLS and Imre Loefler. Kaka is a former Executive Director of the Society. His topic was marine conservation, which, he said, has in the past decade become critical, as the pollution of seas and climate change have led to declining fish populations and other marine life.
“In 2003, the EAWLS, FFI (Fauna & Flora International) and the Kuruwitu Conservation and Welfare Association (KCWA) piloted the first ‘community marine conservation area’ at Kuruwitu in the Vipingo area of Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast. The aim was to enable local user communities to manage and be responsible for all activities over a set of inshore areas of Kuruwitu. It has since been a major success, resulting in a movement towards Locally-Managed Marine Areas (LMMA’s) and inspiring at least 20 other fishing communities. It has also won international acclaim.’’
EAWLS’ Chair, Elizabeth Gitari Mitaru, noted that the Imre Loefler Environmental Conservation Talks “had given prominent conservationists and visionaries a platform to highlight issues concerning conservation without fear or favour to defeat apathy towards the current conservation crisis.”
Over the past 10 years, EAWLS has hosted 87 Imre Loefler Talks, 40 of them at Muthaiga Country Club and 40 at the Karen Club. Four of the talks were held in Nanyuki at Cape Chestnut . The Society recently launched the Imre Loefler University Dialogues on Environmental Conservation at the Strathmore University. The university has hosted three of the talks.
A commemorative tree was planted at Muthaiga Country Club Grounds to mark the 10th anniversary of the talks.
If you would like to attend any of the upcoming Imre Loefer Talks, please register at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dawn. A light rain. Bristling excitement. 500 participants. A challenging 13 obstacle course ready to be conquered: these were some of the ingredients that made the Forest Challenge 2019 bigger and better than ever before .
The East African Wild Life Society, Kenya Forest Service and Kijabe Environment staff and Volunteers teams were on the ground and ready for the biggest forest conservation event in the region-after all they had been planning and anticipating all eventualities for months.
After a light warm up, the first of 92 teams were flagged off by the Chief Conservator of Forests –Mr. Julius Kamau-to the cheer of eager spectators. Some participants sped off, but most veteran Forest Challenge participants started off at a jog, pacing themselves for the 8.1 km ahead.
The participants, both individual and those from corporate sponsors in branded attire, waded through mud pits and rivers, tumbled up and down slippery trails, stumbled along a dark tunnel and awkwardly climbed a high wall — all in the name of preserving and expanding, through afforestation, Kenya’s natural forests, many of which cover the country’s main water towers.
Fun. Challenging. Exhausting. Worthwhile: these were just some of the sentiments voiced by the Forest Challenge participants as they crossed the finish line. Through sheer grit, teamwork and an unwavering dedication to Kenya’s forests, they’d earned themselves the title of Forest Champions.
Base Titanium, Kiambu Water & Sewerage Co. and Sanivation emerged overall winners and went home with the trophies: Forest Champion Award Winner, Forest Champion Award Runner Up 1 and Forest Champion Award Runner Up 2, respectively.
Money raised from The Forest Challenge 2019 will fund forest rehabilitation projects in and around Kereita Forest, which forms part of the southern Aberdares water towers, supplementing the over 4,000 tree seedlings planted concurrently as the Forest Challenge took place.
The countdown to the Forest Challenge 2020 has officially, begun : will you be competing for the title of ‘Forest Champion’?
As world leaders gathered in Madrid to discuss how to deal with climate change, people in Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan were reeling from severe floods that have devastated many areas in the region since October. Torrential rainfall across East Africa has swollen rivers and inundated villages, causing an estimated total of 250 deaths, according to media reports. Thousands are homeless after their homes were damaged or submerged in floodwater. Crops and livestock have been washed away by the deluge.
African countries contribute little to climate change, emitting minimal greenhouse gases blamed for much of the climate change and global warming. The continent, however, bears the brunt of climate change in the form of floods and recurring droughts.
A UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report released in November warns that unless global greenhouse gas emissions fall by 7.6 per cent each year between 2020 and 2030, the world will miss the opportunity to get on track towards the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. Failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions is expected to continue affecting global weather patterns with more extreme events such as floods, droughts, typhoons, and cyclones ravaging human settlements.
”It’s not a question of whether we’re waiting for the effects of climate change,” said John Roche, the head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in East Africa. “It’s happening. The balance of vulnerability here is such a thin thread between crises. This is a region that has many, many crises, and now the actual flooding is just exacerbating and playing on those vulnerabilities.”
Dr. Emmanuel Ndiema and Christopher Powles will address the Society about their ongoing work on Mt Elgon and how archaeological research has recently led to exciting information, new to science, coming to light on the ‘cave elephants’ of Mt Elgon. It is well known that these elephant visit Kitum Cave in Mt Elgon National Park to mine salt, penetrating 150 meters into the mountain. Remarkably, it is only now coming to light that Kitum is
not alone and that an extensive network of at least 12 caves is used by elephants.
Emmanuel and Christopher will describe a programme of archaeological excavations and how that led them to visit the remote area of Mt Elgon where these caves are. This programme has the potential for establishing the region’s cultural and environmental history and highlighting the role of tropical highlands as a refugium in the face of climate change both in the past and the present, so furthering our understanding of current challenges facing conservation and community livelihoods. Then they will introduce the Mt Elgon Elephant Project (MEEP) and what the Society, they and others are doing to investigate and mitigate the human-elephant conflict that is tragically killing local people and posing a real threat to the survival of this unique elephant population.
DR. EMMANUEL K NDIEMA is a Senior Research Scientist and Head of Archaeology at National Museums of Kenya. Dr. Ndiema was born and raised on the slopes of Mt Elgon. His research focus is on human cultural responses to long term climatic change. Specifically, he is interested in the causes, processes of livestock domestication and the spread of pastoral livelihoods in eastern Africa.
CHRISTOPHER POWLES is a University of Oxford zoology graduate whose grandfather lived on Mount Elgon and was the founder and first warden of Mount Elgon National Park. He was born in Nairobi, now lives in the U.K. and returns to Kenya regularly for his work and to visit Mt Elgon. He is the Chairman of the Mt Elgon Foundation which is being registered in the U.K.
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